Clarence Ayres Memorial Lecture: Does Pragmatism Imply Institutionalism?

By Kilpinen, Erkki | Journal of Economic Issues, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Clarence Ayres Memorial Lecture: Does Pragmatism Imply Institutionalism?


Kilpinen, Erkki, Journal of Economic Issues


The Affinity between Pragmatism and institutionalism: Of Political Nature Only?

It is old, established knowledge that there are close political and ideological affinities between pragmatistic philosophy and the institutional position in economics. As Rick Tilman has recently expressed the matter, "the political counterpart of institutional economics is the instrumental political theory of John Dewey" (2001, 117). There is all the reason to think so, but I intend to develop the theme further and to show that the affinity between pragmatism and institutionalism is not just of political nature. I wish to make a somewhat stronger case to the effect that there are theoretical and conceptual commonalities between the two positions. In the title of this paper, I use the logical term "to imply"; I do this on purpose and entertain in serious terms the possibility that the affinity between pragmatism and institutionalism comes close to being of downright logical nature.

It is, of course, the professionals' job to decide what ultimately implies what in their discipline, and economics is not my profession. What I venture to do, nevertheless, is to say the first word, not so much the last word, about the theoretical kinship between pragmatism and institutionalism; final conclusions may belong to the expertise of professionals. The impression that I get from my reading in institutional economics is that a theoretical zero-sum game seems to be going on between this approach and the neoclassical one. This impression may be a bit too simple-my economic colleagues are welcome to correct it, if need be-but the least I can show is that pragmatism is seriously at odds with many of the methodological assumptions that neoclassical economics consistently takes for granted.

What Is Wrong with Methodological Individualism?

Pragmatism opens a new perspective from which to assess critically a central tenet in neoclassical methodology, that of methodological individualism. The first thing to be noted about it is that pragmatism has no quarrel with this position as long as it remains a methodological position. The problem is that it too seldom remains so. In fact, what is innocuously proffered as methodological individualism is too often taken as a position in social ontology. As Hans Joas, the social theorist, has put the matter, "the unreflected assertion that the self-interested, autonomous individual is the natural starting point in all social theory is deeply rooted in the possessive individualism of western culture" (1996, 184). This unreflected assumption, whose theoretical consequences are not always for the best, permeates contemporary social thinking in general and neoclassical economics in particular. (1)

From the viewpoint of pragmatism, the real fault with misunderstood, that is, ontologically interpreted, individualism is not that it treats human beings as separate individuals, although that already is a fault. Even graver is its fault in thinking about human actions as separate individuals, It is here where the ultimate source of even the former error lies. Instead of depicting human activity as a sequence of separate instantaneous "actions," pragmatism understands it as a unified ongoing process, even so that the acting subject's intentionality and rationality are to be found inside rather than outside that process. (2) The first thing to be said about this idea, in comparison with the traditional one, is that it is not only a different but a much more embracive conception. This means that nothing that is of value in the traditional interpretation needs to be sacrificed--its accomplishments do remain at our disposal--but at the same time we are now able to see further on the pragmatistic basis.

An adherent of methodological individualism might have an answer ready. He or she might say that its postulates are not to be taken as accurate empirical descriptions of behavior, economic or otherwise. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Clarence Ayres Memorial Lecture: Does Pragmatism Imply Institutionalism?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.