Malthus and Ricardo: Two styles for economic theory

Sergio Cremaschi, Marcelo Dascal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examine the most famous controversy between economists - the one between Thomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo - as a means of shedding fresh light on the current debate about economic methodology. By focusing on this controversy as the primary unit of analysis, we show how methodological considerations are but one of a whole set of stratagems employed by each opponent. We argue that each opponent's preference for a particular kind of stratagem expresses his own specific scientific style (within the general scientific and cultural style of an age). We also describe a dynamic dimension of the controversy, independent of the participants' intentions. Such a dimension is analyzed in one of the "cycles" of the controversy, which begins with a well-defined issue and expands to additional topics, without reaching a "solution" of the initial issue. The controversy, thus, does not yield a solution of a given problem nor persuasion of the adversary - its presumable aims. Rather, its "benefit" seems to lie in an unintended result - the clarification and deepening of contrasting approaches to the discipline. Insofar as the history of a discipline requires a reconstruction of such contrasts, it is indispensable that it take into account the controversies where they emerge, and view both the positive doctrines and the methodological postures of the contenders as parts of a wider framework, within which the notion of a scientific style - which this paper attempts to clarify - looms large.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-254
Number of pages26
JournalScience in Context
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998


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