How Do Economists Perceive the World Around Them?

Topics: Scientific method, Qualitative research, Sociology Pages: 11 (3144 words) Published: June 24, 2013
MS958 Research Philosophy

Essay Assignment (Resubmission)

Theocharis Kromydas

You are asked to write an individual essay that reflects upon the research literature within your own discipline, and through a process of careful analysis, to characterise the dominant paradigm within your field. This argument must be supported critically with evidence drawn from the relevant literature(s). You should then go on to consider the fit between your own research objectives and this dominant paradigm, and to explore potential flexibilities in the underpinning philosophical assumptions that might offer the possibility of a better fit. How might these flexibilities be incorporated into a methodological argument that is appropriate for your intended research?


The purpose of this essay is to reflect on the philosophical underpinnings behind the existent and dominant paradigm in the Economics discipline explaining the ontological and epistemological rationale that is based on. So, how economists perceive the world around them? What sensors do they use for getting the vibes from that world? How they evaluate them? Who they want to inform and for whose sake? In fact, what’s the meaning of Economics as a profession and who are those that want to change that meaning and redefine it differently? All these questions will be somewhat narrowly discussed below, given the essays’ extremely limited word count for such task, trying to figure out what sort of philosophical stance or arrays of stances can accommodate any research I am intending to conduct throughout my PhD research journey

1. A very short Introduction to Ontology and Epistemology.

Firstly and most crucially, I find appropriate to provide a very brief overview of the two main ontological (Objectivism and Constructivism) and the three main epistemological stances (Positivism, Interpretivism, Critical Realism) of social science. I am using the classification of ontology found in Bryman (2004) though we acknowledge that a number of scholars can use slightly different classifications (Bochenski, 1974; Hartmann, 1949; Lawson 2003; Rosenkrantz, 2002; Mäki 2008) just to mention a few.

Objectivism sees the existence of social phenomena as independent of social actors as opposed to constructionism which conceives reality as a continual construction implemented by groups of interconnected social actors. The latter is also closely related to social constructivism which focuses on the impact that this construction has to individuals (Bryman, 2004).

Concerning epistemology positivists argue that social phenomena can be studied and properly understood by the usage of the same methods used in natural sciences. Moreover, positivism demands knowledge is acquired by senses (phenomenalism), hypothesis testing is derived by theory (deductivism), analysis of empirical data engender laws by generalisations under specific circumstances (inductivism), science is always value-free (objectivity) and normative statements can’t be considered as scientific.

Contrariwise, intepretivists approach social reality by the use of subjective meaning as the main method applicable to understand social phenomena. People act consciously but randomly in different circumstances and therefore they cannot be subjected to accurate predictions as positivists argue.

Critical realists include social change as a prerequisite for investigating social phenomena. Whereas positivists view science as the only reflection of reality, critical realists argue that this is only a way of understanding it. Social phenomena are triggered by underlying mechanisms, known as ‘‘generative mechanisms’’ from which we can only observe their functions within the social order but not per se. Critical realism is also seen as an epistemological stance which binds interpetivism’s methodology with positivist’s ontology and at the end fails to justify clearly why is ‘‘critical’’(Hammersley, 2009). For a applied...

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Bryman, A. (2004) Social Science Research Methods, 2nd Ed, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Field, H. (1973). "Theory Change and the Indeterminacy of Reference". Journal of Philosophy, 70 (14) : 462–481. 
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Hartmann, N., (1949) “ New Ways of Ontology”, translated by Reinchard C. Kuhn-Chicago, Henry Regnery Company, : 13-14
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Kromydas, T. (2011) ”Work, Unemployment and Overqualification in UK. The measurement trap.”. 13th Annual Conference of the AHE, Nottingham, UK, July 6-9
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