An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science

An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science

Lionel Robbins' Essay (1932, 1935, 2nd ed., 158 pp.) sought to define more precisely economics as a science and to coax substantive implications. Analysis is relative to "accepted solutions of particular problems" based on best modern practice as referenced, especially including the works of Philip Wicksteed, Ludwig von Mises, and other Continental European economists. Robbins disclaims originality but expresses hope to have given expository force on a very few points to some principles "not always clearly stated." (1935, pp. xiv-xvi)

Major propositions

Robbins proposes and defends that economics as science is:
* the study of "human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means" with alternative uses (1935, p. 16)
* about an aspect of behavior (based on scarcity), not about certain kinds of behavior (p. 17)
* neutral between ends but relevant to any end dependent on scarce means (p. 24)
* incapable of determining by observation or introspection that the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility for any individual implies that a redistrbution of income from rich to poor would increase total utility (p. 137), thus excluding the interpersonal comparability of utility from the realm of science.
* distinct from value judgments (p. 148).


Robbins' definition of economics is not uncommon in textbooks today with variations that reflect his usage. His "Essay" is one of the most cited works on the methodology and philosophy of economics for the period 1932-1960. Key distinctions therein have been widely accepted, at least as a point of departure for subsequent analysis. (Corry, 1987, p.207)

ee also

*Economic methodology
*Positive economics
*Normative economics
*Social welfare function


* Lionel Robbins (1932, 2nd ed., 1935). "An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science", London: Macmillan ( [ PDF).]
* B.A. Corry (1987). "Robbins, Lionel," "", v. 4, pp. 206-08.
* Daniel M. Hausman (2003). " [ Philosophy of Economics] ," "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy"
* Susan Howson (2004). "The Origins of Lionel Robbins's Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science," "History of Political Economy", 36(3) , pp. 413-443. ( [ excerpt.] )
* Terence W. Hutchison (1938). "The Significance and Basic Postulates of Economic Theory".

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