Missing Links: Hume, Smith, Kant and Economic Methodology

Stuart Holland, Teresa Carla Oliveira


This paper traces missing links in the history of economic thought. In outlining Hume’s concept of ‘the reflexive mind’ it shows that this opened frontiers between philosophy and psychology which Bertrand Russell denied and which logical positivism in philosophy and positive economics displaced. It relates this to Hume’s influence not only on Smith, but also on Schopenhauer and the later Wittgenstein, with parallels in Gestalt psychology and recent findings from neural research and cognitive psychology. It critiques Kant’s reaction to Hume’s claim that one may assume but cannot prove cause and effect and how Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis has been Kantian but wrong in claims for axioms that are universal truths. It illustrates how Samuelson’s presumption that language and mathematics are ‘identical’ was as mistaken as the logical atomism of Russell and the early Wittgenstein, relates this to Kleinian splitting, denial and projective identification and suggests that recovery of greater realism in economics needs to regain links with such philosophy and psychology.

Published on 26th October, 2013, in Economic Thought Vol 2, No 2, 2013