As a means of fending off criticism of its autism, of further concealing its ideological role (see below), of diverting calls for pluralism and, perhaps most of all, just as a pastime, economics’ Neoclassical mainstream plays a game of relaxing the assumptions. It loosens one or two assumptions around the edges of the theory and then does a bit of analysis. This is no better than when viewing David to lean to the left or to the right or kneel or stand tiptoed as a means of seeing another side of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Yet the whole mainstream project is now so infected with this methodological dilettantism that it seems necessary to spell out the difference between fake and real pluralism.
Even more than with a word, the meaning of a concept is it use. The meaning of a word depends upon the referent of the sentence, which as Wittgenstein noted is a “state of affairs” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 2.01, 2.001, 2.02); likewise the meaning of a concept depends on the framework in which it appears. For example, take something so simple and straightforward as the concept of economic growth defined in terms of Gross National Product. When you transfer this concept from the Neoclassical framework which views the economy as a closed system that includes the ecosystem (“land, labour and capital”) to the conceptual framework of ecological economics which views the economy as an open subsystem of the ecosystem, this concept’s meaning, in all its dimensions, changes fundamentally. It also changes fundamentally when transferred from the masculinist Neoclassical framework to a feminist economics that ascribes economic value to production not entering into market relations, for example family-provided nursing and child care. Each of these three conceptual frameworks, having the limited point of view common to all such creations, identify and describe a different “state of affairs”. These examples illustrate two fundamental points: One must think from inside a conceptual system in order to:
- grasp the meaning of its concepts and
- to gain the vantage point that it offers on the world.
It is only when you shift from one conceptual system to another, like physicists do, not when you relax some assumptions of one system, that you have real pluralism.