The present chapter deals with a few essentials related to society and to knowledge about society. These will enable us to broadly sketch the wider significance of classical-Keynesian political economy. The fact that essentials are dealt with is crucial. The starting point is not provided by real existing societies about which generalizations are made. Instead we start with sets of principles which are supposed to reflect different visions of the essence of man and of society. For example, the liberal social scientist will consider the individual as primary and social phenomena as derived and secondary, and vice versa for the social scientist adhering to the socialist vision.
Starting from the definition of the social state of affairs, or the social, the problem of institutions and behaviour is sketched. Subsequently, some implications of specific social philosophies for the respective systems of social science are set forth. The relationship between ethics and economics is dealt with briefly. Here, the notion of alienation, which links the positive to the normative, is of particular importance. Finally in this section a few suggestions are made on the issues of determinism, free choice and causality.
The second section starts with some remarks on the nature of knowledge in the social sciences, broadly based on Keynes's Treatise on Probability (1971c). Subsequently, the importance of the vision for theoretical approaches is stressed. The section closes with some remarks on the relationship between ethics and knowledge.
Society and individuals
Defining ‘the social’
Whether made explicit or not, all systems of social science, and indeed all social theories, rest on a social philosophy.