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Was Frank Knight an Institutionalist?

  • Pier Francesco Asso
  • Luca Fiorito

This paper critically examines Geoffrey Hodgson's provocative claim that Frank Knight was a member of the American institutionalist school in the interwar years. In the first section of the paper we provide a definition of institutionalism and emphasize its meaning from a historiographic point of view. The second and third sections analyse the two main methodological struggles between Knight and the institutionalists, namely, the debate during the early 1920s over the use of instinct theory as an explanation of economic behaviour, and the subsequent campaign led by Knight in the late 1920s and early 1930s against the behaviourist wing of American institutionalism a la Copeland and Ayres. The fourth section deals with Knight's own brand of institutionalism. Our main conclusions are that, even if Knight's approach to the study of economic behaviour shows significant affinities with American institutionalism, he was not—both sociologically and in terms of his philosophical premises—an institutionalist.

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Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Review of Political Economy.

Volume (Year): 20 (2008)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Pages: 59-77

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Handle: RePEc:taf:revpoe:v:20:y:2008:i:1:p:59-77
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  1. Rutherford, Malcolm, 2002. "Morris A. Copeland: A Case Study in the History of Institutional Economics," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 24(03), pages 261-290, September.
  2. Asso, Pier Francesco & Fiorito, Luca, 2004. "Human Nature and Economic Institutions: Instinct Psychology, Behaviorism, and the Development of American Institutionalism," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(04), pages 445-477, December.
  3. Knight, Frank H., 1922. "Ethics and the Economic Interpretation," History of Economic Thought Articles, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, vol. 36, pages 454-481, May.
  4. Pier Francesco Asso & Luca Fiorito, 2004. "Lawrence Kelso Frank's Proto-Ayresian Dichotomy," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 36(3), pages 557-578, Fall.
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