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Economists on Darwin's theory of social evolution and human behaviour

  • A. Marciano

The purpose of this article is to analyse the way economists interested in social and economic evolution cite, mention or refer to Darwin. We focus on the attitude of economists towards Darwin's theory of social evolution – an issue he considered as central to his theory. We show that economists refer to and mention Darwin as a biologist and neglect or ignore his theory of social and cultural evolution. Three types of reference are identified: first, economists view and quote Darwin as having borrowed concepts from classical political economists, Malthus and Smith. Darwin is then mentioned to emphasize the existence of economic theories of social evolution. Second, economists refer to and cite Darwin from the perspective of the use of biological concepts in social sciences. Darwin's biological theories are then equated with those of Spencer. From these two perspectives, Darwin's theory of social evolution is ignored and Darwin considered as a biologist exclusively. Third, economists acknowledge the existence of Darwin's general (biological and social) theory of evolution. Darwin is then considered and quoted as a biologist and a social evolutionist.

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Paper provided by Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography in its series Papers on Economics and Evolution with number 2005-21.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:esi:evopap:2005-21
Contact details of provider: Postal: Deutschhausstrasse 10, 35032 Marburg
Phone: 064212824257
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Web page: http://www.uni-marburg.de/fb19/
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  1. Tullock, Gordon, 1977. "Economics and Sociobiology: A Comment," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 502-06, June.
  2. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1977. "Economics from a Biological Viewpoint," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(1), pages 1-52, April.
  3. Robert C. Bannister, Jr., 1973. "William Graham Sumner's Social Darwinism: A Reconsideration," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 5(1), pages 89-109, Spring.
  4. Marciano, A. & Pelissier, M., 1999. "La theorie de l'evolution culturelle de Hayek a la lumiere de La Descendance de l'homme de Darwin," G.R.E.Q.A.M. 99c08, Universite Aix-Marseille III.
  5. Armen A. Alchian, 1950. "Uncertainty, Evolution, and Economic Theory," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58, pages 211.
  6. Redlich, Fritz, 1951. "Sanctions and Freedom of Enterprise," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(03), pages 266-272, June.
  7. Caldwell, Bruce, 2001. "Hodgson on Hayek: A Critique," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(4), pages 539-53, July.
  8. Coase, Ronald, 1998. "The New Institutional Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 72-74, May.
  9. Caldwell, Bruce, 2000. " The Emergence of Hayek's Ideas on Cultural Evolution," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer, vol. 13(1), pages 5-22, February.
  10. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 1999. "Evolution and Institutions," Books, Edward Elgar, number 1481, December.
  11. Jack Hirshleifer, 1977. "Economics from a Biological Viewpoint," UCLA Economics Working Papers 087, UCLA Department of Economics.
  12. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1985. "The Expanding Domain of Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(6), pages 53-68, December.
  13. Van R. Potter, 1962. "Bridge to the Future: The Concept of Human Progress," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 38(1), pages 1-8.
  14. Philippe Fontaine, 2000. "Making use of the past: theorists and historians on the economics of altruism," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(3), pages 407-422.
  15. Marciano, Alain & Pelissier, Maud, 2000. "The Influence of Scottish Enlightenment on Darwin's Theory of Cultural Evolution," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 22(02), pages 239-249, June.
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