Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought
Edited by Stephan Boehm, Christian Gehrke, Heinz D. Kurz and Richard Sturn
Chapter 8: Progress in economics
Luigi Pasinetti I have had the opportunity of facing this subject on at least two previous occasions (Pasinetti, 1985, 1986). Since my views on this subject have not substantially changed, I shall try to summarize them here. The first of the two mentioned occasions was a conference in which the European Science Foundation asked scholars from different fields of learning (physics, mathematics, biology, medicine, sociology, linguistics, history, economics) to discuss the topic ÔThe Identification of progress in learningÕ. The economists in the group were Edmond Malinvaud (rapporteur) and myself (discussant). The challenge came to me from MalinvaudÕs statement that Ôa commonly recognized process does not exist in economics by means of which scientific progress can be assertedÕ (Malinvaud, 1985: 167). To me, the relevant question to face first of all appeared to be that of investigating the particular features of economic research as against other disciplines. The obvious area of comparison seemed to be physics, considered by many as Ôthe prototype of scienceÕ. I may list at least four features that seem to me as peculiar to economics: 1. First of all, unlike physics or astronomy or many other sciences, the object of economic studies is changing continually. When Ptolemy, 22 centuries ago, observed the planets and stars in the sky, he was looking at exactly the same universe which we explore today with the aid of the Hubble or of the radio telescopes. The observable universe has not changed (or has changed negligibly). We can simply probe into...
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