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Causality, Agency and Change

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAgency and Causal Explanation in Economics
EditorsP Rona, L Zsolnai
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-26114-6
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-26113-9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

King's Authors


Mainstream economists intermittently recognise a dilemma at the core of their project. On occasion they note that the widely accepted intuition that people have real choice and agency is inconsistent with their objective of increasing the explanatory power of economic theory. They worry that as causal explanations of economic phenomena are extended the more agency and choice must be recognised as ultimately illusory. The dilemma once recognised is typically set aside and the conventional modelling practices of mainstream economics persisted in without further delay. It is argued in this paper that the noted supposed dilemma is false and arises primarily because formalistic methods (and notions of explanation that accommodate them) tend to be adopted in economics prior, and without sufficient attention being paid, to the sorts of objects that constitute the subject matter of social inquiry. It is argued that the methods and forms of explanation that mainstream economists recognise as legitimate presuppose an ontology that is unable to either accommodate agency within nature or recognise possibilities for genuine change. In the constructive part of the paper a strategy for examining the dilemma that mainstream economists note that places ontology up front and centre stage is adopted. It is argued an ontology of real active powers, capacities, tendencies, dispositions and potentials supports a thoroughly naturalistic conception of agency and genuine change that can serve to inform the choices economists make about how best to pursue explanatory projects without generating tension or incoherence.

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