In Economics, assumptions are the cornerstones upon which we construct a theorem or a proposition. It is known as “premises” in Logic or Philosophy, a scientific method that also applies to many other research fields. Assumptions, premises, and definitions work together to define the scope of the explanatory power of a theory.
I had a discussion with a friend from law school the other day about where science begins. In his opinion it begins with facts and observation of the facts. However, it was interesting to me because in my view, science begins with assumptions. Although I admit that science may come from reality, but it goes far beyond it. By assumption, I mean something that is assumed to be true, but not proved due to the lack of means or facts. For example, in mathematics, we have the assumption of a straight line, a fundamental concept, but can we find a straight line in reality? Well, you tell me because I don’t know where it exists outside theory. Science is an abstract regularity or physical laws that govern this world, and yet it cannot be directly observed. In other words, our reality can not exist without science but the fundamental truth that science describes can exist on its own without reality or any human observations. In this sense, science does not begin with observable facts but unobservable and unverifiable assumptions.
This is why asking the right question and making the right assumptions are so important to a scientific researcher, because making the wrong assumptions will lead to either contradictions if you are fortunate or false conclusions if you landed in America and assumed that it was India.
Now think about social science. It is painful to see how dangerous and falsifiable it is to apply scientific methods in the social realm. What we often see is a controversial presidential debate, an inconsistent monetary and fiscal policy, an evolving legislation system. an unending religious war overseas, a propaganda filled media. and a society that advocates consumerism that almost bankrupt a nation.
Maybe my education in economics is not enough to help me understand the reason of existence of social science. Or maybe my challenge of the assumptions in economic theory regarding humans rationalities in my dissertation is not robust enough to disprove the validity of social science. I would like to say at least this: Without right assumptions, simply applying scientific methods to prove a point is not enough to make it right. It is our responsibility, however, to question and reprove the so-called theories that were based on unjust assumptions.