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Two rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire

Denis, A. (2003). Two rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire (03/10). London, UK: Department of Economics, City University London.


For many economists, including those who have made the most marked contribution to the development of the discipline, their work has to be understood in the context of the rhetorical strategy they were pursuing – what they wanted to persuade us of and how they wanted to do it. The paper identifies two fundamental rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire resting on entirely distinct ontological foundations. What distinguishes these two strategies is the way they articulate the individual with the general interest, how they relate the micro to the macro. The two strategies discussed in the paper are characterised by the stance they take on a fundamental ontological issue, the way in which the things which appear to us in the world are related to the things or matters which compose them. A reductionist approach suggests that we can understand an entity at one level as a congeries. An entity in this view is just an aggregate of entities at a lower, substrate level – a purely external unity. The properties and behaviour of an entity can then be understood in terms of the properties and behaviour of the constituent lower-level components, taken in isolation. In this approach, phenomena at some level are regarded as having just the qualities enjoyed by its lower-level, substrate elements, writ large. The contrary, holistic, stance is to view the qualities of phenomena at one level as emergent at that level, and to assert that an entity can be understood as a product of the inter-relations between its component parts. We have, then, a pair of contrasted approaches: a polarity which is productive in the study of schools of thought, of competing methodologies, and of rhetorical strategies in economics. The paper applies this approach to the work of Smith, Keynes, Hayek, Lucas and Friedman.

Publication Type: Monograph (Discussion Paper)
Additional Information: © 2003 the author
Publisher Keywords: Laissez-faire, ontology, rhetoric, reductionism, holism, invisible hand
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Economics > Discussion Paper Series
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