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The Methodology of Economics: How Economists Choose Between Theories

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I began this thesis because I was confused about economics. I wondered why there were so many different models. I didn't understand how they fit together. I was also confused by the assumptions being made. For instance, the assumption that

I began this thesis because I was confused about economics. I wondered why there were so many different models. I didn't understand how they fit together. I was also confused by the assumptions being made. For instance, the assumption that humans are rational utility-maximizers did not seem to agree with my own experiences. With my director Dr. Edward Schlee's help, my thesis has become an inquiry into the state of economic methodology, both in theory and in practice. The questions that drive this paper are: How do economists choose between theories? What is the purpose of economic theory? What is the role of empirical data in assessing models? What role do assumptions play in theory evaluation, and should assumptions make sense? Part I: Methodology is the theoretical portion of the paper. I summarize the essential arguments of the two main schools of thought in economic methodology, and argue for an updated methodology. In Part II: A case study: The expected utility hypothesis, I examine methodology in practice by assessing a handful of studies that seek to test the expected utility hypothesis. Interestingly, I find that there is a different between what economists say they are doing, and what they actually seem to be doing. Throughout this paper, I restrict my analysis to microeconomic theory, simply because this is the area with which I am more familiar. I intend this paper to be a guide for my fellow students and rising economists, as well as for already practicing economists. I hope it helps the reader better understand methodology and improve her own practice.

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2013-05

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Intuitions in metaphysics: methodological critique

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This thesis is concerned with the methodological role of intuitions in metaphysics. It is divided into two main parts. Part I argues that an academic field can only employ a method of gathering evidence if it has established some agreed-upon

This thesis is concerned with the methodological role of intuitions in metaphysics. It is divided into two main parts. Part I argues that an academic field can only employ a method of gathering evidence if it has established some agreed-upon standards regarding how to evaluate uses of this method. Existing meta-philosophical disputes take the nature of intuitions to be their starting point. This is a mistake. My concern is not the epistemic status of intuitions, but rather how metaphysicians appeal to intuitions as a form of evidence. In order for intuitions to play a viable role in research they must be subject to certain constraints, regardless of whether they allow individual researchers to know that their theories are true. Metaphysicians are not permitted to use intuitions as arbitrarily having different evidential status in different circumstances, nor should they continue to use intuitions as evidence in certain disputes when there is disagreement amongst disputants about whether intuitions should have this evidential status.

Part II is dedicated to showing that metaphysicians currently use intuitions in precisely the sort of inconsistent manner that was shown to be impermissible in Part I. I first consider several competing theories of how intuitions function as evidence and argue that they all fail. As they are currently used in metaphysics, intuitions are analogous to instruments in the sciences in that they are taken to be a substantial non-inferential source of evidence for theories. I then analyze several major metaphysical disputes and show that the source of controversy in these disputes boils down to inconsistencies in how the different parties treat intuitions as evidence. I conclude that metaphysicians must abandon appeals to intuition as evidence--at least until the field can agree upon some general standards that can resolve these inconsistencies.

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2014