Historical Small Events and the Eclipse of Utopia: Perspectives on Path Dependence in Human Thought

Culture, Theory, and Critique 47 (1):53-70 (2006)
Questions such as ‘What if such small companies as Hewletts and the Varians had not been established in Santa Clara County in California?’ or ‘What if Q-type keyboards had not been invented?’ are well known among economists. The questions point at a phenomenon called path dependence: ‘small events’, the argument goes, may cause the evolution of institutions to lock in to specific paths that may produce undesirable consequences. How about applying such skeptical views in economics to human ideas and thought in general? That is to say, what if we ask such questions as: what if Greek philosophy had not been interested in ‘essences’ and ‘foundations’? What if Kant had not invented the ‘thing-in-itself?’ Nature and society, according to such Platonic philosophers, can be known only if it can be shown that events are governed, regulated and characterised by ‘forms’, which are immutable, complete, and perfect in their nature. But is there an ‘essence’ that makes a man 100 per cent male? Was there really a ‘foundation’ in history that caused a proletarian revolution in Russia? What if we had pushed aside the rhetoric of utopian ideality? What if we had a worldview different than the one depicted by Thomas More in his Utopia? The essay points at the possibility of such skepticism in human ideas and thought.
Keywords intellectual path dependence  Utopia  historical small events
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