Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 56: Realism
Andrew Mearman Introduction This chapter examines the relation between realism and ethics in economics. As this volume attests, ethical positions are implicit in much of what economists do and say. Also clear is that often what economists advocate as right or good partly depends on what they believe exists; that is, what the world is like. Realism, which in simple terms is the belief in the existence of a world independent of what we know or think, bolsters such arguments. As Gasper (2007) implied, there can be no well-being without being. The question of realism and ethics in economics is examined here principally through a focus on two key interventions in the recent debates on realism in economics. First, Uskali Mäki made an excellent recent contribution to the methodology of economics on the question of realism. Mäki offered a number of distinctions in realism which attempt to clarify a number of debates in economics, particularly related to neoclassical economics and key figures within it. One point made by Mäki is that realism is a varied concept, and no single definition of realism can describe economics completely accurately. The second key intervention relates to critical realism, a variant of realism which has recently been extremely influential in economics, associated particularly with Tony Lawson. Specific features of critical realism are relevant to ethics, as are its specific ethical claims. Before we look at these contributions, it is first necessary to clarify the meaning of realism. Realism As a project,...
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