The Rise of Political Economy as a Science: Methodology and the Classical Economists

MIT Press
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Reviews the epistemological ideas that inspired the classical economists: the methodological principles of Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Newton, Locke, Hume, Stewart, Herschel, and Whewell.

The classical age of economics was marked by an intense interest in scientific methodology. It was, moreover, an age when science and philosophy were not yet distinct disciplines, and the educated were polymaths. The classical economists were acutely aware that suitable methods had to be developed before a body of knowledge could be deemed philosophical or scientific. They did not formulate their methodological views in a vacuum, but drew on a rich collection of philosophical ideas. Consequently, issues of methodology were at the heart of political economys rise as a science. The classical era of economics opened under Adam Smith with political economy understood as an integral part of a broader system of social philosophy; by the end, it had emerged via J. S. Mill as a "separate science", albeit one still inextricably tied to the other social sciences and to ethics. The Rise of Political Economy as a Science opens with a review of the epistemological ideas that inspired the classical economists: the methodological principles of Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Newton, Locke, Hume, Stewart, Herschel, and Whewell. These principles were influential not just in the development of political economy, but in the rise of social science in general. The author then examines science in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain, with a particular emphasis on the all-important concept of induction. Having laid the necessary groundwork, she proceeds to a history and analysis of the methodologies of four economist-philosophers—Adam Smith, Robert Malthus, David Ricardo, and J. S. Mill—selected for their historical importance as founders of economics and for their common Scottish intellectual lineage. Concluding remarks put classical methodology into a broader historical perspective.

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Publisher
MIT Press
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Published on
Jan 1, 2003
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Pages
489
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ISBN
9780262264259
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / General
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This content is DRM protected.
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If any single characteristic differentiates current, neoclassical economics from the classical economics of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, it is the use of mathematics. Pointing to the critical role of William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882), Margaret Schabas demonstrates that the advent of mathematical economics in late Victorian England resulted more from new currents in logic and the philosophy of science than from problems specific to the classical theory of value and distribution.

Jevons's Principles of Science (1874) was the first book to take issue with John Stuart Mill's faith in inductive reasoning, to assimilate George Boole's mathematical logic, and to discern many of the limitations that beset scientific inquiry. Together with a renewed appreciation for Bentham's utility calculus, these philosophical insights served to convince Jevons and his followers that the economic world is fundamentally quantitative and thus amenable to mathematical analysis.

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The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

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The original New York Times Magazine article about Steven D. Levitt by Stephen J. Dubner, which led to the creation of this book.

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