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Theoria. Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia

Volume 13, Issue 2, Mayo 1998

Herbert Simon
Pages 241-260

Economics as a Historical Science

As science deals with invariants and history with dated events, the phrase “historical science” might be thought to be an oxymoron. However, the prevalence in the natural sciences and economics of differential equations filled with time derivatives should persuade us of the legitimacy of joining history with science. The combination can, in fact, take several forms. This paper examines some of the ways in which history and economics can be fashioned into economic history, and the reasons why they need to be so joined. A particularly important source of historicity in economics is that boundedly rational economic actors represent the economic scene in radically different ways from time to time, and these changes occur as a function of natural and social events, social influences on perception, and the molding of human motives by the social environment, which is itself time dependent. For these and other reasons, many of them bound closely to basic human characteristics, the dynamic movements of the economic system depend not only on invariant laws, but on continually changing boundary conditions as weIl.

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