Book Chapter

Neoclassicism, critical realism and the Cambridge methodological tradition



Dow S (2015) Neoclassicism, critical realism and the Cambridge methodological tradition. In: Morgan J (ed.) What is Neoclassical Economics? Debating the origins, meaning and significance. Economics as Social Theory, 43. London: Routledge, pp. 102-118.

The purpose of this paper is to consider Lawson's three-way classification of economics, whereby neoclassicism is defined in terms of inconsistency between ontology and methodology. The notion of classification is explored in order to consider Lawson's well-defined triad in relation to the more fluid, provisional, porous classifications within critical realist analysis itself. The difficulties with fitting economists into any one of the triad is illustrated by considering economics at Cambridge, not least because the methodology of individual figures is open to different interpretations. It is concluded that the main thrust of Lawson's argument is rhetorical, aimed at denting the insistence on mathematical modelling. His definition of neoclassical economics is directly relevant to new developments within the mainstream as well as to heterodox modellers, implying that the onus is on both to argue that modelling is justified in particular circumstances.

neoclassical economics; Cambridge tradition

Title of seriesEconomics as Social Theory
Number in series43
Publication date31/12/2015
Publisher URL
Place of publicationLondon

People (1)


Professor Sheila Dow
Professor Sheila Dow

Emeritus Professor, Economics