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10 FROM METHODOLOGY TO RHETORIC Any Rule-Bound Methodology Is Objectionable The greater objection to modernism in economics, though, is that modernism supports a rule-bound methodology. It claims to deduce laws for science from the essence of knowledge or a rational reconstruction of the history of science. It claims that the philosopher of science can tell what makes for good, useful, fruitful, progressive science. It claims that he can limit the arguments that the scientists themselves make spontaneously, casting out some as unscientific, or at best placing them firmly in the "context of discovery." The philosopher undertakes to second-guess the scientific community. In economics a rule-bound methodology claims that the rulemaker is expert in all present economic knowledge and in all future economics, too, restricting the growth of the economic conversation to make it fit a philosopher's idea of the ultimate good. Such claims from the easy chair are hard to take seriously. Einstein remarked that "whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods"(1953, p. 38). The modernist methodologist is a Red Queen ("Normative argument: off with his head"), and the gods are snickering behind their hands. Any methodology that is lawmaking and limiting will have this risible effect. The maker of rules for economic science has, of course, the noblest intentions. Like the man from the government, he is here to help you. But economists like to remark of similar cases of interference in the spontaneous order that noble intentions are no defense against laughable results. The methodologist fancies himself the judge of the practitioner . His proper business, if any, is an anarchistic one, resisting the rigidity and pretension of rules. I. A. Richards made the point about the theory of metaphor: "Its business is not to replace practice, or to tell us how to do what we cannot do already; but to protect our natural 156 157 From Methodology to Rhetoric skill from the interference of unnecessarily crude views about it" (1936, p. 116). It is regrettable that modernist methodology, or any methodology consisting of rigid precept, is crude. It is worse that it is allowed to interfere with natural skill. The custom of methodological papers in economics is to scold economists for not allowing it to interfere more. Mark Blaug's book summarizing the state of play of economic methodology in 1980, The Methodology of Economics, is a case in point. Its subtitle promises to tell "How Economists Explain." It might better have been "How the Young Karl Popper Explained," for it repeatedly attacks extant arguments in economics for failing to comply with the rules Popper laid down in Logik der Forschung in 1934. Blaug's exordium is typical of the methodologists in economics: "Economists have long been aware of the need to defend 'correct' principles of reasoning in their subject; although actual practice may bear little relationship to what is preached, the preaching is worth considering on its own ground" (Blaug 1980, p. xii). Such words flow easily from a modernist's pen. Yet it is unclear why preaching unrelated to actual rhetorical practice should be worth considering at all. Why do economists have to defend in the abstract their principles of reasoning, and before what tribunal? The methodologists-whether logical positivist or Popperian or Austrian or Marxist-should have an answer, but do not. Ancient common sense and recent philosophy of science suggest they cannot. Blaug's peroration is frankly prescriptive, taking rules for economic speech directly from philosophy: What methodology can do is to provide criteria for the acceptance and rejection of research programs, setting standards that will help us to discriminate between wheat and chaff. The ultimate question we can and indeed must pose about any research program is the one made familiar by Popper: what events, if they materialize, would lead us to reject that program? A program that cannot meet that question has fallen short of the highest standards that scientific knowledge can attain. (Blaug 1980, p. 264) It sounds grand, but Einstein's gods are rolling in the aisles. Why, the voice of pragmatism asks, should a dubious epistemological principle be a test of anything at all, much less of practice, much less the "ultimate " test? Doesn't science take place most of the time in conversations well short of the ultimate? The operative word is "ultimate" and its numerous cousins in epistemology , such as "conceptually," "ideally," "in principle...


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