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Minimal realism — much ado about nothing

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Minimal realism — much ado about nothing To generalise Mäki’s distinction between realism and realisticness, someone who believes that economic theories must or should include unrealistic assumptions is not necessarily a non-realist in the broader sense of philosophical realism: “A realist economist is permitted, indeed required, to use unrealistic assumptions in order to isolate what are believed to be the most essential features in a complex situation … To count as a minimal realist, an economist is required to believe that economic reality is unconstituted by his or her representations of it and that whatever truth value those representations have is independent of his or her or anybody else’s opinions of it” (Mäki 1994: 248). Although Lawson would

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Minimal realism — much ado about nothing

Minimal realism — much ado about nothingTo generalise Mäki’s distinction between realism and realisticness, someone who believes that economic theories must or should include unrealistic assumptions is not necessarily a non-realist in the broader sense of philosophical realism: “A realist economist is permitted, indeed required, to use unrealistic assumptions in order to isolate what are believed to be the most essential features in a complex situation … To count as a minimal realist, an economist is required to believe that economic reality is unconstituted by his or her representations of it and that whatever truth value those representations have is independent of his or her or anybody else’s opinions of it” (Mäki 1994: 248).

Although Lawson would presumably not deny that orthodox economic theorists account as minimal realists in this sense, his concern is that orthodox economic theory is unrealistic in not representing the way things really are in that it does not refer factually and does not latch onto what is essential in the social domain … Lawson’s standpoint is that economic theory should strive for true explanations of social phenomena, hence Lawson is a methodological realist in this respect.

Duncan Hodge

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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