Philosophy of Economics

Module description


This module aims to introduce you to issues in the methodology of economics within the wider context of the philosophy of science. You will explore what kind of economics interests you and what kind of an economist you would like to be.

Additional Information:

This module introduces you to the methodology of economics within the wider context of philosophy of science which is relevant across the globe.

All of the resources are available on the ELE (Exeter Learning Environment).

Through the class discussions and written work, you are equipped with presentation, team-working, creativity and research skills.

Full module specification

Module title:Philosophy of Economics
Module code:BEE1015
Module level:1
Academic year:2016/7
Module lecturers:
  • Dr Giancarlo Ianulardo - Convenor
Module credit:15
ECTS value:






Duration of module: Duration (weeks) - term 2:


Module aims

To introduce you to issues in the methodology of economics within the wider context of the philosophy of science; to generate discussion with you about what kind of economics is normally taught, what kind of economics interests you and what kind of economists you want to be.

 The Module is structured in four parts. In the first part the basic categories underlining the scientific debate are introduced (Hume’s Problem, Induction and Deduction, Scientific Explanation and the debate around the Neo-positivism). This opens the way to the second Part where the Popperian post Neo-positivistic reply to Hume’s Problem is presented, together with the crucial debate on Popper’s methodology put forward by Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend. The third Part focuses on some recent debates around key themes in economics such as rationality and value judgements. Finally, the fourth Part will focus on different schools within the economics profession without any claim to be exhaustive but with the aim of giving the students an awareness of different approaches: Rhetoric of Economics, Austrian School, Ontology of Economics.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an understanding of a range of methodological issues within economics (as detailed on course outline) including: some of the arguments concerning the philosophical status and limitations of economic models and theories
  • 2. demonstrate an understanding of what is meant by falsification and the role it plays within debates on theory and evidence; opinions about whether economics undergoes Kuhnian revolutions or Lakatosian research programmes
  • 3. demonstrate an ability to scrutinise yourself, as well as economists they read, for philosophical preconceptions and ideological bias

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. demonstrate an understanding of the importance of modelling and abstraction within economics
  • 5. demonstrate an understanding of the scope of economics and express views on its scientific status
  • 6. demonstrate an understanding of the place of different schools within the discipline, including different approaches such as the Austrian, Rhetorical, Ontological approaches
  • 7. demonstrate an understanding of the practical and philosophical consideration of the value of experimentation within economics

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. apply critical thinking (logic, analysis and awareness of bias)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Contact hours22Lectures
Contact hours5Seminars

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Model questions1 hour in class discussion1-8Model Answers

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Individual Essay 301500 words max 1 –8Written feedback
Examination7090 mins1- 8Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Examination and EssayExamination (90 mins)1-8Aug/Sept. referred exam period

Syllabus plan

Part 1 Introductory concepts

  • Introduction: Philosophy and Methodology
  • Causality in Philosophy (Hume’s Challenge)
  • Inductivism and Deductivism (Mill, Methodenstreit, Hausman)
  • Models and Scientific Explanation (Vienna Circle and Logical Positivism)
  • Beyond Positivism (Caldwell’s Pluralism)

Part 2 Philosophy of Science

  • Popper and Falsificationism
  • Kuhnian Paradigms
  • Lakatosian Research Programmes
  • Instrumentalism: Friedman and his critics
  • Application to Economics

Part 3 Issues and debates within Economics

  • Instrumental and Economic Rationality
  • Plans of Action
  • Value Judgements in Economics
  • Efficiency in Markets

Part 4 Other approaches

  • The Rhetoric of Economics
  • Social Choice and Public Choice Theory
  • Ontology and Economics
  • Austrian School
  • Summing Up:  Is Economics a Science?

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

There are 2 main General Texts, one for the Methodology Part and one for the Philosophy Part.

On Methodology of Economics the students can choose one of the following 2 books:

Pheby, J. (1988) Methodology and Economics: a Critical Introduction, Palgrave MacMillan. (A concise and well written introduction to the main topics of the module, though a bit dated)

Boumans, M. and J. B. Davis (2010) Economic Methodology, Understanding Economics as a Science, Palgrave MacMillan. (Less systematic than Pheby but more updated)

On Philosophy of Economics the students can choose one of the following 2 books:

 Kliemt, H. (2009), Philosophy and Economics I: Methods and Models, Oldenbourg (more sophisticated than Gaus, but goes more in depth)

Reiss, J., Philosophy of Economics, A Contemporary Introduction, Routledge, 2013 (this book is the most updated and systematic introduction to the field)

Ross, Philosophy of Economics, Palgrave, 2014

Also useful are

Blaug, M. (1980/1992) The Methodology of Economics Cambridge University Press (A Classic discussion, very well written, with a clear perspective.)

Hausman, D. ed (2008) The Philosophy of Economics: An Anthology Cambridge University Press (includes a selection of basic readings, useful for the essay)

Hausman and McPherson (2006) Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy, Cambridge University Press (a good analysis of the ethical underpinnings and implications of economic analysis)

Caldwell, B. J (1994) Beyond Positivism, Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century, Routledge (critical analsysis of Popperian methodology in Economics. It introduces to a pluralistic approach in economic methodology)

Kincaid, H. and Ross, D. (2009) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics, Oxford University Press. (Very useful for a first orientation into the basic categories introduced in this module)

 The student is expected to read some journal articles as they will be indicated in the lectures. Also,there will be many suggested readings which student can use when approaching the essay as a first starting point. In general two journals are well established in the field: Journal of Economic Methodology and Economics and Philosophy. 


Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

There is much useful information available via the web. For example The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy includes the section “Philosophy of Economics” with excellent references and other web addresses (

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