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Edited by Richard Arena, Agnès Festré and Nathalie Lazaric
Chapter 14: Knowledge in Finance: Objective Value versus Convention
André Orléan 14.1 INTRODUCTION The idea that economics deals with objective values plays an absolutely fundamental role in the way economists consider the singularity of their discipline. In their eyes, economics can be distinguished from the other social sciences precisely because it deals with objective constraints, constraints of scarcity, which are imposed on all agents, whatever their beliefs, whereas disciplines like history or sociology study facts of opinion, the meaning of which varies from one group or society to another. It would not be an exaggeration to say that economists construct the core identity of their discipline against competing disciplines through the play of this paradigmatic opposition between the flexibility of opinions and the objectivity of values. In a 1908 conference at the French Society of Political Economy, on the question of ‘the position of political economy in the social sciences’, Émile Durkheim (1975/1908, pp. 219–20) pointed out all the limits of this opposition. In reply to the question raised, he started by stating: What makes this question difficult is that, at first sight, political economy appears to deal with facts of a very different nature from the other social sciences. Morality and law, which form the subject matter of the other specified social sciences, are essentially matters of opinion. Wealth, which is the subject of political economy, seems on the contrary to be essentially objective and independent of opinion. (My translation) But he immediately followed this by affirming that, in his view, this distinction is not valid:...
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