An epistemological prelude to the study of the political economy of organizations
An Epistemological prelude to the study of the political economy of organizations
It was with some hesitation that I decided to treat briefly the issue of epistemology, centred on economics and social sciences, dealing from the standing of scholarship with the economy and the social realm as objects of study. My hesitation came from the very difficulty of exposing clearly and thoroughly the issue of building an historical economics, based on evolutionary economics, history, theoretical history and other traditions of scholarship or science. Indeed, integrating history in economics is not at all an easy task. For Cournot, one of the central figures in the modern history of economic thought, history is beyond the reach of scientific inquiry; I will explain the point of Cournot and further and give some possible answers in the section on Abstraction chasing historical time (§ see in a forthcoming post on historical time).
Epistemology, here, has to be considered in a rather restricted meaning, the philosophy of science, as it is generally construed in the philosophical tradition of the European Continent. This means that I will not make direct considerations on the knowledge economic agents but on the nature and problems of economics qua science.
Accordingly, the approach taken will bear on few key authors from the 18th century onwards with one crucial exception, Aristotle, but included here for a different purpose as usually considered in the history of economic thought. Aristotle is of paramount importance in my main argument, not for his contributions to the political economic doctrines, but for his particular foundation of knowledge including modern sciences and philosophy with his three basic principles: identity, excluded middle and non-contradiction. Complementarily to the disciplinary organization (rhetoric, metaphysics, logic and dialectic), these three principles are the foundation of science but are more often than not neglected or misinterpreted in the actual and present practice of science.
Epistemology can be useful for the progress of economics and specifically the economic method. As Daniel Hausman argued some time ago, the philosophy of science might not give simple rules for the practice of economics, but the very history of science and the lesson that philosophers have drawn can help to avoid excesses of simplicity, contradictions, and qualms of different kinds about the research practices and their results (Hausman 1984). In a certain sense, I am in the line of tradition of the analytical philosophy without purporting to rigid schemata on method and demarcation. Since the disarray of logical positivism, in the research practices, any (social) science does not obey to simple rules but is profoundly dialectical in nature with its part of controversies, schools and diversity of methods. Moreover, my purpose, not a pretense, is one of modesty in the research results of a historical method. This is in a way the stance of Gustav Schmoller in his introduction to the masterpiece of the German Historical School: Grundriss der Allgemeinen Volkswirtschaftslehre (Schmoller 1923).
The exposition hereafter is based on eight propositions of principles that sustain the present research endeavor. First, on the ontological level I will, on the one hand, state the general perspective of a realist account in economics, and, on the other hand, expose the principle of included middle and the related concept of levels of reality. Afterwards, I structure the epistemological discussion of political economy around five central themes in the thesis: the question of history, the theory of evolution, the issue of analogical reasoning and metaphors, complexity, and, finally, the problem of emergence. This discussion of the ontological premises is related to the epistemological problems, as treated here, and the method to be followed in the forthcoming chapters.
Box n.º 1: Epistemological and ontological levels of reality
Epistemological or General level
– Complexity and Realist view
– Levels of reality
– Principle of included middle
Methodological and Socio-economic level
– History and change in method
– Evolution theory
– Metaphor and analogy
– Complexity theory
 See Lupasco, Nicolescu for the foundational aspects and Latour for the current practice of science.