Edited by John B. Davis, Alain Marciano and Jochen Runde
Chapter 16: Philosophical Under-Labouring in the Context of Modern Economics: Aiming at Truth and Usefulness in the Meanest of Ways
Tony Lawson There are various competing ideas about how philosophical or methodological analysis can and does relate to a substantive discipline such as economics. Here I focus on just one conception, that which underpins the broadly philosophical project known as critical realism in economics. The conception I have in mind is philosophy as under-labourer for knowledge or science. And the aim of economists contributing speciﬁcally to the philosophical project of critical realism has been to under-labour for a (more fruitful) science or discipline of economics. My objective is to elaborate on the idea of the philosopher as under-labourer. I want to indicate, in particular, how under-labouring can usefully proceed in the context of modern economics, and indeed has done so in this speciﬁc realist project. I also intend to suggest that philosophy so understood fulﬁls what is an urgent need at this juncture. The under-labourer conception The interpretation of philosophy in question derives from Locke. It is found, almost as an aside, in the ‘Epistle to the Reader’ of his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: The commonwealth of learning is not at this time without master-builders, whose mighty designs, in advancing the sciences, will leave lasting monuments to the admiration of posterity; but everyone must not hope to be a Boyle or a Sydenham; and in an age that produces such masters as the great Huygenius and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some others of that strain, it is ambition enough to be employed as the under-labourer...
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