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Unformatted text preview: 1 [T]he most reckless and treacherous of all theorists is he who professes to let facts and figures to speak for themselves, who keeps in the background the part he played, perhaps unconsciously, in selecting and grouping them, and in suggesting the argument post hoc ergo propter hoc&¡Alfred Marshall, quoted as epigraph to A Monetary History of the United States 1867-1960 , Milton Friedman and Anna Schwarz Jacobson. Philosophy and a Scientific Future of the History of Economics I Summary and Introduction In this essay, I argue that economists have reasons internal to the way that evidence works in the sciences to re-discover the importance of the history of their own discipline. For it is a constitutive element of science ¢ here conceived as an ongoing research practice (as opposed to as an explanatory activity) ¢ that evidence is never discarded forever and is thus historical in nature. Moreover, while drawing on the history of economics and the history of physics, I argue that the history of a discipline can be a source of important evidence in ongoing inquiry. Along the way, I attack a too rigorous distinction between the history of economics and economic history. I distinguish my approach from two closely related positions that emphasize learning from the past for scientific purposes. In my conclusion, I argue that that if economics departments continue to discard the history of economics (and economic history), one of its natural homes is in (history of) philosophy departments, where it can be nurtured among many other theoretical enterprises potentially relevant to the sciences. II On the Role of History in Scientific Research Since Thomas Kuhn£s Structure there has been an explosion of interest in the history of science. Yet, this has not resulted in a better understanding of the significant evidential role of the history of science in ongoing scientific research. This lack of 2 understanding is not surprising because science textbooks and graduate training in the sciences continue to prefer to emphasize either the timeless nature of scientific truth or some natural path toward current science. Moreover, philosophic interest in the rationality of science has tended to emphasize the so-called context of justification and, thus, rational reconstruction and with it a focus on explanation. In contrast, much recent history of science has shown more interest in cultural history, a strain especially important to historians of economics who have wished to introduce departmental and methodological affiliation with science studies and history of science programs (see, especially, Schabas 1993 and 2002). 1 While these have produced many fine studies of the context(s) and even practice(s) of, say, measurement, standardization, modeling, and precision within the sciences, they have not been especially interested in the substance of evidential arguments within the practice of science as an ongoing research process&one in which theory is (to speak with Marshall) a ¡research engine.¢ Here I call attention to a in which theory is (to speak with Marshall) a ¡research engine....
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