La costruzione dei modelli economici tra storia e cultura

Economia Politica VIII:2, August 1991, pp. 249-278.

[The Construction of Economic Models between History and Culture]


This paper aims to show that the building of models in economics -as in any other scientific discipline- does not follow the procedures dictated by some method elaborated a priori. On the contrary, the formulation and acceptance of a theory by the scientific community are deeply rooted in the culture of the scientist and his colleagues.

On the basis of his perspectives, interests and expectations, the economist has to decide which questions to ask and which set of analytical instruments to use. This choice is not neutral but implies far-reaching consequences, since it constrains the object's answers to be articulated in the same language in which the question was formulated. On the one hand, one has to judge which aspects of the phenomenon are relevant and must be accounted for. But, on the other hand, the nature and importance of the object under examination compel the scientist to question the capacity of the conceptual tools of expressing these properties.

By means of examples, I try to point out two ways in which these cultural and historical constraints may be creative rather than limiting only. Firstly, they allow the scientist to choose the set of analogies, formalisms and models among those handed down from within the tradition of thought to which he belongs, but also permit the researcher to enlarge this set by borrowing concepts or ways of thinking from other disciplines. Secondly, the pertinence of the scientist's approach is judged by his fellows on the basis of the whole corpus of knowledge about the object, and not only on the basis of whether it is capable of being expressed within the theory.