Two Disputes of Methods, Three Constructivisms, and Three Liberalisms. Part I

Vladimir M. Yefimov


The paper proposes to reconsider the methodology and history of economics radically, whether present day mainstream or heterodox versions of it. The profession of economists must definitely abandon Cartesian dualism and adopt Vygotskian constructivism. In fact constructivist economics already existed in the past and was cognitively very successful and socially very useful. It was the economics of Gustav Schmoller’s historico-ethical school and the institutionalist economics of John R. Commons, traditions of which are totally ignored by the contemporary community of economists. The former tradition was based on Dilthey’s hermeneutics and the latter on Peirce’s pragmatism. It is worth to underline that hermeneutics and pragmatism are both predecessors of Vygotskian constructivism. During the last two decades a lot was written by economists on pragmatist, constructivist and discursive approaches to the methodology and history of economics, but those who wrote on these topics viewed them from the dualistic point of view. My paper is an appeal to economists to reconsider Methodenstreit. The dispute of methods between Schmoller and Menger can be considered as a repetition of a similar dispute taking place more than two hundred years earlier between Robert Boyle and Thomas Hobbes. Schmoller-Menger dispute started soon after the beginning of the institutionalisation of experimentally-oriented economics which happened with the creation in 1873 of the Vereinfür Sozialpolitik. Boyle-Hobbes dispute started in 1660, when the Royal Society of London had been founded, the cradle of the institution of science. Schmoller was one of the creators of the Verein, and Boyle was one of the founders of the Royal Society. The activities of both societies were similar in several respects: they represented efforts to collect data, working out of detailed reports and collective evaluation of obtained results. For Hobbes, as for Menger, the model of ‘science’ was geometry. Boyle and Schmoller privileged collecting and analysing data. Boyle did win the dispute, Schmoller did loose. It happened because of different attitudes of powerful groups in societies towards natural scientific experimental research and experimental social research. They were interested in the former, and they saw much more danger than benefit for them in the latter. On the contrary, they were interested in abstract theoretical constructions justifying the market vision of society and laissez-faire. This kind of constructions corresponded to deeply enrooted scholastic traditions of European universities to teach theology and linked with it philosophy. In the framework of these traditions, mathematics was considered as a summit of the scientific approach. On the one hand, the adoption of constructivism by economists would turn their discipline into a science functionally close to natural sciences. On the other hand the Vygotskian constructivism, as a social and political philosophy, once accepted by economists, may lead them to become preachers of the communitarian liberalism with its emphasis on social responsibility, deliberative democracy, and discourse ethics.


Methodenstreit; social constructivism; constructivist epistemology and ontology for economics; constructivist history of economics; economic policy and deliberative democracy; economic philosophy and discourse ethics; communitarian liberalism

Full Text:



Blaug, M. (1997). Economic Theory in Retrospect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fleetwood, S. (Ed.) (1999). Critical Realism in Economics. Development and Debate. London and New York: Routledge.

Hands, D. W. (2001). Reflection without Rules. Economic Methodology and Contemporary Science Theory, Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.

Weintraub, E.R. (1991). Stabilizing Dynamics: Constructing Economic Knowledge. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Weintraub, E.R. (2001). Making Economic Knowledge: Reflections on Golinski’s Constructivist History of Science. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 23, 2, 277 — 282.

Latour, B. (1993). We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. & Woolgar, S. (1979). Laboratory Life. The Social Construction of Scientific Facts. Losangeles, London: Sage.

Latour, B. (1993). The Pasteurization of France. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Knorr Cetina, K. (1981). The Manufacture of Knowledge. An Essay on the Constructivist and Contextual Nature of Science. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Knorr Cetina, K. (1999). Epistemic Cultures. How the Sciences Make Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (2000). When things strike back: a possible contribution of ‘science studies’ to the social sciences. British Journal of Sociology, 51, 1, 107-123.

Yefimov, V. (2011a). Discourse Analysis in Economics: Methodology and history of economics reconsidered. Part 1. Another methodology of economic science. Economic Sociology, 12, 3, 15-53. (in Russian). Available at:

Yefimov, V. (2011b). Discourse Analysis in Economics: Methodology and history of economics reconsidered. Part 2. Another history of economics and contemporaneity. Journal of Economic Regulation, 2, 3, 5-79 (in Russian). Available at:

Yefimov, V. (2003). Economie institutionnelle des transformations agraires en Russie. Paris : l’Harmattan.

Yefimov, V. (2010a). Russian Agrarian Institutional System (Historical Constructivist Analysis). Journal of Economic Regulation, 1, 3, 8-91 (in Russian). Available at:

Piaget, J. (1970) Psychologie et épistémologie. Paris: Editions Denoël.

Wertsch, J.V. (2007). Mediation. The Cambridge companion to Vygotsky / edited by Harry Daniels, Michael Cole, James V. Wertsch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 178-192.

Daniels, H. (2008). Vygotsky and Research. London and New York: Routledge.

Hodgson, G.M. (1988). Economics and Institutions, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic Interactionism. Perspective and Method. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I. (1985). Order out of Chaos. Man’s New Dialogue with Nature. London: Flamingo.

Davis, D.B., Hands D.W. & Maki U. (Eds.) (1998). The Handbook of Economic Methodology, Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar.

Mini, P.; Hodgson, G.M., Samuels, W.J. & Tool, M.R. (Eds.) (1994). Cartesianism in Economics. The Elgar Companion to Institutional and Evolutionary Economics (in two vol.). Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 38-42.

Berger, P. & Luckmann, T. (1991). The Social Construction of Reality, London: Penguin Books.

Van Langenhove, L. (Ed.) (2010). People and Society. Rom Harré and designing the social sciences. London and New York: Routledge.

Harré, R. (1883). Personal Being. A Theory for Individual Psychology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Harré, R. & Gillett, G. (1994). The Discursive Mind. Thousand Oaks; London; New Dehli: Sage Publications.

Yefimov, V. (2009a). The institutional approach in economics and to economics (In Russian). Available at:

Yefimov, V. (2009b). Comparative historical institutional analysis of German, English and American economics. Available at:

Yefimov, V. (2010c). Vers une autre science économique (et donc une autre institution de cette science). Revue du MAUSS permanente. May 10 2010. Available at »

Blaug, M. (1992). The Methodology of Economics: Or, How Economists Explain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blaug, M.; Backhouse, R.E. (Ed.). (1994). Why I am not a Constructivist. Confession of an Unrepentant Popperian.) New Directions in Economic Methodology. London and New York: Routledge, 111-139.

Yefimov, V. (2010b). Towards Discursive Economics (Methodology and history of economics reconsidered), The text of my talk 11 November 2010 at the seminar at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at London School of Economics. Available at: and the slides available at:

Callebaut, W. (1993). Taking the Naturalistic Turn, or How Real Philosophy of Science is Done. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Düppe, T. & Weintraub, E.R. (2013). Siting the New Economic Science: The Cowles Commission’s Activity Analysis Conference of June 1949. EHES Working Papers in Economic History, 40.

Düppe, T. & Weintraub, E.R. (2014). Finding Equilibrium: Arrow, Debreu, McKenzie and the Problem of Scientific Credit. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

a. Mirowski, P. E.; Duarte, P. G. & Lima G.T. (Eds.). (2012). The Cowles Commission as an anti-KeynesianStronghold. Microfoundations Reconsidered. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 131-167.

Amadae, S. M. (2003) Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy. The Cold War Orogins of Rational Choice Liberalism. Chacago: The University of Chicago Press. New Research into Regional Economy ProblemsV. M. Yefimov

Sage, E. M. (2009). A Dubious Science. Political Economy and the Social Question in 19th-Century France. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Dumez, H. (1985). L’économiste, la science et le pouvoir: le cas Walras. Paris: PUF.

Furner, M. O. (1975). Advocacy & Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science 1865–1905. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

Coats, A. W. (1993). The Sociology and Professionalization of Economics. British and American economic essays. Vol. 2. London and New York: Routledge.

Fourcade, M. (2009). Economists and Societies. Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Hay, C.; Rhodes, R.A.W., Binder, S. A. & Rockman, B. A. (Eds.). (2006). Constructivist Institutionalism. The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions. Oxford University Press, New York, 56-74.

a. Lee, F. (2009). A History of Heterodox Economics: Challenging the Mainstream in the Twentieth Century. London and New York: Routledge.

Knorr Cetina, K. (1991). Epistemic Cultures: Forms of Reason in Science. History of Political Economy, 23, 1, 105-122.


Copyright (c) 2018 Vladimir M. Yefimov