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Is There Progress in Economics?

Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought

Edited by Stephan Boehm, Christian Gehrke, Heinz D. Kurz and Richard Sturn

This thought-provoking book discusses the concept of progress in economics and investigates whether any advance has been made in its different spheres of research. The authors look back at the history, successes and failures of their respective fields and thoroughly examine the notion of progress from an epistemological and methodological perspective.
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Chapter 1: Does Progress matter?

Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought

Donald Winch


Donald Winch My question gestures towards the organizing theme of this conference, but a more appropriate one, as I hope to show, would be VoltaireÕs conclusion in Candide. I shall mention progress now and then, but I feel more comfortable with something less grandiose, a miniature painting rather than the kind of broad philosophical landscape that anything connected with progress in the eighteenth- or nineteenth-century sense, or modernization in mid-twentieth century mode, suggests or requires. My miniature begins with the following quotation from John Stuart MillÕs correspondence. ÔA History of Political Economy is not a kind of book much wanted on its own account, but it would afford an opportunity for interesting discussions of all the contested points, and for placing them in the strong light which results from the comparison of conflicting opinions and from a study of their origins and filiation. Though, therefore, it is a work I should hardly suggest to anyone, yet if any competent political economist with a talent for philosophical controversy feels spontaneously prompted to undertake it, the result is likely to be useful and interesting to those who care for the subject.Õ (Mill, 1972, XV: 907) Judging from this response to an inquiry from his disciple, Henry Fawcett, who had just had the good fortune to be elected to the Chair of Political Economy at Cambridge at the tender age of thirty, it does not sound as though Mill was enthusiastic about our branch of historical scholarship. Fawcett would have been...

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