Positive economics revalued (the fact/value distinction in

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Positive economics revalued (the fact/value distinction in economics)
Issues in economics: whether there can be such a subject as purely positive economics;
how far economists ‘qua economists’ may be justified in tackling moral or political
questions.
Philosophy employed: Hume and Searle on ‘is’ and ‘ought’; the logical positivist
movement and criticism of it in the philosophy of science; ethical theories of
intuitionism, emotivism, prescriptivism and the subsequent challenge of the ‘autonomy’
of ethics.
Argument
a. Positive economics independent of normative questions and value judgements,
and unable to contribute to them (Lipsey, Friedman, Keynes, Robbins, the young
Myrdal and others).
b. Deducing ‘ought’ from ‘is’:
i.
is/ought shorthand for fact/value (not a verbal distinction); meaning of
‘assumptions contain their conclusions’; facts plus values can imply
‘ought’ statements.
ii.
background in past philosophy: Hume.
iii.
but re-interpretation of Hume.
iv.
and Searle’s possible counter-example on ‘is’ and ‘ought’ (utters –
promises – has an obligation – ought) (‘Institutional facts’)
c. ‘Pure’ facts:
i.
early 20th Century: the logical positivist movement
ii.
rejection of positivism: no such thing as a mere ‘brute’ fact, a pure
sense-datum. ‘Theory laden’ facts (Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Carr)
iii.
from ‘theory-laden’ to ‘value laden’ facts? (Myrdal in the late 1950s;
but Sen’s important dissent - ‘curiosity’)
d. ‘Pure’ values:
i.
the autonomy of ethics, variously asserted in the moral theories of
intuitionism (Moore), emotivism (Ayer) and prescriptivism (Hare)
ii.
dissatisfaction with these theories, especially over the nature of moral
argument
iii.
ethics seen as essentially related to human needs and wants (Philippa
Foot, the Warnocks). From the autonomy of ethics to ‘fact-laden’
values?
e. Fact/theory/value interaction. Mere ‘border disputes’ between facts and values
(Sen) or more general intermingling? (Compare parallel issue of fact/theory
interaction: von Mises on the primacy of the a priory but Stone on the a priori
and the empirical as a matter of ‘chicken and egg’) (Whiskey and soda analogy?
But example value of exchange rate at particular time: loss of language if not
called ‘fact’?)
Upshot: In the early 1900s, there might seem to be a warrant for Lipsey view that a rigid
gulf must part positive and normative economics; it has been withdrawn in some recent
philosophy. However, the loss of the positivist ideal doesn’t mean economics must
inevitably be a wholly subjective affair, just offering propaganda for particular
ideologies.
(Dr. J G T Meeks)
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