Lionel Robbins: A Methodological Reappraisal

31 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2007

See all articles by Marcelo Resende

Marcelo Resende

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Rodrigo M. Zeidan

NYU Shanghai

Date Written: December 2007


Lionel Robbins contributions are often discussed in terms of two main aspects. First, the delineation of the scope of economics in terms of decision making conditional on scarcity. Second, a more methodological concern with respect to scientific neutrality and the possibility of meaningful separation between positive and normative statements in economics. The related demarcation issue is subject to intense debate and Robbins is often associated with a strong neutrality view [see e.g. Davis (2005), Mongin (2006)]. This paper attempts to situate Robbins aprioristic point of view in terms of posterior methodological developments. In particular, the methodology of scientific research programmes (MSRP) advanced by Lakatos (1968, 1970) has been subject to adaptations in the context of economics by Latsis (1976) in an attempt to accommodate different degrees of apriorism, falsificationism and conventionalism as scientific criteria in economics. The historical path towards Robbins's (1932, 1935) essay appears to be well documented [see e.g. Howson (2004)]. The paper aims at clarifying the role of Robbins's essay in shaping the dominant research programme in Economics, and contends that the author's definition of economics is central to the main elements of the hard core of contemporary research programmes in line with the neoclassical research programme.

Keywords: Lionel Robbins, scientific research programmes, falsificationism

JEL Classification: B4

Suggested Citation

Resende, Marcelo and Zeidan, Rodrigo M., Lionel Robbins: A Methodological Reappraisal (December 2007). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 2165, Available at SSRN:

Marcelo Resende (Contact Author)

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) ( email )

Rua Sao Francisco Xavier, 524
Instituto de Economia
Rio de Janeiro RJ 21949

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679

Rodrigo M. Zeidan

NYU Shanghai ( email )

1555 Century Ave
Shanghai, Shanghai 200122


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