Pig Philosophy?

  • John Maloney


Lowe’s definition of political economy was sure and simple. It was the science that traced the consequences of the desire for gain. Its strength lay in the soundness of its basic postulate, and was revealed by the success of laws passed in accordance with the deductions made from that postulate. Particularly impressive was the way that those unable to grasp political economy nonetheless came to believe in it through the results of such laws — though the results might take a while and their clear perception still longer. And, because political economy deduced exact conclusions from first principles, it not only knew when an exception was an exception, but was well placed to find out why. When the world in general, and the results of legislation in particular, diverged from the deductions of political economy, economists sought and invariably found explanations of why ceteris had failed to be paribus. Falsificationists’ problems begin at this point but Lowe, like Mill, was no falsificationist.


Political Economy Limited Liability Moral Sentiment Historical School Clear Perception 
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  1. 2.
    R. Lowe, ‘Recent Attacks on Political Economy’, Nineteenth Century, 4, 1878, p. 865.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Political Economy Club, Revised report at the proceedings at the Dinner of 31st May, 1876, London, 1876, pp. 7–8.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Ibid., p. 868. G.C.G. Moore comments, ‘I contend that these admissions were no more than cosmetic qualifications designed to meet the numerous criticisms of his approach.’ Taken purely in the context of ‘Recent Attacks on Political Economy’ this is an arguable position. (Though even here one might comment that falsifying his beliefs was not exactly a leitmotif of Lowe’s, and, if he is not being accused of this, what exactly is ‘cosmetic’ about his remarks?) But the testimony of Lowe’s earlier writings in The Times shows his lifelong awareness that the conditions of application had to be right for political economy to make headway (G.C.G. Moore, ‘Robert Lowe and the Role of the Vulgar Economist in the English Methodenstreit’, Journal of Economic Methodology, 3, 1996, p. 86).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© John Maloney 2005

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  • John Maloney

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