Front Page Titles (by Subject) A. the breadth of robbins\' definition - The Economic Point of View
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A. the “breadth” of robbins' definition - Israel M. Kirzner, The Economic Point of View 
The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought, ed. with an Introduction by Laurence S. Moss (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews McMeel, 1976).
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A. the “breadth” of robbins' definition
The former of these two implications led to immediate attacks on Robbins' definition condemning it as being far too wide, i.e., as bringing within the scope of economics phenomena in regard to which the economist has no professional competence and to which economists have historically paid no attention whatsoever. Some writers have tended to see in this alleged shortcoming an opportunity to indulge their wit in describing the problems—whether literary controversies, games of chess, or even affairs of the heart—with which Professor Robbins, on the basis of his own definition of economics, should, as an economist, be equipped to deal.20
Ultimately these attacks and the consequent pronouncements rejecting the concept of economizing as a criterion for defining the nature of economic phenomena provide yet another instance of the similarities between the conception of economics as a science concerned with economizing and the conception of it as a science concerned with maximization. Writers in the eighties of the last century who had considered the essence of economic behavior to consist in the impulse toward maximization had found themselves vulnerable to the objection that this propensity characterizes all human activities. The fact that economizing, like maximization, is an operation capable of being performed in widely differing situations means that the use of such a concept as a criterion for defining the nature of the economic cuts across many traditional boundaries. But clearly if a definition is to be rejected as too wide, some area must be accepted as the standard of reference. The stress that economists in the past have laid on the phenomena of the market as the area to which their researches applied makes suspect a definition that sees an essential economic unity existing in activities ranging far beyond this area.
Nevertheless, there is an important sense in which the definition of the economic in terms of economizing is less suspect in this regard than that couched in terms of maximization had been. The latter had been used in the form of the so-called economic principle, which was seen as essentially a principle of explanation. Market phenomena were explained on the hypothesis of the existence of such an economic principle. The concept of a form of behavior characterized by maximization was found to yield the results required to understand the real economic world. From this point of view, the definition of economics as the science concerned with the maximization pattern of behavior drew the boundaries of the subject in such a way as to include all phenomena that admitted of explanation on the hypothesis of the existence of such a principle. Any activity that involved maximization was thus prima facie economically relevant. And here the objection was immediately raised that such a criterion embraced all human behavior, including areas in which maximization did not lead to “explanations” such as economists had successfully provided in what was then accepted as the domain of economics.
Robbins' definition of economics in terms of economizing was in a somewhat different case. The concept of economizing was not being used as an explanatory device at all, but only as a means of characterizing certain behavior. The fact that such behavior proved more amenable to economic analysis in regard to market phenomena than in other cases does not necessarily void the use of this definition, since the latter is not predicated on its suitability for this kind of economic analysis. At most, the criticisms aimed at Robbins' definition could cast doubt on its suitability for readily characterizing the day-to-day problems to which economic theory is most frequently applied. Professor Robbins himself has presented the case for his exemption from this type of criticism.21
[]For examples see B. Higgins, What Do Economists Know? (Melbourne, 1951), pp. 2–3; L. M. Fraser, Economic Thought and Language, p. 32; L. Robbins, Nature and Significance, p. 22. See also G. J. Stigler, The Theory of Price (revised ed., 1952), p. 1 n.
[]Nature and Significance, pp. 19 f.