Thursday, June 28, 2012

A response to my posts on epistemology that I don't agree with

I don't mean to pick on this particular comment that just went up - I'm just quoting it because it is similar to the flavor of other comments. I don't think it's a good defense of epistemology:

emergenteconomics writes: "In economics it's certainly acceptable to do epistemology -- a non-circular definition might be "thinking about knowledge". In fact I think that much more epistemological discussion should take place. Why? So much of what passes for economic knowledge has turned out to be questionable, largely as a result of the global economic crisis. Many economists are beginning to understand the difficulties with the knowledge that the mainstream of the discipline has produced (the prominent economists who've partially or fully recanted include Stiglitz, Krugman, DeLong, Wolf, Buiter, etc. etc.) It seems sensible to do things like thinking about how we achieved our knowledge and how to make the process of knowledge-generation better in future. This is part of healthy scientific endeavour. We should do much more methodology, too."

This is fine as far as it goes, but as I've noted to other people this sort of thing isn't really getting into epistemology at all. This is economists thinking a little harder than they did before about methodology. And that's fine. But there is no new foundational knowledge to ground our claims as true knowledge from any of this soul searching. Nobody in economics or any other science is ever in pursuit of this foundational truth. Nobody cares about that, and the absence of a foundational proposition or "basic belief" hasn't seemed to do science all that much harm, and that's my point. It's not clear there is one. It's not clear we could know it if there was one. It's not clear we'd know we had it if there was one and we had it.

If we're not grounding knowledge in these "basic beliefs" - if our talk is in this way untethered (and we're not concerned with doing anything about it), then what this untethered talk really is is methodology. And that's a fine thing to talk about.


  1. There's a simple solution here Daniel, you don't seem to mind epistemology when it's tied up with some specific discussion.

    So, the rest of us will talk about it in specific discussions. That way the rest of us won't have to read this awful series of blog posts anymore.

    Now that's done with I'm off to go and ridicule the concept of ridiculousness. I mean what is it, really?!

    1. So basically if we're talking about stuff that we think about that's pretty much epistemology?

      Hmmm... I always thought it was a little more tightly defined than that. If that's the case perhaps I'll have to revise my views.

    2. I should not be so flippant to you - I meant to ask you a favor. Could you email me at

    3. Well, my reply was equally flippant so I can't complain.


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