Samuels on Methodological Pluralism in Economics

26 Pages Posted: 29 Feb 2012  

John B. Davis

Marquette University; University of Amsterdam; Tinbergen Institute

Date Written: February 29, 2012


Warren Samuels was an influential proponent of methodological pluralism in economics. This short paper discusses his understanding of methodological pluralism, and argues that it is based on three distinct components: (1) his critique of the idea that theories have epistemic foundations and his ‘matrix approach to meaningfulness,’ (2) his belief that the absence of meta-principles for science combined with our human psychology create an existential dilemma for theorists and policy-makers, and (3) his understanding of relativism, social constructivism, and ‘limited but affirmative’ defense of nihilism against the charge of skepticism. The paper closes with a brief discussion of what Samuels’ methodological pluralism might tell us about historiography and the history of economics.

Keywords: Samuels, methodological pluralism, economic methodology, economics profession

JEL Classification: B23, B31, B41

Suggested Citation

Davis, John B., Samuels on Methodological Pluralism in Economics (February 29, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

John B. Davis (Contact Author)

Marquette University ( email )

P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
United States

University of Amsterdam ( email )


Tinbergen Institute ( email )

Burg. Oudlaan 50
Rotterdam, 3062 PA

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