chapter  10
Heterodox economics and ontology
Pages 31

Previous chapters emphasized the difference between the anthropocentric and the cosmic-evolutionary views when talking about reality issues. Thereby, I considered both viewpoints but emphasized that the cosmic-evolutionary perspective is all too often neglected – particularly when the focus ought to be on a longterm analysis that tries to avoid a myopic position. Such a confrontation between the evolutionary and the traditional vision arose in a discussion between Lee (2009) and Mattessich (2009), hence within the quarter of academic accounting. But a similar controversy arose in economics; namely between modern ‘evolutionary economics’ and mainstream economics.1 However, my evolutionary argument emphasizes humankind itself as an evolutionary product. Evolutionary economists, on the other hand, seem to concentrate more on economic rather than human evolution in general, and with less regard for the limitations of ‘free will’ but greater emphasis on humanity as the centre of creation (cf. my remarks at the end of Chapter 1). This divergence must not be confused with a different, though possibly related, problem. Namely, ‘generalized Darwinism’ defended by Hodgson (e.g. 2010) and others against the ‘generic concept of evolution’. The latter seems to be more popular among those evolutionary economists that lean on Lamarckian and non-Darwinian evolutionary concepts. This stance is defended by Nelson and Winter (1982), Freeman (1992), the Nobel laureate D. North (1990) and many others. Hodgson (2010: 5, my italics) hints with the following words at one of the core problems causing different views: ‘It is possible that some denials of biological influences on preferences or beliefs are grounded in an ontological dualism, where the realms of human society and thought are somehow causally disconnected from biology and nature.’ I shall discuss concisely the pertinent differences in viewpoints in Section 8.1 – though without losing myself in the elaborate discussions between diverging camps. Yet, in offering a concise survey about various evolutionary trends (as well as their parallels and differences), we ought to pay attention to another branch of heterodox economics – that between the more radical ‘ecological economics’ and the more moderate ‘environmental economics’ (usually regarded as a separate part of traditional economics).2 This distinction between traditional, environmental, and ecological economics can be imbued with an ontological

dimension by asking ‘how does each of these subdisciplines see economic reality?’. Although evolutionary and ecological economics are not identical, there seems to be an occasional converging of the two – at any rate both might have to be counted as parts of heterodox economics. The common basis of both (evolutionary and ecological economics) is in opposition to the mainstream or orthodox tradition. This opposition has many roots (ontological, epistemological, and methodological ones) but foremost among them is the claim that mainstream economics is based on unrealistic assumptions that in no way correspond to empirical observations. Evolutionary economists put greater stress on the historical-evolutionary methodology and the rationality of their theory in general; ecological economists, on the other hand, emphasise the long-run threat that an unrealistic economic theory may cause to the biosphere. Yet, their divergence is more a matter of degree; ultimately, both camps are concerned with creating more realistic economic theories – be it for better predicting or preventing ruinous depressions or avoiding catastrophic ecological disasters. The present chapter does not offer sufficient space to discuss all the diverse aspects of the pertinent controversies and their histories. But since they involve ontological issues (inherent in micro-as well as macroeconomics) there is a need to discuss, at least in broad outlines, those recent research directions of economics.