The Positivist Dream

  • Benjamin Ward


The problem of induction is one of the few philosophical questions that has rather persistently engaged the attention of economists. The problem is that of justifying the leap from the particular to the general—for example, from the observation that changes in consumption and income have been associated on occasion in the past, to the assertion that they will continue to be associated. Mill, Jevons, Keynes, and Harrod, among others, put major effort into their quite different attempts to justify the inductive leap, so interest in the problem runs right down to our own day.1 However, none of these economists’ solutions are accepted today by practicing economists—Keynes’s Treatise on Probability is unread and Harrod’s Problem of Induction is unknown—for we take our guidance in these matters now from statisticians and positivists. Some econometricians feel obliged at least to mention the problem of induction, and such appropriate names as Savage, Jeffreys, and Popper are included in these introductory remarks.2


Demand Curve Income Variable Supply Curve Money Wage Econometric Work 
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  1. 2.
    Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London: Hutchinson, 1958) (German original, 1934);Google Scholar
  2. Harold Jeffreys, Theory of Probability (London: Oxford, 1939);Google Scholar
  3. L. J. Savage, The Foundations of Statistics (New York: John Wiley, 1954).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958);Google Scholar
  5. N. R. Hanson, Patterns of Discovery(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958); Thomas Kuhn, op. cit.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    William Whewell, The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences(London: Parker, 1847), book XI, especially ch. 4.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    W. V. Quine, From a Logical Point of View(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 43; quoted in Winter, op. cit.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Lorie Tarshis, “Changes in Real and Money Wages,” Economic Journal, 49 (1939): 150–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Basic Books, Inc. 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin Ward

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