Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Scholasticism versus Pietism: The Battle for the Soul of Economics


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Two very different approaches to understanding the world are the “scholastic” and “pietistic” approaches. The two approaches differ both in structure and in the topics addressed. The scholastic approach involves a priestly hierarchy that authenticates knowledge, an emphasis on a specialized language and application of expert skills, and a denial of any large role for laymen in the discovery process. The pietistic approach encourages a direct connection between truth and the ordinary person. It exhibits spontaneous competition in ideas from any and all sources, the common use of ordinary language to develop arguments, and a large role for non-specialists in the discovery and production of knowledge. Historically, scholastic approaches, while achieving great heights at times, have also tended towards an excessive attention to minor detail, sterile abstractions, and generally the confusion of form with substance – hence, the negative connotations of “scholastic.” Thus we find that the structural differences and topical differences between scholasticism and pietism must be understood together. Drawing on the writings of Milton Friedman, Edmund Malinvaud, and other leading economists concerned about the current state of the profession, this article argues that contemporary economics has become a classic example of a scholastic discipline in decline. Economics should seek to revive itself by turning in a pietistic direction, as earlier Pietists sought to revive established Protestant churches that had lapsed from their commitments to the pursuit of divine truth.