Chapter 9



This final chapter wraps up the book and looks to the future. In section 9.1 we once again consider why Darwinian principles have been resisted in the social sciences. We claim to have overcome key objections.

Section 9.2 argues that evolutionary approaches in the social sciences cannot start from observation alone, and an over-arching theory is required.

Section 9.3 outlines some of the conceptual advances in the volume, including our refinements of the concepts of selection and replication. Our notion of the replicator makes links with pragmatist philosophy and surpasses the problematic concept of the meme. Our use of the concept of the replicator and multiple-level selection are further contributions.

In Section 9.4 we propose that the social sciences are going through a “double gestalt shift”, involving understanding social systems as information processors and an appreciation of the implications of complexity.

Finally, in Section 9.5 we point to the need for more concrete analysis. As well as developing an over-arching framework we need empirical analysis and middle-range theory.

The thoughts and comments of the reader on all this are most welcome.


5 thoughts on “Chapter 9

  1. Jerry Ulman

    If I may, Geoff, I would like to comment on your reply to my Chapter 6 posting. First off, I should not have stated that the “disposition” concept is an obsolete hypothetical construct. I suspect that this view got us off track. In retrospect, I should have stated something about wanting to share with you and the other blog participants a natural science perspective—a definite outgrowth of biological science stemming from B. F. Skinner’s experimental and conceptual work—that offers an alternative account of what you mean by “disposition.” You replied: “For behaviorists, behavior is everything, and their approach dominated psychology until about 1970. It still has its adherents – Jerry seems to be one.” Actually, behaviorology (my discipline) and psychology are incommensurable paradigms—a primary difference being whether or not one accepts a hypothetical inner agency that controls human actions. Instead of viewing the world as being divided into the mental and the physical, as scientific materialists we view it all as physical phenomena, some of which is private (covert) and the other public (overt). Thus, the essential difference between the two disciplines is ontological. In this light, I hope you will revisit will my postings on Chapter 3 and Chapter 6.

    My focus here has not been to downplay psychology, but to offer a totally consistent natural science alternative, to explore the interrelationship between your science and mine; one that I have been working at for many years—beginning by my 1998 publication, “Toward a more complete science of human behavior: Behaviorology plus institutional economics.” However, my work in this area has appeared mostly in behavioral outlets, none in heterodox economics journals. This is my first attempt to make contact with your scientific community, with the hope of possibly initiating the development of a conceptual framework that will begin to bridge this huge divide.

    From the perspective of evolutionary economics, I would venture that the major shortcoming of behaviorology would be the issue of methodological individualism. With due respect for your 2007 article on this topic—to be specific, Skinner considers both individual actions and sociocultural phenomena together, but relates them rather loosely. Since his overriding concern was the experimental and conceptual analysis of the actions of individuals, however, this is an entirely reasonable course to have taken. For the last 15 years or so, I have attempting to begin reducing this conceptual gap. Rather than trying to explicate the interrelationships between individual behavior and group phenomena here, I will end by providing two URLs: for (a) one of Skinner’s most important and widely read books, “Science and Human Behavior” (1953); and (b) my article mentioned above. What I hope to see within the heterodox economics community the not too distant future is the joint exploration of the natural science of human behavior vis-a-vis the institutional analysis of sociocultural phenomena—a complete science of human behavior.



  2. Geoffrey M Hodgson Post author

    Thanks Jerry for your thoughts. On one very small point, you write: “I would venture that the major shortcoming of behaviorology would be the issue of methodological individualism.” Elsewhere (Journal of Economic Methodology, June 2007) I established that there is no consensus on the meaning of “methodological individualism” so you might be clearer what you mean.

  3. Jerry Ulman

    I am familiar with your article, Geoff; apparently you didn’t see that I referred to it in my posting: “With due respect for your 2007 article on this topic—to be specific, Skinner considers both individual actions and sociocultural phenomena together, but relates them rather loosely.” In the conclusion you state “If [methodological individualism] is to be employed, then it must be much more clearly defined . . . (p. 223).” To me, considering individual actions and sociocultural phenomena together but loosely is a sufficiently clear case. Lastly, I wish to add that I enjoyed participating in your blog but somewhat surprised and disappointed that there was no expression of interest in the possibility of a behaviorological foundation for a discipline identified with Darwinian evolution.

  4. david ronfeldt

    This chapter, following up on the prior chapter, continues to highlight the significance of information transitions. Hence, I’d still like to ask about the three points I raised at the end of the comments section for that prior chapter (8). They bear on possible future research directions.

    In the comments on Chapter 6, I noticed your remark that “A network may not be an interactor. If it is not, then by definition it cannot host replicators.” Yet, the way I (and some others) use the term “network” — as a form of organization distinct from, say, hierarchy — it may well be an interactor. But perhaps I haven’t fully understood your notion of interactor, or perhaps you are using network in the methodological way that network scientists, social network analysts, and some technologist use it. Please clarify.

    Meanwhile, I continue to wonder whether a full-fledged application of Darwinian terminology is the optimal way to go in building Darwinian theory about social evolution. I recently came across the following statement by Joel Mokyr in a 1997 paper, and he states my concern quite aptly:

    “The idea of evolutionary models outside biology seems to suffer from this need to shoehorn each concept into analogous concepts in evolution. Such correspondences may be instructive and entertaining, but the usefulness of an evolutionary theory of economic change does not depend crucially on every element in economics being mapped onto a precise correspondence in evolutionary biology. This paper submits that the main and obvious reason why this is so is that the system Darwin was describing is itself only a special case of a much broader set of dynamic theories that are often named Darwinian in his honor, but which basically need not follow all the restrictive postulates that August Weissman and the neo-Darwinian orthodoxy placed on how the process works in living beings.”

    Finally, I would toss up for your consideration the most Darwinian statement I can find in my own TIMN (Tribes + Institutions + Markets + Networks) efforts:

    “Imperfect adaptation to a form may be optimal for continued evolution: The task of getting a form “right” does not mean that exact adaptation (or adaptedness) to its environment is best for a society’s potential for further evolution. Incomplete adaptation may provide for flexibility. Each form may well have an ideal type in theory and philosophy; yet, in practice, none operates fully according to its ideal — nor should it. One reason may be the presence of other forms, and the importance of having to function in relation to them. Another reason may be that imperfect adaptation may allow for opportune, innovative responses to environmental changes.”

    Make sense to you? If so, then TIMN has Darwinian character, or so I’d like to believe. In any case, I appreciate your book and this blow. Onward.

    1. Geoffrey M Hodgson Post author

      Thanks David for your comments. In response, the term “network” has multiple definitions and we need to make its meaning clear before deciding whether it is an interactor or not. It is not a term that I elevate myself, so I leave others to push their preferred definition. Then we can discuss whether a “network” is an interactor, according to our definition of the latter term. For us, among the formost interactors in the social domain are business firms. Whether “networks” of business firms can be come interactors would depend on their cohesiveness and integrity.,

      Our project is more an application of Darwinian concepts rather that “terminology”. We are not simply borrowing words from biology. It is more about using and refining generalizations of key concepts, such as “replicator” and “selection”, developed previously by philosophers of biology. We do not claim that this approach is “optimal”.

      I agree with the statement that you quote by Mokyr. Here he is criticizing the misuse of bioogical analogies. Our project is not about biological analogies. It is about establishing ontological communalities at an abstact level. (See the opening chapters of “Darwin’s Conjecture”.) Mokyr is an advocate of this approach, and he was a co-author of ours to a 2008 paper on “In Defense of Generalized Darwinism”.


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