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Understanding the Limits of Pure Theory in Economics: Knight and Mises


Knight’s Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit is, by the author’s own account, “a study in ‘pure theory’.” From pure theory, the scientific method’s “successive approximations” explain empirical phenomena. But Knight did not fully develop the boundary conditions for theory. In this chapter, the author elucidates the demarcation of pure theory in Risk, Uncertainty and Profit. For comparison and contrast, the author uses Mises’s Austrian aprioristic methodology praxeology and its strict distinction between theory and thymology. The author finds that Knight and Mises largely agree on the nature and importance of pure theory but differ on its meaning and use. The author’s findings suggest that Knight, while arguing for aprioristic pure theory, still places empirical observation first.



Bylund, P. (2021), "Understanding the Limits of Pure Theory in Economics: Knight and Mises", Fiorito, L., Scheall, S. and Suprinyak, C.E. (Ed.) Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on Frank Knight's Risk, Uncertainty and Profit at 100 (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 39C), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 3-18.



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