Some Responses to Jennings and Waller

By Hodgson, Geoff | Journal of Economic Issues, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Some Responses to Jennings and Waller


Hodgson, Geoff, Journal of Economic Issues


While flattered by the attention paid to me in their recent essay [Jennings and Waller 1995], I am not convinced that Jennings and Waller are responding to what I actually wrote in my Economics and Evolution. They offer no quotations or page references and make a number of incorrect statements and misleading suggestions about my position. Furthermore, their treatment of biology is, at best, half-informed. At least in one respect their interpretation of Veblen is manifestly false. In this response, I will examine a selected few of their errors.

Quote 1: "Hodgson . . . insists on analogical likenings, rather than metaphorical ones" [Jennings and Waller 1995, 417, n12].

Response: Chapter 2 of Economics and Evolution is devoted to the whole question of metaphor. Contrary to quote 1, I incline to the word "metaphor" rather than "analogy." My position on the role of metaphor in science is strongly influenced by Peirce - an inspirational philosopher for Veblen. There is no evidence in the book to back the allegation that I insist "on analogical likenings, rather than metaphorical ones." The allegation is in fact false.

Quote 2: "'purpose' normally appears only in biology as blind selection" [Jennings and Waller 1995, 415].

Response: This is a half truth. It is correct to suggest that there is no genuine notion of purpose in modern mainstream neo-Darwinian biology, and indeed I recognize this in my book [chap. 14]. What is ignored in Jennings and Waller's statement is the centuries-old debate in biology about "vitalism," where purpose was identified with notions such as the "life force." Vitalism was marginalized after the triumph of the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis in biology, but this shift occurred as late as the 1940s. More recently, ideas of "vitalism" and purpose have re-emerged in biology, and I refer to them in my book [chap. 14]. As several authors have argued, it is both necessary and possible to endow biology with an adequate notion of purposeful behavior [on this issue, see Campbell 1985; Murphy 1994].

Quote 3: "to accommodate conscious purpose [Hodgson] appends Lamarckian selection processes to biological models typically eschewing them" [Jennings and Waller 1995, 415].

Response: I do no such thing. I do not "append" Lamarckian selection processes to anything, least of all to the orthodox biological models. In fact, I reject the standard neo-Darwinian model as a metaphor for the social sciences in part because it excludes genuine purposeful behavior. On this point, the question of Lamarckism is really a side issue; it is sufficient to point out that a limited notion of purpose was central to Lamarck's conception of evolution. Nowhere do I suggest that simply rehabilitating Lamarck will solve the problem. Instead I refer to modern philosophers of biology as being in search of a solution.

But Lamarckism is not simply about purpose, as Jennings and Waller seem to suggest. Lamarckism is about the inheritance of acquired characters. On this, two points are completely overlooked by Jennings and Waller [see also Jennings and Waller 1994]. First, the recognition of cultural evolution as "Lamarckian" is old hat and has been suggested by innumerable social theorists. Cultural evolution can be legitimately described as Lamarckian because changes in culture and behavior can be directly imitated and appropriated. In contrast, if an asocial organism acquires a new behavioral pattern, then this will be passed on to its progeny only if it is associated with genetic changes.

Second, the work of modern biologists such as Ernst Mayr [1960] and Conrad Waddington [1975] has offered a partial rehabilitation of the notion of the inheritance of acquired characters that is consistent with modern genetics. In such work, behavioral adaptations are seen as a major engine of evolution. Thus, Lamarckism continues to haunt modern biology.

Quote 4: "Hodgson is not the first to substitute purposeful 'artificial' for blind 'natural' selection in social evolution; Commons has a prior claim" [Jennings and Waller 1995, 415]. …

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