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2 THE LITERARY CHARACTER OF ECONOMIC SCIENCE Science Uses Literary Methods The French and German triads that correspond to our plain English "natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities" are "les sciences naturelles, les sciences sociales, et les sciences humaines" and "die Naturwissenschaften, die Sozialwissenschaften, und die Geisteswissenschaften ." In both the term for studies of poetry, language, and philosophy-studies that are humanistic and decidedly literary in form-includes a "science" word. But in French and German, and in every other language I have looked into, the term is not properly understood as English "science." In Japanese, Finnish, Tamil, Turkish, Korean , and all the Indo-European languages, the science word means "systematic inquiry." The German speaker has therefore less opportunity to use his word Wissenschaft, or the French speaker his science, as a club with which to beat on word folk. Nor, on the other side, can it be so easily used the way it is by the English-speaking literati, as a curse against that blackest art, the anti-art, the bane of sweetness and light. It means in all these other languages merely "disciplined inquiry," as distinct from, say, casual journalism or unaided common sense. It does not mean "quantitative ," in the way Lord Kelvin used it in 1883: "When you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind"; and added, "It may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science." Outside of the English-speaking world nowadays the science word does not have epistemological clout. The word "science" began to be used in the honorific sense by the English only in the late nineteenth century. The earliest citation in sense 5b of the Oxford English Dictionary is 1867, from W. G. Ward in the Dublin Review for April, p. 255n (italics supplied): "We shall ... use the word 'science' in the sense which Englishmen so commonly give to it; as expressing physical and experimental science, to the exclusion of theological 20 21 The Literary Character of Economic Science and metaphysical." (The later Supplement to the dictionary describes this definition 5b nowadays as of course "the dominant sense in ordinary use.") Earlier it meant "studies," as in "classical studies"-Altertumswissenschaft in German. In modern English you cannot imagine "classical science." The Wildhagen/Heraucourt German dictionary (1972) gives die klassiche Wissenschaft as "humanities" (clearly in the older sense of the English word) and die philologischhistorische Wissenschaften as "arts" (in the British academic usage, contrasted, again, with "science"). The point is that the foreigners have gotten it right. "Literary criticism is a science" or "Economics is a science" should not be the fighting words they are in English. The fighting lacks point because, as our friends across the water could have told us, nothing important depends on its outcome. Economics in particular is merely a disciplined inquiry into the market for rice or the scarcity of love. Economics is a collection of literary forms, some of them expressed in mathematics, not a Science. Indeed, science is a collection of literary forms, not a Science. And literary forms are scientific. The idea that science is a way of talking, not a separate realm of Truth, has become common among students of science since Thomas Kuhn. The idea does not imply that science is inconclusive or that literature is cold-blooded. The point is that science uses art for urgent practical purposes daily. The aesthetic judgements necessary before one of the theories in particle physics is selected for the expensive experiment it requires for testing does not make science arbitrary or flimsy. As Steven Weinberg said about an experiment testing his piece of the physicist's art, "That experiment cost some $30 to $40 million dollars, not for the accelerator you understand, just for the experiment using the accelerator. This is an enormous commitment of your money and our time, one that can only be made when the judgement has been made that the theory is worth testing, and that judgment is very often entirely a matter of how beautiful we think the theory is" (1983, p. 20). From 1967 to 1971 Weinberg's theory was considered too ugly to test. He points out that no one would have financed the British expedition to the South Seas in 1919 to test Einstein's theory had it been thought ugly. The literary critic Kenneth Burke spoke of this persuasiveness of elegant forms: "A yielding...


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