Archive for February, 2014

As a history and philosophy student, I’ve sometimes mocked the homo economicus of the economists. Yet, I always assumed I was attacking a cliche that doesn’t really exist. Joke for joke’s sake.

I just finished reading Economie Toegelicht of Marc De Clercq. It’s a ca 700 pages introduction to economics book, used at the University of Ghent. Surprisingly enough, again and again the same ridiculous sociological axioms were stated! A study of the economy with the individual as foundation in which the latter is an egoistic satisfaction-driven rationalist.

What’s the point of setting up a sociological frame as a foundation for economic theories, when the frame itself isn’t accepted by any sociologist?

This homo economicus analyses the world in terms of numbers based on his personal needs and ways of satisfaction. Economists use this monstrosity as a standard and searches for explanations when people don’t seem to follow this standard. All of this is supposedly “descriptive”. What a joke. The definition of the normal is a political-ethical one that might be defended, but it should at least be recognized as a norm instead of a description.

Maybe I shouldn’t draw to harsh conclusions based on this one textbook. Yet, this is the starting point for every economy student and the only book many other students will ever get about economy at the university.

In the introduction to Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy by Michel Serres, the editors (J.V. Harari and D.F. Bell) wrote a lovely sentence about the accumulation of knowledge and its tendency to specialisation.

They point-out how the different disciplines, but especially the distinction between the exact sciences and the humanities, are growing more and more apart. It’s not merely a conceptual distinction. It’s also something that is institutionalised (different faculties) and noticeable in the different books, programs and other stuff. The cause of this division is found in the practical necessity of specialisation due to the accumulating nature of knowledge. This specialisation has achieved great results.

In this context, they write: “divide in order to conquer“.

While this sentence is usually used to express how someone from above creates unnecessary struggles between others, in this case, it are the searchers for knowledge themselves that create such a division among themselves. Next, they managed to conquer a lot more because of this division!

What a fun change of meaning…