Memorial to Léon H. Dupriez
Université catholique de Louvain
by Prof. Paul L. Mandy
One important question related to the epistemological analysis in economics, concerns scientific neutrality. Thanks to the preceding quotations, it is clear that Leon-H. Dupriez considered economics to be an autonomous, true social science, carrying no value judgements. He saw its sole goal is the observation and the explanation of the “manifestation of economic reality”. (Philosophie des conjonctures économiques, p. 489). Such an approach can be classified as being scientific. This approach establishes “the coherent functionality of the economy”, in other words, the way in which economy can work and prevent itself from becoming dysfunctional. However, this ideal only “defines the necessary conditions for economic life; it does not define conditions for social justice, whilst at the same time being one of the elements or principles of this problem”. (ib. p. 484.) When reading the quoted texts, it becomes clear that the crucial problem of all society, that of social justice or social ethics, is found at a higher level of thought, than that of merely economic approach.
Nevertheless, when reading again the seventh pillars’ quoted texts, it also becomes clear that, according to the author, the normal functions of the economic system and the requirement of meeting social and moral needs, are not incompatible. In view of their necessary integration, it is important of find ways in which social and moral needs can be met on a political level, - especially by redistribution of income and by social laws - without provoking an economic breakdown. This is because such breakdowns, - unemployment, economic depression, excessive inflation and so on… - only serve to reinforce the injustices.
If scientific truth is understood to be defined as the conformity between theoretical frameworks of a subject and reality, the economic explanation, which is in search of exactly this conformity, is in search of scientific truth. Moreover, this correspondence depends fundamentally upon the adequacy or lack of the method of explanation.
Without doubt this must be the reason for which all of Dupriez’s epistemological work was notably concerned with the meticulous search for the “proper” method of explanation, i.e. in correspondence with the decisive nature of economic facts. Therefore, Dupriez challenges any method which fails to continually relate analysis to the very nature of the facts being considered. In other words, “human facts” are decision based “acts” issued from individual motives related to ends and thus being teleological. It is the marginal method, whose mathematical expression is differential calculus, which, according to him, constitutes “that deductive method most closely related to a teleology” (ib. p. 9.) For this reason, explanations based on either “flows” which are simply accounting identities or “moving equilibria” or even “intertemporal equilibria” imply a whole “mechanism” instead of considering the decision based nature of human facts. In the same context, economic models based on definitional equivalences as the definition of the national income, do not explain human actions. Thus, he only rejected a mathematical approach if it was founded on such processes. In these cases, “the mathematical machine may separate itself from the requirement of an intentional, teleological reasoning” . (ib. p. 12.)
I believe it to be important at this point to insist upon Leon-H. Dupriez’s personal engagement and profound conviction. He never deterred from the path that he considered to be true. He maintained these qualities even when his international fame suffered as a result. Let us conclude with the following quotation related not only to the scientific, but also to the fundamental, believing conviction of our author.
“Having passed over economic arguments, we come to the arena of philosophy and, further on again, to religious ideas on human destiny. The first will tell us […] in what measure economic orientation and expansion and forms of economic progress are beneficial to the already booming human facilities, as well as to the improvement of the natural human condition. The seconds will remind us of the insufficiency of such an objective and the necessity to link economic accomplishments, like all other forms of action, to the achievement of the more superior endings of human destiny. No religion worthy of its name can reject the conclusion drawn by Christians: “what is the use in Man gaining control of the universe, if in doing so he must lose his soul?” We need only to pose ourselves such questions to understand that what is of primary importance to Man’s fate is the way in which he intends to develop and use his industrial civilization. Even if political economy has nothing to say on this issue, no Economist can afford to be so close-minded as to assume finality or prevalence to the growth in Humanity’s means of intervention which is not there.”
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Displayed on October 13th,
page : Université catholique de Louvain| ECON Dept | IRES Center for Economic Research