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IS THE PAST REALLY NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE?

Jack Birner
History of Economic Ideas
Vol. 8, No. 1 (2000), pp. 7-37
Published by: Accademia Editoriale
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23722353
Page Count: 31
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IS THE PAST REALLY NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE?
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Abstract

This is a study in the philosophy of historiography. It takes Weintraub's Stabilizing Dynamics as point of departure. Weintraub intended the case studies in his book to be a defence of social constructivism and hermeneutics, or the philosophy of meaning. On further analysis they turn out to be counter-examples to these philosophies. That is especially the case with those that show the interaction between economics and mathematics. This historical material constitutes an empirical support for the the rival philosophy of historiography, the method of rational reconstructions of Dijksterhuis, Popper and Lakatos. A logical criticism of the methodology of social constructivism and meaning philosophy is that they are based on a series of non-sequiturs and on a circular argument. Nevertheless, meaning in the sense of agents' intentions is relevant to historical reconstructions. This is because the historiography of ideas employs the model of explanation of social science. The description of the intentions and perceptions of agents, of their physical, social and intellectual context, and the behavioural motives ascribed to them for explaining their actions may be true or false. Therefore, realism is the appropriate philosophy of historiography.

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