Milton Friedman’s stance: The methodology of causal realism

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© Cambridge University Press 2009. The God of Abraham; the methodology of Marshall The philosopher Bas Van Fraassen opens his Terry Lectures (published as The Empirical Stance) with an anecdote: “When Pascal died, a scrap of paper was found in the lining of his coat. On it was written ‘The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the God of the philosophers’” (Van Fraassen 2002, 1). Pascal's God talks and wrestles with men; Descartes's God is a creature of metaphysics. Analogously, with respect to the “Methodology of positive economics” (F53) there are two Friedmans. Most of the gallons of ink spilled in interpreting Friedman's essay have treated it as a philosophical work. This is true, for example, for those who have interpreted it as an exemplar of instrumentalism, Popperian falsificationism, conventionalism, positivism, and so forth. And it is even true for those critics, such as Samuelson (1963), whose credentials as an economist are otherwise secure. Mayer (1993a, 1995, 2003) and Hands (2003) remind us that Friedman was philosophically unsophisticated, and in the essay Friedman tried a fall with other economists, not with philosophers. The origin of the essay was the quotidian practice of economics, not abstract epistemology. To know the Friedman of the economists, I propose to read the essay in light of Friedman (and Schwartz's) A Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960 (1963a) and “Money and business cycles” (1963b), perhaps his most characteristic economic investigations. My point is not that there is a particular philosophers' position that can be contrasted with a particular economists' (or even Friedman's) position.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Hoover, KD

Published Date

  • January 1, 2009

Book Title

  • The Methodology of Positive Economics: Reflections on the Milton Friedman Legacy

Start / End Page

  • 303 - 320

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780521867016

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/CBO9780511581427.014

Citation Source

  • Scopus