Are economists’ self-perceptions as epistemically superior self-defeating?

Published in A Modern Guide to Philosophy of Economics, ed.s Harold Kincaid & Don Ross, (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2021).

Author: Jack Wright

In an influential paper, Fourcade et al. (2015) claim that economists consider their discipline epistemically superior to other social sciences, or at least act as if it were. Assuming it is correct, what follows from this diagnosis? In this chapter I discuss the implication of three factors commonly cited to support the idea that economists explicitly and/or implicitly exhibit attitudes of epistemic superiority vis-a-vi other social sciences: explicit beliefs of superiority, unequal citation flows, and not taking criticism and ideas from outside of economics seriously. I make two arguments. First, that ‘the superiority of economists’ should not be dismissed as irrelevant to the outputs of economics. Despite being social factors, the three factors I describe can significantly impact the creation and development of new candidates for economic knowledge as well as undercut the justification for existing economic knowledge. Second, the extent to which these factors do impact the creation, development, and justification of economic knowledge is, however, unclear at present. Although the superiority of economists should not be dismissed as a sociological quirk unimportant to the outputs of the discipline, the evidence available at present does not clearly show that the potential issues it causes are realised.


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