chapter 3 - 3 The Most Relevant Theories and Methods...

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3 The Most Relevant Theories and Methods Philosophy of science is a highly contested field these days. Yet there is considerable consensus on what is no longer accepted. The falsificationism associated with Karl Popper and the Vienna Circle is almost universally discredited. It is now appre- ciated that no scientific method can give unquestioned falsification (and certainly not proof) of any hypothesis. A host of subsidiary assumptions are always neces- sary for the application of any method. Inconvenient results can always be attri- buted to these. Judgment must always be exercised in the interpretation of any empirical result. As a result, philosophers of science now doubt that there is any one best way of doing science. These facts are unknown or ignored by many prac- ticing economists (and other social scientists) who continue to believe that there is one best way to perform economic analysis, and indeed argue that only statistical analysis can falsify (and for some even prove) theories. This chapter will look first at theories and then at methods. In each case, the full range of theory types or methods is surveyed, and those with particular rele- vance for the study of economic growth are identified. Since no theory or method is perfect, the key strengths and weaknesses of each are outlined. This sets the stage for the evaluation of disciplinary insights in later steps. Yet the analysis in this chapter should also be of direct relevance to interdisciplinary researchers in guiding them to the careful use of theories and methods of particular value to their research program. There is no need here for a lengthy discussion of the general advantages of theoretical and methodological plurality (such as is provided in Szostak 2004). The discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of different theories and methods should suffice. 1 Two brief points might nevertheless be made here. With respect to theories, it has long been appreciated by methodologists in many fields that theories should be tested against alternatives. In practice, though, theories are generally tested against no alternative – in large part because few scholars feel comfortable with multiple theories, but also because such tests are easier to design. Even a bad theory, which would fare poorly if tested against a theory with considerable explanatory power, may seem to explain much if tested against noth- ing. With respect to methods, we shall see (and this was shown in great detail in Szostak 2004) that each method is better at investigating some theories than others. In testing one theory against another, then, the use of only one method will generally bias the test in favor of one of the theories. 2
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chapter 3 - 3 The Most Relevant Theories and Methods...

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