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Detailed contemporary studies
The survey of approaches to the fundamental problems of appraising economic theory is far from complete. For example, there have been substantial efforts to apply structuralist views of scientific theories (Sneed 1971, Stegmüller 1976, 1979) to economics (Stegmüller et al. 1981, Hamminga 1983, Hands 1985c, Balzer and Hamminga 1989). The above discussion does at least document the diversity and disagreements concerning how to interpret and appraise economic theories. It is not surprising that there is no consensus among those writing on economic methodology concerning the overall empirical appraisal of specific approaches in economics, including mainstream microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics. When practitioners cannot agree, it is questionable whether those who know more philosophy but less economics will be able to settle the matter. Since the debates continue, those who reflect on economic methodology should have a continuing part to play.
Meanwhile, there are many other more specific methodological questions to address, and it is a sign of the maturity of the sub discipline that a large and increasing percentage of work on economic methodology addresses more specific questions. There is plethora of work, as a perusal of any rec ent issue of the Journal of Economic Methodology or Economics and Philosophy will confirm. Some of the range of issues currently under discussion was mentioned above in Section 2. Here is a list of three of the many areas of current interest:
1. Although more concerned with the content of economics than with its methodology, the recent explosion of work on feminist economics is shot through with methodological (and sociological) self-reflection. The fact that a larger percentage of economists are men than is true of any of the other social sciences and indeed than several of the natural sciences raises methodological questions about whether there is something particularly masculine about the discipline. Important texts are Ferber and Nelson (1993, 2003), Nelson (1995, 1996, 2001), Barker and Kuiper 2003. Since 1995, there has been a journal, Fe minist Economics, which pulls together much of this work.
2. A century ago economists talked of their work in terms of ―principles,‖ ―laws,‖ and ―theories.‖ Nowadays the standard intellectual tool or form is a ―model.‖ Is this just a change in terminological fashion, or does the concern with models signal a methodological shift? What are models? These questions have been discussed by Cartwright 1989, 1999, Godfrey Smith 2006, Grüne-Yanoff 2009, Hausman 1992, Kuorikoski and Lehtinen 2009, Mäki, ed. 1991, Mäki 2009a, 2009b, Morgan 2001, 2004, Morgan and Morrison 1999, Rappaport 1998, Sugden 2000, 2009, and Weisberg 2007.
3. During the past generation, experimental work in economics has expanded rapidly. This work has many different objectives (see Roth 1988) and apparently holds out the prospect of bridging the gulf between economic theory and empirical evidence. Some of it casts light on the way in which methodological commitments influence the extent to which economists heed empirical evidence. For example, in the case of preference reversals, discussed briefly below in Section 5.1, economists devoted considerable attention to the experimental findings and conceded that they disconfirmed central principles of economics. But economists were generally unwilling to pay serious attention to the theories proposed by psychologists that predicted the phenomena before they were observed. The reason seems to be that these psychological theories do not have the same wide scope as the basic principles of mainstream economics (Hausman 1992, chapter 13). The methodological commitments governing theoretical economics are much more complex and much more specific to economics than the general rules proposed by philosophers such as Popper and Lakatos.
The relevance of experimentation remains controversial. Behavioral economists are most enthusiastic, while more traditional theorists question whether experimental findings can be generalized to non-experimental contexts and, more generally, concerning the possibilities of learning from experiments (Caplin and Schotter 2008). For discussions of experimental economics, see Guala (2000a, b, 2005), Hey (1991), Kagel and Roth (1995, 2008), Plott (1991), Smith (1991), Starmer (1999), Camerer (2003), and the June, 2005 special issue of the Journal of Economic Methodology. Al Roth's Game Theory, Experimental Economics, and Market Design Page is a particularly useful source.