Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought
Edited by Stephan Boehm, Christian Gehrke, Heinz D. Kurz and Richard Sturn
Chapter 2: Is there really progress in economics?
Mark Blaug* The notion of what is progress or growth or knowledge in the history of a subject arises naturally in hard sciences like physics, chemistry and biology, and by posing the question with reference to economics, we seem to be claiming that a social science like economics is not unlike a natural science. After all, the concept of progress does not apply to literature, music and the visual arts. There is no sense in which James Joyce is better than Geoffrey Chaucer or Bartok an improvement on Beethoven; they may be technically more proficient but, from an aesthetic standpoint, they are neither better nor worse but simply different. So, my first claim is that it is perfectly legitimate to raise the question of whether there has been progress in economics; economics is a soft science, indeed a very soft science, but it is a science and not just a peculiar sort of literature. Donald WinchÕs chapter bears the intriguing title, ÔDoes progress matter?Õ. Yes, I assert, it does matter because as economists we are ultimately in the business of understanding how the economy works in the same way that a physicist or biologist is engaged in understanding how nature works. How na•ve, some of you, drunk on a post-modernist wine, will say: economics is an art, not a science; not some economics is an art, which I also believe, but all of it is nothing more than art, a balm for politicians, a secular religion for the...
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