Journal of Economic Methodology 2 (1):53-78 (1995)

This paper explores the influence of operationalism and its corollary, descriptivism, on Paul Samuelson's revealed preference theory as it developed between 1937 and 1948. Samuelson urged the disencumbering of metaphysics from economic theory. As an illustration, he showed how utility could be operationally redefined as revealed preference, and, furthermore, how from hypotheses such as maximizing behavior, operationally meaningful theorems could be deduced, thereby satisfying his demand for a scientific, empirical approach toward consumer behavior theory. In this paper I discuss the ensuing debate during the 1950s and 1960s on Samuelson's operationalism that raised doubts about its efficacy. In addition, I argue that certain concepts (revealed preference, equilibrium) and theorems (e.g., weak and strong axioms) that are supposedly operational in revealed preference theory, lack operational meaning, not withstanding their mathematical implications. Finally, I suggest that, although Samuelson's methodological rhetoric did not correspond with his implicit aprioristic theorizing, he possibly thought that his methodology and theorizing would converge in the long run.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1080/13501789500000003
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,163
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Logic of Scientific Discovery.Karl Raimund Popper - 1934 - London, England: Routledge.
The Logic of Modern Physics.Percy Williams Bridgman - 1927 - New York, NY, USA: Arno Press.
Behaviorism.John B. Watson - 1926 - Journal of Philosophy 23 (12):331-334.

View all 12 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Functionalism and the Role of Psychology in Economics.Christopher Clarke - 2020 - Journal of Economic Methodology 27 (4):292-310.
Preferences and Positivist Methodology in Economics.Christopher Clarke - 2016 - Philosophy of Science 83 (2):192-212.
Is Coase a Realist?Uskali Mäki - 1998 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 28 (1):5-31.
Philosophy of Science in the Netherlands.James W. McAllister - 1997 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 11 (2):191 – 204.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Revealed Preference, Belief, and Game Theory.Daniel M. Hausman - 2000 - Economics and Philosophy 16 (1):99-115.
Does Optimization Imply Rationality?Philippe Mongin - 2000 - Synthese 124 (1-2):73 - 111.
Sympathy, Commitment, and Preference.Daniel M. Hausman - 2005 - Economics and Philosophy 21 (1):33-50.
Impossibility Theorems for Normal Form Games.David Squires - 1998 - Theory and Decision 44 (1):67-81.


Added to PP index

Total views
32 ( #356,656 of 2,507,062 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #417,155 of 2,507,062 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes