Back to the big picture
Journal of Economic Methodology
Taylor & Francis
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Alexandrova, A., Northcott, R., & Wright, J. (2021). Back to the big picture. Journal of Economic Methodology, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1080/1350178x.2020.1868772
The history of methodology of economics has seen two different strategies. At times, methodologists have analyzed economics as a whole, ascribing to it a single epistemic approach and appealing to a standard against which this approach can be evaluated. At other times, they have pursued a more circumscribed enquiry, into how some specific technique common in economics can achieve one or more epistemic goal. Label the first strategy big-picture, and the second strategy fine-grained. Roughly speaking, the big-picture strategy prevailed up to the 1990s, but in the last thirty years the dominant mode has been fine-grained. We argue that recent developments in philosophy of science and in economics warrant a return to big-picture – but now reinvented. It should not inherit the old presumption that economics has a single method, or that there is a single criterion of ‘science’. Instead, it should focus on a new question, already intensely debated within the profession: is the organization of economics healthy and appropriate? This question is big-picture. Although any answer to it must ride on the back of fine-grained work, fine-grained work alone is not enough. It is also ripe for explicit and systematic examination by methodologists because a proper answer requires the skills and knowledge of our community. We illustrate how a revived big-picture strategy is fruitful for two controversies: how much effort to devote to rational choice modeling, and how economics is socially organized.
Jack Wright is a supported by the project QUALITY, funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (ERC grant agreement no. 715530).
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External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/1350178x.2020.1868772
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/309256
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