Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Max Weber in Friedman's Methodology of Positive Economics

I am working on a paper showing the Weberian influence on methodological developments in (early) "Chicago" economics.
The link between Chicago and Weber is not as far-fetched as it sounds because Frank Knight (a fascinating character), the supervisor of Milton Friedman and George Stigler, was Weber's early English translator and popularizer and remained interested in Weber throughout his life. (This has been ably demonstrated by Ross Emmett.)

In 1949 Stigler gave five lectures at the LSE. At one point Stigler remarks, “I wish to close by offering an estimate of the net contribution of the attempt to construct a theory of monopolistic competition. Before undertaking this appraisal, however, it is necessary to set forth certain methodological principles,” (GJS, Five Lectures, 23) He then adds the following footnote: “The present interpretation of these principles is due to Professor Milton Friedman; see Talcott Parsons, *The Structure of Social Action*.” This footnote is the basis of the paper I am writing. (Turns out Parsons' Structure is fascinating -- it anticipates Kuhn's Structure in various ways -- and it had non trivial impact on early Stigler.)

Once sensitized, I re-read Friedman's famous "Methodology of Positive Economics" (F1953) in light of Parsons' Structure. I found a lot of similarities, including Friedman's treatment of Galileo's Law of Fall, and found evidence for an earlier speculation that Friedman's scare quotes (used with remarkable frequency in F1953) betray a kind of neo-Kantianism. But I was absolutely delighted to note the following passage:

“The abstract model corresponding to this hypothesis contains two “ideal” types of firms: atomistically competitive firms, grouped into industries, and monopolistic firms. A firm is competitive if the demand curve for its output is infinitely elastic with respect to its own price for some price and all outputs, given the prices charged by all other firms; it belongs to an “industry” defined as a group of firms producing a single “product.” ... A firm is monopolistic if the demand curve for its output is not infinitely elastic at some price for all outputs.29 … As always, the hypothesis as a whole consists not only of this abstract model and its ideal types but also of a set of rules, mostly implicit and suggested by example, for identifying actual firms with one or the other ideal type and for classifying firms into industries. The ideal types are not intended to be descriptive; they are designed to isolate the features that are crucial for a particular problem,”

It is accompanied by the following footnote:
“29. This ideal type can be divided into two types: the oligopolistic firm, if the demand curve for its output is infinitely elastic at some price for some but not all outputs; the monopolistic firm proper, if the demand curve is nowhere infinitely elastic….”

Here one can see Friedman casually employing the very Weberian language of “ideal types” and explaining their function in Weberian terms.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Structure and Identity

The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded Foundations of Structuralism Project will host a major international conference this Summer that may be of interest to many subscribers to this blog (and please forward and post elsewhere as appropriate).

Structure and Identity

July 23rd-25th 2010, University of Bristol
Confirmed speakers include:
John Burgess
Katherine Hawley
Fraser MacBride
Charles Parsons
Simon Saunders
Stewart Shapiro

There will also be a programme of contributed papers. If you are interested in giving a paper please send a title and abstract of 500 words by 10th April 2010 to James Ladyman (james.ladyman@bristol.ac.uk)

To book your place please email Jess Dunton (j.dunton@bristol.ac.uk)

Questions to be addressed include:

  • How is structuralism best characterised?:
  • In terms of incompleteness (objects lack certain kinds of properties)?
  • In terms of dependence (objects depend on each other or their structure for their existence and/or identity)?
  • In terms of contextual individuation (objects are individuated relationally rather than intrinsically)?
  • How are these characterizations related?
  • Are structuralist views in metaphysics, for example, concerning properties and dispositions, justified?
  • Does a structuralist view of mathematics provide the best account of mathematical practice and the ontology and epistemology of mathematics?
  • Are elementary particles individuals? Do they satisfy the principle of the identity of indiscernibles?
  • What are criteria of identity, and what adequacy conditions are appropriate for them?
  • Should we be committed to some form of predicativity requirement and/or some form of identity of indiscernibles? What is individuation?
  • Do we need a substantive account of how objects are individuated?
  • How should the various metaphysical notions of dependence be analysed? What role will the notions of individuation and criteria of identity play in this analysis?
  • What are the relations between notions of entity, object, individual, and substance? What implications would structuralism have for these notions?
  • How does structuralism relate to ontological holism and to the thesis that there is no fundamental level to reality?
  • What is the relationship between primitive identity or haecceity and haecceitism about worlds?

It is anticipated that a volume of papers from the conference will be published.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review of Creating Scientific Concepts by N. Nersessian

Together with Hyundeuk Cheon, I have finished a review of N. Nersessian's most recent book for Mind. Some readers may be interested. It can be read here.

Comments and suggestions are naturally welcome! (by e-mail or in the thread)


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

FEW 2010

Call for Participation

7th Annual Formal Epistemology Workshop

FEW 2010, Konstanz, September 2-4, 2010


Monday, March 8, 2010

Is Physics Ontologically Basic?

Last week, I attended a talk by a fellow contributor to this blog -- I don't think it's good to identify her or him since I want to discuss a view I only heard.  I may easily have misunderstood the view, and the view I state may or may not be the same as a view that has been published by the speaker, or may distort what the speaker wanted to make of it.

So let's call the speaker X: if X reads this and wants to correct me with or without self-identification, so much the better.

X argued against the "reductionist" idea that some sciences are more basic than others.

1.  All scientific theories are representations of reality, and as such they are incomplete since any representation leaves out something.

2.  Let R1 and R2 be distinct representations of reality, neither of which is translatable into the other (e.g., by bridge principles).  Suppose further that there is no representation R3, such that R1 and R2 are both translatable into R3.  Under such circumstances, there is no basis for saying that R1 is more basic than R2, or vice versa.

3.  Since there are no bridge principles, any two sciences (e.g., physics and chemistry; neuroscience and psychology; ecology and biology) are like R1 and R2 above.

4.  Therefore, no science is more basic than any other.  Any two sciences are different incomplete representations of reality -- each gets at features of reality that the other leaves out.

Now, it seems to me that this is a good argument for many conclusions.  For example, it is a good argument for the autonomy of chemistry, psychology, ecology and so on.  Of course, this depends on establishing premise 3 for the particular case -- but let's just grant that this can be done.

Now in the discussion of X's paper, some people urged the following sort of "objection" -- it isn't really an objection; more like an independent point.  They said: Look, let's grant the above argument, but couldn't it still be the case that the reality that physics investigates is ontologically prior to the reality that chemistry investigates? -- perhaps in the sense that chemistry-facts are supervenient on physics-facts, or that chemistry-facts are just physics-facts under certain combinations, or something of the sort.

X's reply, or at least the reply I thought I heard was this: well, I agree that chemistry-entities are made up out of physics-entities, but because there are no bridge principles, the supervenience claim cannot be true.  After all, there is no science in which it is true.

I am unsatisfied by this.  I am inclined to think that IF chemistry-entities are made up out of physics-entities, then supervenience holds.  (I don't want to put too much emphasis on supervenience: the claim that every chemistry-fact is a physics-fact is good enough for me -- some "ontological" claim of this sort.)

Now, the supervenience (or inclusion) claim may be of no interest to the chemist, since s/he has autonomous methods of investigating the domain.  Further, it may be of no interest to the physicist, since it is messy and, moreover, reveals very little of interest concerning the physics-domain.  It may even be the case that there is no effective way of stating the supervenience relation.  But this does not imply that the supervenience claim is false.

What's wrong with my intuition?