Hoover (2001, pp. 229-230) calls attention that Mäki’s commonsensibles interpretation is not cogent for some concepts of economics than for others. For instance, everyday people of folk economics have problems understanding such concepts as the’real GDP’ or ’the general price level’. Hoover distinguishes natural aggregates and synthetic aggregates. For him, only natural aggregates can only be concieved as commonsensibles for these simple sums of averages as measures have the same dimensionality as their individual components. Total unemployment or the average rate of interest can easly be interpreted based on our everyday experience. However, synthetic aggregates consist of components in a way that modifies the dimensionality of the parts, thus no easy or analogous interpretation is available. Interesting, but Arrow (1974, pp. 253-254) talks about economic equilibrium in this vein. In the everyday, normal experience laymen can easily interpret a situation in which the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded are equal. However, this understanding is not so thorough as to cover the understanding how the interplay of underlying mechanisms (i.e. the reallocation of production inputs or interactions between shifts in technology and the allocation of the labour force) can lead to general economic equilibrium. As another example, Hands (2012) suggests contemporary revealed preference theory (CRPT) as a radical departure from this standard of commonsensibles. Thus for him we are not justified to say economics as such operates exclusively with commonsensibles. Some qualifications are needed. However, this has nothing to do with Mäki’s commonsense realism for this framework still works as a normative standard. In spite of the apparent problems, we do have commonsensibles in economics. Citing Lionel Robbins (1935/1984, pp. 75-79), Hands (2008) argues for the significance of introspection in economic theorizing. Over and above obvious empirical facts such as scarcity (which can also be conceived as a commonsensible), some economic concepts of fundamental imprtance (e.g. preferences) come not from experiments or observation but from self-knowledge. Any individual knows by self-observation or inner everyday experience that different things have different importance to him or her and in terms of importance things can be arranged in a certain order. Thus we all have clear mental pictures (which we can make even clearer by apt theorizing) of how economic agents think, decide or act. For the present argumentation it is enough to underline that there is no confusion in our ideas regarding the fundamental properties of economic agents. We can easily judge whether a theoretical description of a ’typical’ agent corresponds to our views on ourselves. Considering the success of abstraction by such an intuitive comparison is an undemanding easy job in most cases.
Arrow, K. J. (1974). General economic equilibrium. Purpose, analytic techniques, collective choice. Nobel lecture. The American Economic Review, 64(3), 253-272.
Hands, D. W. (2008). Introspection, revealed preference and neoclassical economics. A critical response to Don Ross on the Robbins-Samuelson argument pattern. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 30(4), 453-478.
Hands, D. W. (2012). Realism, commonsensibles, and economics. In A. Lehtinen, J. Kuorikoski, & P. Ylikoski (Eds.), Economics for real. Uskali Mäki and the place of truth in economics (pp. 156-178). Oxford: Routledge.
Hoover, K. D. (2001). Is macroeconomics for real? In U. Mäki (Ed.), The economic world view. Studies in the ontology of economics (pp. 225-245). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Robbins, L. (1935/1984). The nature and significance of economic science. London: Macmillan.