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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Adam Smith's ontology


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Jon Kay


In an earlier post, I had a list of Tony Lawson quotes critiquing modern mathematical economics. I believe if Adam Smith were alive today, he would support Lawson's message that economics needs to be based on ontology (the study of the way something is). Here is a quote from Lawson,


"I'd like to state a case for ontology: the study of being. The study of nature and reality... Modern economics is unrealistic because most of the time economists are trying to make theories about a world that's open, structured, internally related and processual conform to a world that's atomistic and closed." (YouTube: Really Reorienting Modern Economics, 2010)


Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776 and it is over 900 pages long. The Wealth of Nations explains economic phenomena with descriptive language and analyzes the causes and mechanisms behind many different types of economic phenomena. Ultimately, The Wealth of Nations is about the nature of an economy. I believe this fits Lawson's description of what economists should be doing. Economic journalist David Warsh says,


"[The Wealth of Nations] reads as much like a present-day business magazine as an eighteenth-century treatise on political economy... The book contains not a single chart, few enough numbers and no diagrams, but so penetrating was its reasoning that it launched a science." (The Knowledge and Wealth of Nations, 2006)


Given these two quotes, I believe Smith would support Lawson's philosophy. Lawson emphasizes the importance of ontology which I believe The Wealth of Nations epitomizes.