A constructive critique of economics

2005 2005

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation is a constructive critique of economics that brings to light underappreciated difficulties of current economic methodology, explores the implications of these difficulties and suggests remedies.

In chapter 1, I argue that current economics is inherently “mathematical metaphorical” (or “M-M”)—i.e. that it consists in the use of mathematical constructs as metaphors for social phenomena in order to illuminate these phenomena. I claim that this is a “necessary characterization” of current economics in the sense that anything not conforming to it is not current economics. I defend this claim with respect to the intellectual history of economics and its current practice.

In chapter 2, I argue that M-M economic analyses can be coherent only if the social phenomena under study satisfy certain necessary conditions: essentially, that the meanings of these phenomena do not change across the social context under study, and that their behavior and relations law-like. (If these conditions are not met, then the mathematical analytics of the M-M analysis may be irrelevant to the social phenomena ostensibly under study.) To the extent this claim is borne out, it implies that (in any given study) the establishment of the necessary conditions must be included among the standards of good economic practice. Currently, they are not included and, as a consequence, economics—in both its traditional fields and in the new domains into which its use is expanding—may be blind to factors that can detract from (or, in some cases, completely preclude) its coherence and efficacy.

In chapter 3, I explain in detail why the difficulties raised in chapter 2 can only be addressed adequately through the use of interpretive social science methods, which I define as methods guided by hermeneutic principles of understanding (as opposed to positivistic principles of explanation and prediction). To incorporate such methods into economics, I propose the establishment of a new field in economics tasked with developing interpretive methods and standards of practice tailored to meet the challenges raised in chapter 2. I describe the work of the proposed field and offer examples of current work that conforms to this description.

Indexing (details)

Social sciences;
Statistical methods;
Exegesis & hermeneutics;
0501: Economics
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Economics
A constructive critique of economics
Spiegler, Peter Marc
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780542118876, 0542118874
Marglin, Stephen; Green, Jerry; Tuck, Richard
Harvard University
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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