Beyond the Hype: The Value of Evolutionary Theorizing in Economics

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 43 (1):46-72 (2013)
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Abstract

In this paper, I consider the recent resurgence of “evolutionary economics”—the idea that evolutionary theory can be very useful to push forward key debates in economics—and assess the extent to which it rests on a plausible foundation. To do this, I first distinguish two ways in which evolutionary theory can, in principle, be brought to bear on an economic problem—namely, evidentially and heuristically—and then apply this distinction to the three major hypotheses that evolutionary economists have come to defend: the implausibility of rational choice theory as an account of economic rationality, the idea that firms are autonomous economic agents, and the need for a more dynamic, less equilibrium-focused economic methodology. In each of these cases, I conclude negatively: the relevant evolutionary considerations neither suggest interesting and novel hypotheses to investigate further nor are backed up by the needed data to constitute genuine evidence. I end by distinguishing this criticism of evolutionary economics from others that have been put forward in the literature: in particular, I make clear that, unlike those of other critics, the arguments of this paper are based on epistemic—not structural—considerations and therefore leave more room for a plausible form of evolutionary economics to come about in the future.

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Armin W. Schulz
University of Kansas

Citations of this work

Firms, agency, and evolution.Armin W. Schulz - 2016 - Journal of Economic Methodology 23 (1):57-76.

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