We believe an additional, and contrasting, interpretation of Mill’s method is supported by the evidence. For in our view Mill insisted on the possibility of theory modification in the light of inadequacies revealed by empirical evidence, and also held that the central behavioral axiom is not of universal relevance but is pertinent only to the local circumstances of contemporary Great Britain and America—and, even so, qualified as we shall see—that axiom itself is empirically based. On our reading, there is more in common between his research strategy and that of Milton Friedman than is sometimes granted, at least when Friedman’s position on theory appraisal is appreciated in the manner of Hirsch and De Marchi (1990). As Fels has paraphrased this position in a review: “start with a thorough marshalling of facts, frame a hypothesis to explain them, make predictions from the hypothesis about facts not used in constructing it, compare the predictions with the actual facts, revise the hypothesis in response to the outcome of the tests, and continue in an iterative fashion” (1991, p. 84).

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Copyright © 1999 Cambridge University Press. This article first appeared in Journal of the History of Economic Thought 21:4 (1999), 369-397.

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