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Problems with Realism in Economics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2008

Daniel M. Hausman
London School of Economics and University of Wisconsin–Madison


This essay attempts to distinguish the pressing issues for economists and economic methodologists concerning realism in economics from those issues that are of comparatively slight importance. In particular I shall argue that issues concerning the goals of science are of considerable interest in economics, unlike issues concerning the evidence for claims about unobservables, which have comparatively little relevance. In making this argument, this essay raises doubts about the two programs in contemporary economic methodology that raise the banner of realism. In particular I argue that the banner makes it more difficult to relate the concerns of those who wave it (Tony Lawson and Uskali Mäki) to those of other methodologists. Although this essay argues that many of the debates in this century between scientific realists and their opponents are not relevant to economics, it does not attack scientific realism, and it does not urge economists or economic methodologists to reject it.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1998

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