World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science

Article Id: WHEBN0006878402
Reproduction Date:

Title: An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Positive economics, Economics, Definitions of economics, Schools of economic thought
Collection:
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Publication
Date:
 

An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science

Lionel Robbins' Essay (1932, 1935, 2nd ed., 158 pp.) sought to define more precisely economics as a science and to derive substantive implications. Analysis is relative to "accepted solutions of particular problems" based on best modern practice as referenced, especially including the works of Philip Wicksteed, Ludwig von Mises, and other Continental European economists. Robbins disclaims originality but expresses hope to have given expository force on a very few points to some principles "not always clearly stated" (1935, pp. xiv-xvi)[1]

Major propositions

Robbins develops and defends several propositions about the relation of scarcity to economics and of economic theory to science, including the following.[2]

  • "Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses." (1935, p. 16)
  • "Economics is not about certain kinds of behaviour," but "a certain aspect of behaviour, the form imposed by the influence of scarcity." (pp. 16–17)
  • "Economics is entirely neutral between ends; ... in so far as any end is dependent on scarce means, it is germane to the preoccupations of the economist." (p. 24)
  • "[W]ealth is not wealth because of its substantial properties. It is wealth because it is scarce." (p. 47)
  • "The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility ..., whether true or false, can never be verified by observation or introspection." ... [Nor does it] "justify the inference that transferences from rich to poor would increase total satisfaction... Interesting as a development of an ethical postulate, [such an effect] does not at all follow from the positive assumptions of pure theory." (pp. 137, 141)[3]
  • Economics as science is about "ascertainable facts" of the positive as distinct from normative (ethical) judgments on economic policy. (p. 148).[1]

The definition of economics above has been described as "central to the arguments presented" that followed in the Essay[4] and as redefining economics in marginalist terms and thereby "destroy[ing] the view classical economists had of their science."[5] Robbins argued that, at a certain stage in the development of the subject, an insufficiently restrictive and unifying definition multiplies activities of economists away from filling in explanatory gaps of the theory and solving problems posed by the subject (pp. 3–4).

The Essay has been described as different from earlier writings on economic methodology in generating a range of tightly-argued, radical implications from a simple definition, for example in admitting an aspect of behaviour (rather than a list of behaviours) but not limiting the subject-matter of economics, provided that the influence of scarcity impinges on these (pp. 16–17). The broad behavioural definition is credited for its consistency with the expanding boundaries of economics decades later. In this Robbins both narrows the definition of economics, thereby demonstrating the usefulness of deduction, and opens up the subject-matter of economics.[6][5]

Influence

Robbins's Essay is one of the most-cited works on the methodology and philosophy of economics for the period 1932-1960. Arguments therein have been widely accepted on the demarcation of economics as science from discussion of recommendations on economic policy.[7] In that period, economists started referring to Robbins' definition of economics therein as generally accepted, along with continuing controversy that accompanied its blending into economics texts. With the application of the economic methods to social and other "non-economic" problems, acceptance of Robbins' expansive subject-matter definition in economics texts increased its prominence.[6]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b Lionel Robbins (1932, 1935, 2nd ed.). An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, London: Macmillan. Links for 1932 HTML and 1935 facsimile.
  2. ^ D. L. Sills and R. K. Merton, ed., 2000. Social Science Quotations (description), pp. 198-99, also published in 1991 as The Macmillan Book of Social Science Quotations and as International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, v. 19.
  3. ^ Discussed further in Lionel Robbins, 1938, "Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility: A Comment," Economic Journal, 48(192), pp. 635-641.
  4. ^ Roger E. Backhouse and Steven G. Medema (2009). "Defining Economics: The Long Road to Acceptance of the Robbins Definition," Economica, 76(302), pp. 805-806. [805–820.
  5. ^ a b Peter Groenwegen (1987). ([2008]). "'political economy' and 'economics'", The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, v. 3, pp. 905-06, including a citation of Hla Myint (1948), Theories of Welfare Economics, Longmans Green.
  6. ^ a b • Roger E. Backhouse and Steven G. Medema (2009). "Defining Economics: The Long Road to Acceptance of the Robbins Definition," Economica, 76(302), Conclusions. [805–820.
       • Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 86(3), pp. 301-313.
  7. ^ B. A. Corry (1987 [2008]). "Robbins, Lionel Charles," The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, v. 4, p. 207 [pp. 206-08].

References

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 



Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.