Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Jason Smith — Ceteris paribus and method of nascent science

Jason Smith reacts to Arnold Kling's comments on method in economics. If interested in philosophy of science and philosophy of economics, worth a read. 

In epistemology there are essentially four criteria of truth:  consistency (syntactical truth), correspondence (semantic truth), usefulness (pragmatic truth) and elegance (aesthetic truth). There are other types of truth such as moral truth (justice) and poetic truth (insight), but these usually do not relate directly to explanation based on description.

These criteria are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. A well-developed explanation should be internally consistent, representational of facts and events, capable of application, and economical in expression.

Jason makes a case for usefulness (pragmatic truth) being foundational and speculates that this is possibly an effect of evolution. Usefulness for survival directs the process through natural selection and multilevel selection, testing options, and selecting in and selecting out based on success and failure. This a characteristic of complex adaptive systems that exhibit reflexivity and emergence. Intelligence is an emergent property that is based on reflexivity.
Usefulness is how you bootstrap yourself into doing real science -- there's a scientific method and a scientific method for nascent science. And economics should be considered a nascent science. It is qualitatively different than an established science like physics.
Physics wasn't always an established science; in the 1500s and 1600s it was nascent. 
The useful things were the heliocentric solar system (it was easier to calculate where planets would be, which we only really cared about for religious and astrological reasons), Galileo's understanding of projectile motion (to aim cannons), and Huygen's optics. Basically: religious and military utility. These were organized with a theoretical framework by Newton and physics as a science, not just a nascent science, started. 
In medicine, we had a large collection of useful treatments (e.g. the ideas behind triage developed in the French Revolution), sterilization (pasteurization before pasteur), public health (Cholera in London) before the germ theory of disease. Medicine didn't really become a science until the 1900s.
In economics, both macro and micro, we probably have a few of the "useful" concepts in our possession. Supply and demand. Okun's law. The quantity theory of money is probably useful in some form (though not necessarily as it exists now). We probably need a few more.
A mature science has a framework in terms of which scientists operate to do "normal" science. The road to development of a science as high-level explanation begins with observations rather than starting from a framework. Presuppositions about a subject matter do not yet constitute a framework.

A framework is a set of relationships from which different models can be generated based on different assumptions. Potentially testable hypotheses can then be generated from explanations that are also predictive. To scientific a hypothesis must be falsifiable in some sense, although not in the strictly empirical sense, e.g, of positivism. But science must be distinguishable from speculation through some kind of observation.

A "nascent" science must develop a framework in which a theoretical approach can be set in which to do science rather than speculate. The historical development as been from lore and myth, to philosophy and theology, to nascent science to modern science, the first instance of which was natural science and the second, life science. Economics and social science, as well as psychology and cognitive science are still nascent as sciences, lacking frameworks.

Information Transfer Economics
Ceteris paribus and method of nascent science
Jason Smith


Random said...

BTW have you seen the latest by Chris Dillow:


Lol. The Tories suddenly care about the working class apparently. Praise be to our oppressors!

Matt Franko said...

She is channeling Trump....