Mark Blaug: Rebel with Many Causes

Mark Blaug: Rebel with Many Causes

Edited by Marcel Boumans and Matthias Klaes

This collection of eminent contributions discusses the ideas and works of Mark Blaug, who has made important and often pioneering contributions to economic history, economic methodology, the economics of education, development economics, cultural economics, economic theory and the history of economic thought. Besides these assessments of Blaug’s influence and impact in these fields, this volume also contains a selection of personal portraits which depict him as a colleague, a friend and an opponent. Blaug was also a voracious reader and prolific writer, which is clearly evidenced by the comprehensive bibliography.

Chapter 14: Between the Scylla of Whig history and the Charybdis of methodological vacuum

Andrea Salanti

Subjects: economics and finance, cultural economics, economics of education, history of economic thought, methodology of economics


He wrote with a fountain pen, using royal blue ink, on postcards; even though the postcards left room for only a few short remarks, they could contain ideas that could require months of work, often much more than someone else’s lengthy, detailed criticisms could require. (Backhouse 2012, pp._568–9) The first time I met Mark Blaug in person was at the Capri conference in 1989. At that time I had been working for a few years in the field which was going to be recognised as ‘economic methodology’, so I could immediately perceive his very special attitude towards younger scholars. In the subsequent years we had some correspondence on topics related, among other things, to Popper and Lakatos in economics and on one occasion, in a postcard of the type so vividly portrayed in Backhouse (2012), Mark wrote to me ‘The real sin is to do history [of economic thought] in a methodological vacuum’. In a sense, the next section contains my second thoughts on this matter (the first ones having been published at the time as Salanti 1992 and 1994). Immediately after the passage I have chosen as epigraph, we find the following considerations, with which it would be equally difficult to disagree: Although he loved reading and enjoyed debating, he was impatient with details, always wanting to get the big picture. This could on occasion be a weakness, especially in philosophical arguments, but overall it was an enormous asset, helping explain … why he was invariably worth listening to.

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