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Critical Realism in Economics and Open-Systems Ontology: A Critique


  • Andrew Mearman

    () (School of Economics, University of the West of England)


This paper examines the treatment of ontology offered by Critical Realism. Three main criticisms are made 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 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 programs. The dualism of the definitions is also inconsistent with Dow’s approach. This 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. This polarization of systems leads to polarized methodology and unsustainable arguments to reject so-called closed-systems methods.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew Mearman, 2004. "Critical Realism in Economics and Open-Systems Ontology: A Critique," Working Papers 0401, Department of Accounting, Economics and Finance, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, Bristol.
  • Handle: RePEc:uwe:wpaper:0401

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Lawson, Tony, 1989. "Realism and Instrumentalism in the Development of Econometrics," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(1), pages 236-258, January.
    3. Tony Lawson, 1994. "The Nature of Post Keynesianism and Its Links to Other Traditions: A Realist Perspective," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 16(4), pages 503-538, July.
    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. "Situated rationality," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(1), pages 101-125.
    6. Stephen P. Dunn, 2000. "Wither Post Keynesianism?," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(3), pages 343-364, March.
    7. Paul Downward & Andrew Mearman, 2005. "Presenting ‘Demi-Regularities' of Pricing Behaviour: The Need for Triangulation," Chapters,in: Contemporary Post Keynesian Analysis, chapter 16 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    8. Lawson, Tony, 1995. "The 'Lucas Critique': A Generalisation," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(2), pages 257-276, April.
    9. Sheila Dow, 2004. "Reorienting Economics: Some epistemological issues," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(3), pages 307-312.
    10. T. Lawson., 2006. "A Realist Perspective on Contemporary "Economic Theory"," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 2.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
    13. 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.
    14. Hahn, F H, 1989. "Kaldor on Growth," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 47-57, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Duo Qin, 2014. "Inextricability of Autonomy and Confluence in Econometrics," Working Papers 189, Department of Economics, SOAS, University of London, UK.
    2. repec:eee:tefoso:v:124:y:2017:i:c:p:51-65 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Jussi Ahokas, 2011. "A comprehensive view of regional economic development in Finland," ERSA conference papers ersa10p469, European Regional Science Association.
    4. Strachman, Eduardo & Fucidji, José Ricardo, 2010. "The Current Financial and Economic Crisis: Empirical and Methodological Issues," MPRA Paper 27130, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    open systems; closed systems; Critical Realism; Post-Keynesianism; dualism;

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