Edited by Jesper Jespersen and Mogens Ove Madsen
Chapter 4: Keynes on method: is economics a moral science?
In the history of science, Galileo triggered a major breakthrough: by considering mathematics as nature’s language, he wiped away the Aristotelian tradition, so far prevalent, according to which mathematics shaped the laws of the sole divine spheres. An enthusiastic proponent of his method, Kepler helped to spread the new scientific gospel. Nowadays, heaven is still on earth and the fact that mathematics is truth’s language has become conventional wisdom. As a matter of fact, mainstream economics, buttressed by positivism, relies on an extensive use of mathematical modelling. Despite his mathematical skills, Keynes endorsed a dualist view: in a famous letter to Roy Harrod he put forth that economics should be regarded as a ‘moral science’, different from natural sciences. Since the main focus of his theories was on psychology and uncertainty, mathematics was of little help. The methodological outlines of The General Theory were expounded in Chapter 18, of paramount importance in Shackle’s opinion (Sardoni 1989). In fact, owing to these conflicting views, economics has made little progress since the years of high theory, for mainstream is rather impervious to criticisms that do not grow out of the same epistemological ground. According to Lawson (2006), the remaining discrepancies between heterodoxy and mainstream only stem from an epistemological tenet, the latter relying on formal-deductive positivist methods, the former endorsing realism.
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