Robert Lowe and the Role of the Vulgar Economist in the English Methodenstreit

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Robert Lowe, later Viscount Sherbrooke, played an important role in the late-Victorian methodological debate between the orthodox and historical economists known as the English Methodenstreit. Lowe adhered to a particularly narrow and immoderate version of the orthodox conceptual framework, and his own orthodox colleagues criticized him for brazenly holding doctrinal beliefs similar to those which Marx had earlier labelled 'vulgar'. In the 1870s Lowe reacted to the historicist criticisms of orthodox economics and articulated a highly original methodological framework in defence of his own vulgar interpretation of the orthodox doctrines. Lowe's immoderate pronouncements subsequently made him a highly visible and easy target for historicist criticism, as well as a source of embarrassment for his more moderate orthodox colleagues. In this paper I trace the origins, content and importance of the methodological framework formally articulated by Lowe at the height of these polemical exchanges.


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