May 12, 2015

Einstein, Mill and the Starting Problem

Comment on Lars Syll on ‘Why the ergodic theorem is not applicable in economics’


Thank you [Fred Zaman] for the link to the Lehmkuhl article.

Einstein, of course, is significant for economics — yet it is not his physics that is of importance but his methodology. And here comes the big surprise, Einstein got his ideas from an economist. Indeed, physicists understood J. S. Mill better than the hordes of economists from his time onwards.

“They [Einstein and Dirac] agreed that science was fundamentally about explaining more and more phenomena in terms of fewer and fewer theories, a view they had read in Mill's A System of Logic.” (Farmelo, 2009, p. 137)

Mill, in turn, was quite clear that the first task of every science is to get the fundamentals right. This is Mill's Starting Problem.

“What are the propositions which may reasonably be received without proof? That there must be some such propositions all are agreed, since there cannot be an infinite series of proof, a chain suspended from nothing. But to determine what these propositions are, is the opus magnum of the more recondite mental philosophy.” (Mill, 2006, p. 746)

And now all is pretty obvious: you cannot put utility maximization, equilibrium, ergodicity or any other physical or psychological assumption into the premises. After the failure of Orthodoxy, it falls to Heterodoxy to spell out the economic propositions ‘which may reasonably be received without proof.’

This is what Constructive Heterodoxy is all about.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Farmelo, G. (2009). The Strangest Man. The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius. London: Faber and Faber.
Mill, J. S. (2006). Principles of Political Economy With Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy, volume 3, Books III-V of Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. URL

* For the short list of propositions see Answer to Fred Zaman