Academic journal article History of Economics Review

Vision, Revolution, and Classical Situation: Schumpeter's Theory of Scientific Development (1)

Academic journal article History of Economics Review

Vision, Revolution, and Classical Situation: Schumpeter's Theory of Scientific Development (1)

Article excerpt

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to show that the Austrian economist Joseph A. Schumpeter developed a sophisticated theoretical understanding of the process of scientific development in his writings. The existence of this theory of scientific development has been hardly recognised until now because Schumpeter never elaborated it systematically or presented it in a book or essay, so that it can only be derived from a number of statements scattered over his whole work. The main task of this paper is thus to reconstruct this 'unwritten chapter' of Schumpeter's work. It will be seen how Schumpeter developed his basic understanding of the process of scientific development already in his early work and how he elaborated this basic idea into a sophisticated theoretical framework in his later work. As a result, this paper finds astonishing parallels between Schumpeter's theory of scientific development and twentieth-century philosophy of science--and in particular that of Thomas S. Kuhn.

1 Introduction

The Austrian economist Joseph A. Schumpeter is primarily acknowledged for his analysis of capitalist development. However, for several years his methodological writings have also been receiving growing attention. By now, there exists a rich body of literature on this dimension of his work (Shionoya 1990a, 1990b, 1991, 1997 [1995]; Swedberg 1991a, 1991b; Streissler 1994; Kesting 1997, 2004; Ebner 2000; Graza Moura 2002). One very puzzling aspect of this literature is Schumpeter's contribution to the analysis of the process of scientific development. In many writings there appears a (sometimes very vague) perception that Schumpeter has something to say about this topic. But statements on this question are generally not very much elaborated and remain often unclear and sometimes even contradictory.

Probably the most important reason for this lack of understanding is that Schumpeter himself never elaborated his ideas about scientific development in a systematic way. He did not devote any single essay or even chapter to this topic. Instead he only made a number of statements, scattered over his whole work, mostly in the context of different issues. This raises the question of how deep Schumpeter's understanding of the process of scientific development really was.

The main thesis of this paper is that Schumpeter, in fact, did develop a comprehensive theoretical framework of scientific development that was very innovative and ahead of his time. Moreover, this framework, which I will label Schumpeter's theory of scientific development (2) accompanies his whole work as an important integrative element--in particular his work on methodology and on history of economics. Schumpeter had developed a basic understanding of the process of scientific development already in his first book Das Wesen und der Hauptinhalt der theoretischen Nationalokonomie (The Essence and Main Content of Theoretical Economics, 1908) and regularly shifted his focus back to the topic in the following years. However, it was particularly in his History of Economic Analysis (1954) that he seriously turned back to his early ideas and further developed them to a comprehensive theory of scientific development.

One very strong indication that such a comprehensive theory does, in fact, exist, is that there is already a place where Schumpeter intended to write it down: the chapter on 'The Driving Forces of Scientific Work and the Mechanisms of Scientific Development', as a section of Part I of the History. Unfortunately, this chapter never saw the light of day because Schumpeter died before he was able to tackle it. Therefore, what remains is only an unrealised intention.

The main task of this paper is to reconstruct the structure and main content of Schumpeter's theory of scientific development, to work out what the content of a chapter called 'The Driving Forces of Scientific Work and the Mechanisms of Scientific Development' could have been. …

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