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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 5: Metaphors in the Wealth of Nations

Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought

Sergio Cremaschi


Sergio Cremaschi* I intend to highlight the shaping of Adam SmithÕs discourse on the growth of wealth, the interactions between economic theory, moral theory and the theory of knowledge, and the ways in which theory and rhetoric safely coexist in his work.1 My main claim is that, either by chance or by insight, Adam Smith worked with a blissful combination of metaphors, a combination that helped in widening the scope of economic theory, imagining counterintuitive connections among separated fields, and shaping new hypotheses to be tested. Adam SmithÕs felicitous choice of his own bunch of metaphors depended on a number of factors: fashion, shared standards of taste, a received set of images and symbols, in a word, a Ôscientific styleÕ.2 SCIENCE AND ANALOGY IN THE HISTORY OF ASTRONOMY Adam Smith left unpublished fragments of a Ôphilosophical history of the sciences and the artsÕ. Schumpeter once wrote that nobody Ôcan have an adequate idea of SmithÕs intellectual stature who does not know these essaysÕ,3 but in fact he made hardly any use of them in his own reading of The Wealth of Nations. The editors of the Glasgow edition of Adam SmithÕs works have done a lot to redress the effects of SchumpeterÕs inadvertence, but some work is still waiting to be done. Of these fragments, the most renowned one is The History of Astronomy, whose first three sections present Adam SmithÕs views on matters of methodology and epistemology, those views he apparently...

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