IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/taf/jecmet/v22y2015i2p157-170.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Making sense of economists' positive-normative distinction

Author

Listed:
  • David Colander
  • Huei-Chun Su

Abstract

The goal of this article is to provide a slightly different spin on economists' use of the positive-normative distinction by providing some context for its use. The major difference is the following: philosophers and philosophically oriented economists, such as Hilary Putnam and John Davis, see the positive-normative distinction in economics as following from the logical positivist position, and they interpret comments made by economists as reflecting scientific methodological positions that have long since been repudiated by philosophers of science. This article argues that economists' use of the positive-normative distinction developed from the Mill-Keynes methodological tradition, which did not hold logical positivist views. Instead, it had pragmatic purposes and was designed to encourage economists to be more modest in their claims for the implications of economic theory. We conclude by arguing that economist's current use of the positive-normative distinction is problematic, as Davis suggests, but that the best way forward is not to eliminate it, but to reposition it within the Mill-Keynes tradition from which it initially developed. Doing so avoids the problems of associating it with logical positivism, while simultaneously using the distinction to remind economists about the limitations of applying economic theorizing to real world problems.

Suggested Citation

  • David Colander & Huei-Chun Su, 2015. "Making sense of economists' positive-normative distinction," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(2), pages 157-170, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jecmet:v:22:y:2015:i:2:p:157-170
    DOI: 10.1080/1350178X.2015.1024877
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1080/1350178X.2015.1024877
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:taf:jecmet:v:22:y:2015:i:2:p:157-170. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Chris Longhurst). General contact details of provider: http://www.tandfonline.com/RJEC20 .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.