Work, Creativity, and Habit:
Thorstein Veblen's Theoretical Contribution to Economics
Alan Wayne Dyer
Source: DAI, 44, no. 04A, (1982): 1165
Economists remember Veblen primarily for his descriptions of early-twentieth century capitalism, not for making a theoretical contribution to the science of economics. Doubting that he grasped the nature of scientific inquiry (because he criticized deduction) and failing to understand his general treatise, The Instinct of Workmanship, most economists believe that Veblen failed to develop an analytical framework. This work demonstrates that Veblen not only understood the nature of scientific inquiry, but that he developed a logically consistent set of hypotheses for analyzing economic behavior.
Veblen's comprehension of the nature of scientific inquiry is demonstrated by presenting his theory of inquiry and comparing it to the one developed by Charles S. Peirce. Veblen, like Peirce, emphasized the creative phase of inquiry and concluded that it required a novel (neither deductive not inductive) type of logic. Veblen criticized deductive logic on the basis of his theory of inquiry, concluding only that it was unable to generate new hypotheses, not that it was a useless analytical tool.
Veblen's success in developing an analytical framework is demonstrated by showing that, in The Instinct, he developed a general hypothesis on human behavior, explaining behavior in terms of human nature (instincts), intelligence, and habit. An important conclusion of his hypothesis was that habits served as means both of expressing human nature and of social cohesion. Habits evolve, he argued, because they inevitably wane as means of expressing underlying human nature and are supplanted by new habits. Using his hypothesis to explain economic behavior, he focused on the instinct of workmanship, technological habits, and the relationships of both to other instincts and habits.
Veblen's framework can be used to address current theoretical issues in both institutionalist and orthodox economics. Institutionalists can use Veblen to present a clearer distinction between their economic analysis and that of orthodox economists and to improve their theory of human nature. Veblen's hypothesis on habits also responds to recent calls by orthodox economists for theories that both include broader assumptions about human nature and address the evolution of economic behavior. The relevance of his framework to these theoretical issues further demonstrates the scientific nature of Veblen's contribution to economics.
Descriptor: ECONOMICS, THEORY
Accession No: AAG8318892