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Critical reflections on a realist interpretation

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发表于 2017-9-12 22:34:02 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
Critical reflections on a realist interpretation of Friedman’s ‘Methodology...
Abstract

Uskali Mäki has offered an innovative scientific realist account of Milton Friedman’s 1953 essay, ‘The Methodology of Positive Economics’, which directly challenges the dominant instrumentalist interpretation. This paper offers critical reflections on Mäki’s approach and interpretation. It is argued that Mäki’s method of rereading-rewriting the text is problematic; that an unforced instrumentalist account of unrealistic assumptions can be extracted from the text itself; and that seemingly realist passages can be plausibly read as expressing an instrumentalist stance.

Keywords: realism, instrumentalism, unrealistic assumptions, as-if, F53, Friedman

 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:34:19 | 显示全部楼层
1. Introduction

For over half a century, Milton’s Friedman’s seminal 1953 essay, ‘The Methodology of Positive Economics’ (hereafter F53), has been the subject of numerous conflicting exegetical analyses. The controversial text has been interpreted as an expression of positivism (e.g. Hollis & Nell, 1975 Hollis, M., & Nell, E. J. (1975). Rational economic man: A philosophical critique of neoclassical economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511554551
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), falsificationism (e.g. Keppler, 1998 Keppler, J. H. (1998). The genesis of ‘positive economics’ and the rejection of monopolistic competition theory: A methodological debate. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 22, 261–276.10.1093/oxfordjournals.cje.a013716
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), pragmatism (e.g. Hirsch & de Marchi, 1990 Hirsch, A., & de Marchi, N. (1990). Milton Friedman: Economics in theory and practice. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.10.3998/mpub.13240
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) and neo-Bayesianism (e.g. Pelloni, 1996 Pelloni, G. (1996). De Fenetti, Friedman and the methodology of positive economics. Journal of Econometrics, 75, 33–50.10.1016/0304-4076(95)01767-4
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). The dominant interpretation, however, has been some kind of instrumentalism (e.g. Wong, 1973 Wong, S. (1973). The ‘f-twist’ and the methodology of Paul Samuelson. American Economic Review, 63, 312–325.
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; Boland, 1979 Boland, L. A. (1979). A critique of Friedman's critics. Journal of Economic Literature, 17, 503–522.
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; Caldwell, 1992 Caldwell, B. J. (1992). Friedman's predictivist instrumentalism – A modification. Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, 10, 119–28.
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). Given the anti-realist nature of instrumentalism (to say nothing of the other interpretations), it is interesting that a realist interpretation has gradually gained some ground.

An unequivocal realist interpretation of F53 and Friedman’s methodological stance more generally was first offered by Hammond (1990 Hammond, J. D. (1990). Realism in Friedman’s essays in positive economics. In D. E. Moggridge (Ed.), Perspectives on the history of economic thought (Vol. 4, pp. 194–208). Aldershot: Edward Elgar.
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, 1996 Hammond, J. D. (1996). Theory and measurement: Causality issues in Milton Friedman’s monetary economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511528255
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), and has more recently been bolstered by Hoover’s (2009 Hoover, K. D. (2009). Milton Friedman’s stance: The methodology of causal realism. In U. Mäki (Ed.), The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy (pp. 303–320). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511581427
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) ‘causal realist’ rendering. Hammond’s and Hoover’s exegeses crucially rely on material that goes beyond the text of F53 itself. Collectively, they draw upon Friedman’s methodological comments in other articles, on Friedman’s work as a practising economist, and on the writings of Friedman’s nominated hero, Alfred Marshall. They have attributed the dominance of the instrumentalist interpretation to the failure of commentators to embed F53 in its historically specific intellectual context. Mäki (2009a Mäki, U. (2009a). Unrealistic assumptions and unnecessary confusions: Rereading and rewriting F53 as a realist statement. In U. Mäki (Ed.), The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy (pp. 90–116). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511581427
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), by contrast, has taken up the challenge of providing a comprehensive realist interpretation of F53 that draws exclusively on the text itself without any support from ‘external’ sources.11. Actually, Mäki (1986 Mäki, U. (1986). Rhetoric at the expense of coherence: A reinterpretation of Milton Friedman’s methodology. Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, 4, 127–143.
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) was perhaps the first to argue (in English) that F53 contained a significant realist element. His early verdicts in this regard were, however, highly equivocal (Mäki, 1989 Mäki, U. (1989). On the problem of realism in economics. Ricerche Economiche, 43, 176–198.
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, 1992 Mäki, U. (1992). Friedman and realism. Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, 10, 171–195.
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) – for example: ‘Although Friedman is an ontological, referential, representational, and veristic realist, I still think that it is mostly correct to characterise him as an instrumentalist’ (Mäki, 1989 Mäki, U. (1989). On the problem of realism in economics. Ricerche Economiche, 43, 176–198.
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; p. 185). The realist interpretation of F53 was made more confidently in Mäki (2003 Mäki, U. (2003). The methodology of positive economics’ (1953) does not give us the methodology of positive economics. Journal of Economic Methodology, 10, 495–505.10.1080/1350178032000130484
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), of which Mäki (2009a Mäki, U. (2009a). Unrealistic assumptions and unnecessary confusions: Rereading and rewriting F53 as a realist statement. In U. Mäki (Ed.), The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy (pp. 90–116). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511581427
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) was an apparent outgrowth.
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To date, there have only been two responses to Mäki’s most recent exegesis: Boland (2010 Boland, L. (2010). The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy. Economics and Philosophy, 26, 376–382.10.1017/S0266267110000313
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) and Reiss (2010 Reiss, J. (2010). The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 3, 103–110.
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). Both dismiss Mäki’s realist account as totally implausible, but due to space constraints, neither fully elaborates on Mäki’s arguments. This realist interpretation of F53 deserves a thorough examination, not just because it is innovative, but because F53 still has some influence on economists’ self-image (see e.g. Frank, 2014 Frank, R. H. (2014). Microeconomics and behavior (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
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) and defences of their theoretical practices (Røgeberg & Nordberg, 2005 Røgeberg, O., & Nordberg, M. (2005). A defence of absurd theories in economics. Journal of Economic Methodology, 12, 543–562.10.1080/13501780500343631
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). This new realist interpretation may give rise to new self-reflections by students of economics and perhaps then to new practices.22. It is acknowledged that exegetical questions about seminal texts may not always lie at the centre of things when it comes to making methodological progress in economics. That, however, does not render such interpretive efforts completely irrelevant to questions of the legitimacy of contemporary work of the economics discipline. After all, when texts such as F53 are charged with being complicit in, or even lying at the core of, the most recent economic crises (see e.g. Crotty, 2013 Crotty, J. (2013). The realism of assumptions does matter: Why Keynes–Minsky theory must replace efficient market theory as the guide to financial regulation policy. In M. Wolfson & G. Epstein (Eds.), The handbook of the political economy of financial crises (pp. 133–158). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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; Mosini, 2012 Mosini, V. (2012). Reassessing the paradigm of economics: Bringing positive economics back into the normative framework. London: Routledge.
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), economists should, at the very least, be able to identify what the accused seminal texts actually say.
View all notes

In what follows, Mäki’s arguments for a realist interpretation of F53 are recapitulated in some detail. Mäki’s reading is then subjected to a critical examination. It is argued that each of the elements of F53 that Mäki’s identifies as realist can be just as easily, or perhaps more plausibly, read as evidence of instrumentalism. Finally, some brief critical reflections on the character of F53 are made. It should be noted that it is not the aim of this paper to definitively ‘prove’ that a realist interpretation of F53 is incorrect. The aim, rather, is merely to show that Mäki’s realist interpretation is problematic by demonstrating that the arguments for it are not as strong as they might at first appear to be. Such an endeavour involves, in part, showing the textual plausibility of the instrumentalist interpretation, but should not be taken as ‘proof’ of the correctness of this interpretation either.
 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:34:30 | 显示全部楼层
2. Mäki’s realist interpretation

Before outlining Mäki’s realist interpretation of F53, a couple of prefatory remarks are in order. First, although Mäki devotes a little attention to what he calls the ‘subjective and social dimensions’ of F53 (pp. 109–112),33. All unattributed page numbers refer to Mäki (2009a Mäki, U. (2009a). Unrealistic assumptions and unnecessary confusions: Rereading and rewriting F53 as a realist statement. In U. Mäki (Ed.), The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy (pp. 90–116). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511581427
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).
View all notes
I will set aside this part of his account of F53 because it does not really serve his realist interpretation. Second, although I have attempted to retain the overall structure and ordering of Mäki’s arguments, some truncation is inevitable. Hopefully, nothing essential to Mäki’s case has been lost.

In the briefest of terms, Mäki’s case, elaborated below, runs as follows: (2.1) The apparent ambiguities in F53 enable a plausible realist reading to be gleaned from the text. (2.2) Two common instrumentalist interpretations of F53’s position on the theoretical assumptions are prima facie not very plausible. (2.3) There is textual support in F53 for a realist interpretation of theoretical assumptions: assumptions should be sufficiently good approximations for the provision of causal explanations of predicted phenomena. (2.4) Abstraction and idealisation in F53 allow for some falsity in assumptions, but this is not contrary to realism. (2.5) There is textual support for F53 presupposing a realist conception of science in general.
 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:34:43 | 显示全部楼层
2.1. Rereading-rewriting F53

Mäki begins his essay by asserting that there are two common types of responses to F53: practising economists find it to be ‘appealing and liberating, and its arguments convincing’ (p. 90) whereas economic methodologists have generally reacted to it with scepticism or disbelief. Both groups, says Mäki, are operating under a misconception, viz., that F53 expresses an unambiguously coherent non-realist position. In reality, according to Mäki, F53 is not obviously coherent at all. It contains some apparently anti-instrumentalist elements; its ‘as if’ formulations are compatible with a number of different philosophical labels; and its various references to ‘unrealisticness’ are seemingly incompatible. For precisely these reasons, F53 is best approached as a flexible and ambiguous text that could well be interpreted ‘as a realist (rather than instrumentalist) manifesto with strong fallibilist and social constructivist sensitivities (in contrast to standard textbook positivism)’ (p. 91).

Mäki does not explicitly define the ‘realism’ spoken of in his essay. Nonetheless, it is fairly clear what he means by the term. I take it that he means two related things. First, ontologically, a mind-independent world exists in which causal entities bring about phenomena (events and states of affairs). Second, epistemologically, scientific theories should posit causal entities to explain and predict observable phenomena of interest, and those causal entities can come to be fallibly known indirectly by abductive inference from successful prediction and coherent (unifying) explanations. As such, successful scientific theories are (approximately) true representations of actually existing aspects of reality. This constitutes a fairly standard kind of modern scientific realism (hereafter just ‘realism’ for short).44. Lehtinen (2012 Lehtinen, A. (2012). Introduction: Uskali Mäki’s realist philosophy of economics. A. Lehtinen, J. Kuorikoski, & P. Ylikoski (Eds.), Economics for real: The place of truth in economics and why it matters (pp. 1–40). London: Routledge.
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), who provides a comprehensive overview of Mäki’s work, points out that Mäki has been somewhat coy in explicating the kind of scientific realism he personally believes (but see Mäki, 2000 Mäki, U. (2000). Reclaiming relevant realism. Journal of Economic Methodology, 7, 109–125.10.1080/135017800362266
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; Mäki, 2009d Mäki, U. (2009d). Realistic realism about unrealistic models. In D. Ross & H. Kincaid (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of philosophy of economics (pp. 68–98). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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, 2011 Mäki, U. (2011). Puzzled by realism: A response to Deichsel. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 4, 42–52.
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). The dimensions of scientific realism that Lehtinen is able to divine from Mäki’s oeuvre broadly correspond to the ones outlined above.
View all notes

Mäki thinks a realist casting of F53 is ‘an obvious interpretation that does come very naturally indeed’, although is ‘more forced when ignoring parts of F53’ (p. 91). This brings us to Mäki’s method: his is ‘a project of rewriting the essay’ ‘by selection and correction’ ‘to make it agreeable to a variety of audiences’ (p. 91). In terms of the ‘map of multiple perspectives’ that Mäki (2009b Mäki, U. (2009b). Reading the methodological essay in twentieth-century economics: Map of multiple perspectives. In U. Mäki (Ed.), The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy (pp. 47–67). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511581427
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) has developed elsewhere, he characterises his approach to exegesis as follows: (i) it is focused on the text of F53 itself, not Friedman-the-man’s personal beliefs; (ii) it deals with the logical, ontological, and semantic topics referred to in the text; (iii) it seeks to both describe what the text says and evaluate its claims (which provides the basis for rewriting-corrections); (iv) it utilises categories derived from the philosophy of science; and (v) it takes a reader’s, rather than the author’s perspective (a ‘strong consumptionist’ ‘reception methodology’)55. Mäki (2009b Mäki, U. (2009b). Reading the methodological essay in twentieth-century economics: Map of multiple perspectives. In U. Mäki (Ed.), The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy (pp. 47–67). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511581427
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, p. 57) means by this the following: ‘the strong consumptionist is only interested in the reader’s reception rather than the author’s intention. The goal is to read a methodological text from the point of view of its (actual or possible) reception by the relevant audiences, including its (actual or possible) interpretations and influences – while completely ignoring questions about the author’s beliefs and goals. This is what I call ‘reception methodology’ in analogy with reception aesthetics’. Incidentally, Mäki’s approach of focusing on the text alone (sans Friedman’s biography or applied work) is one that he has fairly consistently followed in most of his work on F53.
View all notes
(2009b Mäki, U. (2009b). Reading the methodological essay in twentieth-century economics: Map of multiple perspectives. In U. Mäki (Ed.), The methodology of positive economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman legacy (pp. 47–67). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511581427
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, p. 57).
 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:34:56 | 显示全部楼层
2.2. Confusion over ‘unrealisticness’

For Mäki, F53’s basic thesis – its ‘torso’ – is this:

… economic theories should not be judged by their assumptions but by their predictive implications – and in particular, the unrealisticness of the assumptions of a theory is no reason for complaint or worry about the theory. (pp. 92–93, italics suppressed)

The torso has been interpreted in two crucially different ways. The ‘weak’ instrumentalist version is that the unrealisticness of assumptions is irrelevant to judgements about the worth of a theory. By implication, more realistic assumptions are also irrelevant. The ‘strong’ instrumentalist version is that making unrealistic assumptions is virtuous, and that calling for more realistic assumptions is undesirable. Mäki claims that a strong version of F53’s torso, combined with the downplaying of predictive testing, is popular amongst economists. The torso is thus corrupted to read ‘hail unrealistic assumptions, proscribe against the pursuit of realistic assumptions’ sans predictive testing (p. 94). The apparent textual sanction for this is F53’s dismissal of monopolistic competition where ‘there is no appeal … to the superior predictive capacity of Friedman’s favourite thesis in contrast to the predictive failures of Chamberlin’s theory’ (p. 93). According to Mäki, it is this corrupted message that is so liberating to economists and is what gives succour to formalism in economic theorising and modelling.

For Mäki, however, both the weak and strong instrumentalist versions of F53’s torso are prima facie incorrect. The weak version does not cohere well with the rest of F53, which heavily emphasises the necessity of unrealisticness; which stridently criticises economists who call for greater realisticness of assumptions; and which explicitly claims that the more significant a theory is, the more unrealistic its assumptions are likely to be. The strong version is also wrong, however, because it is obvious that utterly absurd assumptions, which just happen to give rise to correct predictions would never be deemed virtuous by any stretch of the methodological imagination.6
 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:35:09 | 显示全部楼层
2.3. Clarifying ‘unrealisticness’

Fortunately, ‘it appears that F53 does not subscribe to either of the above versions of the thesis consistently or without qualifications. Indeed, the truth of assumptions appears as a relevant issue after all’ (p. 95). To support this claim Mäki appeals to two passages in F53, both of which refer to assumptions being approximations of the truth:

[T]he relevant question to ask about the ‘assumptions’ of a theory is … whether they are sufficiently good approximations for the purpose in hand … [which] can be answered only by seeing whether … it yields sufficiently accurate predictions. (Friedman, 1953 Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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, p. 15)

[T]he question whether a theory is realistic ‘enough’ can be settled only by seeing whether it yields predictions that are good enough for the purpose in hand. (Friedman, 1953 Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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, p. 41)

Mäki says that this counts as clear textual evidence that ‘one is advised to pay attention to their [i.e. assumptions’] actual degree of realisticness and to judge whether it is sufficiently high for the purposes at hand’ (p. 95). This entails pragmatic considerations about the purposes to which a theory is put, and ontological considerations about the empirical relevance of various causal factors (if a causal factor’s effect is thought to be empirically negligible then ‘assume away’ the factor, if not then don’t). This latter consideration is evident in the passage in F53 about abstraction:

Why is it more ‘unrealistic’ in analyzing business behaviour to neglect the magnitude of businessmen’s costs than the color of their eyes? The obvious answer is because the first makes more difference to business behaviour than the second. (Friedman, 1953 Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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, p. 33)

What does it mean to say that x ‘makes a difference’ to y? For Mäki, the obvious answer is that x is a causal contributor to y, and that implies real underlying causal factors are at work, which explain observed phenomena. That these factors come to be known only by means of predictive testing does not alter this realist ontological insight. In fact, for Mäki this is perfectly reasonable because predictive testing is always the way assumptions are checked. Thus the supposed dichotomy between testing a theory by checking its assumptions and by checking its predictions is ‘misleading’ because there is no such thing as ‘direct’ testing of assumptions (p. 96). The correct distinction is really between the domains of data that are regarded as being most relevant. For example, one may be interested in whether individual entrepreneurs are profit maximisers or whether markets exhibit price behaviour consistent with entrepreneurial profit maximisation. Both involve drawing implications (predictions) and empirically checking them, but the former would, conventionally, be called ‘testing the assumption’ and the latter ‘testing a prediction of that assumption’.
 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:35:36 | 显示全部楼层
2.4. Further confusion and clarification

Unfortunately, says Mäki, F53 unhelpfully muddies the waters by conflating two meanings of ‘unrealisticness’: true but incomplete descriptions of reality on the one hand, and outright falsehood on the other.77. See Sen’s (1980 Sen, A. (1980). Description as choice. Oxford Economic Papers, 32, 353–369.
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) distinction between ‘the whole truth’ on the one hand and ‘nothing but the truth’ on the other.
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The conflation is unacceptable because incompleteness does not necessarily imply the falsehood of particular claims.88. Letting C stand for ‘a complete, true description of reality’ and P stand for ‘a particular, true claim about an element of reality’, in modal terms we have the following propositions: C → □P; ~C → ◊ P → ◊C; ~P → ~◊C.
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Commentators on F53 often make matters worse by uncritically assuming that both types of ‘unrealisticness’ are markers of anti-realism. Mäki argues that both types of ‘unrealisticness’ about assumptions are evident in F53, but neither are court tout incompatible with realism. Abstraction entails ‘unrealisticness’ of the ‘true but incomplete description’ type, whereas idealisation entails ‘unrealisticness’ of the ‘empirically false’ type. Both abstraction and idealisation are means of constructing theories which select hypothesised causal factors and provide ‘pure cases’ of these causes (of observed phenomena of interest). This is characteristic of a quite standard kind of realism.

According to Mäki, critics have failed to see these distinctions in F53 because they have held a primitive view of the function of sentences. A more nuanced view is required. In assessing whether one should rule a statement true or false, and how that matters, one should pay attention to its linguistic function. Mäki suggests that champions of the instrumentalist interpretation (be it weak or strong) presume that the truth-value of a theory is exclusively a function of the truth-values of its assumptions: that a theory is deemed true if and only if all its assumptions are true. So when

F53 admits that many of the central assumptions of the economic theories challenged by their critics are false … [t]his has been interpreted by later commentators as implying a commitment to a special kind of instrumentalist view of theory: economic theories and models are false instruments of prediction. (p. 101)99. Mäki cites Wong (1973 Wong, S. (1973). The ‘f-twist’ and the methodology of Paul Samuelson. American Economic Review, 63, 312–325.
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), Boland (1979 Boland, L. A. (1979). A critique of Friedman's critics. Journal of Economic Literature, 17, 503–522.
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) and Caldwell (1992 Caldwell, B. J. (1992). Friedman's predictivist instrumentalism – A modification. Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, 10, 119–28.
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) as such commentators.
View all notes

Such an interpretation, however, ignores the point that particular assumptions can be literally false (and intentionally so) whilst the theory as whole can still be called true: ‘realism (as a theory of theories) is perfectly comfortable with unrealistic assumptions’ as long as the theory is ‘true about the functioning of some important causal factor while making false assumptions about the existence and functioning of other factors’ (p. 101).1010. In this quote, Mäki refers to a statement about an ‘important causal factor’. In another place, he says that ‘core assumptions’ (p. 101) should be true.
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For example, ‘assume only gravitational force acts on objects such that they fall at rate r’ functions as an idealisation (an intentionally false statement that eliminates relevant factors to construct a ‘pure case’), whereas ‘assume objects tend to fall at rate r’ functions as an unqualified claim (a statement that fails to refer to, let alone eliminate, other possibly relevant factors).1111. These are not identical to Mäki’s examples. I have used them in order to provide a more parsimonious discussion of the point Mäki is making.
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It is entirely possible that although the former is false, the latter is true. Similarly, it is entirely possible that ‘assume firms are only motivated by profit maximisation’ is false and ‘assume firms are motivated by profit maximisation’ is true (provided the profit motive is indeed a real force).

According to Mäki, another symptom of the primitive view of the function of sentences is that some commentators have failed to see that some statements are negligibility assumptions which also cohere particularly well with a realist position (cf. Musgrave, 1981 Musgrave, A. (1981). Unreal assumptions’ in economic theory: the f-twist untwisted. Kyklos, 34, 377–387.10.1111/kykl.1981.34.issue-3
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). For example, (1) ‘assume that medium sized objects fall in a vacuum’ for a non-controlled environment seems to amount to a patently false statement. However, it can be rephrased as the claim (2) ‘air pressure has a negligible effect on medium sized falling objects’, which is quite possibly true. So, say we have the hypothesis ‘if air pressure has a negligible effect on falling object x then the law of fall applies to x’. By replacing (2) with its ‘shorthand’ version (1), we now have ‘assuming object x falls in a vacuum, the law of fall applies to x’. That this ‘assumption’, taken literally, may be empirically false does not bear upon the truth of the hypothesis because the ‘assumption’ is not supposed to be read literally. ‘These considerations do not fit smoothly with an instrumentalist view of theory. They are rather realist considerations’ (p. 103).

For Mäki even F53’s notorious ‘as if’ formulation, correctly rephrased, can be read in a realist way. If the formulation is read as saying ‘phenomenon P behaves as if existing causal factor F is operating under ideal condition C, despite C not in fact being instantiated’, then this is compatible with realism. Only if the ‘as if’ formulation is read as saying ‘P behaves as if non-existent F existed’ would it be instrumentalist. Mäki asserts that one of F53’s ‘general passages’ is consistent with the realist version of the formulation:

A meaningful scientific hypothesis or theory typically asserts that certain forces are, and others are not, important in understanding a particular class of phenomena. It is frequently convenient to present such a hypothesis by stating that the phenomena it is desired to predict behave in the world of observation as if they occurred in a hypothetical and highly simplified world containing only the forces that the hypothesis asserts to be important. (Friedman, 1953 Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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, p. 40)

Mäki does concede, however, that the examples which F53 uses to illustrate this general point (especially the conscious leaves example) ‘represents a fictionalist use of ‘as if’. Our realist rereading of F53 will ignore this passage’ (p. 105).
 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:35:49 | 显示全部楼层
2.5. Ontological and epistemological commitments

Mäki also identifies two passages in F53 that most strongly suggest a realist commitment in terms of the content and function of scientific theories in general:

In part, it [i.e. a theory] is a body of substantive hypotheses designed to abstract essential features of complex reality. (Friedman (1953 Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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, p. 7)

A fundamental hypothesis of science is that appearances are deceptive and that there is a way of looking at or interpreting or organizing the evidence that will reveal superficially disconnected and diverse phenomena to be manifestations of a more fundamental and relatively simple structure. (Friedman, 1953 Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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, p. 33)

According to Mäki, F53 is suggesting here that abstraction and idealisation in science serve as a means of giving theoretical expression to ‘essential features of complex reality’. Since this is clearly a realist aspiration, the method of fulfilling that aspiration must similarly be realist. The ontological commitment to realism is also clearly indicated in F53’s reference to the appearance-reality distinction and to the claim that reality has a ‘fundamental and relatively simple structure’. Further, a realist epistemological commitment is evident in the claim that the purpose of theory is to ‘reveal’ the simple structure thereby unifying (that is, explaining) ‘superficially disconnected and diverse phenomena’. Mäki emphasises this last point as follows:

A theory unifies apparently disconnected phenomena by showing them to be manifestations of the same fundamental structure. Unification amounts to showing that those phenomena are really connected and only apparently disconnected, and this is accomplished by successfully representing how things are related in the way the world works. … [This] is only attainable by using a theory that truthfully manages to isolate the key causes and relations underlying such apparently disparate phenomena. This gives us a realist notion of explanatory unification. (pp. 106–107; cf. Friedman, 1974 Friedman, M. (1974). Explanation and scientific understanding. Journal of Philosophy, 71, 5–19.
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, p. 14–15)

According to Mäki, ‘fruitfulness … [is] F53’s name for unifying power’ (p. 109) because it entails widening the scope of predictions; that is, adding to the phenomenal domains accounted for by the causal factors posited in the one theory, without having to appeal to additional special ad hoc assumptions.

As Mäki points out, although F53 heavily emphasises predictive power as the means by which theories are tested and evaluated, this is not always sufficient because ‘observational equivalence’ (p. 108) threatens: in principle there are an infinite number of hypotheses compatible with a given set of observations (Friedman, 1953 Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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, p. 9). So if matters were left there, one could not make an epistemic distinction between theories – that is, ‘epistemic equivalence’ would follow. To avoid this outcome, other criteria are thus required. Recognising this, F53 nominates simplicity and fruitfulness as additions to predictive success. Mäki asserts that:

the argument from theoretical virtues [such as simplicity and fruitfulness] is a standard move amongst realists against those anti-realists who infer from observational equivalence to epistemic equivalence and arbitrariness. F53 would hence stand in the realist camp on this issue. (p. 109)

The instrumentalist counter that simplicity and fruitfulness have no epistemic power – that they are only methodological conveniences which serve to make a theory practically useful – is, according to Mäki, weak because

we have seen that F53 contains the realist idea of ontological unification (in contrast to the idea of mere derivational unification). Since F53 cites unification (or fruitfulness) as a theoretical virtue, we may conclude that it might be, after all, inclined toward a realist solution to the underdetermination challenge. (p. 109)
 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:36:01 | 显示全部楼层
3. Critical reflections on Mäki’s realist interpretation

What now follows is a critical reflection on each of the key arguments presented above. These reflections do not definitively disprove Mäki’s realist interpretation, but they do suggest that an instrumentalist interpretation is just as good, if not better.

Summarily, the criticisms are these. (3.1) Mäki’s method of rereading-rewriting the text is problematic. (3.2) The strong instrumentalist version of the torso (viz., that unrealistic assumptions can be desirable) can be fairly easily inferred from the text and so should not be ruled out. (3.3) F53’s reference to assumptions being ‘sufficiently good approximations’ is methodologically inessential to its account of theory choice. (3.4) F53 never refers to the ‘truth’ of ‘core’ assumptions or theories in general. F53’s illustrations of core assumptions are clearly fictive inventions (not just abstractions), and its general statement about theories is not unambiguously realist. (3.5) F53’s statement about science in general does not really preclude an instrumentalist interpretation.
 楼主| 发表于 2017-9-12 22:36:17 | 显示全部楼层
3.1. Rereading-rewriting F53

It is striking that Mäki characterises his realist interpretation as ‘obvious’ and ‘natural’ (p. 91). If this were true, one would not have expected it to take four or five decades to appear. One would have thought that an ‘obvious’ interpretation would be offered fairly quickly and that it would be a prominent, if not the dominant, account of the text. Perhaps it is better to say that it is not really an ‘obvious’ interpretation lying on the surface of text, but rather is the ‘unnatural’ product of Mäki’s specific rereading-rewriting method. Now, there is nothing necessarily wrong with unusual interpretations per se. But the method of rereading-rewriting method Mäki uses to generate his novel interpretation is not entirely unproblematic.

The rereading or ‘receptionist’ aspect of Mäki’s method is concerned with understanding F53 from the perspective of a particular reader/recipient (or a relatively homogeneous group of them). The audience may be judgemental or not. It may be selective in its reading or not. It may be hideously mistaken about the text or not. The method itself, however, is not evaluative. It is descriptive: the interpretation is supposed to be a rendition of how the text just is received by an audience. The question then is: which audience? It is not, apparently, the (majority of) the economics profession because Mäki dismisses the economics profession’s strong instrumentalist version of F53’s torso (viz. that obviously false assumptions can be desirable). He does so on the grounds that the strong version is absurd in itself. But why should that matter? Isn’t what F53 is claiming the central concern, not whether it is absurd? Given the reception method, one may then wonder on what basis this dismissal is made. It would appear that Mäki rejects economics profession’s strong instrumentalist version of F53’s torso because that is not how Mäki-the-reader receives F53.

Now, all would be well if Mäki’s rereading is superior – that is, if he reads F53 more accurately than most economists and methodologists. But herein lies a problem: is that not undermined by Mäki’s explicit claim that he is rewriting F53? Rewriting is an act of creation. In rewriting the text, Mäki is obviously not merely receiving and consuming the text as a finished good. Rather, the text is more akin to raw material used in a production process. The tools of production are, by and large, philosophical categories borrowed from the philosophy of science. The output is a new text: the raw materials ‘transformed’ by the interpreter.

This is not just a case of reception unless one holds to a postmodernist view of reading in which ‘the author is dead’ and the reader is the agent who constructs the text – where the act of reading is always, simultaneously, an implicit act of writing (Barthes, 1977 Barthes, R. (1977). Image music text. (S. Heath (Trans.) London: Fontana Press.
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). Perhaps this is why Mäki thinks it is legitimate to engage in a ‘rebuilding [of] F53 as a statement that captures and conveys the rebuilder’s own methodological considerations’ (p. 91). But if that is so, and economists themselves are rewriting F53 according to their own ‘methodological considerations’, in what sense can Mäki say his interpretation is correct and the economists’ interpretation is ‘obviously’ wrong?

One way out of the cul-de-sac is to think again about what is happening when we say a text ‘means’ something. One may, for example, appeal to conventional intersubjectively agreed upon meanings of terms that are set within the context of a recognisable genre and the historical period in which the text was written. Alternatively, one may put great store in the particular state of mind of the author at the time the text was written.1212. These two approaches need not be mutually exclusive, although, depending on the text in question, one may be deemed superior to the other for various contingent reasons. For example, one may advocate the former approach if the author’s thoughts at the time of writing are inaccessible to the reader – the author may have left no ‘clues’ (or may have left only contradictory ‘clues’) as to his or her thoughts at the time, or one may be suspicious of the author’s intentions. In the extreme, one may argue that the author’s true intentions, being veiled by subjectivity, are never available to the reader. On the other hand, the conventional meanings of terms may be misleading if the author’s word usage is idiosyncratic or his or her ideas are simply poorly expressed.
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Using the former approach, one may say that economists are wrong in thinking that F53 sanctions ‘unrealistic assumptions plus no predictive testing’ because, if F53 is clear about anything, it is that the validity of theories can only be established empirically by testing their falsifiable predictions. To deny this would be a paradigmatic case of misreading F53.1313. Also, to claim that F53 does not advocate prediction because the text does not appeal to predictions when ruling out monopolistic competition, is similarly evidence of misreading conventionally understood words (cf. p. 93). F53 quite unequivocally states that imperfect-monopolistic competition models contain inherently ambiguous terms, thus rendering them meaningless. ‘The deficiencies of the theory are revealed most clearly in its treatment of, or inability to treat, problems involving groups of firms – Marshallian ‘industries’’. Particularly, ‘fuzziness and undefinable terms’ such as ‘close’ substitutes and ‘substantial’ gaps in cross elasticities, are added to Marshall’s ‘abstract model where they have no place, and serves only to make the theory analytically meaningless – ‘close’ and ‘substantial’ are in the same category as a ‘small’ air pressure’ (Friedman, 1953 Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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, pp. 38–39).
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Using the latter approach, one may appeal to Friedman’s applied work in which predictions play a central role and in which he expresses the desire to make plausible assumptions. Mäki seems to implicitly dismiss the former approach because he does not appeal to intersubjective linguistic conventions but rather to his ‘own methodological considerations’ as central to the divination of meanings. Curiously, Mäki also dismisses the latter approach because ‘it does not lie at the heart of my reception methodology’ (p. 92). But why should that matter? In fact, why should it even be true? Surely, an audience who thinks that F53’s meaning depends on what its author intended it to mean would, by the reception method, require the kind of background information that Mäki dismisses as irrelevant. This is curious because it directly contradicts Mäki’s own subsequent advice. As he says in the last paragraph of his essay:

There is just one way I can think of that might help reduce this multiplicity [of interpretations]: analyze Friedman’s other statements on methodology, and analyze Friedman’s work in economics for its implicit methodology. (p. 115)
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