Sunday, July 13, 2014

Found in comments: Donald (now Deirdre) McCloskey, in 1993, reviews Alex Rosenberg, Economics: Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminishing Returns?
Rosenberg concludes that economics as it has developed since Adam Smith does not have the same "cognitive status" as physics. Economics is not the Science of diminishing returns; on the contrary, it is mathematical politics. Its present version belongs in the department of mathematics, leaving slots in proper economics for economists who fit better the categories of philosophy of science circa 1940.

Rosenberg argues that philosophy can dictate to economics. He points out that scien-
tists themselves impose philosophical constraints on their arguments. Many economists, for example, would agree with Rosenberg that the standard is prediction. (But the econo- mists agree, I report, because they have heard tell that philosophy of Science demands it.) 
...A second difficulty, then, is Rosenberg's undefended affection for prediction as the one demarcation between Science and nonsense. He evinces the worshipful attitude usual among philosophers toward the more prediction-oriented branches of physics. Yet sciences like geology and biology depend on prediction hardly at all. All right, retorts Rosenberg, so much for their Scientific status.

A third difficulty is that Rosenberg has not read history of science, though presuming to tell scientists how it has gone. This occupational hazard among philosophers of science is of course familiar.

Economics needs a history, which writers like Alon Kadish, John Maloney, Margaret Schabas, and Yuval Yoney are beginning to supply, beyond the whiggish tales by economists such as Mark Blaug. It needs a rhetoric and a sociology, which can inform the history, too. Does it need a philosophy? Perhaps not, at least not a philosophy depending on epistemology circa 1940.
I should give Rosenberg his own tag.

"Yet sciences like geology and biology depend on prediction hardly at all. All right, retorts Rosenberg, so much for their Scientific status."

I have to admit I'm as confused by the first sentence as I am by the second.

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