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Would you describe economics as a science?

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Introduction

Would you describe economics as a science? Economics is commonly classed as a social science. It is subject which is not comparable to any other. It is very difficult to place economics is one category as its roots lie in several different fields. Most definitions agree that a science must generate models that accurately predict real life outcomes. They also agree that these models must be testable. Nobel prize-winner Maurice Allais stated that the "essential condition of any science is the existence of regularities which can be analysed and forecast". To find out whether economics is a science we must find out if the subject generates such models. Much debate has gone into whether economics generates such testable models. Philosophers such as Popper and Kuhn had different ideas, but neither could convincingly explain how scientific knowledge is obtained. Popper believed scientific knowledge must be testable empirically. He had the Platonic view that if a theory can be refuted then we can be sure that it is not true. A theory that is tested empirically and not refuted is retained and gains credibility, but not accepted as fact. He also believed that if predictions are falsified then the theory should be abandoned. Kuhn's views are discussed later on. The big problem with economic models is that they are dependant upon the actions of individual people. ...read more.

Middle

Kuhn argued that with benefit of hindsight that science, as a human activity is heavily influenced by sociological. Kuhn believed in a cyclical process of obtaining scientific knowledge. This first part of this cycle would be a period of chaos (anarchy). During this period of chaos some methods would begin to appear more successful, which would lead to some agreement. People would then start to identify with a particular theory/ set of theories. This agreement would lead them to ask similar questions, confront similar problems, and employ similar methods to solve them. This would a period of normal science in which there would be a dominance of one type of idea, a paradigm. Problems would be found and solved and so progress is tangible. At the present time, the dominant paradigm in economics is neoclassicism. The basic concepts in (neoclassical) economics in are marginality, rationality, maximisation and equilibrium. All of these terms are scientific in origin or at the very least suggestive of scientific rigour. All of the founders of neoclassical economics (Edgeworth, Jevons, Pareto, Marshall) had mathematical/scientific training, showing that neoclassical economics has its origins in science. Mirowski stated that "the rise of energetics in physical theory induced the intervention of neoclassical economic theory by providing the metaphor, the mathematical techniques, and the new attitudes towards theory construction", showing that neoclassical economic theory was appropriated from mid-nineteenth century physics. ...read more.

Conclusion

An argument against the supposed objectivity of economic method is that there is doubt to whether objectivity can be attained by any individual in a social context. Finally, economists infamously do not typically abandon their theories as soon as counter evidence appears, so this seems to show that economic method is not critically open. Although neoclassical economics, the paradigm at the moment, seems to be scientific in its method, alternative theories appear to be much less scientific. A critic of modernist economics, Deirdre McCloskey argues that economists use rhetorical methods to argue their point of view in a variety of ways, many of them literary and non-scientific. These methods include debating and persuasion. However, another alternative theory, the "Austrian" approach, is far more analytical and places its emphasis on understanding as well as observation and therefore is more scientific. Overall, I think that at the present time economic is a science, as the dominant paradigm is neoclassicism. The strand of economics is scientific. However, other theories such as McCloskey's rhetorical approach are literary and therefore non- scientific. This means that economics can float between science and non-science depending upon the dominant paradigm of the time. However, economics has one property that no other science exhibits, the ability to control. Other scientists have to be content to observe, while economists are able to control and build up an economy from its building blocks. This leads to the conclusion that economics is "no more than on the edge of science". So economics at the moment is a special type of science. ...read more.

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