A preliminary discussion of the Theory of evolution
Erwin Laszlo, in biology and in the theory of knowledge, and Geoffrey Hodgson, among others, in economics and social sciences, have proposed to use the theory of evolution as a general guide to the creation of scientific theories (Hodgson 1993, Laszlo 1994, Hodgson 2001). Interestingly enough, Hodgson integrates the theory of evolution in a framework that purports to tackle the problem of historical processes and historical specificity in economics; and this position is identical to the one defended here for the same and, also, different reasons.
The theory of evolution, with its focus on variation and selection is of interest to the study of economic processes. The similarities with the mechanisms at work in the innovation processes, of course the mechanisms are not too similar because of important differences, are offering a valid structural homology, i. e. that the structure of the biological processes are sufficiently similar with the structure of the processes of technological change.
However, more to this, there is the population perspective that permits the study of emergence that is not well understood under the methodological individualism, on the one hand, and the methodological holism of simple aggregation or the reification of socio-economic entities of substances coming from a metaphysics of a bygone past. This perspective permits a more rigorous study of change and emergence.
Despite of the few influences of evolution theory in history and economic history, there are evident methodological rationales for a greater interest in evolution on behalf of the historians like the one advocated by Joel Mokyr (Mokyr 2000a). Going further beyond his work, we can imagine the similarities and the fructuous contributions for economics, notably in a conception of the economy as a complex system. This can bring together perspective from the history of techniques (Gille 1978, 1978a) and the economics of technological change (Freeman 1992a, Freeman 1994).
Although his interest is delimited by the subjects of technology and knowledge, Mokyr claims that economics, from a general standpoint, is not in a state of despair in order to abandon his central theories or fundamental results up till now. According to me, the critique of mainstream economics has to be more severe on the very front of economic history and the history of ideas. As a counterpoint to what Mokyr says, for example, there is no general theory of the firm in neoclassical economics. (v. g. Dosi et al. 1992, Dosi 2000, Foss 1996, Hodgson 1999a and b, Kreps 1990).
History and the theory of evolution, with similar methodological problems and an object of study that is defined by change, present, thus complementarities. In a wide array of research (e. g. Freeman and Louçã 2001, Hodgson 1993, 1999a and b and 2001, Louçã 1997, 1998 and Metcalfe 1998), outlines of such complementarity is present and worth the attention. Maybe the fundamental and modest objective of my thesis is in the revelation of one of those complementarities.
Let me posit a final comment on the choice of the unit of selection. I think that there is a multi-layered hierarchy of selection through the use of technology (Mokyr), the competitions of firm, the dynamics of organizations (Aldrich), the workings of institutions (Hodgson) and the competition between business units (Metcalfe). I am inclined to consider a two-stage selection process: first, the technology and, second, the business unit. It lacks, however, a rigorous argumentation and articulation between the two levels.
 The citation of Mokyr (2000a, p. 3) merits to be given straightforwardly: “Darwinian influences have hardly penetrated the economic history profession, despite the rather obvious attractions of a methodology that by definition explains by historical analysis”.
 I presented a brief paper on the theory of the firm a the Workshop on Economics of Heterogeneous Interacting Agents (WEHIA) which sustains this argument in greater details (Jacquinet 2001).