Dialectics and the Austrian School? The search for common ground in the methodology of heterodox economics

Journal of Philosophical Economics 1 (2):151-173 (2008)

Andy Denis
City University London
In a recent paper (Denis, 2004b) I argued that the neoclassical use of the concept of equilibrium was guilty of a hypostatisation: an equilibrium which is only an abstraction and extrapolation, the logical terminus of a component process taken in isolation, is extracted and one-sidedly substituted for the whole. The temporary is made permanent, and process subordinated to stasis, with clearly apologetic results. I concluded by suggesting that this hypostatisation exemplified the contrast between formal and dialectical modes of thought, and that it may be in the application of a dialectical notion of equilibrium that the heterodoxy can make its most telling contribution. This paper develops the line of thought that, while heterodox currents may superficially appear as divided amongst themselves as they are from the orthodoxy, there is truly something profound uniting the apparently disparate heterodox trends: the adoption of a dialectical method. I draw on the work of Sciabarra (1995, 2000), who argues that making process primary, which we might expect of Austrian economists, is the essence of dialectics, which we might (wrongly, in his view) identify with Marxism. If this view is, as I believe, fundamentally correct, perhaps (a) we can only understand the method of neoclassical economics by contrasting it with a dialectical approach, and (b) we can explore the potential for common ground between the various heterodox currents by examining their attitude, both implicit and explicit, to dialectics.
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