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Ontological issues in evolutionary economics: The debate between Generalized Darwinism and the Continuity Hypothesis

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  • Jack Vromen
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    Abstract

    Hodgson and Knudsen’s Generalized Darwinism (GD) and the Continuity Hypothesis (CH) put forward by Witt are currently vying for hegemony in the ontology of evolutionary economics. GD and the CH allegedly advance rivaling Darwinian foundations for the development of full-fledged causal evolutionary economic theories. Yet upon closer inspection it is not clear that GD and the CH are mutually exclusive rivals. For one thing, GD and the CH address different sorts of issues. Whereas GD aims at identifying general features that evolutionary processes in different domains (notably the biological and economic domain) have in common, the CH takes as its starting point the causal relations that obtain between antecedent biological evolution and ongoing economic evolution. It seems the one does not exclude the other. This impression is strengthened by the fact that Hodgson endorses rather than opposes something similar to the CH. The paper argues that the critical issue in settling whether or not GD and the CH are mutually exclusive is how much substantive content is given to GD and the CH respectively. Pushed by the critique of Witt (and some of his Evolutionary Economics Group members, Cordes and Buenstorf) that GD has not fully shaken off features that are specific for the biological domain, Hodgson and Knudsen seem to take recourse to a version of GD that is so abstract and general that it is rendered virtually vacuous. As such GD can not contribute much to the development of a full-fledged domain-specific causal economic theory of processes of economic change. It seems the CH fares better in this respect. The CH does offer building blocks for evolutionary theories of consumption and of production. But the problem with the GD is that it is unclear what constructive role (if any) Darwinian evolutionary theory has played in specifying the building blocks. The paper concludes with suggesting two other ways in which Darwinian evolutionary theory might be useful for studying economic evolution.

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    Paper provided by Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography in its series Papers on Economics and Evolution with number 2008-05.

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    Date of creation: Jun 2008
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    Handle: RePEc:esi:evopap:2008-05

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    Keywords: Length 29 pages;

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    References

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    1. Jack Vromen, 2004. "Conjectural revisionary economic ontology: Outline of an ambitious research agenda for evolutionary economics," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(2), pages 213-247.
    2. Foster, John, 1997. "The analytical foundations of evolutionary economics: From biological analogy to economic self-organization," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 427-451, October.
    3. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2002. "Darwinism in economics: from analogy to ontology," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, Springer, vol. 12(3), pages 259-281.
    4. Ulrich Witt, 2004. "On the proper interpretation of 'evolution' in economics and its implications for production theory," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(2), pages 125-146.
    5. Ulrich Witt, 2007. "Heuristic Twists and Ontological Creeds - Road Map for Evolutionary Economics," Papers on Economics and Evolution, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography 2007-01, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    6. Geoffrey Hodgson & Thorbjørn Knudsen, 2004. "The firm as an interactor: firms as vehicles for habits and routines," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 281-307, 07.
    7. Geoffrey Hodgson, 2004. "Darwinism, causality and the social sciences," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(2), pages 175-194.
    8. Hodgson, Geoffrey M. & Knudsen, Thorbjorn, 2006. "Why we need a generalized Darwinism, and why generalized Darwinism is not enough," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 1-19, September.
    9. George J. Mailath, 1998. "Do People Play Nash Equilibrium? Lessons from Evolutionary Game Theory," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 1347-1374, September.
    10. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
    11. Christian Cordes, 2004. "Darwinism in Economics: From Analogy to Continuity," Papers on Economics and Evolution, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography 2004-15, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    12. Guido Buenstorf, 2006. "How useful is generalized Darwinism as a framework to study competition and industrial evolution?," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, Springer, vol. 16(5), pages 511-527, December.
    13. Hanusch,Horst (ed.), 2008. "Evolutionary Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521067072.
    14. Ulrich Witt, 2002. "Generic Features of Evolution and Its Continuity -- a Transdisciplinary Perspective," Papers on Economics and Evolution, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography 2002-10, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    15. Ulrich Witt, 2006. "Evolutionary Economics," Papers on Economics and Evolution, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography 2006-05, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
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    Cited by:
    1. Foster, John & Metcalfe, J. Stan, 2012. "Economic emergence: An evolutionary economic perspective," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 420-432.
    2. Muñoz, Félix-Fernando & Encinar, María-Isabel & Cañibano, Carolina, 2011. "On the role of intentionality in evolutionary economic change," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 193-203, September.
    3. Christian Schubert, 2009. "Darwinism in Economics and the Evolutionary Theory of Policy-Making," Papers on Economics and Evolution, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography 2009-10, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.

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