Verification in Economics

  • Benjamin Ward


The formalist revolution in postwar economics was solidly based on the methodological dream of the latter day positivists. The translation of economic problems into a formal, rather mathematical language, was designed to fulfill one of the primary positivist aims: the construction of a well-formed language, of great precision, in which a clear distinction between meaningful and other types of statements could be made. The threefold separation of fact, value, and theory was carefully preserved. This new language of economics was one in which not much discussion of alternative values would take place. Values were separated out to appear in isolated criteria, whose value the various agents under study were presumed to maximize, and whose arguments were such positive, observable variables as outputs, inputs, and prices. Theory was separated from fact. The central element of theory was the model, the de-vice by which various assumptions could be logically combined and manipulated to generate hypotheses. These latter provided the point of contact with fact.


Causal Picture Dirty Trick Neoclassical Paradigm Formalist Revolution Positivist Dream 
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  1. 2.
    Wassily Leontief, “Theoretical Assumptions and Nonobserved Facts,” American Economics Review 61 (March, 1971): 1.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Ernest Nagel, Principles of the Theory of Probability (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939), p. 6.Google Scholar

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© Basic Books, Inc. 1972

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  • Benjamin Ward

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