How did economics become a "science", an academic field?

Because I think of it as a soft science and thus in order to be considered a science it would need to be able to reply to the hard sciences? By which I mean that:

In order to be considered a science in a similar sense than the hard sciences, because "science" is a general term and not a particular, wouldn't economics also need to be able to "match" the truth/validity of hard sciences? Otherwise call it soft science directly, rather than merely "science", in order to not imply validity, which it doesn't have.

Was economics established in universities through political processes or through demand?

  • $\begingroup$ "it would need to be able to reply to the hard sciences?" What does that mean? $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker That in order to be considered a science in a similar sense than the hard sciences, because "science" is a general term and not a particular, it would also need to "match" the truth/validity of hard sciences. Otherwise call it soft science directly, rather than merely "science". $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Jan 10, 2018 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker The problem with soft sciences is that they cannot display that theories will produce consistent outcomes. Rather, because they consider people and not particles, they (soft sciences) are subject to the premises that the applying subject wants to apply. So economics is "relative to" what economists want to do with it. If I'm an economist and I decide that it's right to support the stronger and exploit the weaker, then I can construct economical theory to support that idea, regardless of whether it obeys some objective moral truth in any sense. $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Jan 10, 2018 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that the hard sciences are not as solid as you think they are, and the social sciences are more solid than you think. Anyway, after edits, you're not longer asking about economics, but about the history of academia. You might want to consider flagging for migration to Academia $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Jan 10, 2018 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumber I'm asking about philosophy of economics. Science does not equate academia. $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Jan 10, 2018 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


It appears that you equate "science = academic field" which is certainly not the case.

Also, it may be true that the word "science" was customarily associated with what we nowadays call "hard science", which exactly proves that the use of the word "science" has been generalized.

Hard and soft, humanities and social sciences, they are all "scientific fields/ scientific disciplines" now, in the sense of being fields of human activity where the accumulation of knowledge is systematically and purposefully pursued, (and no, "science", or "knowledge" for that matter, is not just about "uncovering unchanging laws").

This is what happened with economics. People of knowledge have occasionally written about economic phenomena from the ancient times, but these instances were few and far between. Starting from the end of 18th century, whole books appeared that described, debated, explored economic phenomena. And during the 19th century it became more and more frequent, ending up in "systematic".

I do not understand the final question of your post about "political processes or demand"

  • $\begingroup$ By political processes I mean that it was e.g. a ministry of education that promoted "adding economics departments to universities" and thus economics became an established discipline. And by "demand" I mean that economics claimed its status, because people freely wanted to come study economics. In the political process case one can question, whether the status of economics is legitimate (in general sense, not in legal). In the "free" case one can believe that maybe "economics" is considered, what people freely want to consider it to be. So there's no "institutionalized economics". $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Jan 8, 2018 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ @mavavilj ...which begs the question, how did a "ministry of education came to the decision to promote economics department in universities"? Which goes back to the interplay between "institutions leading the way" or "responding to signals from society". But this is a totally different issue, and certainly not on-topic here. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2018 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ Not all political processes are meant to help people, some are meant to gain power over people/groups that are not liked. War on drugs, immigration laws, Nazi Germany, ... And some is meant to produce and support privileges. $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Jan 10, 2018 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ @mavavilj Certainly. Let's now debate and most probably disagree about which political processes are meant to do what. In abstarct, in specific cultures, in specific countries, in specific eras. etc. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2018 at 15:43

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