"Economics has always been partly a vehicle" for the ruling ideology of each period as well as partly a method of scientific investigation. It limps along with one foot in untested hypotheses and the other in untestable slogans. Here our task is to sort out as best we may this mixture of ideology and science."
With these provocative words, Joan Robinson introduces this lively and iconoclastic book. "In what follows," she says, "this theme is illustrated by reference to one or two of the leading ideas of the economists from Adam Smith onwards, not in a learned manner, tracing the development of thought, nor historically, to show how ideas arose out of the problems of each age, but rather an attempt to puzzle out the mysterious way that metaphysical propositions, without any logical content, can yet be a powerful influence on thought and action."
Robinson is responsible for some of the most austerely professional contributions to economic theory, but here in effect she takes the reader behind the scenes and cheerfully exposes the dogmatic content of economic orthodoxy. In its place, she offers the possibility that with obsolete metaphysics cleared out of the way economics can make a substantial advance toward science. .
“[This] author is one of the great economists of our day and probably the greatest economist of her sex which the world has yet produced. The book is crammed with so much wit… [and] wisdom… that it is impossible to do justice in a brief review.”
—Kenneth E. Bouding, American Sociological Review
“This book, however, is not merely, nor even mainly, an essay in the history of thought; it is also an essay in methodology…. [I]t shows clearly how “ideology” has changed in the course of being subjected to critical examination.”
“Mrs. Robinson has long been known as a most versatile economist…. Like all vigorous and original thinkers, Mrs. Robinson has bees in her bonnet. Some of them buzz with great energy in this book… [which includes] the underlying consistency of the author’s vision, and the vigour and clarity of her thought…. Economic Philosophy is a most stimulating work: it should not be missed by any student of economics between sixteen and ninety-six (or older).”
—H. D. Dickinson, The Economic Journal
“This book is based on the Josiah Mason lectures delivered by the authoress…. This book deserves high praise. It asks a great many extremely important and interesting questions and it avoids giving conventional and superficial answers: it avoids asking trivial or merely technical questions, and the answers given are witty, penetrating and illuminating.”
—D. G. Champernowne, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A
“Mrs. Robinson, one of the most powerful of Cambridge economists, has written this little book to expose what she calls the metaphysical nature of many of the concepts around which economists have built their theories.”
—D. K. Stout, The Philosophical Quarterly
“Economic Philosophy started life as one of the series of Josiah Mason lectures endowed by the Rationalist Press Association and delivered to an adult education class. They must have been an audience of considerable sophistication; for while it is concise, clearly written, and abounding in wit and good humour, it is not for the uninitiated but pre-supposes some background in the history of economic thought and more than a nodding acquaintance with today’s theories and problems…. Professor Robinson has no difficulty in demonstrating, Schumpeter no-withstanding, that ideological factors have exercised a powerful influence on economic thought, no matter how narrowly defined.”
—William D. G. Hunter, The Canadian Journal of Economics