chapter  1
18 Pages

W. J. Ashley ON THE STUDY OF ECONOMIC HISTORY (Harvard,1893)

THE teacher in England or America who seeks to explain his attitude towards economic science does so at the present time under peculiarly favourable conditions. There reigns just now a spirit of tolerance and mutual charity among political economists such as has not always been found within their circle. It is not that we have returned to the confident dogmatism and unanimity of the last generation,-of the period which extended from the publication of John Stuart Mill's treatise to the sounding of the first note of revolt in Cliffe Leslie's essays. It is rather that, though there are still marked divergencies, the followers of one method no longer maintain that it is the only method of scientific investigation; that, on the other hand, the believers in induction now recognize more fully the value of deduction; that the most abstract sometimes refer to facts and the most concrete occasionally make use of abstraction; and, what is far more important, that they are inclined, whatever their own turn of thought may be, to let others alone who walk not with them, or even to cheer them on their way in the benevolent hope that they may arrive at something worth the getting. It has now become almost a commonplace even with economists of the older school that students may usefully be led to work in different ways, owing to 'varieties of mind, of temper, of training, and of opportunities.'l In England an association has at last been founded which includes among its members most of those writers and teachers who are seriously interested in economics, and a journal has been established which welcomes contributions from every side with admirable impartiality. In America an association, which has for some years been doing excellent work, but which has hitherto been a little one-sided in its membership, has just widened its borders, and brought in even those against whose teachings it was once its business to protest. The controversies which break the monotony of life for our German colleagues have now but a faint echo among English-speaking economists; the personal anatgonisms which separate French schools are altogether absent; and to most of us the recent exchange of hostilities between two distinguished English economists has seemed almost an anachronism. It is, therefore, with something of trepidation that I venture upon what may possibly look like a renewal of

old controversies. Yet it is encouraging to think that, even if one had something very 'extreme' to say, one might now count upon being heard with patience and urbanity.