Samuels on Methodological Pluralism in Economics

John Davis, Marquette University

Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 30A (2012): 121-136. DOI.


Samuels always saw the history of economics as intellectual history (Samuels, 1974). The history of economics could not be confined to a record of doctrines economists have advanced, particularly as found in a handful of key written texts, since these doctrines had to be understood in their historical context along with many other types of historical evidence and materials. That is, economic doctrines do not stand on their own, however plausible and well-argued they may appear to be, but have their meaning and credibility according to how well they along with many other historical materials speak to the issues of their time. While this seems an obvious and correct point to make about how to understand the history of economics, Samuels argued that it turns out to be more far-reaching than it initially appears when one considers the character of the world which economic doctrines must somehow explain together with the problem of representation.First, social reality is itself heterogeneous and ambiguous … [which] permits a complex and heterogeneous body of knowledge thereof. Second, our modes of intellectualizing and interpreting social reality are complex and heterogeneous: there are diverse epistemological credentials, diverse modes of thought, and diverse systems of rationality. (Samuels, 1974, p. 306)