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Economists confuse Greek method with science

from Asad Zaman and the WEA Pedagogy Blog

A well-known historian and philosopher of science Pierre Duhem reflects the typical Eurocentric attitude: “There is no Arabian science. The wise men of Mohammedanism were … faithful disciples of the Greeks, (and) … destitute of all originality.” It is amazing how prejudice can blind historians to the vast original Islamic contributions to mathematics, medicine, chemistry, optics, astronomy, as well as a wide range of technological developments. In contrast, Briffault in The Making of Humanity, writes that  “The experimental method of Arabs was by Bacon’s time widespread … throughout Europe. Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab civilization to the modern world.” Our focus in this essay is not on the injustice, but on the misunderstanding of science that results partly from minimizing the Muslim contributions.

By a strange paradox, while the accomplishments of modern science are bright as the sun, philosophical attempts to understand the nature of science and the scientific method remind us of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Different schools of thought contend with each other, and each school has a fragment of the truth, but there is no coherent overall picture, and massive confusion prevails.  read more


  1. May 26, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Asad, some agreement and some disagreement with the conclusions you present. First, I’m fully on board with your contention that European science owes its form and existence to Arab (Islamic) science. What is called science today and for the last 400 years in the west was indeed mostly invented by Islamic scholars, workers, and technicians. But these scholars also passed along something else to Europe with the “observational” craze. Islamic scholars passed along a focus on collecting information but not really providing any explanations or theories to explain the information. Islamic “scientists” also passed along an assist to the already buried by dogma west. These scientists made the winner of any debate the one with the most information collected about it. Even if we weren’t certain if the information was relevant or its level of importance the “quantity” of information was always the winner. This dogma in western science is still with us today. Second, I suggest you take a look at these two books, “The Pasteurization of France” and “Science in Action.” Both are based on examining the actual actions of scientists and then summarizing what is revealed. The first demonstrates that testing a theory against empirical observations is both not simple and often multifaceted. Pasteur showed that Anthrax is not one thing but several. In theory and under the microscope the organism looks the same, but in actual settings the organism acts differently. In simple terms a vaccine that works in the laboratory – as shown by precise measurements – may not work at actual farms or with actual farm animals, or humans. The second shows that often scientists do a lot of wedging and interpolation to make observations from different events or with different tools agree with one another. And like Pasteur there are times that even this work cannot force them to agree. Third, western science is not either/or regarding inductive and deductive approaches. Science is always some combination of these. And the combination varies from one area of research to another and from one scientist to another. The focus should be on what combination helps in each situation to “allow the object of research to be heard.” So it’s not method that distinguishes science, as Einstein pointed our nearly a century ago but rather the creativity, imagination, and openness of the scientists. And this finally brings me to economists. Who for the most part are creative and imaginative, but also arrogant and narrow minded. Putting on my historian’s hat this is my summary of how economics in the US got into the mess of today. There was a battle in the US from 1890 to 1970 over the government and economy. The winner for most of this period was institutional economics that emphasized economics as just one element of society. The focus was on making society and economics work well for the nation and all its people. So government in the form of laws and regulation was up front. Opposing this was the neoclassical model premised on the belief that market-oriented rational behavior by free agents can serve as the normative guideline for defining the role of government. So economics was dominant in society and markets were the only acceptable way to organize society and economy. So for economists of the 1980s and later the question was which bandwagon to get on. There’s an old saying in American politics – when the train’s on the track you have three choices: 1) get on board, 2) get out of the way, or 3) get run over. Being mostly academics focused on tenure, prestige, and “extra” money when corporate consolidation, financialization, and anti-government politicians got the train of neoclassicalism on the track most (but not all) economists got on board. Many got out of the way. And a few got run over. And here another political aphorism applies: once on the train on the track it’s really hard to get off. In the language of psychotherapy many economists are uncomfortable with their lives but are so embedded in them they cannot see a way to change.

    • Souare
      May 28, 2016 at 8:55 am

      There is nothing in the Qur’an and its derived writings that have anything to do with science. Ergo, there is no such thing as “Islamic science”–any more than there is such a thing called “Jewish or Christian science”. Should we call Newton’s Principia “Christian Mechanics” of Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity “Jewish physics”?

      • May 31, 2016 at 11:17 pm

        I agree that you cannot turn to the Qur’an or its derived writings to derive “Islamic science’. Instead, you must turn to those whose understanding was that one could learn the marvelous ways of Allah by objective studies. Not that this was realized, for the conjectures of Aristotle were taken to be science … though they had little empirical foundation, and often none.

        Yet the Qur’an permitted more than what it accomplished. At no time did it say that any observations were impermissible, for observations ‘revealed’ the natural order rather than contradicted it. This view was thoroughly adopted by the West once it met the East, in ways Islamic scholars could not foresee, but which laid the groundwork for the development of science :: and the Enlightenment :: in the West.

        Within Islam, until recently, there has never been a contradiction between observation which ‘revealed’ relative to ‘heresy’ between what was revealed and what was believed.

    • June 1, 2016 at 11:08 am

      “There’s an old saying in American politics – when the train’s on the track you have three choices: 1) get on board, 2) get out of the way, or 3) get run over. … once on the train on the track it’s really hard to get off”.

      There is another choice: to pull the emergency cord and stop the train. Especially relevant when, as with the “Economic Express”, the train is on the wrong track.

      • June 1, 2016 at 11:26 am

        But to pull the emergency stop cord you have to be on board the train. And there are both institutional and psychological barriers to getting off the train once on board. Salary, peer pressure, prestige, role loss, fear of losing out are just a few of these.

    • blocke the
      June 10, 2016 at 7:30 am

      Ken I agree that in all these discussions people in the specificity of their ability to act or create are left out. That is what I find so frustrating in most of the discussion. I got interested in the modern world when I read Landes’ Unbound Prometheus. What is this Unbound Prometheus than the imagination and creativity of individuals and groups of people. Schumpeter started identifying the entrepreneurial spirit, then before he died transferred entrepreneurialism to R*D in Great Corporations. Then Chandler began to write about managerial hierarchies that overthrew the deficiencies inherent in big companies, by replacing the invisible hand of competition with the visible hand of human talent, institutionalized in corporations. Then we noticed the unbound Prometheus taking its form in innovative geographical clustering, e.g., Silicon Valley, i.e., the creativity moved out of R&D in huge corporations to networking in regions, although clustering had been going on for centuries. Then the institutionalionalization of fundamental and applied knowledge and skill became an increasingly important factor in discussion of the Unbound Prometheus. None of the books on the top ten are about this, none of the discussion about science explains why and how Prometheus is unbound. It is as if economists in this blog, despite the title, are not paying attention to the real world;

      • Jamie Morgan
        June 10, 2016 at 9:18 am

        Part of the impetus for the list was reference to Tony Lawson’s work – an interesting person if you are concerned with the nature of people within society as also an economy – ‘the real world’

      • June 10, 2016 at 11:52 am

        Unbound Prometheus, not there’s a title I have not heard for a long time. I liked the book but it is much too western-centric for my taste. The history it presents on Chinese and Islamic science and technology is questionable. And its treatment of the technology and science of such groups as North American South American native groups is simply biased. And the lessons you take from the book are unrealistic. You focus on “humanity unleashed.” Human creativity and entrepreneurialism may indeed lead to more happiness and well-being. Or they may lead to war, destruction, and a great deal of misery. If history is a guide, the latter more than the former has been the case and seems likely to remain so.

      • blocke the
        June 10, 2016 at 4:23 pm

        Jamie, give me a reference to somebody who is not operating in the English speaking world, or is describing events in the nonwestern world. When I met T Yui at the London School of Economics (he was visiting) he told me that Chandler never understood Japanese corporations and, therefore, had to leave Japan out of his 1990 book Scale and Scope on coporporate management. So I read, among other things, since I cannot read Japanese, Ikujiro Nonaka and Takeuchi Hirotake, The Knowledge Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. Oxford Univ. Press, 1993. This entire body of knowledge of which this book is just an example, is ignored in the deliberations on this blog

      • Jamie Morgan
        June 10, 2016 at 5:23 pm



      • blocke the
        June 11, 2016 at 10:39 am


      • Jamie Morgan
        June 11, 2016 at 5:44 pm

        Hello again

        can an academic be over argumentative? And I did say sorry…

        in any case let us return to the core issue

        it is clearly the case the referenced material used in this blog is mainly English language based…

        Does it then follow that the substantive arguments are socio-culturally specific?

        This trades on whether one can have accounts of social reality that are non-universal yet general…

        This is a different issue than whether one has adequate accounts of what is different in different places

        It is also a different issue than whether discourse is dominated by a particular language group

        it would certainly be good to encourage more contributions from around the world to address all of these issues

        RWER strongly encourages work from any place in the world…

        Best, Jamie

      • blocke the
        June 15, 2016 at 6:40 pm

        Ken, I simple mean that I started with Unbound Prometheus in the 1950s because I was interested in the importance of creating a people of plenty, and I thought Landes said more about that than others I had read. But I, after living in Hawaii for three decades, with forays into Asian countries, and in Europe for 20 years, have not remained unchanged in my outlooks.

      • June 16, 2016 at 5:40 am

        This is pretty much what I assumed. After working with Native American, Quaker, union, cooperative, etc. groups for many years I’m sensitive about what some historians write as “economic history.” I recognize just how much what they write sometimes does not fit what these groups have experienced, have committed to, and what they believe is moral.

  2. May 26, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Ken — perhaps my writing lacks clarity, but I am single-mindedly focused on one central idea here. What I call the Greek Method, is the Axiomatic-Deductive method. This method has no possibility of conflict with observations. This because axiom are certainties, and logical deductions from axioms are equally certain. Observations are only involved in framing of axioms. This is NOT science, but it is economic methodology. In science, one is not wedded to axioms and observations have primary importance. If we see empirical evidence that people do not maximize utility, then science requires us to CHANGE our theories. INSTEAD, upon observing lack of maximizing behavior, economists stick to their theory and insult the behavior, calling it “irrational”

    • May 27, 2016 at 5:04 am

      Asad, your assessment of economics makes sense. My problem with your conclusion is that you err in blaming that result on what you call the “Greek Method” — Axiomatic-Deductive method. Yes, some ancient Greeks invented what Aristotle called “Prior and Posterior Analytics.” He called it a way of reasoning. Not all Greek “thinkers” accepted it and Aristotle repeatedly points out its limitations Aristotle never characterizes it as leading to certainty. Don’t blame the ancient Greeks or Aristotle for the choice of today’s western economists to form all their work around a list of supposedly certain, unquestionable axioms. I’ve given you my hypothesis as to how and why this has happened. What’s yours? This is in my view a question more important than blaming the ancient Greeks for something they have no part in.

      • May 31, 2016 at 11:53 pm

        Ken, you are a historian {and mathematician} par excellence. But Asad is right. Euclidean geometry and modern economics have an axiomatic-deductive approach in common. The difference is that Euclid (and those before him) actually had definitions (noumenal only) out of which they worked a logic of geometry,

        If economists began with definitions :: and a benefit or a satisfaction is hardly a definition :: then we might say, in Euclidean terms :: that what it was erecting had some, if only a noumenal existence.

        I have no problems with Euclidean geometry as such. It is coherent given its initial premises/definitions.

        As an economist, however, I have to agree with Asad: namely, that economics is axiomatic-deductive. But :: and I think Asad will agree (and I hope he tells me if he does not) :: I say that NO ONE can build logically coherent axioms (even noumenal) on what are undefined or indefinable premises.

        Joan Robinson took her very good friend, John Maynard Keynes. to task for his infinitely malleable ‘capital’ {and, frankly, I think Keynes agreed wholeheartedly with her view about fixed technological requirements in production (define by the production processes used rather than by some silly equation about marginal substitutabilities pf labour and captial (implicit, at least in the Hicksian view of what Keynes was saying, which Keynes chose not to argue with.

        In short, no one can say that something is this and also that :: totally different things:( a benefit or a satisfaction/pleasure) :: and then coherently or logically or mathematically construct anything of any value with respect to human behaviour.

        I have a great deal of respect to everything you say, but here, like Asad. I disagree with you. What you have to say about the history of science is correct…but economics is not science and has not been science since the days when Ricardo talked about trade.

      • May 31, 2016 at 11:55 pm

        Please pardon the typos in my previous comment.

  3. May 26, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    Methodological wrong-way drivers
    Comment on Asad Zaman on ‘Economists confuse Greek method with science’

    The most ridiculous mistake of heterodox economists is that they take the claim of orthodox economists seriously that what they do is science. It is not. It is what Feynman called a cargo cult or look-alike science. Because of this, the methodological critique of Heterodoxy regularly runs into a vacuum. Here is the exact point where the discussion plunges into utter confusion.

    (i) “As with any Lakatosian research program, the neo-Walrasian program is characterized by its hard core, heuristics, and protective belts. Without asserting that the following characterization is definitive, I have argued that the program is organized around the following propositions: HC1 economic agents have preferences over outcomes; HC2 agents individually optimize subject to constraints; HC3 agent choice is manifest in interrelated markets; HC4 agents have full relevant knowledge; HC5 observable outcomes are coordinated, and must be discussed with reference to equilibrium states.”
    (ii) “By definition, the hard-core propositions are taken to be true and irrefutable by those who adhere to the program. ‘Taken to be true’ means that the hard-core functions like axioms for a geometry, maintained for the duration of study of that geometry.” (Weintraub, 1985, p. 147)

    The mistake is in part (ii), that is, in “taken to be true and irrefutable”. No genuine scientist makes the claim that his hard-core propositions, a.k.a axioms, are irrefutable. This is, or should be, well-known to every economist: “Whether an axiom is or is not valid can be ascertained either through direct experimentation or by verification through the result of observations, or, if such a thing is impossible, the correctness of the axiom can be judged through the indirect method of verifying the laws which proceed from the axiom by observation or experimentation. (If the axiom is deemed to be incorrect it must be modified or instead a correct axiom must be found.)” (Morishima, 1984, p. 53)

    The claim that axioms are irrefutable is quite simply silly. Asad Zaman, however, does not get the point: “I am single-mindedly focused on one central idea here. What I call the Greek Method, is the Axiomatic-Deductive method. This method has no possibility of conflict with observations. This because axiom are certainties, and logical deductions from axioms are equally certain.”

    The mistake is in “axioms are certainties”. Axioms are taken as TENTATIVE certainties for the duration of analysis and NOT as absolute or irrefutable certainties. Axioms are, as a matter of principle, open to scrutiny and revision. The best-known example is the critique of the axiom of parallels and the subsequent development of non-Euclidean geometries. Paradigm shift means replacement of axiomatic foundations, either because they are false or more general axioms have been found.

    Hence, Asad Zaman’s assertion “This method has no possibility of conflict with observations” is patently false: “One of the most famous stories about Gauss depicts him measuring the angles of the great triangle formed by the mountain peaks of Hohenhagen, Inselberg, and Brocken for evidence that the geometry of space is non-Euclidean.” (Brown, 2011, p. 565)

    Asad Zaman is so single-mindlessly focused on his methodological hallucination that he cannot see the elephant in the economics living room. All one has to do is to critically re-read section (i) above. What should become clear immediately is that HC2, HC4, HC5 are not acceptable as axioms and therefore the whole set is unacceptable. The axiomatic foundation of standard economics is PROVABLY false. As a consequence, the whole logical superstructure from supply-demand-equilibrium onward is false.

    The heterodox methodological idiocy consists in rejecting the axiomatic-deductive method instead of replacing the false Walrasian axiom set by correct heterodox axioms.* To repeat ad nauseam that Orthodoxy is rubbish is, while true, not a noteworthy scientific achievement. Both, orthodox AND heterodox economists are methodological wrong-way drivers.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    Brown, K. (2011). Reflections on Relativity. Raleigh, NC: Lulu.com.
    Morishima, M. (1984). The Good and Bad Use of Mathematics. In P. Wiles, and G. Routh (Eds.), Economics in Disarry, pages 51–73. Oxford: Blackwell.
    Weintraub, E. R. (1985). Joan Robinson’s Critique of Equilibrium: An Appraisal. American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, 75(2): 146–149. URL

    * See also
    Causa finita http://axecorg.blogspot.de/2016/02/causa-finita.html
    Axiomatics — the heterodox bugbear http://axecorg.blogspot.de/2016/01/
    Over the cliff http://axecorg.blogspot.de/2014/12/over-cliff.html

    • May 27, 2016 at 5:29 am

      I think you and many economists are suffering from the same delusion. Robert Shiller, 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics Science says, }The problem is that once we focus on economic policy, much that is not science comes into play. Politics becomes involved, and political posturing is amply rewarded by public attention. The Nobel prize is designed to reward those who do not play tricks for attention, and who, in their sincere pursuit of the truth,
      might otherwise be slighted.” It seems noble to identify a person as self-sacrificing and a truth seeker. But actually it just identifies these persons as delusional. The scientists I know don’t seek truth. They’re just doing their best to make some sense out of what they observe. So how well do economists do this job? Do they make sense out of actions about resources needed for life and livelihood? Making sense is fitting many and different observations together to create a reasonably accurate picture of these actions, those who perform them, and the meanings and explanations created in this process. Economists perform dismally in this work. When has anyone read an economic “paper” that provides a “reasonably accurate picture” of any set of actions generally referred to with the adjective economic? Ergo most economists are not scientists. But some are. Knowing the difference and how to spot it is important.

      • Souare
        May 28, 2016 at 9:02 am

        OK, so name the economists that are scientists?

      • June 1, 2016 at 12:29 am

        Agreed. There are some good economists despite the theoretical deficiencies.

    • June 1, 2016 at 12:25 am

      Frankly, you have misunderstood what Asad is saying. He completely agrees with your view that economics is not a science :: FULL STOP. He agrees that the axioms, being totally undefined, have no merit.

      That said, I do not think that your ‘model’ has merit. What you are correct about is nether more nor less than the idea that people can only purchase, in the limit, what they can afford to out of their incomes and borrowing capacities. This has nothing to do with what they must purchase to maintain themselves. It has nothing to do with the distribution of incomes which, believe it or not, determine what they can purchase.

      Nor does it have anything to do with the welfare of actual people.

      You have constructed a mathematics that has nothing to do with much, being simply a mathematics of balances that could occur but which, though mathematically proper, have nothing to do with human life or well-being.

      You know, and I know, that markets do not necessarily clear at any time. You know, and I know, that allocative efficiency has nothing to do with human values, even if one were to presume that efficiency.

      When you compress x in all its permutations relative to needs and wants into X, you do not justice to the requirements or wants of human beings.

      You dislike the fact that I want human beings and their needs and their wants into any structure of economics.

      If economics is not about actually providing for either of these, it is useless.

      Make it useful.

    • June 1, 2016 at 12:43 am

      Again, forgive the typos, EKH.

      You seem to have decided — from your very first comment about me but not to me — that I was terribly wrong about bringing human needs (not merely wants) into what I feel economics must be about.

      I find that sad and silly. Economics is about how we provide :: or fail to :: for ourselves. It is not about mathematics or the observation that the exchange value of what people can buy is what is important. Far too many things are far more important, EKH, than merely exchange values.

      I think that, in our critique of what is mainstream, we largely agree. But, in our overall perspective, we disagree markedly about what is important for economics to begin to do or develop as a science.

  4. May 27, 2016 at 1:04 am

    EKH: I think we are in agreement over the CORE point that I am trying to make:. I am saying that [1] ECONOMISTS follow a methodology which does not allow observational evidence to impinge on their theories. [2] This methodology is claimed to be scientific, but it is not. I think you agree with [1] and [2]. Where you dis-agree is that you think axiomatic deductive IS the methodology of science, and Economists do not use it correctly. This is peripheral to the point I am making. However, the key scientific inference process is ABDUCTION, inference to the best explanation. This not a central process in Euclidean geometry. Mathematical methodology is axiomatic-deductive, but scientific methodology is not. This can be easily established by arguments, and by an overwhelming amount of empirical evidence. Nonetheless, in the context of what I am currently trying to prove, this is not of importance.

    • May 27, 2016 at 5:45 am

      Asad, you claim “Mathematical methodology is axiomatic-deductive, but scientific methodology is not.” In my view your conclusion is incorrect. If actual scientists are observed we find they use lots of axioms. Albeit many do change over time. Here are few I’ve observed. 1) If it’s an obvious idea, chances are that someone’s thought of it before, and there’s a good reason why it won’t work. This is not a reason to give up, but rather a guide to checking the idea out.
      2) Input for a product should be water and air; other things cost more. KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. Also: Occam’s razor. Basically, the simplest explanations and the cheapest inputs, are usually best.
      3) Carbon dioxide and water are products, not reactants.
      4) Stuff mixes.
      5) Everything takes more energy than you think.

      Admittedly these are not the refined principles of Euclid or Aristotle. But they are axioms used by scientists and almost impossible to challenge.

      Are there similar for economists? For example.
      1) As price declines sales of a commodity increase.
      2) Each human will serve her/his own interests first.
      3) Nothing ensures proper distribution of money, labor, and quality of life better than a market.

      • June 1, 2016 at 12:46 am

        Can we agree, Ken, that we don’t have an axiom if we cannot define what the axiom purportedly describes. I think this is Asad’s point.

      • June 1, 2016 at 1:02 pm

        Ken, what you are calling axioms I would call “rules of thumb”. The first two you suggest for economists are on the evidence only USUALLY true (Tony Lawson in “Economics and Reality” refers to “tendencies”), but in the third the term “market” is undefined. Arguably the markets for resources, commodities, durable facilities and freely reproducible money are different in kind, and a combination of rationing rate of use of resources to rate of reproduction – hence credit where needed rather than where profitable, and for labour, secure money incomes and rewards from surplus for quality of performance – are more likely to ensure quality of life than competitive markets.

      • June 1, 2016 at 6:59 pm

        I won’t quibble with you on how these are described. “Rules of thumb” works for me. As to their use I took all these “rules of thumb” from the testimony of economists “given under oath” in regulatory cases. At least two were repeated in the decisions the regulators rendered in many of these cases. Sounds fairly fundamental to me, if not actually axiomatic.

  5. May 27, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    The consistent ancients and the confused moderns
    Comment on Asad Zaman and Ken Zimmerman on ‘Economists confuse Greek method with science’

    Science is guided by the binary code true/false. True/false in turn has two dimensions: logical and material/empirical/factual. Economics claims since Adam Smith and Karl Marx to be a science, explicitly with “Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”. Yet, everybody who looks deeper into the matter (‘So we really ought to look into theories that don’t work, and science that isn’t science.’ Feynman) comes to the conclusion that economics has not risen above proto-scientific storytelling since Smith and Marx.

    The rules of conduct of the scientific community demand that the actual state of economics is at all times unambiguously communicated to the general public. So, the first thing to do is to make it absolutely clear that economic policy advice of BOTH orthodox and heterodox economics has no better scientific foundation than old Roman poultry entrails reading.

    By consequence, economic policy advice of Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxism, Austrianism has to be taken without exception as scientifically worthless agenda pushing.

    The second thing to do is to expel BOTH orthodox and heterodox economists from the sciences because of proven scientific incompetence over more than 200 years. The current pluralism of provably false or vacuous theories and the permanent ignorance and erosion of well-defined scientific standards (playing tennis with the net down, anything goes) is not acceptable.

    The task of economists is to explain how the monetary economy works. This is NOT done by storytelling but in the form of a theory that satisfies the criteria of formal and material consistency.

    What Asad Zaman calls the Greek method consists essentially in the distinction/demarcation between doxa=opinion and episteme=knowledge=science, that is, “There cannot be both opinion and knowledge of the same thing at the same time.” and “When the premises are certain, true, and primary, and the conclusion formally follows from them, this is demonstration, and produces scientific knowledge of a thing.” (Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, Wikipedia)

    In modern terminology: “The basic concepts and laws which are not logically further reducible constitute the indispensable and not rationally deducible part of the theory. It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.” (Einstein, 1934)

    The current state of economics is this: Orthodoxy got the premises/basic concepts/axioms badly wrong* and Heterodoxy has none at all. What we actually have is storytelling, political blather, senseless model bricolage, and utter methodological confusion.

    The ancient Greeks had a better understanding of science than present-day orthodox/heterodox economists and in any case than Asad Zaman and Ken Zimmerman.**

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    * “… most of what I and many others do is sorta-kinda neoclassical because it takes the maximization-and-equilibrium world as a starting point” (Krugman).
    ** See also ‘When substandard thinkers dabble in science it is called economics’

    • May 30, 2016 at 3:27 am

      I’ve already commented on your view of science. But I’ll say it again just so there is no confusion. Your view is delusional. I’ve never worked with a scientist who was looking for truth. The scientists I know and have worked with search for explanations that fit experience. They know these are not true in any final way but they are useful. And that’s one of the hearts of science – usefulness. The other is curiosity. Explanations may not always be useful but they should at least provide answers to questions that peak our interest. And of course much scientific work achieves neither of these goals. I’ve also stated as clearly as I know how that I believe storytelling is a part of scientific work. Particularly the parts that explain our work to other scientists or to non-scientists. One of the things I miss most in current scientific publishing is the lack of good writing, of storytelling. For a good story in just two pages take a look at “MOLECULAR STRUCTURE OF NUCLEIC ACIDS, A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” by J. D. WATSON and F. H. C. CRICK, Nature, April 25, 1953. Scientific papers today are so dense (that is not a complement) that few outside the particular subfield can even grasp the basics let alone have any significant understanding of them.

      The problems of economics in my view have two roots. First, economists took 19th century physics as their model of a science. This lead to economists’ inability to wholly not see much less study the actual subject matter of economics. Which has little in common with the subject matter of physics. And to be scientific a science must study its subject matter in ways and with methods that allow that subject matter to be revealed. How could economic actions and interactions be revealed by study assumptions and methods intended for the subject matter of physics? Second, even before economists had designed a science to study economic actions and interactions they wanted command of the decision making about such actions and interactions. In other words economists wanted to the “in charge” even before they knew anything about what they were in in charge of. This level of narcissism is seldom found in persons not suffering from severe emotional trauma.

      Thanks for the quote from Aristotle. As I’ve said I do believe, contrary to Asad that both inductive and deductive reasoning is part of scientific work. I don’t think any scientist I know could function without both. Which just under scores my disagreement with you about science being a search for truth. Neither of these forms of reasoning as used by scientists leads to truth. They may lead to a simple, direct, and clear explanation – something all scientists shoot for. But which could be simply, directly, and clearly wrong. One of the several reasons why failed efforts to explain in science are just as important as successful ones. And why even successful ones are always subject to questioning and reconsideration. All sciences have an orthodoxy. A set of explanations (theories if you like) that are accepted for the time being by most scientists in the field. That’s not the issue with economics. The issue as I see it is economists are just lazy slobs who seldom question the orthodoxy. You can’t be a scientist without questioning the current orthodoxy! No matter how often you grant yourself that title.

    • June 1, 2016 at 1:10 am

      EKH, you said: “The ancient Greeks had a better understanding of science than present-day orthodox/heterodox economists and in any case than Asad Zaman and Ken Zimmerman.”

      Actually, the ancient Greeks had very little understanding of what we call science, unless you consider Euclidean geometry to be ‘science’. That was formalistic and very well defined, but, as such, Euclidean geometry was entirely a noumenal exercise.

      New geometries with different premises now exist. Like the old geometries, they have useful, including scientific applications. But, ultimately, they are formalistic, not scientific in themselves. Their ‘truth’ is eternal:: a set of absolute deduction derived from the premises, but such absolute, eternal truths are not scientific.
      What is scientific is how scientists then decide how relevant they are to describing a reality that lies well outside the merely noumenal. It is the ability to move beyond the absolute and eternal verities of forms :: formalistic logic from axioms :: that is an integral aspect of science itself. For, within science, there are no eternal, absolute verities: only a process of discovery what seems right, right now given what we know and can conjecture.

      Stop looking down on what others are saying. Instead, try to understand what they are saying.

  6. May 27, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    KZ: I accept the complaint about unjustly tarnishing the reputation of Greek thinkers — every reference to Greek method may be replaced by axiomatic-deductive without loss in this sequence of articles.
    However, I insist that science is not axiomatic-deductive. In fact this was a positivist mistake to characterize science in this fashion, and this has been rejected. Since both EKH and you cite philosophers of science, I would like to be guided to any post-positivist philosopher who has maintained this position. Although I have not done a thorough survey, Hacking’s work has no such suggestion, and many others that I have read do not provide any such idea. A crucial requirement of science is GUESSING at invisible real structures based on observations. These guesses are never fully justifiable — for example to conjecture that GRAVITY causes apples to fall is just a brilliant guess, but it is not provable by any logic. Similarly Daltons guess about atomic structure based on combining of chemicals in fixed proportions has exactly this same feature — it is just a great guess, but there is NO WAY to logically prove Daltons guess from axioms.

    • May 28, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      Asad Zaman

      You say: “I insist that science is not axiomatic-deductive. … A crucial requirement of science is GUESSING at invisible real structures based on observations.”

      This is true for the creative solution of a scientific problem. It is a matter of indifference whether the eureka flashes while taking a bath (Archimedes), mounting a bus (Poincaré), dreaming (Kekulé), looking out of the window and imagining how gravity appears to a person falling from the rooftop (Einstein).

      But science is a social activity and therefore the original inspiration has to be brought into a communicative form so that others can put the idea/result/conclusion in context and can reproduce it logically and factually on their own. This specific communicative form is called a theory. Methodology refers to the properties of a well-formulated theory and is NOT a prescription of how to solve a problem. There is no such thing as a prescription for scientific creativity.

      So “guessing at invisible real structures” (context of discovery) is FULLY compatible with the axiomatic-deductive method (context of justification). As a matter of fact, axioms are themselves guesses, as every economist could know from J. S. Mill: “What are the propositions which may reasonably be received without proof? That there must be some such propositions all are agreed, since there cannot be an infinite series of proof, a chain suspended from nothing. But to determine what these propositions are, is the opus magnum of the more recondite mental philosophy.”

      Or, as Feynman put the relationship between guessing and axiomatics: “It does not matter that moos and goos cannot appear in the guess. You can have as much junk in the guess as you like, provided that the consequences can be compared with experiment.” And: “Some day, when physics is complete and we know all the laws, we may be able to start with some axioms, and no doubt somebody will figure out a particular way of doing it so that everything else can be deduced.”

      The decisive point is that Walrasian junk cannot be compared with experiment because its moos and goos are not ‘invisible real structures’ but NONENTITIES. Hence standard economics is a story and not a theory and economists are storytellers and not scientists.

      Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

      • May 29, 2016 at 7:39 pm

        I’m with you most of the way. Richard Feynman was a brilliant person. But he made at least one mistake. He made the comparison of the guess (hypothesis) with experience (experimental or otherwise) sound much too simple and straight forward. He should have known better from his own experiences on the Manhattan Project where making such comparisons was very difficult. Sometimes leading to fights (some even physical (excuse the pun)) among members of the Project team. Making the choices of what, when, and how to compare is difficult and time consuming. Often tense and always uncertain. And this is particularly a curious mistake from one of the early supporters of Quantum Theory. Or maybe he just simplified the process for Introduction to Physics students. I hope that is the case. The interviews with Feynman in the 1970s seem to support this hypothesis.

    • May 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      Asad, your characterization of inference in science (inductive reasoning) reflects the history of actual work by scientists. But that work is not quite as simple as you suggest — make a guess and then look for empirical agreement. Almost always scientists begin with some idea in mind of causation and explanation (a theory to use the nomenclature). And the history of science shows that scientists are reluctant to give up theories they “believe” are correct, or at least partially so. Hempel’s “covering law” proposition attempts to capture the process of scientific explanation. In his view each explanation is the result of the use of some general scientific law (already widely accepted by scientists) that “covers” the phenomenon to be explained combined with certain specific facts of the situation. Voila you have a scientific explanation. Now this is all much too simple as even general laws have to be “applied” and that means decisions about how, when, and where to apply them must be made. And the decisions about which “facts” (observations achieved by what means, over what time period, under what circumstances) to use in arriving at explanations are even more complex and uncertain. Any philosopher of science who claims to know for sure what science is and how it works is lying, a fool, or both. Scientists on the other hand are notorious about claiming in public they know precisely how science works and what it can achieve. Worrisome, to say the least.

  7. May 30, 2016 at 5:34 am

    so it seems that Feynman agrees that if we have a complete valid body of knowledge, it may be possible to axiomatize it, but this is not true today.

    • May 30, 2016 at 6:06 am

      So if scientists identify general laws and the laws are generally accepted by most scientists then these can be used as axioms. And applied, along with situational factors to form explanations. I witness scientists act in a such a manner regularly. Although such occurs less frequently with economists, in my experience.

  8. May 30, 2016 at 5:38 am

    To explain further, science is not done axiomatically — we guess at invisible structures and try to verify these guesses in different ways. One we have a body of knowledge then it may be possible to axiomatize it to make it easy for beginners to learn it. This is just like a grammar for a language. Languages do not follow grammar, rather grammar is invented by studying the language for rules to systematize study of language.

    • May 30, 2016 at 6:16 am

      So the axioms of logic that Aristotle explained so carefully come from nowhere? No, each has a history. Each became an axiom in this history. Admittedly much of this history was outside the experience of Aristotle. But the history happened none the less. As for your example about language I think you’ll find if you examine the history of languages that they both follow grammar while at the same time grammar is invented by using the language. Then scholars study both the history of the language and the history of the grammar.

  9. May 30, 2016 at 5:53 am

    EKH the distinction you draw between Walras and Physics is not valid — when you have unobservables, then you cannot differentiate between entitties and nonentities. What Dalton thought were atoms turned out to be molecules. What physicists thought was ether, turned out tobe vacuum. Science is ALWAYS a guess and there is no FINAL verification possible ever. It always remains a guess, certain guesses can be DISPROVEN, but guesses can never be proven since we never get access to the unobservable reality. What we think about as electrons today, might turn out to be non-existenct, just a manifestation of certain kind of string activity which was mistaken for a particle due to crude and early stage of scientific investigationsl

    The distinction that I am trying to make here is between IDEOLOGY and SCIENCEl. Economics is an ideology — there is a commitment to a methodological framework of rational and optimizing behavior, methodological individualism and some others which MUST BE MAINTAINED regardless of massive empirical evidence to the contrary. This is a CHARACTERISTIC of the axiomatic deductive method. Euclidean geomentry is impervious to empirical observational evidence. Exaclty like this, modern economics is axiomatic and completely ignores/disregards empirical evidence to the contrary.

    • May 30, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      The point that Asam has not yet made is that the axioms needed for good economics are the ones that allow the empirical evidence to find a place within the theory. Foe example, its no good assuming that banks can make money out of fresh air, when we also know that their job is to prepare accurate accounts for every penny that passes through their hands.

      • May 31, 2016 at 10:15 pm

        I agree with [the spirit if not the letter of] your point, David. However, your counter-example points me to the empirically investigatable proposition that, if it is true banks make money oit of fresh air, then the way they do so must be embedded in their accounting methods. As indeed it is: in double entry book-keeping. The bank writes one a cheque for money which doesn’t exist, then writes it into the accounts as if it did, and the bank owned it. Sleight of hand!

    • May 31, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      Well, I completely agree with your comment, Assad.

    • May 31, 2016 at 7:57 pm

      Now Asad you and I are on the same page. The heart of the issue is what economics and economists want to accomplish. What they see as their role in the world. As I see it they understand their role as endorsing, explaining, and spreading a certain arrangement of actions and interactions. Which they (most of them anyway) define as economics, scientific, rational, and the best of all possible worlds. Within such a cocoon it’s difficult to see how any economist thus committed could identify, let alone propose and support other options to these essential arrangements. You don’t need axiomatic reasoning, Greek or otherwise to do this. But the Greeks have provided cover for lots of bad schemes for the last 2000 years. This is just one of them.

  10. May 31, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    Egmont on 28 May, 5.59 pm. “But science is a social activity and therefore the original inspiration has to be brought into a communicative form so that others can put the idea/result/conclusion in context and can reproduce it logically and factually on their own. This specific communicative form is called a theory. Methodology refers to the properties of a well-formulated theory and is NOT a prescription of how to solve a problem”.

    This is a very important – not to say crucial – point you are making about communication. From the evidence and what I know of information storage and retrieval and the structure of the brain, it does not just apply to others. Simple forms like words, signs, shapes and symbolic structures are easily remembered and if remembered, provide an index to fuller but more diffuse memories of experience. As Poincare put it, “symbols are hooks to hang ideas on”. If we don’t label our discoveries, we have difficulty knowing where to start; but of course, if other people are not familiar with the labels or associate them with very different contexts, communication can have failed before it has started. Which too often seems to be the case here.

    Where it seems to me you are going wrong is in assuming that mathematical theorising is the only way of communicating science. Let us take your position (which I largely agree with) that the starting point for economic theory has to be structural relationships. Since only a small percentage of people can translate relationships encoded in mathematical language into structural experience (as in seeing circles and triangles in the algebraic form of Pythagoras’s theorem), but many more can understand structural diagrams and the mathematics relevant to them, while even the completely unmathematical may get a feel for a shop-keeper playing off suppliers against customers from a story about marriage involving “another woman”, I would defend the historians here seeing merit in their story form. Given the widespread practical significance of economics I see it as more akin to engineering outcomes than inquiry into fundamentals, communication there starting from schematic diagrams and seeking “material and logical consistency” in applying analysis of materials to synthesis of an effective system.

    I’ve never ever seen anyone saying “Methodology refers to the properties of a well-formulated theory” before. I disagree. Scientific methodology is not a constant, but the fourfold structure of a normal brain is, and as I see it scientific methodology involves the sequence in which one (or one’s team of specialists) uses the four ways of thinking: variously labelled but in effect research [in problem area], abduction [to proposition], deduction [of test] and induction [acceptance in light of statistical quality assurance]; otherwise repeat. (C.f. the DREI(c) formula in Bhaskar’s “Dialectic”). In scientific specialisms, when the underlying theory is already well known, the phases of abduction and the testing of it tend to be omitted and deduction replaced by intuition “looking up” the remembered answer.

  11. Jamie Morgan
    June 1, 2016 at 8:53 am

    One underlying question is if economics is to be a science – what kind of ‘science’ can it be?

    This requires one to ask what are human societies like – since science is shaped in its investigation by the nature of the object/subject/focus under investigation (as well as the purposes of investigation).

    If human societies are highly variable, context dependent etc. then it is not (in any disparaging sense) bricolage to approach them based on variability and context.

    If they are systems created by people (collectively though not always co-operatively) with consciousness, interests and the capacity (with constraints) to shape how they live, then it is not political muddying of the purity of economic reasoning to consider carefully the ramifications of how economies are constructed and what the consequences are.

    Perhaps the problem is we are persisting in using the term science and despite asserting the contrary, cannot fully shed the sense that physics is the reference point (and patently discredited philosophy of science accounts of the activity of physics our concept class).

    • June 1, 2016 at 10:06 am

      First, if the conception of science as the search for truth and certainty is applied even physics does not qualify as a science. So what chance do the social sciences or economics have? Second, science has to study something. Science and study objects are a set. Together they make a science, and only together. Scientists observe as often and as completely as possible the objects of study, summarizes those observations and then move to create theory(s) to explain these observations. And then observe some more to check out the veracity of the theory(s). And round and round science goes. Societies and economies are complex and they are interrelated. So economics is a social science. Observing the other social sciences can provide pointers to economists. For example, sociology is well ahead of economics in the application of mathematics to social science. And psychology has methodical tools and experience in their practical application that could be transferred to economics. But the fundamental objective for the work of economists remains the same – to describe (in detail) how people (mostly non-economists) create, utilize, make durable, and change ways of acting and interacting given the title economic by these people. And using this information to create explanations (theories) that translate how the people who created them give economic actions and interactions meaning and importance.

  12. June 1, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    The scientific self-elimination of Heterodoxy
    Comment on Jamie Morgan on ‘Economists confuse Greek method with science’

    You say: “One underlying question is if economics is to be a science — what kind of ‘science’ can it be?” False, economics has only the choice between complying to well-defined standards or to be thrown out of science. Science was there before economics was there and the Greeks defined it as episteme = knowledge in contradistinction to doxa = opinion. This demarcation line is often hard to draw in the concrete case but it nevertheless exists.

    The guiding principle for establishing knowledge is the distinction true/false: “There are always many different opinions and conventions concerning any one problem or subject-matter (such as the gods). This shows that they are not all true. For if they conflict, then at best only one of them can be true. Thus it appears that Parmenides … was the first to distinguish clearly between truth or reality on the one hand, and convention or conventional opinion (hearsay, plausible myth) on the other …” (Popper, 1994, pp. 39-40)

    This is the meaning of SCIENTIFIC truth (= formal and material consistency) which is different from religious or philosophical truth. A heterodox economist who says that ‘there is no truth’ shoots himself in the foot because if anything goes and nothing matters Orthodoxy cannot be criticized/rejected. To deny the true/false criterion means to kick oneself out of science. Asad Zaman is a prominent example.

    Another widespread error of Heterodoxy is to maintain that rejection/debunking of Orthodoxy is sufficient. It is not: “The problem is not just to say that something might be wrong, but to replace it by something — and that is not so easy.” (Feynman, 1992, p. 161)

    Replacement means in concrete terms to replace the methodologically unacceptable microfoundations, which are nothing but the explicit formal specification of methodological individualism, by correct macrofoundations. This means in even more concrete terms that one needs a total replacement for this axiomatic hard core: “HC1 economic agents have preferences over outcomes; HC2 agents individually optimize subject to constraints; HC3 agent choice is manifest in interrelated markets; HC4 agents have full relevant knowledge; HC5 observable outcomes are coordinated, and must be discussed with reference to equilibrium states.” (Weintraub, 1985, p. 147)

    The green cheese behavioral assumptions HC1, HC2, HC4 define economics as a social science. The crux of the so-called social sciences, though, is this: “By having a vague theory it is possible to get either result. … It is usually said when this is pointed out, ‘When you are dealing with psychological matters things can’t be defined so precisely’. Yes, but then you cannot claim to know anything about it.” (Feynman, 1992, p. 159). Because of this, behavioral assumptions cannot be taken into the axiomatic foundations of a theory. Remember Aristotle: “When the premises are certain, true, and primary, and the conclusion formally follows from them, this is demonstration, and produces scientific knowledge of a thing.”

    As a matter of principle, behavioral assumptions/propositions are NOT certain enough and therefore they cannot be used as axiomatic foundation of economics. This is the fatal methodological blunder of Orthodoxy. Economics has to be redefined as system science and put on objective (= non-behavioral) foundations.*

    The mistake of Heterodoxy is to define itself in opposition to Orthodoxy. This negative identity has to be turned into a positive identity by spelling out the foundational propositions that define Heterodoxy. The fault of Orthodoxy has never been to apply the axiomatic-deductive method but to chose shaky behavioral assumptions as axioms. The fault of heterodox economics is that it cannot define itself with a handfull of objective and certain foundational propositions. What is built upon shaky foundations eventually falls apart. This is what happened to Orthodoxy and this is why Heterodoxy never got off the ground.

    Does the world expect from economists to find out how people behave? No, this is the proper job of psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, political science, evolution theory, criminology, etcetera. Does the world expect from economists to figure out what profit is? Yes, of course, no philosopher, psychologist, biologist, or sociologist will ever try to figure this out.

    Have orthodox or heterodox economists figured out what profit is? No: “A satisfactory theory of profits is still elusive.” (Desai, 2008, p. 10). So, economists can be defined as scientific write-offs who give economic policy advice without ever having understood the pivotal concept of their subject matter.** If there ever was a scientific failure worse than the flat earth theory then it is economics defined as social science. And excactly this is what Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy have in common.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    Desai, M. (2008). Profit and Profit Theory. In S. N. Durlauf, and L. E. Blume (Eds.), The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics Online, pages 1–11. Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd edition. URL http://www.dictionaryofeconomics.com/article?id=pde2008_P000213
    Feynman, R. P. (1992). The Character of Physical Law. London: Penguin.
    Popper, K. R. (1994). The Myth of the Framework. In Defence of Science and Rationality. London, New York, NY: Routledge.
    Weintraub, E. R. (1985). Joan Robinson’s Critique of Equilibrium: An Appraisal. American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, 75(2): 146–149. URL

    * See ‘Economics is NOT a science of behavior’
    ** See ‘How the intelligent non-economist can refute every economist hands down’

    • Jamie Morgan
      June 3, 2016 at 9:49 am

      Hello Egmont; does this state your reply:

      1.There has so far been no successful mainstream development of axiomatic approaches
      2. Heterodoxy should embrace scientific truth as the basis of its project (rejecting orthodoxy as its contrast)
      3. Heterodoxy cannot be behavioural because behavioural a. is uncertain and b. focuses on issues that shouldn’t be the focus of economics (economics have concepts like profit a psychologist or sociologist would be unconcerned with)
      4. The way forward is for heterodoxy (or some form of named economics) to identify sound axioms

      Consider the claims:

      1. has failed but it remains the case that 4 is possible – but this assumes that the failure of 1 is not the impossibility of 1. Yet one trades on the conflation axiom, science and certainty. Can economics be certain, must science be axiomatically expressed (which seems another way of stating conducive to nomological: is this possible in any meaningful way)
      2. Heterodoxy does often (and in some ways by semantic) define itself against orthodoxy – but theory does not – the internal adequacy of schools is not simply a matter of any critique of alternatives – otherwise any other school would simply consist in a set of criticisms of some mainstream approach – this is manifestly false as a claim
      3. It may be warranted to say heterodoxy shouldn’t be behavioural – but this may well be because behavioural as currently explored is often quasi axiomatic and variable (rather than uncertain) and so actually more deterministic and less relevant beyond the laboratory or model than is possible. This seems the reverse of your point.
      4. The issue in the end is not whether economists have concepts like profit but rather whether social science as a focus on economy has an adequate grasp of the economy… You seem to be conflating ‘is’ with ‘can’ or might based on a more appropriate approach to the social world… approaches are something we make partly through critique of existing dividing lines (and which to some degree you are reifying here it seems – and in a curious way – Veblen may also be claimed by sociology, Marx by sociology, and many others… which does not make their work excellent but does illustrate that boundaries are porous and in some ways should not be the point – we should resist them as artificial barriers if they are an impediment to understanding… not use problematic barriers as arguments for why we should be x)

      To state what is built on shaky foundations will eventually fall apart is a matter of expectations of knowledge – another way of saying this is: only a core of stated certainties as points of departure justify us in having a warrant to explore the social world… If we accept that this core is either impossible or overly restrictive or uninformative, then the problem dissolves in so far as one simply shifts ones expectations of how the world is interrogated… one might equally say that a complex world in process will require shifting and multiple points of entry to investigate it and these in turn may shift over time… Is that ‘shaky’? Is it unscientific? Maybe, I am not sure…

      Best, Jamie

      • June 4, 2016 at 8:51 am

        Jamie Morgan

        My main points are in a nutshell:

        (i) Methodology is important but only if it helps to promote the real thing.

        (ii) The real thing is to answer the question how the actual monetary (world-) economy works.

        (iii) So, compared to physics the subject matter is the universe and not the learning-disabled fruit-fly called homo oeconomicus.

        (iv) Because of this, economics has to get out of folk psychology, folk sociology, folk history, and folk politics. Economics is a system science.

        (v) One cannot perceive the economy with the two natural eyes but only with the third eye of theory. So economics is abstract and not accessible by way of storytelling and misplaced concreteness.

        (vi) Theory is composed of elementary premises (= axioms) and the superstructure of derived propositions. A theory is true if it satisfies the criteria of formal and material consistency. True theory is the precondition of any policy advice. Policy advice without true theory is an abuse of science for agenda pushing. This is what economics is today. Both Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy is stuck at the proto-scientific level.

        (vii) Orthodoxy is microfounded (see the axioms HC1 to HC5 in the post above). This is the methodological root error/mistake.

        (viii) The task of Heterodoxy is to replace microfoundations by macrofoundations.

        Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

      • June 4, 2016 at 7:04 pm

        Yes, sort of.

        1) if you mean by “real thing” the historical processes through which economic theories, actions, and ways of life are constructed, then we’re on the same page.
        2) Why limit economics to the monetary world? The people who build economics (the ways we meet our physical needs and the science) do not.
        3) If you want to study economics, study how the things called economic, economies, economic theory, applying economics is actually done, by all the actors involved.
        4) Actually I believe economics is stuck with folk psychology, folk sociology, folk history, folk politics, and several other “folks.” The folks invented the damned thing. How else you going to study what they invented, which is the way of the world. Economics certainly can be a system science. Does not mean the actors who invented it think of it or use it as a system anything.
        5) But make certain you consider all the theories. Economists invent theories. But so do the inventors of economic actions and economies. I think the latter are a lot more basic and important.
        6) A theory may be true logically speaking, but still wrong and perhaps useless from a practical or policy perspective. Theories are no more than hypotheses linked together. They cannot be assessed by their logical and systematic structure alone. That leads to often facetious and sometimes disastrous results.
        7) That “orthodox” economics is lost in the wilderness, not knowing even in which wilderness seems obvious to me.
        8) This is pointless, since the micro/macro dichotomy is manufactured. If you want to understand the dichotomy and how its used examine its history, its construction over time. And changes over time.

      • June 5, 2016 at 3:14 pm

        Well, I have a few things to say relative to your eight points:

        i) Methodology is important, but, any economics which ignores the biological, psychological, social and technical frameworks that shape and are shaped by by our economic activity; which ignores the distribution of income in society and the impacts of such income inequalities upon consumption and production paths; and which disregards our politics is unlikely to promote what you term ‘the real thing’.

        ii) Yes, how the monetary system works is important. The monetary system brings into play a system of exchange equivalencies between goods unlike any prior pre-monetary equivalencies for exchange while freeing exchange from reciprocal obligations framed by family and culture. The use of money carries with it the notion of goods being perfect substitutes for each other — for exchange equivalencies are simply pxi*xi = px1*x1 = px2*x2 = … = pxn*xn. This carries with it the notion that price substitution is a sufficient condition for ‘consumer’ well-being, whereas most goods are not even close substitutes in their uses and in terms of how they meet human needs. Monetary exchange also introduces a notion of insatiability in the consumption of individual goods, largely due to the reality that people tend to prefer more money to less of it, other things being equal.

        iii) Alfred Marshall said, “Political Economy or Economics is a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life.” You say that the subject matter is the universe and not the learning-disabled fruit-fly called homo oeconomicus. I say that the subject matter is how we provide for ourselves, and that in a monetary system the possession or ownership of money and property, including technology, determines what and if we can provide for our needs as human beings. I agree that homo oeconomicus is a psychopath, but I will add that monetary economies provide environments in which psychopathic behaviors are generally more rewarded than humanitarian ones.

        iv) I agree about the folk business. But psychology is no longer folk. Kahnemann’s work, for instance, is grounded in observations that suggest we use a fuzzy logic in our decision making. Sociology is also grounded in observations. But current micro-economics is ‘folk’ wisdom wrapped in mathematical formulae; and current macro-economics has no proper micro-foundations because ‘folk’ micro-economics has none. Without a theory of budget formation out of income, neither micro nor macro theories have any validity … and that includes your own. Absent a theory of budget formation to meet human needs out of income, your construction is about flow balances, not mankind in the ordinary business of life.

        v) I agree that we need systemic theory, but, such theory cannot be divorced from the study of mankind in the ordinary business of life. You say that economics is abstract and not accessible by way of storytelling and misplaced concreteness. I say that one abstracts from the concrete. Economics today misplaces the concrete. So does your framework.

        vi) You say, “Theory is composed of elementary premises (= axioms) and the superstructure of derived propositions.” No. A theory’s elementary axioms –if not derived from inductive inferences that are testable hypotheses in terms of their explanatory power — do not make for anything resembling ‘science’ as such. Ptolemaic astronomy and Euclidean geometry, though useful, are strictly noumenal constructs. Science is never a strictly noumenal construct. It is one thing to suggest, as I do, that these were/are Scientias :: bodies of knowledge about subjects. It is another to suggest that either is ‘scientific’ or that any science can do without inductive inferences.

        vii) I agree that ‘orthodoxy’ is micro-founded in a micro-economics without foundations.

        viii) The task of heterodoxy is not to replace micro with macro. It is, first, to reconstruct the micro on firm inductive foundations that are ‘concrete axioms’; and, second, to develop theories of macro-economic activity which follow from these concrete axioms. A theory of micro or macro economic activity, absent any accounts of budget formation, and absent of human beings, is what needs construction.

      • June 5, 2016 at 3:20 pm

        My last line in my earlier reply should have read: A theory of micro or macro economic activity, absent any accounts of budget formation, and absent of human beings, is NOT what needs construction.

      • June 5, 2016 at 11:14 am

        Ken Zimmerman

        You say: “if you mean by ‘real thing’ the historical processes through which economic theories, actions, and ways of life are constructed, then we’re on the same page.”

        The real thing is theoretical economics, that is, the formally and materially correct explanation of how the (actual-monetary-world) economy works. The true theory is the precondition for the understanding of present and past economic reality.

        It is not only that Orthodoxy has failed but Heterodoxy, too. The representative economist — including historians since the German Historical School and the American Institutionialists since Veblen — has until this day NO idea of what profit is. This is comparable to a medieval physicist who has no proper understanding of the fundamental concept of energy. The contribution of historians to economic theory has been zero.

        So, we are certainly NOT on the same page. As I see it there is no chance that you will ever get out from behind the curve. For details see ‘The future of economics: why you will probably not be admitted to it, and why this is a good thing’ http://axecorg.blogspot.de/2016/01/the-future-or-economics-why-you-will.html.

        Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

      • June 6, 2016 at 4:37 am

        I assume a very different starting point from yours. I assume those who build economies, who create economic actions, and are involved in economic interactions are my guide to what these are, how they work, and what they mean. These are the theories that interest me. And most of these are not rational (in the logical sense), often based on partial information and beliefs that vary from what’s considered near fixed certainties to rules of thumb to hunches and guesses. If you bypass these, as you propose you’ve just left the economic and economies out of your work. You playing make believe. The object of an economic science is to study, describe, and explain to others the economic as it’s been built, almost entirely by non-economists and how they (not economists) try to make it operate. Now that hard work. The “equational” foundations you propose are at best a distraction from this and at worst hide what’s happening from efforts to see it clearly and fully. For example, the equations you present ignore those economic actions and structures that I work with most often — cooperatives and non-profits in general.

    • June 10, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      Egmont Kakarot-Handtke: I think that your (& many others here) disparagement of honest scientific work in economics and elsewhere could be helped by considering Aristotle’s comparison of truth to the proverbial door which no one can fail to hit. But your position on truth, against absurd ones like “scientists aren’t interested in truth” deserves support. So here is a recent quip I like from Roger Scruton: “A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.”

      • June 11, 2016 at 6:56 am

        It is an assumption to believe there is something or somethings called truth. And assumptions are constructed over time. They are historical. Being historical they can and do change. What is put together as counting as truth varies with the time, place, and circumstances. As I’ve just said truth does exist. But finding “the truth” just reveals, if we look closely how it was created. Richard Feynman used to tell this story about the laws of the universe and the big bang. Within the first micro-mille second (recognizing of course that time did not yet exist) of the big bang the laws of the universe were set. Random, yet fixed. At least until the next big bang. So it is with truth. Set until changed by events. That all humans are bipeds is not truth but the accidental result of evolution. A few small changes in that evolutionary process and humans end up with four legs, like many other mammals. And evolution itself is changed by this same process. I’d rather focus on the creative processes, whether in human societies or evolution than attempting to “nail down” one process or one result as the truth. I’m too pragmatic to do otherwise.

      • June 11, 2016 at 5:58 pm

        Scruton’s point is interesting in so far as it implies the problem of radical scepticism, but it is not thereby an argument that truth can be established, merely that the claim that there is nothing to be truthful about is absurd…

        One can just as well reverse Scurton’s claim to state any author who claims they have established what is true (for any non-trivial thing) is liable to be found wrong under some description at some future point… so don’t believe her… (i.e. truth breaks down therefore there are no truths)

        ideally what is required is a careful set of distinctions which recognises:

        truth claims and truth seeking are basic to science
        no theory is liable to be true by identity (unless it is analytic and even here there are problems of mathematical form subject to problems – Godel etc)
        what matters is the current warrant or justifications which make claims – currently acceptable

        the implication beneath this that there is a difference between epistemology and ontology…

        so truth claims are contingent conditionals regarding a world which cannot be reduced to the theory or knowledge which seeks to encompass it… and yet can be more or less adequate as an account of it…

        best, Jamie

  13. Jamie Morgan
    June 2, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Interesting but not quite what I was getting at

    The ‘even physics does not count as’ point subsumes under the point I made that the philosophy of science accounts of science often used or assumed in economics (philosophy of science has moved on – as has methodology of economics though the subfield is not influential) are problematic. I did not suggest physics was unscientific Ken – this would be akin to claiming a subject is not itself

    the point made was also the connotations associated with science as understood within economics providing a possible reason to drop the term… this is a matter of positional argument for terms not of actual substance of warranted positions

    could you give some examples of how ‘sociology is way ahead’ in its use of mathematics?

    Best, Jamie

    • June 2, 2016 at 10:14 am

      I agree you did not say physics in unscientific. My simple point is that if you include the search for truth as a boundary factor separating science from non-science then physics would end up outside the boundaries of science, since physics does not pursue truth. As to mathematics and sociology, look at it this way. Like any tool we must attempt to use mathematics consistent with its characteristics as a tool. Mathematics addresses discreet and continuous variables. With some rare exceptions (such as the galvanic response of skin or the blinking speed of eyes) social science variables are discreet. Since economics supposedly deals with these same variables (human decision making, emotions, reasoning) economic’s mathematics should be the mathematics of discreet variables. But economists insist instead on using the mathematics of continuous variables. So they’re totally screwed up their mathematics. Consequently, any other social science that has used discreet mathematics correctly for more than a few months is ahead of economics, mathematically speaking.

  14. Jamie Morgan
    June 3, 2016 at 9:23 am

    Ken many argue science pursues truth, in so far as science make truth claims (though this is not all they do). However, they also recognise that theory is no more or less than currently warranted claim. Theory ranges from description to explanation in its intent but it does so with reference to a world exterior to the theory and has points of reference – one way to state this is that ‘it is true (subject to x) that…’ If science did not have this normative-regulative commitment in its approach to method then it would lack any focus on the real world, knowledge would have no status other than as belief and there would be no difference in principle between science and any other discourse or statement or approach. This is one of the key critiques of deflationary epistemology and also one of the key claims of scientific realism in debate with other branches of post-Positivist analytic philosophy of science – Van Fraassen, Michael Friedman etc

    Using discrete variables is not a statement of a method that is mathematically expressed – the question is what method and how expressed to what constructive purpose in sociology… Could you provide an example based on your previous claim?

    Best, Jamie

  15. Jamie Morgan
    June 5, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Hello Egmont, your list is certainly suggestive, but it is a set of assertions:

    the ‘real thing’ has to get behind folk everything?
    this raises the issue of what deep rooted mechanisms are behind everything that can then be stated in a universal axiomatic system – which your own work seems to be about

    but in what sense can one demonstrate the adequacy of explanation of a universal system which puts aside the folk who constitute it –
    what are the criteria and then actual demonstrations of adequacy and in what sense do they then convey truth characteristics for the universal set of axioms you want to begin from?

    Best, Jamie

  16. June 6, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Ken, following up Jamie’s argument from a different point of view, I agree with you ‘truth’ is not the object being pursued by science, but this is because it is a relation, not an object, i.e. the relationship between a theory and the objects it is not excluded from referring to.

    Regarding economists being completely screwed up by insisting on the mathematics of continuous variables, again I agree with you, but because economics does not have continuous degrees of freedom, not because its objects are discrete. Electric currents are comprised of discrete electrons, but the side effects of their flow in undenumerable bulk is a continuous electric field, which enables the flow to be measured and theorised as if it were continuous. However, the flow of electrons down a conductor has only one degree of freedom, whereas that of Maxwell’s radiation through space and time has three, defined by the relationships between spatial surfaces and/or time being ones of complete difference, as symbolised by a right angle or the relationships between electrical circulation and a magnetic field, or (as evident under Fourier’s transformation) a numeric mathematical function and its differential.

    The reality is that a macro view of a modern economy is not a single linear flow of money on an unchanging terrestrial surface, differentiable only in respect of time, but minimally a flow in a circuital channel which, if to a point not in the channel, generates up to three further circuits reducing the degrees of freedom from three to zero, as in a PID control system. Complete control exists only where there is no freedom, and the overcoming of dictatorship and/or automation of control requires slack in the system to allow time for prioritization of freer (less predictable) aims. Models of the economy as such a system can be imagined in ships (aiming for diverse ports) temporarily changing course to avoid rocks or on-coming traffic; or (perhaps more easily formalised) prioritisation of program time sharing in a multi-user, multi-programming computer system.

    There you are, Ken: my evidence. I expect you, as a lawyer familiar with misrepresentation, to try it out, resolve any inconsistences, and to defend the argument insofar as it is true, not to undermine it by attacking its vulnerabilities.

    • June 6, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      As I’ve said several times everything we live in and through is “relational.” Our world is a relational one. So I agree fully with your first point.

      “Regarding economists being completely screwed up by insisting on the mathematics of continuous variables …”
      Yes, I agree. But mathematicians still insist that in order to asses and apply the results of any form of mathematics the data and the formulae must fit together. It’s a relational thing. What economists do ignores these cautions of mathematicians and recreates the relationships. Not saying this can’t be done. But not without some serious thought on the repercussions.

      “The reality is that a macro view of a modern economy is not a single linear flow of money on an unchanging terrestrial surface …”
      Yes, I just think Chaos mathematics expresses these relationships more completely and importantly in a more comprehensible fashion.

      Actually, I think we’re definitely headed in the same direction, if not entirely on the same page.

      • June 6, 2016 at 10:45 pm

        “I think we’re definitely headed in the same direction”.

        [I thought I’d answered this, so apologies if the original turns up belatedly].

        Actually, so do I, Ken, although data as indicative of structure is of different type to the same data concerning what’s going on within the structure, and chaos theory is deterministic but computer-aided control is not; but I think it important to resolve our differences or reconcile our perspectives so we have good reason for saying so.

        Cheers. Dave

      • June 7, 2016 at 5:05 am

        Dave, one of the more interesting features of chaos, and thus chaos mathematics it is both deterministic and non-deterministic. It changes depending on the time, who or what is looking, the questions put to it. Sorry to use the term again, but its expression is relational.

    • June 8, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Yes, Ken, but if economic processes are deterministic the point is, what can we do about them? Fundamentally, if you can see what is happening you can determine to oppose the effects of the change, e.g. if the ship drifts off course you can make allowance for the fact. Given a vast array of relationships to happening, one can choose not to act on those which are inappropriate. That, roughly, is how I see free will being effective: not by choosing to do something but by choosing not to do something, and so in society, choosing to not get in the way of those with a higher priority. As in slowing the car to enable an old lady to cross the road, or giving up money-making where other’s more urgent need is for it to be distributed and spent.

      • June 9, 2016 at 3:06 am

        Chaos is bounded or limited determinism. There is a pattern and within that pattern some level of determinism depending on which location in the pattern is now operating. This is one of the elements of chaos theory and mathematics that makes it a good fit for the study of human ways of life and their histories.

      • June 12, 2016 at 1:40 pm

        I’m disappointed you are still evading my point, Ken. I agree with Egmont that the crucial basis of a mathematics for economics is structural, not behavioural, but I’m not conflating the ontolgical with the epistemological as you seem to be doing. I am quite clear that what makes humans different from mere animals is their communication abilities enabling to imagine what does not yet exist, so the structures we should be talking about are communications channels between people doing different things, wherefrom Egmont’s equations are an attempt to capture the form of the channels, not the behaviour within them. Such channels are deterministic in that they more or less determine who gets what information. The behaviour may look chaotic, but on the whole it is lots of different strands of coherent information encoded in different languages. I say “encoded” deliberately, because an onlooker who doesn’t already understand the language or key-word will not see the coherence in the message.

      • June 13, 2016 at 2:23 am

        Dave, you and I definitely do not agree. Mathematics, structure, behavior, ontological, epistemological are all created via the relations of humans with one another and other actors (from office furniture to mountains to universities to advertising). That’s how all we call living and life is created and held together. If you’re looking for the difference between humans and other animals you’re heading in the wrong direction. It is what humans don’t have that really distinguishes them from the other animals, and particularly their chimpanzee and ape cousins. Humans are so bloody creative in making the world they live through because they lack the innate social abilities of the other animals – particularly the ape and chimps. If the channels you mention were the only way this was achieved, I’d agree with you prioritizing them. But they are not. Humans create dozens of ways to build things together. Some formal, some very informal, some long enduring, some lasting only a few minutes, some precise, others inexact, some widely advertised, some obscure, etc. You really believe these patterns we make are deterministic in any final or fixed sense? Or we could know that “fact” even if they were? You give people a god-like status they don’t possess. Humans are muddlers, not divine-like.

      • June 14, 2016 at 12:27 am

        Indeed, it seems we do not (yet) agree. Despite the fact that most of reality was around long before your “creative humanity” was, you are implicitly taking the ridiculous Humean position that all it is possible to know is our own consciousness, so that all we can create is different forms of consciousness. That is a philosophical choice, and one that leaves you and most social scientists making assertions which are circular, and empty or untestable in that you cannot escape from the type of evidence on which you base them. Did you actually read what I wrote recently on Bayesian inference? Do I “really believe these patterns we make are deterministic in any final or fixed sense?” Have YOU ever read what I’ve consistently being saying about information science (as against physics) being about precisely how to avoid (insofar as we need to) behaviour being determined by [linguistic] ERRORS? Or does your consciousness of what others are saying simply disappear into the creations of your own conciousness? “Humans are muddlers, not divine-like”? The Christian position is both of these, hence on-going confession, forgiveness and making good when we go wrong. The Humean position is the second, rejecting divine creation and forgiveness along with our lack of divine perfection.

        Recognising Hume’s mistake – as Kant did in the 1780’s, I did in 1958, Roy Bhaskar does in the Introduction of his 1977 “A Realist Theory of Science” and Tony Lawson does on p.19 of his 1997 “Economics and Reality” – my position is that reality is a two-dimensional combination of detectable structure and the activity which it directs. This includes the physical directors (neural channels) and activities of consciousness, which forms an abstract one-dimensional representation or linguistic encoding of a reality which at the biological level of structure is clearly continuing to evolve without reference to it. At the social level of structure I have valued the known linguistic and technological channels of inter-personal communication even more than the neural channels directing their inputs and outputs because of their capability of broadcasting know-how and other information far more widely and quickly than personal discovery and face to face sharing. Likewise, I interpret life as already existing at a lower level of complexity than the human, held together by chemically bonded structures: ultimately in cells able to sustain themselves by absorbing nutrients and reproducing. Thus not even all humans agree “all we call living and life is created and held together” by the relationships we humans form, even if we accept this as a significant way of speaking.

        Anyway, Ken, I’m now even more disappointed in you! Since Adam Smith was Hume’s philosophical side-kick and his capitalist neo-classical descendents covert if not ignorant Humeans seeking freedom to create their own freedoms, you leave me suspecting you of being a neo-liberal wooden horse in this sanctuary for real world economists: seeking not to advance constructive argument but to get in the way of it at every turn. If so, shame on you! If not, it is about time you sat down and actually read and reflected on Bhaskar and Lawson, ops cit. – or the choice between today’s Big Bang science (making sense of the Biblical creation stories) and Hume’s 1740 proto-capitalist “A Treatise on Human Nature”.

      • June 14, 2016 at 5:45 am

        Hume made an effort. I don’t agree with it but at least he made an effort. What humans “know” is the relations in which they are involved. That’s all sorts of sensory and idea-like things. That’s how humans are “in the world.” They work hard to put these relations in order, to explain them, to make sense of them if you will. The order made, the explanations created, and the sense humans make and share with one another is all we have to connect us and the other actors with who we interact. God might have more, but we aren’t God. You cite several of these human “making sense” in your comments – philosophy, Bayesian, linguistic, consciousness. These weren’t born with the big bang like we think the laws of the universe were. These are active creations of lots of actor’s relationships. Humans are one of the actors, but just one. These relationship make reality. That means that scientists can indeed create rules and laws that are useful and inform us about what’s happening around us, today and in the past. But it also means none of this usefulness or information can be equated with universal or unchanging stuff. I repeat, humans are muddlers. Learn to live with the disappointment and limitations.

  17. Jamie Morgan
    June 8, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    is it useful to distinguish between determined (ex post assessment of caused and produced) and deterministic (could only have turned out as it did and no other way) – many aspects of economy seem to be of the former – events had causes – but not really the latter – events were strictly defined by a set of causes… it is perhaps in this difference that many of the problems of theorisation lie

    • June 9, 2016 at 9:08 am

      Jamie Morgan

      Imagine somebody throwing three golf balls amidst a cyclone over his shoulder into a very large sandbox. Clearly, the three balls form a triangle but no one can predict its form and size. Yet, the mathematician can tell with certainty that the sum of angles is 180 degrees (if the sandbox is euclidean).

      Science is about invariants, that is, properties or relationships which remain unchanged over time. A famous example is E=mc2 which describes not a single historical event but something that is the case always and everywhere. Non-scientists and historians are glued to the ever changing surface, so they produce stories while scientists produce laws.

      Here, for example, is the First Economic Law, which shows the relationship between the firm, the market, and the income distribution for the pure consumption economy:

      Needless to say that all variables are measurable, hence, the First Economic Law is a testable proposition. This is the way how economics gets out of the proto-scientific stage. Or, as Popper put it: “It is the optimistic theory that science, that is real knowledge about the hidden real world, though certainly very difficult, is nevertheless attainable, at least for some of us.”

      At the moment neither orthodox nor heterodox economists are among the “some of us”.

      Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

      • Jamie Morgan
        June 9, 2016 at 4:59 pm

        Hello Egmont – I admire your confidence in the power of reason. However:

        E=MC2 is a mathematical expression with a constant – there is now some debate as to whether the constant is constant and whether that constant has always and must be that constant

        so ‘natural’ science is about something – the powers of entities to produce effects – but not necessarily invariants, and even if science as theory proposes or claims to identify invariants with excellent empirical fits – the theory itself can still be wrong or superseded

        also the point does not address whether this is an appropriate way to study society…

        Consider: axioms concern self evident statements for points of departure (which is why the parallel postulate in Euclid became so contentious and top be clear Euclid is not science it is maths-geometry).

        How would you respond to:

        Axiom 1: people sometimes follow rules
        Axiom 2: rules change

        self -evident yet not invariant
        also empirically empty and mainly uninformative – truistic…

        Best, Jamie

      • June 10, 2016 at 6:50 am

        Egmont, Jamie zeros in on the major concerns before us. You say, “Needless to say that all variables are measurable, hence, the First Economic Law is a testable proposition. This is the way how economics gets out of the proto-scientific stage. Or, as Popper put it: “It is the optimistic theory that science, that is real knowledge about the hidden real world, though certainly very difficult, is nevertheless attainable, at least for some of us.” Putting aside for the moment the hubris and absolute arrogance of this statement, you and Popper make extravagant claims, none of which can be checked, let alone verified. But let’s take the simple things first. What is a variable? Where’s it come from? What/Who makes it? The same for measurable and testable? You use these terms as if they have some sort of unproblematic and universal significance and meaning. They do not. They have been built up through 500 years of the development of a particular way of life, a particular culture – western European science. Taken beyond that culture these terms either have no significance or very different ones. Now let’s consider the “hidden real world.” Even if we could figure out what that might be that doesn’t mean it’s the only “hidden real world.” The hidden isn’t always the thing that explains everything, or anything. And figuring out the non-hidden events in front of us is hard enough. Let’s leave the hidden out of this. Finally, as I’ve already said the science you present is pre-relativity, pre-quantum mechanics, and pre-chaos. Its form and operation have been long surpassed. It is not only impractical but creates failure for economics to adopt the model of science you suggest.

    • June 10, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      Jamie Morgan

      (i) You write: “… and top be clear Euclid is not science it is maths-geometry.” This is not the only methodological point where you are way behind the curve. Note that science is ultimately the perfect SYNTHESIS of logic and experience: “Hilbert and Einstein again agree that geometry is a natural science based on real experiments and measurements. Thus, similarly to Einstein, Hilbert can assert: Geometry is nothing but a branch of physics; in no way whatsoever do geometrical truths differ essentially from physical truths nor are they of a different nature.” (Majer, 1995, p. 280)

      (ii) You ask: “How would you respond to: Axiom 1: people sometimes follow rules; Axiom 2: rules change.” My answer: there is NO such thing as a behavioral axiom.* To accept behavioral assumptions as axioms is the cardinal methodological error/mistake of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.**

      (iii) The scientific method is well-defined: “Research is in fact a continuous discussion of the consistency of theories: formal consistency insofar as the discussion relates to the logical cohesion of what is asserted in joint theories; material consistency insofar as the agreement of observations with theories is concerned.” (Klant, 1994, p. 31)

      Logical consistency is secured by applying the axiomatic-deductive method and empirical consistency is secured by applying state-of-the-art testing. Isn’t it curious that genuine scientists have no problem at all with this methodology since the ancient Greeks but that so-called social scientists cannot get their head around it?

      (iv) A good rule for your methodological thoughts is: Whenever you meet with approval from Asad Zaman, Ken Zimmerman, Robert Locke, or other would-be scientists you can be sure that you have lost your way.

      Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

      Klant, J. J. (1994). The Nature of Economic Thought. Aldershot, Brookfield, VT: Edward Elgar.
      Majer, U. (1995). Geometry, Intuition and Experience: From Kant to Husserl. Erkenntnis, 42(2): 261–285. URL http://www.jstor.org/stable/20012620

      * See ‘Austrian blather’ http://axecorg.blogspot.de/2016/04/austrian-blather.html
      ** See ‘Economics is NOT a science of behavior’

      • June 13, 2016 at 7:16 pm

        Egmont, ever ask yourself how and why were the axioms made? From God? From some great human law givers? From the universe? From some all too fallible human(s)? To add/replace order to disorder? To make some human look smart? To help humans deal with their lack of certainty or understanding? Maybe all of these. That’s the first question I would like to get a clear answer to.

      • June 13, 2016 at 10:18 pm

        a very concise summation I wil give this some thought Egmont

        while I am doing that the specific statement was that Euclid’s geometry is not science

        it is a mathematical form that can be used in science

        maths is not science it is a possible tool and a language

        it is not behind the curve to suggest a set of mathematical forms are not science

        perhaps also one might argue that to quote Einstein and Hillbert is to be behind the curve; since Godel undermines ‘Hillbert’s programme’ and Cohen takes this is in new directions through ‘forcing’. Though this is by no means to endorse set theoretic forms for socials science (though some do – notably Badiou)

        it seems curious to me that an account of science juxtaposes an analytic approach to truth and a synthetic… perhaps one might read Quine on this (though there again he is quite old and maybe that puts me behind some curve…)

        the issue is not just that one can construct an analytic and then also a synthetic but rather how and whether one can link the two and whether this is in anyway appropriate as a means to explain and account for social reality.


        best, Jamie

      • June 14, 2016 at 10:43 am

        Jamie Morgan and Ken Zimmerman

        (i) Science does not explain everything, but non-science explains nothing. Scientific explanation comes in the communicative format of theory. Non-science comes in the format of storytelling.

        (ii) Science is well-defined by material and formal consistency. These criteria are demanding and it is often not clear in the concrete case how to apply them. So the need for clarification arises. This is where methodology comes in.

        (iii) Nobody is forced to do science. But if one decides to do science one has to stick to the rules. As in all walks of live some people either do not understand the rules or misapply them. Here again, methodology can be helpful. The proper role of methodology is NOT to soften scientific criteria but to enforce them.*

        (iv) Economics is a science as clearly communicated in the title “Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”.

        (v) Orthodox economics, though, does NOT satisfy scientific standards. More specifically: Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism is PROVABLY false.

        (vi) Economics does not live up to the claim as stated in (iv). And this is the exact point where Heterodoxy comes it. Either Heterodoxy fully replaces Orthodoxy or both are eventually thrown out of science. There cannot be a pluralism of false theories.

        (vii) To replace a theory means in very practical terms to replace the foundational hard core, a.k.a. axioms, that is the Walrasian propositions HC1 to HC5 as enumerated above.

        (viii) Due to form, at this critical juncture Ken Zimmerman again asks a silly questions from behind the curve: “Egmont, ever ask yourself how and why were the axioms made? From God? From some great human law givers? From the universe?” And this brings us directly back to the key issue of this thread, viz. to Asad Zaman’s cognitive dissonance with the ancient Greeks:

        “To Plato’s question, ‘Granted that there are means of reasoning from premises to conclusions, who has the privilege of choosing the premises?’ the correct answer, I presume, is that anyone has this privilege who wishes to exercise it, but that everyone else has the privilege of deciding for himself what significance to attach to the conclusions, and that somewhere there lies the responsibility, through the choice of the appropriate premises, to see to it that judgment, information, and perhaps even faith, hope and charity, wield their due influence on the nature of economic thought.” (Viner, 1963, p.12)

        (ix) So, nobody hinders Jamie Morgan, Asad Zaman, Ken Zimmerman and the rest of Heterodoxy to employ ‘the privilege of choosing the premises’. All there is to do is to take care that “the premises are certain, true, and primary” (Aristotle). Heterodoxy defines itself by its axioms or it is scientifically nonexistent.

        Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

        Viner, J. (1963). The Economist in History. American Economic Review, 53(2): pp. 1–22. URL http://www.jstor.org/stable/1823845.

        * See also ‘The insignificance of Gödel’s theorem for economics’

      • June 14, 2016 at 7:30 pm

        1) You believe humans did not explain, invent, and theorize, sometimes very effectively before the invention of Enlightenment science. Poppy-cock.
        2) “Well-defined by material and formal consistency” – so is the liturgy of most major religions.
        3) Modern science which originated in the Enlightenment is certainly rule governed, generally. But those rules are not used in exactly the same way in all scientific work. Check out latest papers in anthropology and forensic science in South Africa to consider some interesting variations. And many Native American biologists and geologists have introduced interesting variations. Science like any other invention is adapted and changed over time.
        4) Having the Nobel committee say economics is a science does not make it so. As with scientific findings what is the consensus among economists and other scientists connected with economics? And what is the public consensus?
        5) You and I can probably agree that much work of economists does not seek to investigate economic arrangements and how/why they are created.
        6) In all the other sciences pluralism of theories has been and remains commonplace. Until consensus is reached, in part or in whole. It’s the consensus that economics lacks.
        7) I agree that replacing theories is rejecting their core structures. But it has always amazed me how difficult this is. Even today supposedly nearly a 100 years since Newtonian physics was encompassed by Einsteinian physics some still hold Newton as the apex of physics.
        8) Axioms have an origin, even it is divine. So what are the origins you believe in?
        9) Maybe Aristotle had in mind what “certain, true, and primary” premises are. But in practice how does one who is not divine and cannot consult God directly figure out if premises have these characteristics. We rely, as usual on all too limited and fallible observations. Or we just assume the premises we like have such qualities and tell the rest of humanity to “go screw itself.”

      • June 14, 2016 at 5:10 pm

        Jamie, I’ve been getting frustrated with Ken sidelining my June 6th/5.22 pm reflections on your June 3rd/9.23 am. Actually, I very much agree with Larry Motuz’s argument (as corrected) on June 5th/3.20 pm. However, in Egmont’s terms I was trying to argue in ADVANCE of the changing curve of accepted conventions, i.e. exploring possibilities, not stating my beliefs. My “thoughts” here are offered in the same spirit.

        Let me bracket the argument with a couple of positions I have committed to.

        Without prejudice to what Asad has argued about arab and other pre-modern science, the programme of modern science was laid out by Bacon in his 1604 advice to England’s new king, James I, on “The Advancement of Learning”. Here he first set out his vision of what needed doing “for the glory of God and the relief of Man’s estate”, seeing the need for investigative science with its proceedings recorded and published in a “kalendar” that amounted to an encyclopaedia for the benefit of future generations. I don’t have time to relocate the details, but I remember Bacon talking of a science of pure abstractions, which most people would see as mathematics, but with my background I saw more generally as information science.

        My second bracket, therefore, is a reference to my article on the significance of information science in the Critical Realist journal “Alethia” of November 2000 (Vol 3 No 2). Shannon first discovered electrical switching circuits physically performing logic, and thus that flows and circuit states could each be interpreted in two ways: as what they are physically or as bits of information. Taking the physical as given, but abstracting it away, he wrote “A Mathematical Theory of Communication”, which was immediately recognised by Weaver as “THE Mathematical Theory of Communication”, and of significance at three levels. Lawson (1997) still has Bhaskar’s original three levels at p.19, but Bhaskar’s “Dialectic” went on to emphasise “the significance of absenses” and the four phases in both fundamental (DREI(c)) and applied ((R)RREI(c)) science, where the extra R refers to restating the problem in scientific language. So, I’m seeing physical symbols still present and significant even when referring to nothing (absenses), requiring a science of the possibilities of mathematical and linguistic encoding to reveal the relational significance of the use of symbols and concepts in branches of science which use them unreflectively: as if they were transparent.

        So, my thought is that Egmont is in one sense right here; geometry may be a tool of other sciences but it is at least arguable there is also a science of geometry, i.e. earth measurement.

        “while I am doing that the specific statement was that Euclid’s geometry is not science”. Yet it gives us knowledge of spatial relationships.

        “it is a mathematical form that can be used in science”. Yes

        “maths is not science it is a possible tool and a language”. True, but that does not mean there isn’t a science of maths.

        “it is not behind the curve to suggest a set of mathematical forms are not science”.
        That suggests to me the changing curve of scientific convention being so far behind good scientific practice that it is necessary to deny science could be a set of anything.

        What I actually believe, i.e. as of now my working hypothesis, is that a scientific proposition is a synthesis of an axiomatic position (a philosophical choice ultimately between a created and a timeless reality), a representational system (not necessarily adequate) and information (possibly not true) gleaned from countless observations of the universe and interpretations of events. Choosing the creation option, the evidence of evolution and from reverse engineering it by abstraction (abduction or retroduction) of everything we now know of points to a Big Bang with no physical differentiation available to use as a representational system. We therefore have to rely on what we can learn from experimental models of Big Bangs, which in Hubble’s Bubble is mainly of continuous radiation of energy with discontinuity only at the limit of its expansion to generate the waves and spray of sub-atomic particles we can detect today and which form the basis of our communication and physical systems. In response to Egmont’s gibe above about needing to explain gravity from axioms, that is exactly what I can already do from the story so far, which makes it particularly galling that he along with all the other heterodox thinkers here seem to think it a claim too far in front of the changing curve of convention to be worth taking seriously.

  18. June 9, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    The pure consumption economy exists only in the imagination. That is the problem with contemporary economic theories. They all work fantastically in imaginary worlds. Science, on the other hand, deals with the real world, where pure consumption econmies and homo economicus are nowhere to be found.

  19. June 14, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Some questions for EKH:

    WHO gets to decide which axioms are true, certain and primary? The majority of neoclassicals are convinced of the truth and primacy of their axioms. Furthermore, these are AXIOMS and hence are not really open to debate. If EKH has an alternative set of axioms then how do we decide between the two different axiom systems. This is exactly the situation which prevailed among the Greeks about the TWO different theories of light — emanating from eyes and going to object, and vice versa — both of these had different axioms systems to prove them, and both were “certain” to their adherents.

    Can you tell me the axioms for ANY science — biology, chemistry, physics, or any others — which are accepted as true, certain, and primary — AND the entire body of scientific knowledge in that field is logically derived from these axioms? Is there any current textbook which takes an axiomatic deductive approach.

  20. June 14, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    EKH: Can you take any scientific theory — let us fix Newtons Laws of Graviation as a specific example — and explain how we can derive this law by starting with certain axioms and then using logical deductions to arrive at it?

    • blocke the
      June 14, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      Any scientific theory is not the question on this blog. Economics is, and I believe that economics is not a science nor can it ever be, for, as Henri Poincaré, is famous for having said: “Sociology is the science which has the most methods and the least results.” He could have said the same of any of the so-called social sciences. Why?, They are fatally flawed because they cannot exclude the politics of special interest from their balliwicks. To have a useful social science, all the people whose particular interests are at stake would have to be at the table to make sure that scientific discussions are not just a screen for a special interest. EKH, that cannot be done or, at least, nobody in this discussion is trying to organize social science in at way that would do it.

      • blocke the
        June 14, 2016 at 4:31 pm

        “nobody in this discussion is trying to organize social science in a way that would do it.’

        Here is an example of what I mean, which is taken from a discussion of arbeitswissenschaftliche Lehre, in my book The Collapse of the American Management Mystique, OUP, 1996, p.102.

        “A direct translation of the term would be labor-science discipline, implying that work and the work process could be treated as a science. Americans might think that work process could be analyzed scientifically in a technical sense, but they usually do not think the workers’ interests could be trusted to such a discipline. Frederick Winslow Taylor tried to create a ‘scientific management’ but American workers smelled a rat. German unions and works councils also believe that arbeitswssenschaftliche Lehre developed by employers and university scientists ignored their dimension.

        The issue is not just about conflicts of interest. It goes to the heart of the social science problem. If employees (or employers) thought that the social sciences were sufficiently robust to solve work-related problems in a discipline-determined objective way, they might accept scientific conclusions. But the epistemological and methodological weaknesses of the social sciences have inspired distrust if not outright contempt towards their conclusions. Rather than eliminate the whole social science enterprise, the German experience suggests that vested interests be incorporated into the science. When this happens the science becomes useful as an instrument for enlightening the self-interest of people.”

        We are talking about firms that incorporate co-determination in management process, something that the American system of director-primacy in corporate governance rejects, and that is never discussed, in the sense the above quote does, on this blog.

      • June 14, 2016 at 7:45 pm

        Excellent points and ones I fully support. Science is about investigating, attempting to understand some events, objects, interactions, etc. Science is not just putting words on paper or displaying your prowess with mathematics. If there is going to be “social sciences” they must investigate everything involved in and with the creation of human collective life, human living arrangements. Can’t leave out certain parts because they don’t fit one’s preferred theory, or they can’t be expressed mathematically, or because some financial supporters of our university department object, or because of the difficulty of a particular set of actions, etc. I’m think most social scientists, particularly economists are fearful that their work and findings might offend or create negative feedback from “powerful” parts of society that might lead to loss of their jobs, prestige, rank, etc. Reasonable fears but they should not stop the work, or force findings that are not supported by the consensus understandings of how collective life is created and evolves.

      • June 14, 2016 at 7:44 pm

        blocke the

        I appreciate your work about management. But this is an entirely different matter. Your example shows that you do not understand what the subject matter of economics is. Strictly speaking management is the subject matter of psychology/sociology and NOT of economics. The subject matter of economics is the (world-) economy as a whole.

        Imagine a physicist is asked to figure out how the universe works and after some time he comes back and says: “The universe is much too large, not of direct relevance for our daily lives, and ultimately incomprehensible, so I have analyzed the molehills in my front garden — with surprising results.”

        One can say without contradiction that this physicist has done valuable empirical work but failed at the original task.

        The error/mistake of the microfoundations approach is to take green cheese behavioral assumptions as axioms. And this, indeed, is what Poincaré has told Walras in no uncertain terms: “Walras approached Poincaré for his approval. … But Poincaré was devoutly committed to applied mathematics and did not fail to notice that utility is a nonmeasurable magnitude. … He also wondered about the premises of Walras’s mathematics: It might be reasonable, as a first approximation, to regard men as completely self-interested, but the assumption of perfect foreknowledge ‘perhaps requires a certain reserve’.” (Porter, 1994, p. 154)

        No genuine scientist ever accepted or will ever accept the Walrasian axioms. Walrasians are de facto out of science since Walras.

        Most economists have not realized that economics is NOT a science of human nature/behavior/action — not of individual behavior, not of social behavior, not of rational behavior, not of irrational behavior, not of sincerity, not of corruption. All these issues belong entirely to the realms of psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, history, criminology, social philosophy, etcetera.

        As you have certainly noticed,* I do not propose to change the Walrasian behavioral axioms but to completely REPLACE them by objective structural axioms. Economics is NOT a social science but a system science.

        And these are the three axioms of the correct macrofoundations approach: A1. Yw=WL wage income Yw is equal to wage rate W times working hours L, A2. O=RL output O is equal to productivity R times working hours L, A3. C=PX consumption expenditure C is equal to price P times quantity bought/sold X.

        That’s the absolute minimum for a start. This set is obviously superior to Walrasian and Keynesian axioms and leads to testable propositions. Empirical tests decide whether A1 to A3 are acceptable and NOT vacuous methodological filibuster.

        Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

        Porter, T. M. (1994). Rigor and Practicality: Rival Ideals of Quantification in Nineteenth-Century Economics. In P. Mirowski (Ed.), Natural Images in Economic
        Thought, pages 128–170. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

        * If not see the documentation on this blogspot

      • June 15, 2016 at 4:54 am

        If the axioms you propose are testable, then test them. But even if they hold up after the testing that alone does not equate to a validated theory of economics. After all economics obviously can extend well beyond the propositions you offer. And as a well known blogger said economic actors (individual persons, corporations, unions, etc.) change their minds and by doing so change economics. Unlike the physical universe the laws of economics, assuming there are such are not fixed from the beginning. Economic laws are made up and change with events, actors involved, time periods, etc.

    • June 14, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Asad Zaman

      Yes, I can, see Wikipedia (picture at the right hand side)

      “But it was a second and more important quality that struck readers of the Principia. At the head of Book I stand the famous Axioms, or the Laws of motion: … For readers of that day, it was this deductive, mathematical aspect that was the great achievement.” (Truesdell, quoted in Schmiechen, 2009, p. 213)

      In Newtons own words: “Could all the phaenomena of nature be deduced from only thre [sic] or four general suppositions there might be great reason to allow those suppositions to be true.” (Westfall, 2008, p. 642)

      Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

      Schmiechen, M. (2009). Newton’s Principia and Related ‘Principles’ Revisited,
      volume 1. Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2nd edition. URL
      Westfall, R. S. (2008). Never at Rest. A Biography of Isaac Newton. Cambridge:
      Cambridge University Press, 17th edition.

      • June 14, 2016 at 7:32 pm

        Hello Egmont your position remains logically consistent within itself (although as I have been trying to point out it relies on the relevance of positions that have consistently been criticised for their lack of logical consistency or for other transitional problems – see Quine, Van Fraassen, Godel, etc). What concerns me is that you consistently respond to all inquiry with assertion (though admittedly everyone – partly for concision – is resorting to assertion at times here)

        the crux remains:

        1. how can society be adequately explained and understood (whether we choose to call this science or not)

        2. you seem to claim you have (and seemingly everyone else throughout history despite reference to some thinkers -Popper etc – has failed to do so) grasped some essential truths of science and economics…

        In some respects answers to 2 would help support 1 from your position – but I am failing to see how you are linking analytical constructs (mathematically expressed) to genuine empirical insight (via synthetic forms) – it is not just that there are two it is what is the basic relation that also matters…

        I might note that every time I ask a question or raise an issue I have not taken a definite position – so responding that I (we etc) are this or that seems a major inference based on what was actually implied… debate and dialogue are open matters intended for constructive thinking – that is basic to pluralism…

        the failure to agree is not itself a failure – since sometimes it reminds us of the limits of knowledge and the boundaries of ignorance – which is basic also to Socratic dialogue…

        Can I just restate also (which seems to be Asad’s point) that an axiom is supposed to be a self-evident point of departure; in maths of course these have a very definite form, but economics has axioms that are not statements of this kind – as do many other social disciplines – stating that there are no behavioural axioms seems no more or less than a statement that you refuse to accept any such axioms rather than it is impossible to state them.. I by no means advocate behavioural axioms – I find them deeply problematic but this is suggestive (as clearly you indicate by rejection) yet the grounds of rejection you seem to claim are simply that they do not conform to a type or category for axiomatisation as you prefer it – which raises the issue of in what sense are your own axioms to be preferred – are they actually self-evident points of departure from which analytical constructs conducive to further (and related) empirical insight – explanation according to justifications… follow?

        Best, Jamie

      • blocke the
        June 15, 2016 at 6:29 pm

        “The subject matter of economics is the (world-) economy as a whole. …Economics is NOT a social science but a system science.”

        When I read your response to my step son, who was educated in Europe before taking economics courses in American universities, I also asked him what was the difference between physical science and economics ; he answered immediately that physical sciences are tangible , i.e., able to be shown, touched, or experienced, and measureable and that economics is not; then, on reflection, he said that economics tries to model decision-making and to measure, but its subject matter is intangible compared to that of physical science, wherein lies the problem of its usefulness in policy formulation. System science is not science but ideology.

  21. June 15, 2016 at 6:15 am

    As Newton’s words illustrate, the key form of scientific reasoning is Abduction — as defined by Charles Pierce — Here is how Wikipedia defines it:

    Abductive reasoning (also called abduction,[1] abductive inference[2] or retroduction[3]) is a form of logical inference which goes from an observation to a theory which accounts for the observation, ideally seeking to find the simplest and most likely explanation. In abductive reasoning, unlike in deductive reasoning, the premises do not guarantee the conclusion. One can understand abductive reasoning as “inference to the best explanation”

    This is also exactly what Newton says in your quote:

    “Could all the phaenomena of nature be deduced from only thre [sic] or four general suppositions there might be great reason to allow those suppositions to be true.”

    That is, if we ASSUME these four axioms, they explain a lot of observable phenomena. These axioms are BY NO MEANS intuitively obvious. Indeed, it requires genius to see that if these four hidden regularities govern nature, then that would explain the observable phenomena. No certainty attaches to the axioms, since one can easily come up with alternative axiom sets (it has already been done) which explain all these phenomena but conflict with Newtons Axioms.

    Even though Newton calls his four laws axioms, what he means by axioms is very different from what you mean by axioms.

    • June 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

      Asad Zaman

      You say: “Even though Newton calls his four laws axioms, what he means by axioms is very different from what you mean by axioms.”

      What I mean is the SAME what Newton meant. And this is the SAME what Popper meant:

      “The attempt is made to collect all the assumptions, which are needed, but no more, to form the apex of the system. They are usually called the ‘axioms’ (or ‘postulates’, or ‘primitive propositions’; no claim of truth is implied in the term ‘axiom’ as here used). The axioms are chosen in such a way that all the other statements belonging to the theoretical system can be derived from the axioms by purely logical or mathematical transformations.” (1980, p. 71)

      And this is the SAME what Einstein meant:

      “But the axioms Science is the attempt to make the chaotic diversity of our sense-experience correspond to a logically uniform system of thought …” (quoted in Clower, 1998, p. 409)

      Newton, Popper, Einstein refer to the context of JUSTIFICATION. Peirce’s abduction refers to the context of DISCOVERY and it is the SAME as Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations:

      “It is a great mistake to suppose that the mind of the active scientist is filled with propositions which, if not proved beyond all reasonable cavil, are at least extremely probable. On the contrary, he entertains hypotheses which are almost wildly incredible, and treats them with respect for the time being. Why does he do this? Simply because any scientific proposition whatever is always liable to be refuted and dropped at short notice. A hypothesis is something which looks as if it might be true and were true, and which is capable of verification or refutation by comparison with facts. The best hypothesis, in the sense of the one most recommending itself to the inquirer, is the one which can be the most readily refuted if it is false. This far outweighs the trifling merit of being likely. For after all, what is a likely hypothesis? It is one which falls in with our preconceived ideas. But these may be wrong. Their errors are just what the scientific man is out gunning for more particularly. But if a hypothesis can quickly and easily be cleared away so as to go toward leaving the field free for the main struggle, this is an immense advantage.” (Peirce, 1931, 1.120)

      You constantly CONFUSE the context of discovery with the context of justification. What Peirce said about the axiomatic-deductive method is the SAME what Aristotle, Newton, Einstein, Popper said and what I mean:

      “Inference, which is the machinery of logic, is the process by which one belief determines another belief, habit or action. A successful inference is one that leads from true premises to true conclusions.” (quoted in Hoover, 1994, p. 300)

      The clearly stated premises, a.k.a axioms/postulates/principles/primitive propositions, of Orthodoxy (HC1 to HC5 above) are provably false. What I mean with true macrofoundations I have clearly stated (A1 to A3 above). Now it is YOUR TURN to clearly state your economic axioms. Subsequently, the truth of the respective premises is indirectly established by testing the conclusions. This settles the matter.

      As Peirce said: “That the settlement of opinion is the sole end of inquiry is a very important proposition.” (1992, p. 115)

      Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

      Clower, R. W. (1998). New Microfoundations for the Theory of Economic Growth? In G. Eliasson, C. Green, and C. R. McCann (Eds.), Microfoundations of Economic Growth., pages 409–423. Ann Arbour, MI: University of Michigan Press.
      Hoover, K. D. (1994). Pragmatism, Pragmaticism and Economic Method. In R. E.
      Backhouse (Ed.), New Directions in Economic Methodology, pages 286–315.
      London, New York, NY: Routledge.
      Peirce, C. S. (1931). Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, volume I. Cambridge,
      MA: Harvard University Press. URL courses.arch.ntua.gr/fsr/138469/
      Peirce, C. S. (1992). The Fixation of Belief. In N. Houser, and C. Kloesel (Eds.), The Essential Peirce. Selected Philosophical Writings., volume 1, pages 109–123.
      Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
      Popper, K. R. (1980). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London, Melbourne, Sydney: Hutchison, 10th edition.

  22. June 15, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Jamie Morgan

    You say: “What concerns me is that you consistently respond to all inquiry with assertion …”.

    True, but I give you the reference to the comprehensive argument. What concerns me is that you consistently overlook that your questions and arguments have already been thoroughly answered.*

    You say: “the failure to agree is not itself a failure — since sometimes it reminds us of the limits of knowledge and the boundaries of ignorance — which is basic also to Socratic dialogue…”

    Trivially true, we cannot know everything, but from this does not follow that we cannot know something. It is this limited but certain Something that science and theoretical economics is all about.

    Nobody needs a reminder that there are limits of knowledge and nobody needs the false modesty of ‘I know that I now nothing’. For a philosopher this is fine but for a scientist this is self-disqualifying.

    In economics we are FAR away from the limits of knowledge. In fact, the problem is the exact OPPOSITE: “we know little more now about ‘how the economy works,’ or about the modus operandi of the invisible hand than we knew in 1790, after Adam Smith completed the last revision of The Wealth of Nations.” (Clower, 1999, p. 401)

    What we actually have are multiple approaches that are PROVABLY false. There are (at least) four heterodox profit theories and you can tell nobody that they are all true.** This lack of consistency has NOTHING to do with the limits of knowledge or the failure to agree but with incompetence and intellectual sloppiness and poor methodology and the persistent ignorance/violation of scientific standards.***

    Economics is a proto-scientific swamp: “We are lost in a swamp, the morass of our ignorance. … We have to find the roots and get ourselves out! … Braids or bootstraps are necessary for two purposes: to pull ourselves out of the swamp and, afterwards, to keep our bits an pieces together in an orderly fashion.” (Schmiechen, 2009, p. 11)

    This is in simple words was axiomatization is all about. What concerns me is that you and Asad Zaman and many others on this blog do not grasp what the ancient Greeks grasped more than 2000 years ago.

    As long as economists do not have a consistent defininition of the pivotal concepts profit and income it is absurd to philosophize about the limits of knowledge. Economists are over the ears in the swamp of ignorance and have NO idea of how to pull themselves out.

    This is the concrete historical situation: Heterodoxy either REPLACES the vacuous Walrasian axioms HC1 to HC5 and comes forward with TESTABLE propositions about how the economy works or it goes down the scientific drain together with Orthodoxy.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    Clower, R. W. (1999). Post-Keynes Monetary and Financial Theory. Journal of Post
    Keynesian Economics, 21(3): 399–414. URL http://www.jstor.org/stable/4538639.
    Schmiechen, M. (2009). Newton’s Principia and Related ‘Principles’ Revisited,
    volume 1. Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2nd edition.

    * For a test go occasionally to the blogspot
    and enter for example Gödel or Duhem-Quine or Zaman in the search field.

    ** See ‘Heterodoxy, too, is scientific junk’

    *** See also ‘The prophets of wish-wash, ignoramus et ignorabimus, and preemptive

    • June 16, 2016 at 5:30 am

      I agree with your statement, “As long as economists do not have a consistent definition of the pivotal concepts profit and income it is absurd to philosophize about the limits of knowledge.” Consensus is the way science works. Many scientists working to understand and explain “something.” Over the years the scientists either do or do not reach a consensus about understanding and explaining that something. I work with environmentalists on dozens of projects each year. They are the most impatient and self-certain group I’ve worked with, ever. On acid rain for example they complain it took over 20 years to put rules in place to deal with this problem. I try to explain back that just reaching a scientific consensus that such a thing as acid rain actually exists took nearly 15 years. But a consensus was reached and rules to deal with the problem were put in place. Economics is the same. Without a consensus that such a thing as economic actions exist and what they look like and how they are created, nothing else happens, scientifically speaking. My concern, and one you seem to consistently ignore is how economists go about answering these questions. Mathematics and logic (in the formal sense) may be useful as tools but they are not the sources for answers. Those sources are the actors (human and otherwise) that create and use economic rules, organizations, etc. Next to the work of doing such research and developing such theories mathematics and logic are simple by comparison. Seems many economists hide behind logic and mathematics – systemic science – to first escape the hard work of actually figuring out how economics and economies are created and second code what they do so non-economists can’t play in the game.

  23. June 15, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Hello Egmont
    You say nobody needs to be reminded that knowledge is fallible and what we suggest is conditional – that there are boundaries of ignorance. I would suggest everybody does including you. The reminder is also one which introduces doubt (not radical scepticism) and also some degree of humility about what one claims and how. You put forward a curious mix of Popper etc which recognises the degree of what is not known but do so with what seems a profound confidence in your position. This is a blind spot. Above and beyond your evident confidence in your position what would you suggest are the problems or weaknesses of it…

    And to be clear if I thought you had answered the questions I wouldn’t keep asking them…

    Perhaps there is a different way of thinking about these problems…

    Instead of requiring certain foundations from which to proceed… and thinking of this as science… which may perhaps result inadvertently in a form of scientism (no more or less problematic than that which Popper identifies via Historicism and Hayek names, though different in its constitution) one might proceed on the basis of working with and in terms of uncertainty within causally complex historical processes that are order yet irregular… what does it suggest about the nature of social reality and so how it can best be investigated…

    ‘limited but certain?’ a strange locution…

    Best, Jamie

    • June 17, 2016 at 8:42 am

      Jamie Morgan

      You say: “Perhaps there is a different way of thinking about these problems…”.

      This exactly is the scientific problem: there are always many ways and opinions and questions and interests, and it can be a tedious task to figure out what is true and what is false.

      “There are always many different opinions and conventions concerning any one problem or subject-matter … This shows that they are not all true. For if they conflict, then at best only one of them can be true. Thus it appears that Parmenides … was the first to distinguish clearly between truth or reality on the one hand, and convention or conventional opinion (hearsay, plausible myth) on the other …” (Popper, 1994, pp. 39-40)

      The difference between scientists and the rest is that scientists attempt to get a clear-cut either/or answer with the highest possible degree of certainty. Without this certainty science cannot be cumulative. In other words, if one does not make sure that the elementary Law of the Lever or the Law of Falling Bodies is certain beyond reasonable doubt one will never arrive at more complex relationships like the Law of Gravitation or the Schrödinger equation. Physicists are so high up the ladder because each rung from the first one onward is certain and stable and reliable and can carry heavy weight. This is what logical and empirical consistency is all about.

      Economics is not cumulative but circles since Adam Smith at a rather low level around the same issues. Take value or capital theory as an example or take Wicksell’s pertinent characterization.

      “… when it is a matter of finding the cause of general changes in the price of commodities, and especially the influence on those of credit and the institutions regulating credit, some maintain that cheap and easy credit, in other words, a low rate of interest, will tend to increase the amount of means of payment in circulation and the demand for goods and this will tend to increase the general level of prices; while others maintain the contrary, that cheap credit means the same things as cheaper costs of production and so tends to lower the level of prices, not to raise it; and naturally … there is no lack of more moderate opinion between the two extremes, eclectics who say that the influence of credit on prices is sometimes in one direction, sometimes in another and is sometimes nil.” (quoted in Deane, 1983, p. 8)

      Such is the pseudo-scientist’s tautologically true answer. However, many are perfectly satisfied with this inconclusive sitcom stuff and euphemize it as Socratic. But, clearly, confused wish-wash is not that highly appreciated among genuine scientists.

      Economics is still at the proto-scientific level because of scientific incompetence and because many simply prefer the swampy lowlands where “nothing is clear and everything is possible” (Keynes) over the hard rocks of true/false.

      Those, who have ― for whatever reason ― established themselves in the swampy lowlands of plausible myths defend it with phrases like: there is no truth, nobody knows anything, uncertainty is ontological, the effect is sometimes in one direction, sometimes in another and sometimes nil, everybody has their own truths, quantum physics says whether the cat is dead or alive depends on the observer, knowledge is arrogance, ignorance is humility, truth is relative and culture-specific, Gödel has proved that logic has limits and ― the emotional solidarity of the incompetent ― we are ALL fallible humans. Yes, indeed, but we are NOT ALL imbeciles who accept utility maximization and equilibrium as scientific explanation of how markets work or who maintain that a dozen false profit theories are better than one correct theory.

      The fact of the matter is: scientists and swampies can never be friends.

      Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

      Deane, P. (1983). The Scope and Method of Economic Science. Economic Journal, 93(369): 1–12. URL http://www.jstor.org/stable/2232161.
      Popper, K. R. (1994). The Myth of the Framework. In Defence of Science and
      Rationality. London, New York, NY: Routledge.

      • June 17, 2016 at 8:08 pm

        Hello Egmont very clearly stated as usual

        and yet we are going to continue to disagree I think
        because we cannot agree on fundamentals;
        you will likely disagree but reading through the various contributions to this stream the main outcome seems to be that you have claimed the language of science rather than have done anything to plausibly establish that economics can be science as so defined

        in claiming the language of science you place every other position at a discursive disadvantage and juxtapose everything that casts doubt on your position as nonscience and nonsense
        yet your position makes statements that seem breathtakingly dismissive and sweeping – your plausible myths… and the implication that either one is correct and agrees with you or is some kind of dolt (because you in fact are not an imbecile – though I don’t think – or i hadn’t noticed that anyone suggested you were)

        In any case – we are all becoming repetitive to no constructive end it seems; I’d like to thank you for making your position clear and who knows maybe you will turn out to be right… I certainly look forward to you somehow achieving definitive foundational claims for an empirically confirmable (that is in no way falsified) economic science expressible in terms of parsimonious axioms able to cover any and all situations and provide a sound basis for policy and shaping the world into a better place – despite that as you suggest orthodox and heterodox economists seem to be erroneously trapped in the swamplands of a world of underdetermined social theory of a complex social world that resists every attempt to encapsulate it neatly and definitively.

        Thanks again for the time you have put into this, if nothing else you have given us all something to think about.

        Best, Jamie

  24. June 15, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Here is what the Greeks grasped more than 2000 years ago, based on an axiomatic-deductive approach to the natural sciences:

    1. The Earth is the center of the universe
    2. Heavier bodies will fall faster than lighter ones.
    3. Men have more teeth than woman.
    4. Human beings see objects because light rays emanating from the eye strike the object making it visible.
    5. Matter consists of indivisible atoms

    My critique of axiomatics is based on axiomatics as defined by Lionel Robbins (1935), who is the founder of current economic methodology:

    “The propositions of economic theory, like all scientific theory, are obviously deductions from a series of postulates. And the chief of these postulates are all assumptions involving in some way simple and indisputable facts of experience….”

    With this methodology, axioms are certain, and logical deductions are certain so there is no room for conflict with experience. This is exactly the same as axiomatic Greek geometry, which can never be wrong, because it is based on certainties and driven by logic. Errors can arise only by mis-application, a wrong mapping of the concepts to real world objects.

  25. June 15, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Newton’s theories took the world by storm because they explained a diverse collection of phenomena that no one had succeeded in doing before. From EKH’s blog, and also his remarks here, he has explicitly stated that all schools of economic thought, orthodox and heterodox are “locked into idiocy”. The only economist who is not an idiot is EKH. I would like to see a proof of this unique brilliance — where is an economic phenomena that we observe in the real world that EKH can explain where others fail?

  26. June 17, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Asad Zaman

    (i) You and I and everybody who uses the zero in a calculation cares whether the calculation is correct and does NOT care whether the Arabs, Indians, Egyptians, or Greeks invented the zero. It is the same with fire making or methodology. The actual use and the history of concepts or tools are different things. It is the very task of the economist to figure out how the economy works and NOT to clarify who invented what. The history of scientific thought is valuable in its own right but it is a DISTRACTION in the context of economics.

    (ii) It is misleading and counterproductive to play the ‘experimental method of the Arabs’ against the ‘axiomatic-deductive method of the Greeks’. Science is defined by material AND formal consistency. It is the sophisticated COMBINATION of empirics and logic, or experiment and axiomatics, which delivers the winning formula of science. Incompetent scientists fall either on the side of crude observational empiricism or vacuous formalism.

    (iii) Your account of the history of science is in almost every respect false or confused. Two examples suffice here, your characterization of Bacon* and your misplaced debunking of axiomatics: “Here is what the Greeks grasped more than 2000 years ago, based on an axiomatic-deductive approach to the natural sciences: 1. The Earth is the center of the universe.” It is common knowledge that: “Aristarchus of Samos was an ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician who presented the first known model that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe with the Earth revolving around it.” (Wikipedia)

    (iv) I wonder whether anybody checks the content of the WEA Pedagogy Blog. Just for the records: I do NOT accept this easy to disprove garbage as Heterodoxy economics or methodology. The Pedagogy Block has to be clearly labeled as Asad Zaman’s idiosyncratic contribution which does NOT represent any official consensus of the WEA. The Pedagogy Blog is sufficient to expel RWER-Heterodoxy from the sciences.

    (v) You say: “My critique of axiomatics is based on axiomatics as defined by Lionel Robbins, who is the founder of current economic methodology. ‘The propositions of economic theory, like all scientific theory, are obviously deductions from a series of postulates. And the chief of these postulates are all assumptions involving in some way simple and indisputable facts of experience….’ With this methodology, axioms are certain, and logical deductions are certain so there is no room for conflict with experience. This is exactly the same as axiomatic Greek geometry, which can never be wrong, because it is based on certainties and driven by logic.”

    This is as confused as it can get. First of all, Robbins explicitly claims that his postulates are based on “simple and indisputable facts of experience”. This is what you praise as the superior method of the Arabs. Robbins is the very prophet of what Popper called observationism: “These are not postulates the existence of whose counterpart in reality admits of extensive dispute once their nature is fully realized. We do not need controlled experiments to establish their validity: they are so much the stuff of our everyday experience that they only have to be stated to be recognized as obvious.” (Robbins, 1935, p. 79)

    (vi) Robbins’s methodological blunder was that he based economics on BEHAVIORAL axioms (e.g. constrained optimization). Yet, there is NO such thing as a ‘certain, true, and primary’ (Aristotle) behavioral axiom.

    To make a long argument short: Robbins’s definition of economics has to be changed from: “Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” (Robbins, 1935, p. 16) to “Economics is the science which studies how the economic system works.” (2013, p. 20)

    Objective structural axioms lead to relationships that are readily testable, e.g. the Profit Law or the employment equation.**

    (vii) The lethal error/mistake of Orthodoxy does NOT consist in the application of the axiomatic-deductive method but in taking green cheese behavioral assumptions as axioms. From this follows that economics has to move from behavioral microfoundations to structural macrofoundations.

    (viii) Science is about true/false and NOTHING else. We agree that Robbins based economics upon provably false axioms.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2013). Crisis and Methodology: Some Heterodox Misunderstandings.
    SSRN Working Paper Series, 2083519: 1–25. URL
    Robbins, L. (1935). An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science.
    London, Bombay, etc.: Macmillan, 2nd edition.

    * Go occasionally to this blogspot
    and enter Bacon in the search field
    ** See ‘Unemployment the fatal consequence of economists’ scientific incompetence’

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