Agency and causal explanation in economics
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It is quite difficult to make sense of an event without having a notion as to why and how it happened. Indeed, we often have an anxious sense of doubt and uncertainty about something that we know has happened if we have no or only an inadequate idea of the circumstances bringing it about. As Elizabeth Anscombe recollected in the first two sentences of her introduction to Volume II of her collected papers,1 ‘My first strenuous interest in philosophy was in the topic of causality. I didn’t know that what I was interested in belonged to philosophy’. Causality and – as some of the papers in this volume argue – agency are with us even when we are not aware of it, so much so that the questions of the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ not only affect what we know but also are quite fundamental to judgements; no system of morality, no ethical norm can do without them, and even aesthetics cannot lack some conception of the agent. Causation and agency, therefore, affect and permeate all of philosophy ranging from metaphysics through epistemology and ethics all the way to aesthetics. Causal and agency questions are fundamental to all branches of the social sciences as well, and the failure to thoroughly explore them, to specify their role in the theory or model being defended, lies behind many of the disappointments the social sciences, particularly economics, have suffered. The unfulfilled aspiration of the latter to keep pace with the successes of the natural sciences has been regularly noted, at least since the birth of rationalist thought. Kant, for example, in a footnote to the introductory chapter to his Critique of Pure Reason2 objects to the complaints about the ‘shallowness of the present age, and the decay of profound science’ but acknowledges that there is a problem with the social sciences
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