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Social Ontology and Epistemology in the Writings of Carl Menger: A Realist Disentanglement


I propose to analyse the relationship between human agency and social structure in the writings of Carl Menger with the aim to clarify his version of methodological individualism (henceforth MI). My overall goal is to advance the Austrian project by seekin g to resolve some of the widely acknowledged inconsistencies within the Austrian approach, specifically in regard to MI and subjectivism (e.g. see Caldwell, 1988; Fleetwood, 1995; Hodgson, 1988; Hutchison, 1981; Kirzner, 1976; Lawson, 1997; Lewis and Runde , 2003). A clear distinction between the realms of epistemology and ontology facilitates the identification and explanation of these inconsistencies. Given that every method of social research (epistemology) presupposes a particular conception of reality ( ontology), it is important to explicate the social ontology supported by Austrian economists, such as Carl Menger, in order to determine a sustainable version of MI, by which I mean a method that is compatible with the object of analysis. This is precisely what Austrian economists are aiming for when arguing that a method can be expected to generate useful and realistic results only if it is compatible with the nature of the problem being addressed (ontology). I will organise Menger and apos;s social ontolo gy by drawing on the philosophy of critical realism because it offers a profound account of ontology in economics, and thus the categories for my analysis. In particular I will focus on the writings of Tony Lawson as he wrote extensively and with great det eal about the critical realist approach in economics from 1995 onwards. Indeed, he may be regarded as the most prominent proponent of critical realism in economics. This new ontological perspective will also allow me to assess whether current Austrian cont ributions as well as theroes that claim to be in the Austrian tradition (e.g. evolutionary game theory; see Young, 1998), are indeed compatible with and advances in Austrian economics.

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