A failure to communicate

The fact-value divide and the Putnam-Dasgupta debate


  • Huei-chun Su University College London, United Kingdom
  • David Colander Middlebury College, United States




methodology, logical positivism, values, positive, normative


This paper considers the debate between economists and philosophers about the role of values in economic analysis by examining the recent debate between Hilary Putnam and Sir Partha Dasgupta. It argues that although there has been a failure to communicate there is much more agreement than it seems. If Dasgupta's work is seen as part of the methodological tradition expounded by John Stuart Mill and John Neville Keynes, economists and philosophers will have a better basis for understanding each other. Unlike the logical-positivist tradition, which treats facts and values as two mutually exclusive concepts, the Mill- Keynes tradition recognizes that facts and values are intertwined. Unlike the Smithian tradition, which blends the study of facts and normative rules, it divides economics into a science that studies "what is" and an art which considers "what ought to be done".

Author Biographies

Huei-chun Su, University College London, United Kingdom

Huei-chun Su is an honorary research associate at the Bentham Project at University College London, UK. She is the author of the book Economic justice and liberty: the social philosophy in John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism (Routledge, 2013). Her research interests include history of economic thought, philosophy of social and economic policies, and moral philosophy.

David Colander, Middlebury College, United States

David Colander is College professor at Middlebury College. He has authored, co-authored, or edited over 40 academic books as well as numerous textbooks, and 150 articles on a wide range of topics. His books have been, or are being, translated into a number of different languages, including Chinese, Bulgarian, Polish, Italian, and Spanish. His most recent book (with Roland Kupers) is Complexity and the art of public policy: solving society’s problems from the bottom up (Princeton University Press, 2014).




How to Cite

Su, H.- chun, & Colander, D. (2013). A failure to communicate: The fact-value divide and the Putnam-Dasgupta debate. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 6(2), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.23941/ejpe.v6i2.131