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Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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At issue here is the role of “naturalism” in certain seminal neoclassical texts. I outline both a positive and normative dimension to the term “naturalism.” Along its positive dimension, I use the term to mean that the social sciences ought to follow the method of the natural sciences. Along its normative dimension, I use it to mean that the natural order of things can provide for justice. I examine the role these concepts play in the works of Léon Walras, John Bates Clark, and William Stanley Jevons. The question I raise, through this examination, is whether the positive conception of naturalism eclipses possibilities of economic transformation, thereby undermining any coherent normative evaluation of whether a purportedly natural (i.e. unchangeable) set of economic facts or laws is “just.”
Walras argues that “economics” should be modelled on the natural sciences, and that value-in-exchange is natural. Simultaneously, Walras claims that economic institutions are “artificial.” He arrives at the former claim, I argue, because he believes that only by seeing economic laws and facts as “natural” can he demonstrate that they necessarily obtain; the latter claim is motivated by a desire to evaluate economic institutions normatively. This leads Walras into a contradiction, I argue, insofar as the former claim undermines the latter.
Clark, initially, seems to avoid Walras’ contradiction, insofar as he refers to economic laws as social, not natural. However, Clark’s distinction between the social and natural is superficial, insofar as the social is conceptualized purely as a function of the natural. Clark does not imagine that the specifically social character of economic laws might transform the “natural.” Further, for Clark, the natural not only shapes the social (economic) in a positive sense, it also renders economic laws just. But, like Walras, Clark’s normative evaluation is undermined by his insistence on a fundamentally natural predicate for his economic laws.
For Jevons, like Walras, economics is properly modelled on the natural sciences, and, in particular, on the science of mechanics. Jevons then chooses to mechanize the economic agent itself, which, I argue, undermines any conception of human transformation of the surrounding “economy.”
Silverman, Mark, "Forms of Naturalism in Seminal Neoclassical Texts: An Analysis and Comparison of Léon Walras, John Bates Clark, and William Stanley Jevons" (2018). Doctoral Dissertations. 1451.