He reminds me of someone, but who? Anyway, here is Parsons’ Wikipedia entry
Thinking alound about the way that economics and the human sciences could have evolved under the influence of Carl Menger and others, especially Ludwig Mises, Talcott Parsons and Karl Popper. Continuing the train of thought regarding Talcott Parsons and related matters that can be found on the Oysterium blog.
Various people would like to integrate economics with sociology and the other social sciences. In this respect they are following the footsteps of Talcott Parsons whose career was mainly devoted to generating a systematic body of theory that would take account of biology and psychology at one end of the system, through economics and sociology to culture and religion at the other.
The Parsons program went really well up to the point in the mid 1930s where he reinvented the Austrian wheel of situational analysis, that is to say, the study of purposeful human action in the context of various situational opportunities and constraints. Getting a sight on that was the 1% of inspiration, then there is the 99% of perspiration to (a) unpack the implications of the insight and (b) convince everyone else that this is the way to travel. Sometimes it seems that the hard part is not having the good idea but getting the other ideas out of the way. Look at Popper’s ideas in epistemology. This raises the matter of invisible “railway lines of though” that lock people into programs that are going nowhere (confirmation theory, GET, socialism). It is likely that much the same set of ideas underpin many of the programs that are failing, while a different set of ideas underpin another group of programs that have got what it takes. Maybe the story of the human and intellectual disasters of our time is the triumph of the wrong set of invisible frameworks of thought.
Three parallel programs in situational analysis.
1. Mises. I am not sure where to find the best or the earliest statement of the Mises approach to situational analysis which is called praxeology in Austrian circles
2. Popper. An early statement of his form of situational analysis appears in OSE vol 2, although he only regarded it as the conventional method of neoclassical microeconomics.
3. Parsons. The Structure of Social Action, 1937.
How the programs evolved.
1. Mises. The Austrians have been marginalised in the profession and this is aggravated by a degree of obsession with philosophical and methodological purity, especially in the hard core at the Mises Institute. A partial answer here is some input from Popper but he is a hate figure for some of the hard core and his ideas are practically absent in philosophy schools of the US and so economists in the US cannot obtain the philosophical assistance that they need from the people who prima facie ought to be able to help.
2. Popper and the Popperians, apart from Larry Boland, mostly ignored economics. Jack Birner and Noretta Koertge developed the SA program to a useful degree but nobody seemed to take any notice. Popper himself made a small move to shapen his idea of SA but only confused the issue by introducing the notion of the Rationality Principle as the animating force, by analogy with the laws of motion in a model of the universe.3. Parsons gave away the methodological individualism part of the analysis after his 1930s work and reverted to holism and the endless proliferation of conceptual categories under the influence of a defective ideas about the function of general theories and the role of mathematics in physics.
If Parsons started well, where did he go wrong and is there an explanation that is helpful for us?
To be continued.