Including a Symposium on Bruce Caldwell’s Beyond Positivism After 35 Years: Volume 36A

Cover of Including a Symposium on Bruce Caldwell’s Beyond Positivism After 35 Years

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(11 chapters)


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Part I A Symposium on Bruce Caldwell’s Beyond Positivism After 35 Years


Caldwell’s Beyond Positivism was a key publication that helped precipitate the consolidation of the methodology of economics into a distinct subfield within economics. Reconsidering it after 35 years, it is striking for its antinaturalism (i.e., its lack of deference to the actual practices of economics) or, perhaps, for its meta-naturalism (displayed in its excessive deference to the philosophy of science) and for its defense of pluralism. It offers pluralism as an unsuccessful defense against dogmatism. Against Caldwell’s pluralism, dogmatism is better opposed by a commitment of fallibilism and scientific humility. Caldwell’s defense of Austrian methodology is taken as a case study to illustrate and investigate his key themes and the issues that they raise.


The versions of positivism that are critically assessed in Bruce Caldwell’s Beyond Positivism bear two dominant sets of implications. One is that knowledge growth is monistic in nature; the other is that science has a specific deductivist structure. Caldwell focuses mainly on the former and its critics. I argue here that the second set of implications always did, and still does, perhaps more than ever, warrant critical attention.


During the last decade or so, philosophers of science have shown increasing interest in scientific models and modeling. The primary impetus seems to have come from the philosophy of biology, but increasingly the philosophy of economics has been drawn into the discussion. This paper will focus on the particular subset of this literature that emphasizes the difference between a scientific model being explanatory and one that provides explanations of specific events. The main differences are in the structure of the models and the characteristics of the explanatory target. Traditionally, scientific explanations have been framed in terms of explaining particular events, but many scientific models have targets that are hypothetical patterns: “patterns of macroscopic behavior across systems that are heterogeneous at smaller scales” (Batterman & Rice, 2014, p. 349). The models with this characteristic are often highly idealized, and have complex and heterogeneous targets; such models are “central to a kind of modeling that is widely used in biology and economics” (Rohwer & Rice, 2013, p. 335). This paper has three main goals: (i) to discuss the literature on such models in the philosophy of biology, (ii) to show that certain economic phenomena possess the same degree of heterogeneity and complexity often encountered in biology (and thus, that hypothetical pattern explanations may be appropriate in certain areas of economics), and (iii) to demonstrate that Hayek’s arguments about “pattern predictions” and “explanations of the principle” are essentially arguments for the importance of this type of modeling in economics.


When Beyond Positivism was published 35 years ago, it presented a compelling case for methodological change in the economics profession. That case remains equally compelling in the present day as, tragically, economics remains largely without the methodological pluralism at the heart of Beyond Positivism’s message. Among the costs of an environment of methodological myopia are widespread misinterpretations and the diversion of scholars from efforts at economic understanding to methodological wrangling, which we illustrate using the experience of Austrian economics in the 20th century. Beyond Positivism, we suggest, continues to provide the intellectual case for a pluralist discipline of economics, but one that requires complementary institutional reforms to come to fruition.


In 1982 my book Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century was published. At the 2017 History of Economics Society meeting, a session was held to mark the 35th anniversary of that event. Papers by Wade Hands, Kevin Hoover, Tony Lawson, and the trio Peter Boettke, Solomon Stein, and Virgil Storr were prepared. In this paper, I respond by reflecting on how I came to write Beyond Positivism and on the state of the field of economic methodology at the time, and then commenting briefly on each of the papers noted above.

Part II Essays


This essay is a review of the recent literature on the methodology of economics, with a focus on three broad trends that have defined the core lines of research within the discipline during the last two decades. These trends are: (a) the philosophical analysis of economic modelling and economic explanation; (b) the epistemology of causal inference, evidence diversity and evidence-based policy and (c) the investigation of the methodological underpinnings and public policy implications of behavioural economics. The final output is inevitably not exhaustive, yet it aims at offering a fair taste of some of the most representative questions in the field on which many philosophers, methodologists and social scientists have recently been placing a great deal of intellectual effort. The topics and references compiled in this review should serve at least as safe introductions to some of the central research questions in the philosophy and methodology of economics.


The Coase theorem is associated with Stigler because Stigler coined the term. The object of this paper is to show that Stigler’s Coase theorem is Stiglerian for deeper – namely, methodological – reasons. We argue that, convinced as he was by the importance of Coase’s message, Stigler also believed that this message – such as presented in “The Federal Communications Commission” (1959) or “The Problem of Social Cost” (1962) – was not scientific. Hence, he had to transform it into a theorem to give it a scientific dimension. This is what we try to show by presenting Stigler’s methodology and by confronting it to the methodology used in Coase’s articles.

Part III From the Vault


This note offers new archival insight into a 1925 polemical exchange between Frank Knight and John Maurice Clark that was hosted in the pages of Journal of Political Economy. Although the exchange centered on the effects of overhead costs on marginal productivity theory and the so-called adding-up theorem, it also provided significant elements to assess the methodological differences between two of the most representative American economists of the interwar years.


Pages 181-188
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Cover of Including a Symposium on Bruce Caldwell’s Beyond Positivism After 35 Years
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Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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