Date of Award

Fall 1996

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Richard W England


This dissertation integrates the concepts of circular causality, emergence, and hierarchical organization through an investigation of the evolutionary dimension within economic thought. The different sections of this dissertation represent complementary perspectives on this theme.

The first chapter introduces the concept of circular causality and the technique of causal diagramming. These tools are used in the second and third chapters to highlight the evolutionary dimension within the history of economic thought. The particular theorists and groups of articles discussed include Adam Smith, Alfred Marshall, the Increasing Returns debates of the 1920's, Gunnar Myrdal, and Nicholas Kaldor. The significance of the Increasing Returns debates is that it represents a bifurcation within economic theory: a point at which a choice needed to be made between what appeared to be mutually exclusive methods of analysis (i.e., the equilibrium and evolutionary perspective). The implicit decision was to further develop equilibrium theorizing. As a result, both Myrdal and Kaldor were, by necessity, outspoken critics of this equilibrium based methodology. These criticisms are highly significant due to their detailed analysis of what evolutionary theory is not. Hierarchical nesting and the defining characteristics thereof emerge quite naturally within the theories of these above mentioned evolutionary economists. This manifested for some of the later theorists as an implicit, and frequently explicit, refusal to use a general equilibrium framework in their models of the economy (i.e., an aggregation of the parts to form the whole). Such a methodology would have been in direct conflict with their intuitions regarding the economic process. The different layers of the economy that they did identify are found to be amenable to conceptualization as self-reinforcing processes.

In the fourth chapter, this hierarchical nesting of concepts is developed more generally, and grounded more firmly, as a residual of mental conception and dualistic thought. It is hoped that these latter ideas might serve as a future foundation, however rough, from which a truly evolutionary perspective can emerge: one which is applicable to the whole range of human experience.