Sat Nov 20, 2004

Economics and Philosophy

Over at Brian Leiter’s blog the Stanley brothers, Jason and Marcus are guest blogging about Philosophy and Economics. Marcus writes:

I wonder if there are some commonalities between the desire to be “technical” or “scientific” that one sees in economics and some of the things Jason is posting about in philosophy. It seems to me that the internal academic war between “continental” humanism and “Anglo-American” empiricism has impacted a lot of different disciplines …

The internal narratives of Anglo-American philosophy and modern economics see their paradigm emerging at almost the same time. In economics, it’s the marginal revolution inaugurated by Jevons, Menger and Walras from 1871 or so. In philosophy, it’s the publication of Frege’s Begriffsschrift in 1879 that ushers in the modern era.

Like the idea of the Industrial Revolution or the Enlightenment, transformative events like these are both immediately appealing (hence their status as canonical moments in the field) and hard to pin down definitively (hence the big literature by historians and sociologists of these disciplines arguing about them). But it’s interesting on its face that they occurred at similar times. These events also immediately show that the notion of an Anglo/Continental Science/Humanism split is a tricky one to defend, seeing as Frege was German and only 1/3 of the Marginal Revolutionaries were English. But the stereotypes are so strong that many people think, for example, that the French really never did much mathematical economics.