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PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION Why in 1985 did I write The Rhetoric of Economics? It was an odd book. An economic historian decides in the early 1980s to learn a little about philosophy, linguistics, literary criticism, the history of science, and other pieces of the literary culture. An odd thing to do. Then she feels she has to tell other economists the news-that the culture of economists itself is in large part literary, too. An odd thing to say. Sometime in the late 1970s I stopped being a persuaded positivist. At the University of Chicago, where I taught for a dozen years from 1968 to 1980, the economists preached a simpleton's version of positivism. This version has by now entered the "philosophical" equipment of most economists. Nowadays you will find them repeating philosophical ideas that in 1968 on the lips of Milton Friedman and George Stigler seemed fresh (to simpletons like me), and seemed in 1918 revolutionary to some smart people in Vienna. At another graduate program they still hand out Milton's old essay of 1953 to every graduate student on the first day. Yet the brilliance of the actual scientific talk in seminar and lunchroom by my fellow Chicago economists-Chicago in the 1970s was the most creative department of economics in the world-contrasted strangely with the simpleton's science recommended by the methodology. I wondered. I got into some quarrels about it with George Stigler and Gary Becker. I started again to read philosophy of science (I had stopped in graduate school, just short of the Karl Popper level). More important, around 1980 I came upon history and sociology of science that challenged the reigning philosophy. Scientists, these crazy radicals claimed, were not the macho saints that Popper said they were. The scientists, when you looked closely at what they did and wrote, were like other human beings, open to persuasion. Most important of all, and on a big scale at Iowa in the 1980s, I discovered literary-and specifically "rhetorical"-criticism. It is a theory of how words persuade even scientists. One could look on the book as a philosophical treatise. But that is to miss its main point, as many conscientious readers did. It was my fault. xi xii Preface Arrangement has never been my strong suit as a rhetorician, and I arranged the book badly. Specifically, I opened it badly. A lot of people thought that the main point of the book was contained in the opening complaint about positivism and its wider context, "modernism." After all, the first three chapters in the first edition were "philosophical." The article in the Journal of Economic Literature in 1983 that first announced the argument was essentially these chapters. If you took the 1983 article as a precis of the book you were going to miss the point. What's the point? As I said: that economics is literary. My book was an early case study (not the first) in the rhetoric of science. That is, like earlier work by Maurice Finocchiaro on Galileo (1980), back through Thomas Kuhn and his master, Ludwick Fleck (1935), I was looking at science as persuasion. My own science of economics was literary, like physics (Feyerabend 1975, 1978, Bazerman 1981, 1983, 1984, 1988) or mathematics (Lakatos 1976; Steiner 1975) or biology (Gould 1977, 1981, 1984), a persuasive realm where the work was done by human arguments , not godlike Proof. The point was obscured by the organization of the book. Most reviewers did not read beyond the third chapter, quite rightly-I mean, how much of this amateur philosophy are you supposed to put up with? (If you want more you can have all you want in my third book on the subject, Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics [1994], 396 pages of philosophical answers to critics and philosophical extensions of the first three chapters. Its contents are proof that most critics read the book as philosophical.) I should have started The Rhetoric with the concrete readings of economic texts. I should have brought the practical rhetoric to a climax with the major case study, which shows that all this stuff does have some scientific payoff: my complaints about statistical significance. (Not about statistics understand. I am and remain a quantitative lady. Hurrah for statistics. Real science. But against that particular and dominant technique, declares Aunt Deirdre, the Marianne of modern economic science, aux barricades! Down with the boy's game in a sandbox called statistical "significance" and Student...

Additional Information

ISBN
9780299158132
Related ISBN
9780299158149
MARC Record
OCLC
608692467
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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