Non-natural Social Science: Reflecting on the Enterprise of More Heat Than Light (1993)

Non-natural Social Science: Reflecting on the Enterprise of "More Heat Than Light." 1993. Edited by Neil de Marchi. Supplement to volume 25 of HOPE. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

"Introduction," by Neil de Marchi (pp. 1–4). The essays here test what More Heat Than Light means for making histories of economics—histories that have perhaps been too much determined by what has become part of the modern economics canon.

Part 1: Disciplinary History and the Use of Metaphor

"Analogy, Homology, and Metaphor in the Interactions between the Natural Sciences and the Social Sciences, Especially Economics," by I. Bernard Cohen (pp. 7–44). In studying the interactions between the natural and the social sciences, it is helpful to distinguish four levels of interactions, with metaphor and identity at the extremes and analogy and homology in the middle.

"What's So Wrong with Physics Envy?," by Margaret Schabas (pp. 45–53). Economics and physics both attempt to make sense of a single world, and as long as fair exchanges between the two are made, the more trade, the better.

"Interpreting the Triumph of Mathematical Economics," by Theodore M. Porter (pp. 54–68). Rather than focusing on a few all-embracing concepts, a history of economics should pay far more attention to language, community, and identity, to the ways that economists form consensus and make shared knowledge.

"A Method to Mirowski's Mad Use of Metaphor," by Steve Fuller (pp. 82). Mirowski's use of metaphor represents an inchoate attempt at reconciling the two major roles for rhetoric in the classical tradition: one for making speech more effective, and one for interpreting and critiquing speech that attests to values inherent in the very act of speaking.

Part 2: Economic Problems and Mathematical Formalism

"Neoclassical Economics as Mathematical Metaphysics," by Jack Birner (pp. 85–117). Mirowski describes neoclassical economists as being led by an invisible hand wielding a hidden agenda, but the same can be said about Mirowski's philosophy of mathematics.

"More Light on Integrability, Symmetry, and Utility as Potential Energy in Mirowski's Critical History," by D. Wade Hands (pp. 118–30). It may be true that the energy metaphor has been an active influence in the history of neoclassical economics, but its overall role is not nearly as great as Mirowski suggests.

"Paul Ehrenfest and Jan Tinbergen: A Case of Limited Physics Transfer," by Marcel Boumans (pp. 131–56). In addition to what Mirowksi documents, a separate case of physics transfer involved Paul Ehrenfest, Jan Tinbergen, and an analogy in formalism.

Part 3: The Mirowski Thesis and Three Generations of Neoclassicals

"'Procrustean Beds and All That': The Irrelevance of Walras for a Mirowski Thesis," by Albert Jolink (pp. 159–74). Two theses involving the role of physics and a common energetics metaphor can be detected in More Heat Than Light, but to prove the second, Mirowski has to first prove the first—but to prove the first, he assumes the second as fact.

"Remaking the Mathematician as an Economist: Knut Wicksell and the Mittag-Leffler Circle," by Clifford G. Gaddy (pp. 175–201). We cannot conclude whether Wicksell should be added to the list of villains in More Heat Than Light, but we do know that he was surrounded by the heroes in Mirowski's story, the "true mathematicians and scientists" who tried to expose the marginalists' scam.

"What Was Abandoned following the Cambridge Capital Controversies? Samuelson, Substance, Scarcity, and Value," by Avi J. Cohen (pp. 202–19). Mirowski's claim of physics-based insight into the Cambridge capital controversies is well substantiated, but his claim that the lack of a coherent conservation principle is a fatal flaw in neoclassical economics is greatly overstated.

Part 4: Perspectives on Constructivist History

"Modernism in Economics: An Interpretation beyond Physics," by Arjo Klamer (pp. 223–48). In Mirowski's narrative, there are barriers to overcome—the Samuelsons, Lucases, and Blaugs—just as economics as a whole will have an overcoming as it becomes more modest in its design, favors understanding over control, and respects history again.

"Chalk and Cheese: Mirowski Meets Douglas and Bloor," by Robert J. Leonard (pp. 249–70). Mirowski claims to offer a sociology of science congruent with that of Mary Douglas and David Bloor, but his claim is rhetorical rather than substantive, in that Mirowski deviates from the multifacted inquiry characteristic of Douglas and Bloor.

"What Mirowski's History Leaves Out," by A. W. Coats (pp. 271–82). The focus on metaphors and analogies in economics and physics does not, in all likelihood, constitute sufficient evidence of similarities and links between the two disciplines, and with so much economics left out of Mirowski's story, his account is suggestive rather than persuasive.

"History through the Lens of 'Social' Value Theory," by Neil de Marchi (pp. 283–99). The social theory of value, and Mirowski's constructivist approach in general, help break down presumptions about the natural and the social, about the fixity of disciplinary boundaries, and about the inevitability of economics as we know it.

"After Mirowski, What?," by E. Roy Weintraub (pp. 300–302). The most subversive feature of Mirowski's important book is its historiographic stance, one which denies the separate disciplinary status of the history of economics and forces historians of economics to become historians first, economists second.

Part 5: The Enterpriser Responds

"The Goalkeeper's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick," by Philip Mirowski (pp. 305–49). Should the historical trends identified in More Heat Than Light be written off as personal idiosyncrasy, as the contingent products of a particular path of inquiry, as the end product of interactions with other scholars?