Should the history of economic thought be included in undergraduate curricula?

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The mainstream view about the irrelevance of  the history of economic thought (HET) is illustrated, and the reasons for it are indicated in the hidden assumption of a positivist idea about the cumulative growth of knowledge. HET is however very important when existence of different approaches to economics is recognized. As an illustration, classical and marginalist conceptualizations of the economy are briefly discussed.

Posted for comments on 1 Jul 2013, 1:13 pm.

Comments (3)

  • Constantinos Repapis says:

    Professor Roncaglia’s contributions in the history of economic thought are well known. His book The Wealth of Ideas, is standard reading in those universities that still find; to borrow Keynes’ famous words; that a study in the history of opinion is a necessary prerequisite to the emancipation of the mind. In this new essay Professor Roncaglia argues in favour of the history of economic thought (HET) from the same vantage point as Keynes, noting that the increasing homogeneity of method in mainstream economic departments makes the history of the subject the only remaining field in which plurality is still vibrant. This in itself is reason enough to bring HET back into undergraduate curricula. With this thesis I could not agree more, and the main argument is stated both succinctly and clearly. Furthermore, his paper could not come at a better time. The crisis has made economists ask some searching questions. And as Bruce Caldwell has recently noted, there are some tentative signs that the tide may be turning on the future of HET (Caldwell, 2013). But these are very broad questions to tackle in a review note, so it is best to restrict the analysis on three points that the paper raises and merit further investigation. These are: (1) Do the same arguments apply to graduate courses in economics? (2) When did economic theorising separate itself permanently and resolutely from HET? (3) Can HET be introduced back into the curricula of economics departments without undermining their purpose or cohesion?

    Starting with graduate/undergraduate studies, Roncaglia notes that there is a distinction by some economists- he refers to Viner- between receiving an education and being professionally trained. Undergraduate studies, if we admit to a liberal education agenda, can profit from broadening of the curricula. Students will learn of the origin of ideas and the historical settings that gave them rise. This process will prepare them for the mosaic of arguments that defines political discussion in a democratic society. “In undergraduate education, HET has a crucial democratic role” (Roncaglia, p.7). I fully agree, and I would only ask Professor Roncaglia to develop this thesis further, possibly before section 5, as it is an important contribution the paper is making to this discussion. Beyond the undergraduate curriculum we can look on graduate studies and the eclipse of HET there. Are there reasons for change? Caldwell (2013) discusses the reasons for introducing HET in grad school at length. This discussion is related to our second question. That is when did HET stop being a viable research field for the mainstream academic economist?

    Dates or even definitive narrative histories of such broad and abstract questions are not easy. There is substantial evidence, noted by Roncaglia, that a number of prominent economists in the 30’s where dismissive of classical economics as useful reading for further research. At the same time, though, a number of economists doing research at the forefront of neoclassical theory, like Robbins, Viner and Hayek, where also accomplished historians of economic thought. Furthermore, even if we look at locations like Cambridge the centre of the Marshallian tradition in the 1920’s and 30’s, there would still be economists (Sraffa, Dobb) that rejected at least specific tenants of Marshallian economics, looking back into earlier schools of thought to embed their theoretical approach. More importantly, some of these debates would inform graduate and undergraduate students, as Sraffa’s lectures in 1928-31 indicate (see Signorino, 2005). The question then is if a dismissal of classical theory by some prominent economists in the 30’s is a dismissal of the history of economic thought at large, or an intellectual disagreement with competing economic world views. To take an example, Hayek while engaging in pioneering business cycle theory research in the 30’s found the time to write an introduction for the German translation of Cantillon’s book in 1931, write the introduction to the reprint of Thorton’s Paper Credit in 1939, and discuss in correspondence Boisguillebert and Goschen. And yet at the same time he notes, when reviewing Higg’s edition of Cantillon, “…since physiocrats, with their strong philosophical leanings, appeal more than does Cantillon to those who are not specialists in economic theory (and historians of economics usually are not) Cantillon has never achieved popularity” (Hayek, 1932, 61). The seed of this tension between theoreticians and historians that seems to define modern economics can therefore be traced at least as far back as the 30’s. But we have still yet to observe the reverse problem, that someone can be a good theorist without ever having delved into the history of the subject. This, I believe, is the defining mark of the period that followed the 30’s and adequately describes the current state of affairs. And this, I think, happened later, probably from the 40’s onward, and is related with transformations in the nature of economic theorising. What I mean is that economic theorising did not become separated from HET, or rather, that is not the core development, the core development is its transformation, and this transformation made the relation with HET problematic. This is only a suggestion, but in all cases, I do think that an understanding of why we are where we are is central to all discussion on whether HET should or can be back into the curricula of economic departments.

    This is related to the third question and to the discussion on positivism. Roncaglia mentions this in page 2 and is the theme of section 2 of his article. Caldwell (2013) broadly agrees, and shows that some type of positivism is the reason why mainstream economists are dismissive of HET. In both papers the core question is plurality in economic research. It is interesting that what plurality means is differently viewed in the two papers. Caldwell notes that new fields of economic research have opened in the last few decades making research agendas more varied than they have ever been. Roncaglia illustrates what he means by plurality by contrasting the marginalist with the neoclassical conceptualisation of the economy. This is interesting because while I agree with Caldwell in that today there is more variety in the types of analytical tools and field of application economists use or study in their research work than ever before, there are still limits in what mainstream economists would classify as appropriate research topics and methods of analysis. This is no surprise, all fields have limits. The question is how broad are these limits? I think the type of contrast Roncaglia discusses in section four is outside these limits. This is interesting and it relates to the transformation of economic theorising previously mentioned. Heilbroner and Milberg (1995) touch upon similar themes and develop an interesting historical narrative on the development of economic theory in the 20th century. Another way to look at these questions, and a classic reference in the field, is Boulding (1971), which contrasts a system of linear growth of knowledge with what he calls the principle of the extended present. The principle of the extended present means that older texts may be revisited and provide new independent avenues for modern research. This favours another type of pluralism than what exists today in economic departments.

    What remains to be discussed are possible reasons for not introducing HET back to curricula and especially graduate schools. The arguments in favour of this, in the interest of fairness, should be mentioned. I find two arguments especially convincing. These are: (1) Science departments do not teach the history of their subject in the same department. This is a sociological argument, and if you want to have the status of a science you must be perceived by the academic community and the public as a science, and this is part of the deal. Many economists find this very important for a variety of reasons, and would regard this argument reason enough to exclude HET. (2) It may lead to confusion especially among research students and undermine both the purpose and the cohesion of economic departments. This is related again to the nature and limits of plurality in economic research. An example may show why economists may be more hesitant than researchers in the natural sciences in teaching the history of their subject in parallel with current research. If graduate students in astrophysics learn about the geocentric theory, there is little chance that they will abandon their belief of a heliocentric system. Here a study of history can educate by showing how researchers engrossed in an effort to make a specific theory fit the data may miss the bigger picture and be driven astray. Or can open a discussion on how religious, societal and other environmental factors encroach upon research. What about economics? How would a discussion on capital theory in the 20th century influence someone wishing to work on modern growth theory? What will he make of the (many) capital controversies? The relation between history and present research is not symbolic, or at least, not only symbolic, and this makes their co-habitation much more difficult if you are committed to confine some questions purely to history.

    In conclusion, Professor Roncaglia has written an extremely interesting paper. He opens up a nexus of questions for the academic community to discuss. It would be very interesting to see his analysis augmented, both in an expanded version of this paper and in subsequent papers inspired by his insightful remarks.


    Boulding, K. (1971) “After Samuelson, who needs Adam Smith?” History of Political Economy, vol.3, Fall, 225-37.

    Caldwell, B. (2013) “Of Positivism and the History of Economic Thought” Southern Economic Journal, 79:4, 753-767.

    Hayek, F.A. (1932) “A Review of Richard Cantillon, Essai sur la nature du commerce en general, edited with an English translation and other material, by Henry Higgs” Economic Journal, 42: 61-3.

    Heibroner R. and W. Milberg (1995) The Crisis of Vision in Modern Economic Thought Cambridge: CUP.

    Signorino, R. (2005) “Piero Sraffa’s lectures on the advanced theory of value 1928–31 and the rediscovery of the classical approach” Review of Political Economy, 17:3, 359-380.

    The End.

  • Andres Bedoya says:

    It is necessary to consider that the study of economic thought is essential in undergraduate economics . Is necessary as the author puts it to recognize the evolution of the economy over time , in the same way for the students we generate an opening of mind , allows the elimination of the idea of ​​”neo – classicism ” , we shows how it is possible to theorize and although neoclassical economics usually dictate these years there is something far beyond.
    The history of economic thought generates a critical analysis to what we learn and more importantly helps to eliminate neoclassical dogmatism that we taught in universities.
    With the education provided today forget that such a school exists as perfect economic and teachings without such digress economy will stay in the same school , without imparting knowledge as such dialectical truly generate first a diversification doctrine of economy and second a better reality , this being essential so we are concerned, the economy being a social science.

  • Nicholas Theocarakis says:

    In Plato’s dialogue Protagoras Socrates argues that because virtue cannot be taught, matters involving virtue can be addressed by all citizens. Similarly, because matters professional can be taught, they can and are addressed with authority only by their respective specialists:

    “I say, in common with the rest of the Greeks, that the Athenians are wise. Now I observe, when we are collected for the Assembly, and the city has to deal with an affair of building, we send for builders to advise us on what is proposed to be built; and when it is a case of laying down a ship, we send for shipwrights; and so in all other matters which are considered learnable and teachable: but if anyone else, whom the people do not regard as a craftsman, attempts to advise them, no matter how handsome and wealthy and well-born he may be, not one of these things induces them to accept him; they merely laugh him to scorn and shout him down, until either the speaker retires from his attempt, overborne by the clamour, or the tipstaves pull him from his place or turn him out altogether by order of the chair. Such is their procedure in matters which they consider professional. But when they have to deliberate on something connected with the administration of the State, the man who rises to advise them on this may equally well be a smith, a shoemaker, a merchant, a sea-captain, a rich man, a poor man, of good family or of none, and nobody thinks of casting in his teeth, as one would in the former case, that his attempt to give advice is justified by no instruction obtained in any quarter, no guidance of any master; and obviously it is because they hold that here the thing cannot be taught.” [Pl. Prt. 319b-d]

    In today’s ideological world, however, the tipstaves are out, with a twist: they escort out those who are not deemed worthy to speak with authority on matters of state policy or political economy. No blunt force trauma is visible, however, on those who persist. Expulsion is done in subtler ways. Take the history of economic thought (HET) as an example: Professors who retire see their chairs being reassigned to more “scientific” fields of research within economics. More and more universities, especially those with the highest ranking scores in the Anglo-Saxon academic world purge HET courses from their curricula. Graduate courses in HET in “top” USA Universities – with the notable exception of Duke – are well-nigh absent (Gayer 2002; Weintraub 2002, 2007). Associations of Business Schools and Business Deans’ Councils downgrade top notch journals in HET blocking the hierarchical promotion of the “harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of” economic concepts (Johnson 1755). HET researchers and teachers feel as if they are working in bishoprics in partibus infidelium, gentlewomen in reduced circumstances. In fact, the very creation of HET as a separate discipline with its own societies and periodicals, which started in the late 1960s, was the result of a gradual refusal of major academic journals to publish work in HET (Weintraub 2007, pp. 273-4, Goodwin 2008). What we are witnessing today is the natural conclusion of this tendency: the death by asphyxiation of an unwanted discipline, a smothered mate. The dismissal of historians of economic ideas by the “true and real” economists is by now a well-established fact. Mark Blaug’s 2001 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives had the telling title “No History of ideas, Please, We’re Economists”, while Roy Weintraub (2007) opens his “Economic Science Wars” article with the observation that “It is not news that the history of economics is disesteemed by most economists. There have been almost annual discussions at professional meetings about the institutional role of the history of economics.” Weintraub (2002) also edited a HOPE annual supplement in which this trend has been documented.

    So, is it time to ditch HET for good? Is it an antediluvian fossil, whose teaching distracts students and professors from doing “real” economic science? Should we pack our bags and move into the safer haven of History and Philosophy of Science Graduate Departments? In a well-argued and passionate article, Professor Alessandro Roncaglia steps in defence of HET. Professor of Economics at the University “La Sapienza” in Rome, Roncaglia is a political economist and an eminent member of the HET community. His textbook, La ricchezza delle idee: Storia del pensiero economico, [Rome, Laterza, 2001, 6th edition 2012] won the 2003 Jérome Adolphe Blanqui Award from the European Society for the History of Economic Thought. Its English version The Wealth of Ideas: A History of Economic Thought was published by Cambridge University Press in 2005. The first chapter of that treatise provides an important background for a better understanding of the article at hand. His 1996 article in the European Journal of the History of Economic Thought also develops more fully the present article, albeit with a slightly different slant. On a personal note, Roncaglia’s book is the main text I use in my graduate courses in HET at UADPhilEcon, the doctoral programme in economics at the University of Athens.

    First, let me make clear what the issue at stake is. Nobody wants to discard HET as a scientific discipline. The question is (a) whether HET should be part of undergraduate or graduate curricula, i.e., whether it is necessary for the training of economists and (b) whether HET is a proper subdiscipline of economics.

    Roncaglia notes that the rejection of HET by the profession was already there in the 1930s, at least by the top professionals of the field. In fact, we can find objections against the teaching of “absurd opinions [and] discredited doctrines” (Say 1829, p. 561), “antiquarian researches … in studying confessedly inadequate solutions offered centuries ago” (Pigou 1902, p. 374) or “the wrong opinions of dead men” (Dalton 1920, p. 33) much earlier [Cf. d’Alembert’s (1760, p. 12) notion of “L’Histoire des Sophismes”]. The thirties were at the heart of the Golden Age of HET (Goodwin 2008). It was when Wesley C. Mitchell (1949) delivered his Columbia Lectures which constitute possibly the best defence HET ever had.

    Roncaglia presents the opening salvo fired at HET by Donald Gordon (1965, p. 126), that “[e]conomic theory […] finds no necessity for including its history as a part of professional training”. Then he examines three reasons for including HET in a core curriculum: (a) pedagogical (Gordon), (b) an aristocratic/elitist notion of scholarship (Viner), an amulet against the perils of becoming an idiot-savant and (c) the “lumber room” function for getting new ideas (Schumpeter), a source of inspiration. Indeed, as Roncaglia notes, in his magisterial History of Economic Analysis (1954, p. 3) Schumpeter has provided most of these reasons: “The gains with which we may hope to emerge from [HET] can be displayed under three heads: pedagogical advantages, new ideas, and insights into the ways of the human mind”.

    Roncaglia then argues that, even within the same theoretical paradigm, HET can be useful. While this is true, it damns HET with faint praise. Take the reasons mentioned above as an example: The pedagogical value is a matter of “cost benefit analysis” (Stigler 1969, pp. 229-230). Blaug (2001) has argued that only after reading Newton and Leibniz did he comprehend calculus. Others, however, may have opted for solving more exercises. As Roncaglia himself correctly points out, when there is a major discontinuity in the analytical tools used, the pedagogical value may be diminished. Do graduate students understand better Mas-Colell et al. (1995) Microeconomic Theory by being taught the labour theory of value? Sadly not, since there is no single mention of the word “labour” in its almost 1000 pages. The “scholarship” argument may hold true for the economists themselves, but perhaps not their theory. Axel Leijonhufvud (2007) had suggested that HET courses are treated like courses in dining etiquette in military academies. An officer should also be a gentleman but his manners are not related to his tactical acumen in the battlefield. The “inspiration” argument may also sound somewhat weak. Inspiration may come from a variety of sources: a falling apple or a Petri dish with mold. I am oversimplifying: there is much in these arguments that make a lot of sense. I believe that if restated they can say a lot about the benefits of teaching HET.

    Roncaglia also offers another argument for teaching HET. The “mainstream” view implies a “cumulative” methodological approach, viz., that “the provisional point of arrival of contemporary economics incorporates all previous contributions in an improved way”. This is exemplified in Pantaleoni’s (1897, p. 4) simile of “the growth of a snowball that runs down the slope of a mountain picking up more snow, and the surface of which represents the unknown”. The “cumulative” theory may work by demolishing previous theories, or by “improving” on them. Thus, while Jevons (1879, p. xlix) in his criticism of the Ricardian economists argued that they “have been living in a fool’s paradise”, Marshall (1920 V, xv, §5, p. 503) held that “the foundations of the theory as they were left by Ricardo remain intact; that much has been added to them, and that very much has been built upon them, but that little has been taken from them”.

    According to Roncaglia, it is the positivism of mainstream economics that dictates this cumulative approach. This approach, however, is not confined to either neoclassical theory or positivism. In his History of Economic Thought (1926/1979), Isaac Ilych Rubin discusses pre-Marxist economic thought as imperfect attempts to arrive at Marx’s theory. The historical approach of Marxism – the critique of bourgeois political economy –, however, thrives in HET. In grand theoretical schemes the history of thought serves another purpose, viz., to provide a framework in which all previous theories can be explained in relation to the new theoretical solution offered. This can be the case of very dissimilar works such as Marx’s Capital (1867) and Böhm-Bawerk’s Capital and Interest (1884).

    Roncaglia takes from Schumpeter the notion of ‘conceptualization’, namely “to verbalize the vision or to conceptualize it in such a way that its elements take their places, with names attached to them that facilitate recognition and manipulation, in a more or less orderly schema or picture”.

    According to Roncaglia all mainstream views share the same vision and conceptualization before proceeding to model-building and the application of these models to the interpretation of economic reality. By doing so, mainstream theory shuns alternative conceptualizations/paradigms. Roncaglia provides as an example the difference between the classical and the marginalist conceptualizations of the economy.

    Though I fully agree with Professor Roncaglia that alternative conceptualizations of the economy should form part of the training of an economist, I do not think that this is a convincing reason for teaching HET. It is, however, a very good reason for teaching alternative paradigms in economics. Mainstream economic theory did a very poor job in predicting or explaining the 2008 global financial crisis. Roncaglia (2010) himself has written a slender volume on the subject. Even worse were the orthodox recipes for getting out of the crisis. “If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” Alternative paradigms should have been, and indeed have been, very useful in remedying this. But they should be used in active application of their research agenda, not kept alive through doxography. Teaching them in HET should be a first step of revitalizing them. Maynard Keynes, to take an eminent example, saw much of his General Theory (1936, p. 235) in Robert Malthus – “the first of the Cambridge economists” (1933) –, as he did in Mandeville and the mercantilists. But if the bond is entirely severed, intuitions from the “lumber room” cannot resurface even as “old wine in new bottles”.

    Being “mainstream” per se, both as an economist and as a historian of economic thought, does not necessarily imply that one has to follow the “cumulative” approach. A good historian of economic thought must be able to show how, in the history of economic thought, different thinkers had different visions, which they conceptualized in a specific way. A good part of this story would be how the intellectual influences and the problématique of the period affected this conceptualization. Kuhnian and Lakatosian philosophies of science for example, clearly allow the examination of alternative conceptualizations. And even though, there is a difference between a paradigm or a research programme and a conceptualization, alternative conceptualizations attempt to explain the same class of phenomena.

    Mainstream economists understand very well that teaching HET can function as a Trojan Horse for alternative or “heterodox” theoretical approaches to enter the curriculum of undergraduate and graduate courses precisely at a time when they have been so successful in excluding them from the métier. Their mistrust is enhanced by the number of historians of economic thought who are sympathetic to non-mainstream views (Lodewijks 2003, Weintraub 2007, p. 277 et seq.). It is also official: the American Economic Association renamed the JEL one digit classification code B from “History of Economic Thought and Methodology” to “History of Economic Thought, Methodology, and Heterodox Approaches” adding the classification “B5 – Current Heterodox Approaches”, i.e., “HET and all that”.

    Yet, the connection between HET and heterodoxy is not necessarily the fault of HET as a discipline. It rather reflects the fact that non-orthodox economists have been chased away from orthodox economic departments to “lesser” disciplines or, occasionally, to Business Schools where future managers still seek relevance in order to run their businesses. In most economics departments these days the only place where students can find out about Ricardo, Marx, Keynes and Sraffa are in HET courses. Now mainstream economists want to sever the tie altogether and throw the unwanted baby out with the bathwater. They say that there are two kinds of economics: “good economics” and “bad economics”. They presumably teach the former (Marglin 2011). It is interesting to note that Schumpeter, whose History of Economic Analysis (1954) is mildly cumulativist or so-to-say Whiggish, provides a fourth reason for teaching HET:

    “Although it is possible nevertheless—as I shall try to show—to speak for every epoch of established professional opinion on scientific topics and although this opinion has often stood the test of being proof against strong differences in political views, we cannot speak with as much confidence about it as can physicists or mathematicians. In consequence we cannot, or at least we do not, trust one another to sum up ‘the state of the science’ in an equally satisfactory manner. And the obvious remedy for the shortcomings of summarizing works is the study of doctrinal history: much more than in, say, physics is it true in economics that modern problems, methods, and results cannot be fully understood without some knowledge of how economists have come to reason as they do.”

    In other words: “Put your trust in God; but mind to keep your powder dry”.

    I find the connection between HET and heterodox approaches a pity for the discipline. Not only it is a generalization which is not true for a very large numbers of HET practitioners, but it is a disservice to orthodox and heterodox economists alike. Mainstream economists seeing reds under the HET bed are deprived of the benefits of the discipline; while, instead of going on with their own agenda, “heterodox” economists spend too much time “in the lumber room”. The false notion that HET is a second-rate discipline creates also the impression that HET is anybody’s game where junior or retired members of academia can “moonlight” with papers that boost their CVs or keep them active, clogging HET journal editors with a-historical articles that often “haruspicate or scry”.

    With its alternative conceptualizations, HET destroys yet another myth which is reinforced through the ritual of paying lip service to a simplistic positivism. Economics has supposedly come of age and is now a truly positive science. It is done through hypothesis testing and falsifiability as a poor imitation of a 19th century physics paradigm (Mirowski 1989). The critique of positivism is now standard in other sciences, but absent in economics, even though – as Bruce Caldwell (2013) has so ably shown – this is only an affectation. Indeed, you cannot trust a baby with an Occam’s razor.

    The difference between the positive or natural sciences and the social sciences or humanities goes back at least to Galileo Galilei. In his Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican (1632), Galileo argues that in the studi umani “in which neither true nor false exists, one might trust in subtlety of mind and readiness of tongue and in the greater experience of the writers”, whereas “in the natural sciences, whose conclusions are true and necessary and have nothing to do with human will, one must take care not to place oneself in the defense of error ; for here a thousand Demostheneses and a thousand Aristotles would be left in the lurch by every mediocre wit who happened to hit upon the truth for himself” (1967, 53-54 ; 1632, 45-6). Mainstream economists pose as a latter-day mainstream Salvatius putting the truth into the pathetic head of heterodox Simplicius. Weintraub (2007) has used the debates following C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures lecture and the Science Wars episode to explain how eventually both HET and methodology became collateral damage. It is clear that it is the ideology of the two culture divide (Smith 2005, p. 108) that has made its mark here. Heterodox economists and historians of economic thought are not the “literary intellectuals” stereotyped by C.P. Snow and ridiculed by Alan Sokal.

    What, however, Weintraub’s (2007) analysis shows is that historians of economic thought should turn their own tools on their own discipline and provide a historical explanation of this gradual but significant erosion of HET in the consciousness and perceptions of economists themselves. It is time for a meta-HET: Craufurd D. Goodwin (2008) entry in the second edition of the New Palgrave or Weintraub (2007) is the type of meta-HET I have in mind. What this type of history of HET shows is that the Golden Age of our discipline – from after the First World War to the 1960s – was not only the age when HET thrived and when the best economists contributed to it as part of the general discourse in economics, but was also the age where competing paradigms fought it out to produce a better theory that would substitute the discredited theories of the complacent Victorian certainties and the harmonious operation of the markets. HET is nowadays ostracized because a solidified orthodoxy excludes alternative conceptualizations even after the mainstream theory has failed dismally in explaining the crisis. The question that has to be answered –in historical and political, as well as in doctrinal and technical, terms – is why, after the global financial and economic meltdown, we do not see a revitalization of the competition between alternative paradigms and a revival of HET as we did after the Great Crash. This time is really different (Mirowski 2013).

    Well, does knowledge of HET make you a better economist? Mainstream economists should realize like Horatio that “there are more things in heaven and earth, […] than are dreamt of in [their] philosophy”. Even if they exorcize the ghost of “heterodoxy”, alternative paradigms are not dead in society and in public discourse and mainstream theorists should be able to engage in dialogue, which is impossible if they only know their own small formally constructed universe. Moreover, if they had delivered what they promised they would, may be there would be cause for pride in what they are doing and disdain for those who question their methods. This, however, they did not. And even if they were quick to revert to their old ways and refuse to reexamine their conceptualizations or their vision, intellectual honesty suggest they should. HET is the first step in such a direction. If they cannot do better on their own, they can pick from the riches of past theories the elements necessary for a reexamination of what they are doing.

    In assessing their hypotheses and theories, economists should be aware that looking at t-statistics is not enough (Ziliak and McCloskey 2008). In a social science such as economics, economists should realize that “internal” reasons are not the only driving force for rejecting specific hypotheses. They may pretend that internal consistency and meeting the test of reality is what they do when rejecting heterodox theories, but a good dose of HET will teach them to be more humble. By rejecting HET they are forced to accept an obsolete, as well as false, methodology which makes them bad scientists. It is in fact curious that economists do not wish to reflect on the history of their own science, how it has been developed and how and why new avenues have been explored. Athena may have jumped fully armed and grown-up out of the head of Zeus, science never does. It is only an Orwellian Ministry of Truth that constantly erases the tracks of the past (Mirowski 2004). Reliance on a mechanical paradigm of a rational automaton may simplify things and give the impression of a positive science, but only through HET can we explore the fullness and subtlety of alternative models of society and man and get a glimpse of the “path not taken”, the way in which has been built the edifice consisting of the questions that may not be asked. It is only when, in a HET course, we examine the attempts of the philosophers and the economists of the past to explain the economic and social reality of their time that we can comprehend in full the subject matter of our science. Blind men should grope the elephant from various angles before they understand the nature of the beast. This is perhaps the best pedagogical lesson that will motivate interest in the budding economists and illuminate their role in the enterprise called science.

    As an anticlimax to my last peroration – and it is here where pragmatism steps in – I would argue that we cannot reach the economic truth within closed theoretical systems (Varoufakis et al. 2011). We have to be judicious, selective, and methodologically open. At best we can use our rhetoric to enlighten and inform those who can be persuaded and who will engage in dialogue with us in our search for relevance. Knowledge of HET can then be very helpful, since it can provide arguments – even in newly stated forms – and show that the victory of doctrinaire views is not related to their inherent truth. Let alternative conceptualizations bloom.

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