New book: Grivaux and Badiei, The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought

Positive and normativeBy Mark D. White

Coming out in June from Routledge is a new book titled The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought, edited by Agnès Grivaux and Sina Badiei:

The book responds to the need for greater clarity regarding the relationship between descriptive, evaluative and prescriptive approaches within positive and normative economics. It also analyses the entanglement between evaluative and prescriptive perspectives within several theoretical frameworks in normative economics such as social choice theory, the capability approach, behavioural welfare economics and various theories of justice.

It provides a forum for discussion between various schools of economic thought and several theoretical frameworks on the relationship between the study of facts, norms and values, with particular emphasis on classical political economy, the Marxian school of economics, the Frankfurt School, the Austrian school, the Chicago school, rational choice theory, expected utility theory, behavioural economics, experimental economics, development economics, welfare economics, public economics, constitutional political economy, the capability approach and politico-economic theories of justice.

Given the scope of questions treated in this book, it will be of interest to economists, historians of economic thought, political philosophers and philosophers of science, especially those interested in the philosophy and epistemology of economics.

The table of contents is very promising:

"The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought: A Historical-Analytic Appraisal" (Sina Badiei and Agnès Grivaux)
"The Positive-Normative Distinction in the Classical Economic Methodology" (Michel S. Zouboulakis)
"Descriptions, Prescriptions and Norms: The Tripartite Classification of Economics by John Neville Keynes" (Gilles Campagnolo)
"Normative Economics and Its Enemies: Marx, Mises and Friedman" (Sina Badiei)
"Economics as a Normative Discipline: Value Disentanglement in an 'Objective' Economics" (John B. Davis)
"Realism and Deliberation in Normative Economics: The Fruitful Intellectual Dialogue Between James Buchanan and John Rawls" (Nathanaël Colin-Jaeger, Malte Dold, and Alexandre Gascoin)
"Normative Economics and Public Reason: Who Are the Addressees?" (Cyril Hédoin)
"Reconciling Normative and Behavioural Economics: The Problem That Cannot Be Solved" (Guilhem Lecouteux)
"The Unacknowledged Normative Content of Randomised Control Trials in Economics and Its Dangers" (Seán Mfundza Muller)
"The Positive, the Normative and the Marxian Heritage in the Early Frankfurt School" (Agnès Grivaux)
"Economics as Value-Laden Science: Lessons From the Philosophy of Science on the Normative/Positive Distinctions and Rational Choice Theory" (Magdalena Małecka)
"The Positive, the Normative and the Ontology of Social Problems" (Jesús Zamora-Bonilla)

Kwarciński and Turek, "Can Normative Economics Be Convincing without the Notion of Well-Being?"

Filozofia naukiBy Mark D. White

In the open-access special issue of the journal Filozofia Nauki (The Philosophy of Science) with the theme "Philosophy of Economics" (guest-edited by Łukasz Hardt and Marcin Poręba), Tomasz Kwarciński and Krzysztof M. Turek (Cracow University of Economics) ask the question, "Can Normative Economics Be Convincing without the Notion of Well-Being?"

From the abstract:

In this article, we examine the notion of well-being in light of the relationship between positive and normative economics. Having identified four interrelationships between possible theoretical developments within the two fields, we propose a framework for the analysis of normative economic theories. The starting point for these considerations were competing stances on well-being proposed by neoclassical welfare economics, Robert Sugden, Amartya Sen, and Daniel Hausman.

Near the end of their introduction, they preview their contributions:

First, if the development of positive economics is the main mode of resolving normative issues, then the category of well-being (especially when as specific as welfare) can be abandoned or replaced. Second, when the welfare approach in normative economics is replaced by an opportunity or capability approach, the question remains whether to accept normative minimalism, in the hope of resolving most normative issues through the development of positive economics, or on the contrary, accept a value-laden approach in normative economics. Third, if the category of well-being is to remain crucial in normative economics, a richer, normative account of that concept is required, since positive economics cannot solve normative problems by merely equating well-being with welfare.

Don Ross on economics' convergence with sociology (not psychology)

JemBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Methodology, currently available online (and open access), is a paper from Don Ross (University College Cork) titled "Economics Is Converging with Sociology but not with Psychology." The abstract is as follows:

The rise of behavioral economics since the 1980s led to richer mutual influence between economic and psychological theory and experimentation. However, as behavioral economics has become increasingly integrated into the main stream in economics, and as psychology has remained damagingly methodologically conservative, this convergence has recently gone into reverse. At the same time, growing appreciation among economists of the limitations of atomistic individualism, along with advantages in econometric modeling flexibility by comparison with psychometrics, is leading economists to become more pluralistic than psychologists about the ontology of behavioral causation and structures. This, combined with economists’ growing interest in network models, is drawing economists closer in theory and practice to sociologists who use quantitative or mixed methods.

He elaborates on the second page of the paper:

My talk about economists and sociologists becoming ‘partners’ should not be read as forecasting or advocating institutional amalgamation. I refer only to increasing interest in similar topics, with consequent convergence on some methodological elements because part of what drives methodological evolution in sciences are features of application targets. The pattern whereby, through the rise of behavioral economics after the 1980s, an array of concepts and experimental practices from psychology spread into mainstream economics, is my template here. The main claim I aim to defend is simply that that penetration has passed its high-water mark and gone into recession, but that we should now expect a period of enhanced conceptual and methodological seepage between economics and sociology. This predicts increased cross-citation across the disciplinary line, and increased frequency of both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaborations. I do not predict that economics departments will start hiring sociologists, or vice-versa.

As always with Ross's work, this is an intriguing and provocative read, with copious references for those new to this line of thought.

Alexandrova and Fabian on the challenge of thick concepts for science

Eur jrnl phil scienceBy Mark D. White

An article forthcoming in the European Journal for Philosophy of Science by Anna Alexandrova and Mark Fabian, titled "Democratising Measurement: or Why Thick Concepts Call for Coproduction," discusses the issues that thick concepts, those that involve both description and evaluation, pose for the sciences, using well-being as an example, and proposes a novel way to recognize both aspects.

From the abstract:

Thick concepts, namely those concepts that describe and evaluate simultaneously, present a challenge to science. Since science does not have a monopoly on value judgments, what is responsible research involving such concepts? Using measurement of wellbeing as an example, we first present the options open to researchers wishing to study phenomena denoted by such concepts. We argue that while it is possible to treat these concepts as technical terms, or to make the relevant value judgment in-house, the responsible thing to do, especially in the context of public policy, is to make this value judgment through a legitimate political process that includes all the stakeholders of this research. We then develop a participatory model of measurement based on the ideal of co-production. To show that this model is feasible and realistic, we illustrate it with a case study of co-production of a concept of thriving conducted by the authors in collaboration with a UK anti-poverty charity Turn2us.

Fabian has an excellent Twitter thread tracing out some of the central concepts and findings of the paper here:

New book: Heilmann and Reiss (eds), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics

Routledge handbook of phil of econBy Mark D. White

Just released is The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics, edited by Conrad Heilmann and Julian Reiss. From the publisher's website:

The most fundamental questions of economics are often philosophical in nature, and philosophers have, since the very beginning of Western philosophy, asked many questions that current observers would identify as economic. The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Economics is an outstanding reference source for the key topics, problems, and debates at the intersection of philosophical and economic inquiry. It captures this field of countless exciting interconnections, affinities, and opportunities for cross-fertilization.

The table of contents is reproduced below—I was honored to be invited to contribute a chapter, which appears in Part IV.

1. Introduction  Conrad Heilmann and Julian Reiss

Part I: Rationality

2. History of Utility Theory  Ivan Moscati

3. The Economics and Philosophy of Risk  H. Orri Stefánsson

4. Behavioral Welfare Economics and Consumer Sovereignty  Guilhem Lecouteux

5. The Economic Concept of a Preference  Kate Vredenburgh

6. Economic Agency and the Subpersonal Turn in Economics  James D. Grayot

Part II: Cooperation and Interaction

7. Game Theory and Rational Reasoning  Jurgis Karpus and Mantas Radzvilas

8. Institutions, Rationality, and Coordination  Camilla Colombo and Francesco Guala

9. As If Social Preference Models  Jack Vromen

10. Exploitation and Consumption  Benjamin Ferguson

Part III: Methodology

11. Philosophy of Economics? Three Decades of Bibliometric History  Francois Claveau, Alexandre Truc, Olivier Santerre, and Luis Mireles-Flores

12. Philosophy of Austrian Economics  Alexander Linsbichler

13. Representation  Hsiang Ke-Chao

14. Finance and Financial Economics: A Philosophy of Science Perspective  Melissa Vergara-Fernández and Boudewijn de Bruin

Part IV: Values

15. Values in Welfare Economics  Antoinette Baujard

16. Measurement and Value Judgements  Julian Reiss

17. Reflections on the State of Economics and Ethics  Mark D. White

18. Well-Being  Mauro Rossi

19. Fairness and Fair Division  Stefan Wintein and Conrad Heilmann

Part V: Causality and Explanation

20. Causality and Probability  Tobias Henschen

21. Causal Contributions in Economics  Christopher Clarke

22. Explanation in Economics  Philippe Verreault-Julien

23. Modeling the Possible to Modeling the Actual  Jennifer S. Jhun

Part VI: Experimentation and Simulation

24. Experimentation in Economics  Michiru Nagatsu

25. Field Experiments  Judith Favereau

26. Computer Simulations in Economics  Aki Lehtinen and Jaakko Kuorikoski

27. Evidence-Based Policy  Donal Khosrowi

Part VII: Evidence

28. Economic Theory and Empirical Science  Robert Northcott

29. Philosophy of Econometrics  Aris Spanos

30. Statistical Significance Testing in Economics  William Peden and Jan Sprenger

31. Quantifying Health  Daniel M. Hausman

Part VIII: Policy

32. Freedoms, Political Economy, and Liberalism  Sebastiano Bavetta

33. Freedom and Markets  Constanze Binder

34. Policy Evaluation Under Severe Uncertainty: A Cautious, Egalitarian Approach  Alex Voorhoeve

35. Behavioral Public Policy: One Name, Many Types. A Mechanistic Perspective  Till Grüne-Yanoff

36. The Case for Regulating Tax Competition  Peter Dietsch

New book: Jennifer A. Baker and Mark D. White (eds), Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation

Mark D. White

E&V coverOur readers may be interested to know about a new book coming out soon from Oxford University Press that I co-edited with Jennifer A. Baker entitled Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation. From the blurb:

While ethics has been an integral part of economics since the days of Adam Smith (if not Aristotle), many modern economists dismiss ethical concerns in favor of increasing formal mathematical and computational methods. But recent financial crises in the real world have reignited discussions of the importance of ethics to economics, including growing calls for a new approach to incorporating moral philosophy in economic theory, practice, and policy. Ironically, it is the ethics of virtue advocated by Aristotle and Adam Smith that may lead to the most promising way to developing an economics that emphasizes the virtues, character, and judgment of the agents it models.

In Economics and the Virtues, editors Jennifer A. Baker and Mark D. White have brought together fifteen leading scholars in economics and philosophy to offer fresh perspectives on integrating virtue into economics. The first section covers five major thinkers and schools in the virtue tradition, tracing historical connections and suggesting new areas of cooperation. The second section applies the ethics of virtue to modern economic theory, delving into its current practices and methodology to suggest areas for integration with moral philosophy. Finally, the third section addresses specific topics such as markets, profits, and justice in the context of virtue and vice, offering valuable applications of virtue to economics.

With insights that are novel as well as rooted in time-tested ethical thought, Economics and the Virtues will be of interest to economists, philosophers, and other scholars in the social sciences and humanities, as well as professionals and policymakers in the fields of economics and finance, and makes an invaluable contribution to the ongoing discussion over the role of ethics in economics.

Many if not all of the contributors will be familiar names: besides me and Jennifer, they include Christian U. Becker, Tim O'Keefe, James Otteson, Michael Baurmann and Geoffrey Brennan, Eric Schliesser, Andrew Yuengert, Christine Swanton, David C. Rose, Seung (Ginny) Choi and Virgil Storr, and Jason Brennan. (You can see the complete table of contents at Amazon, OUP, or my personal blog.)

Personally, this book has been a dream of mine for a number of years, and working with Jennifer, Adam Swallow and (the late) Terry Vaughn at OUP, and all the contributors, made that dream a reality in every possible way.

Economics and the Virtues has already been reviewed by Adam Gurri at Sweet Talk, where he calls it "a valuable source of insight, especially for economists used to operating within only one framework." Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center and The Economist calls it "a fascinating volume" and "an indispensable collection for anyone interested in moral psychology, economic theory, or the morality of markets," and pre-eminent philosopher and Kant scholar Onora O'Neill calls it "a rich and rewarding collection" that "explores classical accounts of the virtues, and argues that they remain essential not only to character but to culture, including the culture of markets."

(You can also see Jennifer's and my post at OUPblog discussing "The Big Short" in relation to the theme of the book.)

Does economics need religion?

Mark D. White

Thanks to my globetrotting co-blogger Jonathan Wight, who emailed me about this: a symposium in Econ Journal Watch titled "Does Economics Need an Infusion of Religious or Quasi-Religious Formulations?", anchored by Robin Klay's article "Where Do Economists of Faith Hang Out? Their Journals and Associations, plus Luminaries Among Them" and featuring seventeen short responses from people such as Ross Emmett, Dan Finn, David George, Mary Hirschfeld, Eric Rasmusen, and Andrew Yuengert. Bless tham all.

Call for abstracts: Conference, "Economics and Psychology in Historical Perspective"

Mark D. White

Conference call for contributions

Economics and psychology in historical perspective

(from 18th century to the present)

Paris, December 17th - December 19th 2014

Organized by Mikaël Cozic (UPEC, IUF & IHPST, France) and Jean-Sébastien Lenfant (U. Lille 1, France)



Notification of interest: June 10th 2014

Deadline for abstract:  July 10th 2014

Notification of acceptance: August 31th 2014

Full paper: December 1st 2014



Erik Angner (George Mason university, USA), Richard Arena (Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis), Laurie Bréban (Université Paris 8, France), Luigino Bruni (Università Lumsa a Roma, Italy), Annie L. Cot (Université Paris 1, France), Agnès Festré (Université de Picardie Jules Verne, France), Till Grüne Yanoff (Royal Institute of Technology, KTH, Sweden), Alessandro Innocenti (Università di Siena, Italy), Ivan Moscati (Insubria University, Italy), Annika Wallin (Lunds Universitet, Sweden).


Philippe MONGIN (CNRS & HEC Paris, France), Floris HEUKELOM (U. Nijmegen, Netherdlands), Robert SUGDEN (University of East Anglia, United Kingdom).


“Psychology is evidently at the basis of political economy and, in general, of all the social sciences. A day will come when we will be able to deduce the laws of the social science from the principles of psychology” (Pareto, Manual of Political Economy, 1909, II, §1)

Neoclassical economics was built upon a theory of rational behavior that pretended to be independent from psychological foundations. Actually, Pareto, who has been instrumental in laying the foundations of modern utility and rational choice theory, uphold that economics and psychology needed to develop separately and that the hopes for reconciling psychology, economics and sociology in the social sciences “still remain some way off”.

Over thirty years or so, an important part of economics has been oriented towards realizing Pareto’s prophecy that a day would come when economics and psychology would benefit from reconciling each others, opening the way for a better understanding of individual and collective behaviors. This reconciliation comes after a period of time during which economics has developed its tools and principles away from psychology (or so the standard narrative argues), on the mere assumption that rational behavior could be described satisfactorily with a well-behaved utility function. For many economists, the offspring of this collective effort is called “behavioral economics”, and it is sometimes viewed a new paradigm in economics, providing tools and principles that may be applied to different fields of economic inquiry (finance, development economics, game theory, etc.).

Basics of behavioral economics are now part of any curricula in economics. The advent of behavioral economics has often been associated with a story-telling argument about its early development in the 1970s and its establishment, focusing on three main points: 1) the legitimization of experimental methods in economics; 2) the usefulness of concepts and ideas borrowed from psychology to increase the explanatory or predictive power of the theory of rational behavior; 3) the advent of a renewed view of human behavior and hence of new ideas in normative economics.

Actually, Pareto’s opening quotation reminds us also that psychology (in different guises) has been a fundamental issue for economists even since 18th century, if only because economists have usually grounded their own theory of economics on some ideas about human nature, and especially on human desires and beliefs.

In recent years, historians of economic thought and theoreticians have shown an interest in understanding the ins and outs of the behavioral turn in economics, and more broadly, on the introduction of psychological elements in economic explanations. Some have focused on recent history, enhancing the different trends of behavioral economics. Others have dealt with the nascent of behavioral economics and the early collaboration between economists and psychologists in the 1950s. Still some others have tried to understand how the marginalist school of thought had relied on the experimental psychology of its time—namely psychophysics—and how it had progressively been expelled out of the realm of economics, at least temporarily, with Pareto and Fisher. However, those contributions have not been coordinated and we are far from having a comprehensive overview of the complex history of the relationships between economics and psychology.

The aim of this conference is to gather contributions from historians of economics and historians of psychology (including cognitive sciences), and also from historically-oriented researchers and philosophers of these disciplines. The overall ambition is to understand the way economics has dealt with psychological arguments, methods and concepts throughout history and to highlight the main debates between economists and psychologists that have fostered and are still fostering behavioral economics. It is hoped that these will pave the way for an overall vision of the history of the relationships between economics and psychology and of the methodological transformations of economics as a discipline.

The organizers wish to limit the number of contributions so that most of the conference will take place in plenary sessions. Interested contributors are asked to indicate their interest in participating to the conference to A COMPLETER. The deadline for submitting an abstract is July 10th 2014. It is hoped that the contributions to the conference will in turn lead to the publication of a comprehensive reference book with short versions of papers and to thematic issues in journals.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of topics, authors and schools of thought:

  • Psychology in economics before the marginalist revolution (Hume, Smith, Condillac, Quesnay)
  • Psychophysics, psychology and the (pre)marginalists (Gossen, Jevons, Walras, Marshall, Edgeworth, Pareto and Fisher, psychology in the Austrian tradition)
  • Psychologists, economists, and the birth and development of experimental psychology (1850-1950)
  • Psychology in the institutionalist and Keynesian schools of thought (Veblen, Mitchell, J.M Clark, Keynes, Duesenberry, Post-Keynesian school).
  • How psychologists came to study decision and choice after World War II (Edwards, Davidson, Luce, Suppes, Siegel, etc).
  • The role and importance of ‘mathematical psychology’ and of the ‘representational theory of measurement’
  • Allais’s paradox and other decision paradoxes from the point of view of economics and psychology.
  • National traditions in the development of “economic psychology” (in relation with social psychology) and early behavioral economics in the USA (Katona, Simon), France, Germany, England, Italy, etc.
  • How psychologists have been involved in the development of behavioral economics and alternative paradigms to study economic behavior (e.g. Kahneman, Tversky, Slovic, Gigerenzer)?
  • Did economics borrow concepts and laws from psychology or did they rather borrow methods?
  • What has been the influence of behavioral sciences, marketing and business studies on the development of behavioral economics?
  • What have been the effects of behavioral economics on public policy? Which role played public policy in the development of behavioral economics?
  • What have been the after effects of behavioral economics on the representation of utility and welfare? (Pigou, Boulding, Scitovsky, Easterlin, Happiness economics)
  • How has behavioral economics come into different fields of economics (finance, development economics, health economics, social choice, public economics, normative economics)?
  • The historical development of neuroeconomics and its links with psychology.
  • The role of normative considerations in the development of behavioral economics, and the links between normative and behavioral economics.

If you are interested in participating in this conference, please send a notification of interest mentioning the theme of your contribution by June 10th 2014 and an abstract of approximately 1000 words prepared for blind review by July 10th 2014. Send your abstract by email at  with the following information:

Name and surname


Title of your contribution


Agency, Policy and the Future of Macroeconomics: A Summer School in Economics and Philosophy

Mark D. White

INEM/CHESS Summer School in Philosophy and Economics

“Agency, Policy and the Future of Macroeconomics:

A Summer School in Economics and Philosophy”

University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU

Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain

21-23 July 2014

The International Network for Economic Method (INEM) and Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS, Durham) will be holding an International Summer School in Economics and Philosophy for graduate students and researchers.

The Summer School is part of the UPV/EHU XXXII Summer Courses and XXV European Courses and continues the series initiated by the Urrutia Elejalde Foundation (UEF).


Alan Kirman, University of Aix-Marseille, France

Till Grüne-Yanoff, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Natalie Gold, King’s College London, UK


Julian Reiss, Durham University, UK

Conrad Heilmann, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands

Anna de Bruyckere, Durham University, UK (Grad Student Assistant)

The recent financial crisis has shattered the economics discipline like an earthquake. Whilst many economists are striving to rebuild and strengthen the structures that were hit others are taking the opportunity to open their horizons. Economists are often being blamed for having contributed to the crisis, even by prominent members of the profession: ‘the economics profession went astray because economists... mistook beauty... for truth’ (Krugman 2009); economists ‘killed America’s economy’ because of unrealistic models (Stiglitz 2009), and that the Crisis has made clear a ‘systemic failure of the economics profession’ as it had systematically disregarded key factors responsible for outcomes such as the Crisis (Colander et al. 2009).

At the same time, many economists have become at lot more open towards neighbouring disciplines. Some now regularly collaborate with psychologists to investigate to provide the behavioural foundations for choice theory. Even mainstream economists such as Greg Mankiw now urge the importance of political philosophy for their discipline. Modellers look to alternative approaches from complexity theory and agent-based modelling.

The aim of the Summer School in Economics and Philosophy is to present a variety of new insights from this exciting new work from the fringes of economics. It will bring together graduate students with scholars from economics, philosophy and neighbouring disciplines in order to exchange ideas, build a community and strengthen ‘economics and philosophy’ as an independent and diverse research field. This year’s main focus is on complex systems approaches in macroeconomics, the modelling of agency and behavioural policies.


The Summer School is open to Masters/PhD students and other researchers at various stages of progress on their dissertation project or academic careers.

To register please send us, by June 15 at the latest, 2014, a short CV and motivation statement to Anna de Bruyckere (email: We will accept applications as they come in, so to be guaranteed a place let us know as soon as possible.

Registration Fee and Bursaries:

Participation in the Summer School is free of charge. There is, however, charge a small registration fee of under €50 (with a small increase if you register after May 31) to be spent on food and beverage during the event. There will also be a bursary to help with accommodation expenses in San Sebastian. If you are interested in applying for a bursary, please let us know in your registration letter.

We would like to draw your attention to national sponsorship institutions like the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) in the case of Germany, who offer training course scholarships for students. Please contact your university’s international office for further information on scholarships available in your country.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the International Network for Economic Method (INEM) and the University of the Basque Country (UPV).

Further information:

"Is Economics a Science?" Why I Couldn't Care Less

Mark D. White

There’s been a lot of discussion of late regarding economics’ claim to be a science; Harvard economist Raj Chetty recently answered this question in the affirmative in The New York Times in response to mutterings about Robert Schiller and Eugene Fama sharing the 2014 Nobel Prize (with Lars Peter Hansen) despite having different views on the efficiency of financial markets. Several months ago, Phil Mirowski (Notre Dame) made headlines criticizing neoclassic economics and its claims to be a science while discussing his book, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown.

All of this makes me wonder: why is it so important to decide whether economics qualifies as a Science anyway? (The pretentious superfluous capitalization is intentional, by the way, representing the quasi-religious importance placed on this title.) Some thoughts follow below the fold…

Continue reading ""Is Economics a Science?" Why I Couldn't Care Less" »