Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx

Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx

Essays on Institutional and Evolutionary Themes

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx examines the legacies of these two giants of thought for the social sciences in the twenty-first century.

Chapter 6: Contestable Claims by Critical Realism in Economics

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, evolutionary economics, history of economic thought, institutional economics


Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. Ludwig Wittgenstein 6.1 INTRODUCTION Critical realism has been widely debated.1 It is not the primary goal of this chapter to discuss its core ideas. Instead, the aim here is to examine some of the theoretical claims made on behalf of critical realism, when used as guidance for economics as a discipline. Two ‘critical realist’ examples are chosen and compared, one taken from the work of Andrew Collier (1989) and the other from the work of Tony Lawson (1997). Differences in stance within critical realism become immediately apparent. On the one hand, Collier argues that critical realism directly supports a particular theory – Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. On the other hand, Lawson is more circumspect. He explores only one ‘illustration’ of critical realism. He suggests that it is ‘illustrated’ by the theory that a prevalent form of workplace organization in Britain helped to bring about Britain’s relative industrial decline. Lawson (1997, pp. 247, 326) claims that such a theory seems ‘broadly consistent with critical realism’ but adds a significant qualification in a footnote to the beginning of his ‘illustration’ chapter: Substantive explanations, then, even when serving illustrative purposes, ought not be tagged ‘critical realist’. Nor, incidentally, should they be interpreted as constituting evidence by which the critical realist explanatory framework is itself to be assessed. … In short, the examples and discussion which follow merely provide … an indication that explanatory endeavours...

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