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Critical realism in economics and open-systems ontology: A critique

  • Andrew Mearman

This paper examines the treatment of ontology offered by critical realism. It addresses much of the material elaborated upon in two editions of this journal. Three main groups of criticisms are made here of the critical realist treatment of open systems. It is argued that critical realism, particularly in the project in economics emanating from Cambridge, UK, tends to define systems in terms of events. This definition is shown to be problematic. The exemplar of a closed system provided by critical realism of the solar system is shown to be flawed in that it is not closed according to the closure conditions identified by critical realism. Second, the negativity of the definitions adopted is problematic for heterodox traditions attempting to build positive programmes. Furthermore, the dualism of the definitions is also inconsistent with Dow's approach, which has ramifications for the coherence of post Keynesianism. Third, the definitions tend to polarize open and closed systems and ignore the degrees of openness evident in reality. The polarization of systems leads to polarized methodology and unsustainable arguments to reject so-called “closed-systems methods.”

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Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Review of Social Economy.

Volume (Year): 64 (2006)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Pages: 47-75

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Handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:64:y:2006:i:1:p:47-75
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  1. T. Lawson., 2006. "A Realist Perspective on Contemporary "Economic Theory"," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 2.
  2. Alex Viskovatoff, 1998. "Is Gerard Debreu a Deductivist? Commentary on Tony Lawson's Economics and Reality," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 56(3), pages 335-346.
  3. Stephen P. Dunn, 2000. "Wither Post Keynesianism?," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 22(3), pages 343-364, April.
  4. Andrew Brown & Gary Slater & David A. Spencer, 2002. "Driven to abstraction? Critical realism and the search for the 'inner connection' of social phenomena," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(6), pages 773-788, November.
  5. Tony Lawson, 1997. "Critical Issues in Economics as Realist Social Theory," Ekonomia, Cyprus Economic Society and University of Cyprus, vol. 1(2), pages 75-117, Winter.
  6. Tony Lawson, 1994. "The Nature of Post Keynesianism and Its Links to Other Traditions: A Realist Perspective," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 16(4), pages 503-538, July.
  7. Hahn, F H, 1989. "Kaldor on Growth," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 47-57, March.
  8. Lawson, Tony, 1995. "The 'Lucas Critique': A Generalisation," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(2), pages 257-76, April.
  9. Paul Downward & Andrew Mearman, 2002. "Critical Realism and Econometrics: Constructive Dialogue with Post Keynesian Economics," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 53(4), pages 391-415, November.
  10. Tony Lawson, 1997. "Situated rationality," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(1), pages 101-125.
  11. Lawson, Tony, 1989. "Realism and Instrumentalism in the Development of Econometrics," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(1), pages 236-58, January.
  12. Lawson, Tony, 1989. "Abstraction, Tendencies and Stylised Facts: A Realist Approach to Economic Analysis," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 59-78, March.
  13. Sheila Dow, 2004. "Reorienting Economics: Some epistemological issues," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(3), pages 307-312.
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