Adam Gurri on Persuasion and Economics

A long post, difficult to excerpt. A few snippets:

One of the things that I found jarring about The Rhetoric of Economics is that McCloskey argues, among other things, that appeals to authority are natural and necessary. That pointing out that an argument involves an appeal to authority does not invalidate that argument.

What I would say is that what people think of as scientific discourse does not rely so heavily on appeals to authority. At some point, you can say, “If you don’t believe in gravity, try an experiment yourself. Jump out of a 10-story window and see what happens.”

But when Olivier Blanchard tells you that every macro model includes an aggregate demand relation, a Phillips relation, and a monetary policy relation, he cannot issue an equivalent challenge. Instead, the literature emerged that way mostly because scholars published papers that borrowed from other published papers.

I would not argue that there is a scientific method that is so pure that it can be operated without any bias or other human characteristics. But clearly there are arguments that are more persuasive than others, and arguments that apply the scientific method can be more persuasive than arguments that rely primarily on authority.

For Smith, trade was never a mechanistic process. The act of offering payment is itself an act of persuasion.

I think this notion of the centrality of persuasion in human affairs, and in markets in particular, is what economics should strive to rebuild itself around. This does not mean that the insights from economists’ contributions up to this point should be discarded, just that we should seek to find their appropriate context.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Adam Gurri on Persuasion and Economics

  1. Adam says:

    Thank you for taking an interest in the post!

    Your gravity example is a good case of what was called “demonstratio” in classical rhetoric. As is probably obvious, it means argument by demonstration. Often it wasn’t actual, literal demonstration, but more along the lines of demonstration by elaborating a scenario the way you did—“if you don’t believe in gravity, you can jump out a window and see what happens.” But there’s no doubt that we are most readily persuaded by something that is demonstrated before our eyes.

    One of the great breakthroughs of modern science is, I think, its emphasis on designing your experiment or your data (or capta) provision so that it can be replicated. In terms of rhetoric we can say that this is an invitation for peers to demonstrate for themselves.

    The ability to demonstrate greater or smaller parts of the paradigm a given field is operating within—think of your comparison between gravity and a macro model—cuts along the subject-specific levels of precision that Aristotle spoke of, I think.

    That said, one of the major arguments of the rhetoric in inquiry people is that even in physics, the role of demonstration is quite small compared to the whole of the arguments that constitute the shared understanding of that field.

  2. Handle says:

    Jonathan Swift, from Gulliver’s Travels

    It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities, to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of decreeing accordingly.

Comments are closed.