Monday, May 21, 2012

He Eats Vegetables: He Must Be a Vegetarian!

This seems to be the thinking employed by some defenders of methodological individualism: Aristotle / the Spanish Scholastics / Adam Smith / somebody used individualist economic analysis at times. Therefore, whoever was a methodological individualist!

But that is not really different than the fallacious argument in the post title. If methodological individualism has any teeth to it, it has to mean that only individual analysis is valid in the social sphere, or, perhaps, that only individual analysis is ultimately valid or truly scientific. Here, for instance, is Peter Klein (echoing the early Hayek) insisting that a macroeconomic theory without microfoundations is not a scientific theory at all. It should be clear that someone can think individualist analysis is fine, but also think we can have perfectly good macrotheories without individualist underpinnings. That person is a methodological pluralist. It is methodological holists who entirely reject individualist explanations.

Most modern critics of methodological individualism do not reject individualist analysis. What they say is that there are other valid modes of explanation (such as Hayek's invocation of group selection, after he had ceased being a methodological individualist).


  1. It's a bit flippant to assert that Hayek's version of group selection means he was no longer a methodological individualist when there's been an entire symposium in an academic journal on this particular point(with most of the material arguing to the contrary).

  2. OK now we're getting somewhere. Though please be careful Gene: Are you sure Hayek himself thought that's what he was doing? I mean, I could certainly explain "group selection" from a microfoundations viewpoint, right?

    I worry that maybe you are going to the other end of the spectrum. "Hey, Austrians talk about business cycles sometimes without mentioning Jim Brown and his subjective preference ranking. Methodological holism, FTW!"

  3. Oops I meant "...methodological pluralism, FTW"...


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