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Lionel Robbins’ first-step individualism and the prehistory of microfoundations

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  • Thiago Dumont Oliveira

    (N/A)

  • Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak

    (Cedeplar-UFMG)

Abstract

Robbins belongs to the prehistory of microfoundations, for his definition of economics helped to buttress the centrality that individual choice acquired after the Second World War. This, however, was an unintended effect of his seminal Essay. Our claim is that, underlying his definition of economics, a novel approach to methodological individualism is advanced, in which the isolated individual plays the role of a temporary device. The economic man is but a first step in order to analyze more complex social phenomena. More specifically, three types of methodological individualism are outlined and it is argued that Robbins’ approach cannot be classified as any of them; we thus propose a different category, that of ‘first-step individualism’. Robbins’ rationale for focusing on the isolated individual is not that social phenomena can be reduced to individual behaviour, but rather that this is the best starting point for economics, if it is to progress and be able to deal with more complex phenomena in the future.

Suggested Citation

  • Thiago Dumont Oliveira & Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak, 2016. "Lionel Robbins’ first-step individualism and the prehistory of microfoundations," Textos para Discussão Cedeplar-UFMG 537, Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdp:texdis:td537
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    File URL: http://www.cedeplar.ufmg.br/pesquisas/td/TD%20537.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Roger E. Backhouse & Steve G. Medema, 2009. "Defining Economics: The Long Road to Acceptance of the Robbins Definition," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 76(s1), pages 805-820, October.
    2. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2007. "Meanings of methodological individualism," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(2), pages 211-226.
    3. Pedro Garcia Duarte & Gilberto Tadeu Lima, 2011. "Privileging Micro over Macro? A History of Conflicting Positions," Working Papers, Department of Economics 2011_01, University of São Paulo (FEA-USP).
    4. Marcelo Resende & Rodrigo M. Zeidan, 2007. "Lionel Robbins: A Methodological Reappraisal," CESifo Working Paper Series 2165, CESifo Group Munich.
    5. Thiago Dumont Oliveira & Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak, 2016. "The economist quae political economist: Lionel Robbins and the economic adivisory council," Textos para Discussão Cedeplar-UFMG 535, Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.
    6. D. Wade Hands, 2009. "Effective Tension in Robbins' Economic Methodology," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 76(s1), pages 831-844, October.
    7. Hoover, Kevin D., 2006. "A Neowicksellian in a New Classical World: The Methodology of Michael Woodford's Interest and Prices," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 28(02), pages 143-149, June.
    8. R. W. Souter, 1933. ""The Nature and Significance of Economic Science" in Recent Discussion," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 47(3), pages 377-413.
    9. Richard G. Lipsey, 2009. "Some Legacies of Robbins' "An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science"," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 76(s1), pages 845-856, October.
    10. Joseph Schumpeter, 1909. "On the Concept of Social Value," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(2), pages 213-232.
    11. Shira B. Lewin, 1996. "Economics and Psychology: Lessons for Our Own Day from the Early Twentieth Century," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(3), pages 1293-1323, September.
    12. Robbins, Lionel [Lord], 1981. "Economics and Political Economy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(2), pages 1-10, May.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Lionel Robbins; Methodological Individualism; First Step Individualism;

    JEL classification:

    • B20 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - General
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals

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