Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Towards a history of European Economic Thought

Guidi Marco Enrico Luigi, University of Pisa

This paper focuses on the long-term characteristics of European culture and politics that have prepared the ground for the rise of economics as a scientific discipline towards the end of the 18th century. Among these characteristics there is the legacy of the Judaic and Christian attitude towards the infinity, what Hegel in the Phenomenology of Mind called the “unhappy conscience”. The distance between the earth and the sky established by this religious tradition is responsible for the search of universal and abstract foundations of science, and indirectly it explains while an economic science arose in Europe and not elsewhere. The main features of this science, which determined its success, are abstraction, non-imperialism and critical attitude. The evolution of economics in Europe during the 19th and 20th century is explained in the light of these characteristics. Abstraction determined the preference for formalised and quantitative theoretical models; it also explains why, since the beginning, theoretical elaboration was accompanied by a reflection on the foundations of the science and on its method; non-imperialsm explains the typical tendency of European economists to understate the role of economic theory as a “science of mere wealth” or “of man in the ordinary business of life”; the critical attitude towards the science constantly accompanied its evolution, as if European economists were never satisfied with the results of their reasoning, and felt the necessity to revise its foundations. This paper is intended for the session on “European economic thinking” coordinated by Antonio Magliulo


Keywords: European economic thought; economic epistemology; abstraction; mathematisation

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