From sophism to self-denial: The theory of comparative advantage and the death of liberal trade theory in the 21st century

The political establishment has suffered a number of setbacks across the globe in recent years: be it the ‘Arab Spring’ in Africa; ‘Brexit’ in Europe; the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ in Asia; Trump in America; or the re-election of Pauline Hanson in Australia. Many of these insurrections constitute paroxysms of indignation, emanating primarily from the Global Financial Crisis. In carrying an anti-globalisation tone, these events have led to a worldwide questioning of free trade and in turn, the theory of comparative advantage: that countries should specialise in exporting goods and services that they are adept in producing while, crucially, importing the goods in which they perhaps find it difficult to specialise. Today, the Heckscher-Ohlin and factor price equalisation models underpin the classical conception of this theory.

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The modular mind: from perception to cognition

A question of ongoing relevance to both epistemologists and the scientific community is whether observation is theory-laden or theory-neutral. The resolution of this debate would present a definitive advance in scientists’ understanding of the relationship between cognition and perception. The issue is of comparable significance to philosophers: while Foundationalists stake their assumptions in reliable theory-neutral observation, the theory-ladenness of observation is proffered to advance the anti foundationalist cause.

In this paper, I critically assess Jerry Fodor’s case for a theory neutral conception of observation in light of opposing arguments from scientific relativists (namely Paul Churchland and Thomas Kuhn). The main proposition is that Fodor provides convincing justification for believing that observation is theory-neutral, given the sound premise that cognition is modular and therefore ‘encapsulates’ observation from theory (in the short term).

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