Economics and Philosophy

Articles

IDEALIZATION AND THE AIMS OF ECONOMICS: THREE CHEERS FOR INSTRUMENTALISM

Julian Reiss

Durham University, UK julian.reiss@durham.ac.uk

Abstract

This paper aims (a) to provide characterizations of realism and instrumentalism that are philosophically interesting and applicable to economics; and (b) to defend instrumentalism against realism as a methodological stance in economics. Starting point is the observation that ‘all models are false’, which, or so I argue, is difficult to square with the realist's aim of truth, even if the latter is understood as ‘partial’ or ‘approximate’. The three cheers in favour of instrumentalism are: (1) Once we have usefulness, truth is redundant. (2) There is something disturbing about causal structure. (3) It's better to do what one can than to chase rainbows.

Julian Reiss is Chair in Philosophy at Durham University and specialises in philosophy of economics and general philosophy of science. Specific research interests are causality, thought experiments and simulations, evidence and normative issues in the philosophy of medicine. Publications include Error in Economics: Towards a More Evidence-Based Methodology (Routledge 2008), Causality Between Metaphysics and Methodology (forthcoming with Routledge), and recent articles in Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science C, Journal of Economic Methodology, Synthese and Philosophy of the Social Sciences.

Footnotes

  I would like to thank Nancy Cartwright, Roman Frigg, Francesco Guala, Dan Hausman, Menno Rol, Tim de Mey and anonymous referees for Economics and Philosophy for valuable comments.