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In 1976, Mario Bunge advocated a “vigorous and symmetrical interaction between science and philosophy … to close the gap between the two camps and to develop a scientific philosophy and a science with philosophical awareness.” The aim of this paper is to defend both parts of Bunge’s thesis, viz., that philosophical conclusions are relevant to empirical research – and, more controversially, that empirical research is relevant to philosophical conclusions. Drawing on a series of fine-grained examples from behavioral economics and the economics of happiness, I will outline various ways in which the science depends on philosophical assumptions. In addition, I will review a number of ways in which the relevant bits of philosophy depend on empirical premises. The upshot is that the relationship between the relevant science and philosophy is remarkably symmetric: just like scientists cannot avoid making philosophical assumptions, philosophers often cannot help but proceed from empirical premises. I conclude by endorsing Bunge’s recommendation that “philosophers should become apprentices rather than lawgivers, and participants rather than onlookers” – and that the same thing is true for social and behavioral scientists. The argument suggests a picture according to which science and philosophy stand in a symbiotic relationship, with scientists and philosophers engaging in a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas for the advancement of the general knowledge.



Erik Angner is Professor of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University. As a result of serious mission creep, he holds two PhDs – one in Economics and one in History and Philosophy of Science – both from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of two books, Hayek and Natural Law (2007) and A Course in Behavioral Economics, 2nd Ed. (2016), as well as multiple journal articles and book chapters on behavioral and experimental economics, the economics of happiness, and the history, philosophy, and methodology of contemporary economics.

Read more about Erik Angner.





Image credit: *sax – One in a million (license)

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