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Economic Method and Economic Fallacies William Warrand Carlile

Economic Method and Economic Fallacies

William Warrand Carlile

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CHAPTER ITHE APPEAL TO THE POPULAR USE OF LANGUAGE AS A TEST OF TRUTH IN THE SUBJECT SCIENCESWhen we attempt, no matter how perfunctorily, to classify the subjects of human investigation we are at once confronted with one broad and deep dividing lineMoreCHAPTER ITHE APPEAL TO THE POPULAR USE OF LANGUAGE AS A TEST OF TRUTH IN THE SUBJECT SCIENCESWhen we attempt, no matter how perfunctorily, to classify the subjects of human investigation we are at once confronted with one broad and deep dividing line between their various kinds, that, namely, which separates the sphere of Matter from the sphere of Mind. No one can mistake the fact that chemistry and mineralogy, let us say, lie in the one sphere, while psychology and ethics lie in the other. What has, however, to some extent escaped attention is the fact that there are some sciences, of which economics is the most conspicuous, in which one moiety of the questions discussed may be said, in a true and important sense, to belong to the sphere of matter and of physics, while another moiety belongs to the sphere of mind and of subjective investigation. When we are engaged in the investigation of such a question, for example, as that of the relative advantages of large and of small landed properties, or of municipal and of private enterprise, we have to follow logical methods which are, on the whole, analogous to those of physics. In such cases, at any rate, we bring all our theories ultimately to the test of comparison with outward fact. When, on the other hand, we are engaged with such problems as the Ricardian Law of Rent, the theory of value, the true import of such expressions as Capital or as National Wealth, we find that the methods whichwe have to employ are methods very much more closely allied to those of the mental sciences proper, in which the appeal to outward fact is inapplicable and unavailable.The full importance of the distinction may not be, at first glance, obvious. It will best be seen if we put to ourselves the question. What are the criteria of truth in the two spheres of investigation respectively ? In regard to physics, the reply is clear enough. We can inquire of Nature herself in regard to the point in dispute, and can obtain her answer by an experiment or a carefully conducted observation. Suppose the inquiry to be such an elementary one as this : ** Is or is not the specific gravity of lead greater than that of water ? We can take a piece of lead, drop it into a glass of water- it sinks, and the question is answered. Suppose it to be, on the contrary, any one of the much discussed questions in regard to the relations between the conscious subject and the outward world, the case stands very differently. We might suppose, for example, such a question as this to be put: When we open our eyes in broad daylight, is it the sun that we see, or is it merely its image on the retina ? Sir William Hamilton and Mr. Mill, much as they differed on so many other points, were agreed in thinking that it is not the sun itself that we see, but merely its image, and, consequently, that no two of us see the same sun. The vulgar, of course, think differently. Are the vulgar of the philosophers here in the right ? How shall we decide such a question? Plainly we cannot inquire of Nature. An experiment or an observation is wholly inappropriate. Turn your face to the sun and open your eyes. That would be the appeal to objective fact. But what that appeal decides is not the matter that is in dispute. All are agreed asto whatsubstantially in such circumstances takes place. The further question, however, remains whether that which takes place is rightly described as seeing the sun or not.The distinction, indeed, between the two classes of questions is, it appears to me, very closely similar to the famous distinction that has been drawn in jurisprudence since the days of the praetors, between the question of fact that is now, in England, left to the jury, and the point of law that is reserv