Home > Uncategorized > Contrast explanations in economics

Contrast explanations in economics

from Lars Syll

For all scholars seriously interested in questions on what makes up a good scientific explanation, Alan Garfinkel’s Forms of Explanation (Yale University Press 1990) is a must-read. A lot of recent work done within different realist schools in theory of science — e.g. Roy Bhaskar, Andrew Collier, Richard W Miller and Tony Lawson — issue not so little from questions and problems posed by Garfinkel. Especially his advocacy of contrast explanations and critique of methodological individualism and other forms of reductionism are still unsurpassed.

Given this, it is almost scandalous that this modern classic is not reprinted. I was lucky to get a copy from an antiquarian, but of course, this is a book that should have been reprinted long ago!

For those who want to further explore the meaning and potential of contrast explanations, Jamie Morgan’s and Heikki Patomäki’s article in Cambridge Journal of Economics last year is highly recommended reading.

  1. Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
    June 20, 2018 at 8:41 am

    Very useful. I have studied philosphy of science from my undergrad days & now am tied to Artificial Intelligence which is all about writing software which embodies observations related by explicit rules of logic, the latter commonly termed “mathematics”. It is due to these “concrete” observations (available to virually all to duplicate under most environemtal conditions) & stable rules that computations can be made at high as 200 trillon per second. Mathematicians & many others know this is truly a step forward.

  2. David Harold Chester
    June 20, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Einstein’s Criterion (similar to Occams Razor) should be used for judging good science. “A good scientific hypothesis (or theory) is one that is as simple as possible without over-simplification”.

    • Craig
      June 20, 2018 at 6:19 pm

      Yes, because it approximates the reality of a paradigm/paradigm change.

    • June 21, 2018 at 9:01 am

      Yes, for it is over-simplification for a theory of the real world to leave out the language in which it is expressed, i.e for “scientists” to ignore the existence and error-correcting purpose of information science.

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        June 21, 2018 at 10:20 am

        Good point, Dave. As I do more engineering these days, “another proof” of Einstein’s General Relativity–totalling now let’s say, 150–done in global labs is not the point. It is rather when a scientific insight is embedded in a global system which over time supports the “proof” millions or billions of times when we see the limits of applicability. So scaling is both science (proof) when applied by rigorous standards by many researchers globally, and later becomes engineering when put to practical use and we experience the limitations. Something as basic as welding underwater brings this readily to my mind.

  3. June 20, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    This book *is* in print. Amazon UK are advertising: New Ed edition (4 Sept. 2009). And there is one UK review of this book by a guy called Prof Lars Pålsson Syll. Prof. Syll gave it five stars in 2005 and seems not to have noticed it being reprinted in 2009, but is still complaining about it not being reprinted long after it has been. What is the explanation for this?

    • June 20, 2018 at 4:10 pm

      And sometimes advertised new editions never materialize …

      • June 20, 2018 at 4:44 pm

        Well I’ve just bought one, so I’ll let you know.

  4. Craig
    June 20, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    A paradigm is simultaneously the decipherment of a single unifying concept that fits seamlessly within and creates an entirely qualitatively different system in which it applies to. Hence it is the epitome of contrast and integration. The mindset of Science is contrast, the mindset of wisdom is integration of contrast/opposites.

    Economists here is your lesson/koan:

    What is the peace of conflict?

    • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
      June 21, 2018 at 6:37 am

      Carl Hempel, a famous European logician/methods’ specialist, explained it in class a very long time ago as “levels of generalization” in which which the details at one level of abstraction gave way to those at a higher level. This to me has always been analogous to the focusing ability of our eyes, given both measurable distance & magnification. So an Astronaut has her view of terra firma from, say, 200 miles.

      • Craig
        June 21, 2018 at 9:02 am

        A paradigm is also very much like a hologram where the same information is in every data point and the whole…at the same time. It’s the epitome of the integration of opposites which is a seeming illogic. That and habit are the primary reasons it is difficult for people to perceive.

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        June 21, 2018 at 10:23 am

        Right on, Craig, as then our ability to focus on one portion at a time is used. You know the old game of picking out the angels or devils who are visible in a series of dots put before our eyes.

  5. Helen Sakho
    June 21, 2018 at 2:03 am

    Yes, wisdom means approaching as close a proximity as current state of authentic knowledge allows, yet being far enough to allow the accumulation of new knowledge. Otherwise no progress will ever be made and stagnation is the inevitable outcome. This is a universal law.

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