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The Elgar Companion To Economics and Philosophy

The Elgar Companion To Economics and Philosophy

Elgar original reference

Edited by John B. Davis, Alain Marciano and Jochen Runde

The Elgar Companion to Economics and Philosophy aims to demonstrate exactly how these two important areas have always been linked, and to illustrate the key areas of overlap. The contributors are well-known and distinguished authors from a variety of disciplines, who have been invited both to survey and to provide a personal assessment of current and prospective future states of their respective areas of philosophical interest.

Chapter 9: The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes

Roger E. Backhouse

Subjects: economics and finance, methodology of economics


183 irrefutable by anyone working within the programme. Thus in the Newtonian research programme, the negative heuristics would include ‘Do not question Newton’s laws of motion or the law of gravity’. In economics, comparable heuristics might be ‘Do not construct theories in which irrational behaviour plays a significant role’, which would protect a hard-core assumption that ‘Agents optimize subject to constraints’. ‘Positive heuristics’, on the other hand, provide rules by which research is to be conducted. These rules lay out the strategy by which anomalies are to be dealt with, and how the research programme is to be developed. They are concerned with the programme’s ‘protective belt’: the assumptions and procedures which are needed in order to apply the hard-core assumptions to specific problems, but which can be modified without calling the programme into question. Thus Newtonian astronomy starts by modelling planets as point-masses, then as spheres and then as spheres that are distorted by their rotation. When the theory fails to predict correctly, such assumptions can be modified without threatening anything that is fundamental to the programme. In economics, such positive heuristics might include ‘Explain Pareto-inefficient allocations of resources by finding missing markets’, or ‘Start by assuming identical agents and full information, dropping these assumptions when necessary’. Though research programmes involve an invariant hard core, these changes in the protective belt mean that research programmes are not static. New facts are discovered, new problems emerge, and as a result modifications have to be...

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