Cournot’s Quandaries Further afield
We have seen another reading of Cournot’s contributions to social sciences and a possible interpretation for the current literature in economics, especially when we look at technological change. The great challenge lies in integrating history that Cournot judged not to be feasible. He might have given a hint to search towards biology and today evolutionary theory and economics.
The next step could be a research much more detailed on Walras and Marshall in order to highlight better our legacy.
On the empirical side, I would like to focus on the profound transformation of the division of labour and dynamics of sectors in the Portuguese economy, following the approach developed by S. Metcalfe that I did not refer to here, for lack of time.
Conclusions (from Methodos XIII-XVIII)
From the last section, I have tried to describe a special case of normalization; something that Cournot considered as important but unattainable –history, what I would call here more specifically historical processes– has been denied or neglected as a metaphysical and whimsical subject not an object of science, i. e. not conforming to the basic principle of positivism. This account of Cournot is in this precise case coherent with the vitalist view he holds and that states unattainable entities, what is considered nowadays as metaphysical questions. The legacy of Comte and positivism is clear here and it does reach current views of science within the realm of economics (Louçã 1997b).
Let me just finish the discussion with two remarks and an overview. The first remark is the necessity of an epistemological foundation of historical economics based on the eight propositions I made in the second paragraph. Second, there is an added necessity of a methodological construction of historical economics. Economics, by its very object and the organization and structure of scientific disciplines, lies between evolution and history. That is to say that the main theoretical concepts are better suited to its object if we take the relevant aspects of the theory of evolution and history that offer analogies and tools adequate for studying economic change.
In the following contributions, which consisted in chapter I of my Phd thesis, I will deepen the question of technological innovation and its treatment in economics from the traditional approach to evolutionary theory of economic change (Nelson and Winter 1982). I will stress the complementarity between historical and evolutionary economics, both conceiving the economy as an evolving and open system.
To close the first part of my series Methodos, On Method, in a new post on evolutionary theory, I will round up my argument from evolutionary economic theory that takes into account the historical nature of innovation. The link between evolution and innovation is here to prepare the theoretical and conceptual ground from the second part of the thesis that deal thoroughly with the problem of history. Technological change is in this respect the paradigmatic instance of such a reflection.
Finally, in the third chapter or the sections On knowledge II and III, I introduce the notion and the treatment of “knowledge”, in general and here specifically related to innovation. I will conclude that evolutionary economics and the economics of knowledge are akin to historical economics that I will deepen in the ensuing chapters of the second part.