Economic Semantics

Machlup, Fritz

Machlup despaired of the direction most academic economics was taking and tried to recapture ground by trying to integrate economics with other branches of learning. His 1961 essay on the social sciences is a broad, sophisticated, and many-faceted comparison of that body of knowledge,7 generally (and implicitly of economics, specifically), to knowledge in the physical sciences, particularly physics and chemistry. Machlup's comparisons include, ( 1) invariability of recurring situations, (2) objectivity of observations, (3) the capacity to use controlled experiments to verify (sic) hypotheses, ( 4) exactness of measure, ( 5) numerical quantification, ( 6) existence of mathematical constants, (7) use of predictability of future events as a test, (8) rigorousness and acceptability of specialized scientific language, and (9) average competence of professionals. The result of this multi-faceted comparison is a mixed verdict-two comparisons are irrelevant, four suggest "no real difference," and three suggest inferiority to the natural sciences. True to his nature, he ends the essay with a discussion of the "Crucial Question: 'So What'?"

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