The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Instrumentalism and Operationalism

  • Lawrence A. Boland
Reference work entry


Instrumentalism and Operationalism are the methodological doctrines associated respectively with Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson. Each has a long philosophical history. Instrumentalism was the 18th-century doctrine created to deal with the Newton mechanics; Operationalism was the early 20th-century doctrine created to deal with Einstein’ general relativity. With Instrumentalism one can say that theories do not have to be true, just useful – as Friedman argued in 1953. With Operationalism one is required to express theories only in terms of observable and measurable variables. Samuelson’s early work was designed to demonstrate how theory can be made operational and thus potentially refutable.


Assumptions Austrian economics Behaviouralism Berkeley, Bishop G. Bridgman, P. Consumer’s demand curve Einstein, A. Friedman, M. Instrumentalism Mathematics and economics Methodology of economics Neoclassical economics Newton, I. Operationalism Operationally meaningful Perfect competition Positive economics Positivism Psychology Revealed preference theory Samuelson, P. A. Slutsky equation Tautologies Utility functions Verificationism Weak axiom of revealed preference 

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence A. Boland
    • 1
  1. 1.