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Two rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire

Denis, A. (2004). Two rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire. Journal of Economic Methodology, 11(3), pp. 341-357. doi: 10.1080/1350178042000252983


To understand the work of economic theorists it is often helpful to situate it in the context of the rhetorical strategy they were pursuing. Two ontologically distinct rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire may be distinguished by the way they articulate the individual interest with the general interest. A reductionist approach, exemplified by Friedman and Lucas, suggests that the properties and behaviour of an entity can be understood in terms of the properties and behaviour of the constituent lower-level components, taken in isolation. The contrary - holistic - stance, viewing the qualities of phenomena as products of the inter-relations between their component parts, is characteristic of Smith and Hayek. While the reductionist approach naturally issues in a laissez-faire policy prescription, the holistic account is more problematic. Reconciling a holistic ontology with a reductionist policy prescription requires the intercalation of a black box, such as an evolutionary process or the invisible hand of a deity.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Journal of Economic Methodology published on 17 May 2010, available online:
Publisher Keywords: Laissez-faire, ontology, rhetoric, reductionism, holism, invisible hand
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Economics
SWORD Depositor:
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