A 2x2=4 hobbyhorse

Mark Blaug on rational and historical reconstructions


  • Harro Maas Utrecht School of Economics, The Netherlands




economic historiography, rational reconstruction, historical reconstruction, Whig history, constructivism, economic methodology


Over time, Mark Blaug became increasingly sceptical of the merits of the approach to the history of economics that we find in his magnum opus, Economic theory in retrospect, first published in 1962, and increasingly leaned to favour 'historical' over 'rational' reconstructions. In this essay, I discuss Blaug's shifting historiographical position, and the changing terms of historiographical debate. I do so against the background of Blaug's personal life history and the increasingly beleaguered position the history of economic thought found itself in after the Second World War. I argue that Blaug never resolved the tensions between historical and rational reconstructions, partly because he never fleshed out a viable notion of historical reconstruction. I trace Blaug's difficulty in doing so to his firm conviction that the history of economics should speak to economists, a conviction clearly present in his 2001 essay: "No history of ideas, please, we're economists".

Author Biography

Harro Maas, Utrecht School of Economics, The Netherlands

Harro Maas is an associate professor at Utrecht University. He published widely in history and methodology of the economics, from the early modern period to the econometric revolution in the Interwar period, and especially in the history of political economy in Victorian Britain. His book on one of the founders of modern economics, William Stanley Jevons (Cambridge University Press, 2005) was awarded the Joseph J. Spengler prize by the (American) History of Economics Society. Economic methodology: an historical introduction will appear with Routledge in February 2014. With Mary S. Morgan (LSE), he co-edited the History of Political Economy (HOPE) annual supplement of 2012 Observing the economy: historical perspectives.




How to Cite

Maas, H. (2014). A 2x2=4 hobbyhorse: Mark Blaug on rational and historical reconstructions. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 6(3), 64–86. https://doi.org/10.23941/ejpe.v6i3.151