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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: September 2009

2 - The rediscovery of value and the opening of economics

    • By Ilya Prigogine, Professor of Physics International Solvay Institutes, The Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels Belgium; Director of the Ilya Prigogine Center for Studies in Statistical Mechanics and Complex Systems, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, United States
  • Edited by Kurt Dopfer, Universität St Gallen, Switzerland
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • DOI:
  • pp 59-69


The open universe

It is only in the nineteenth century that we find a discipline called ‘economic science’. At this time, the Western world was dominated by Cartesian dualism. On one side there was matter, ‘res extensa’, described by deterministic laws, while on the other there was ‘res cogitans’, associated with the human mind. It was accepted that there was a fundamental distinction between the physical world and the spiritual – the world of human values. When Thomas Hooke drew up the statutes of the Royal Society in 1663, he inscribed as the objective ‘to improve the knowledge of natural things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures’, adding the phrase ‘not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetoricks, or Logick’. These statutes incarnated already the division of the ways of knowing into what C. P. Snow would later call the ‘two cultures’. This separation of the two cultures rapidly assumed the flavour of a hierarchy, at least in the eyes of scientists. On one side, we had the laws of nature, of which Newton's second law (acceleration proportional to force) was the foremost example. These laws (including today quantum mechanics and relativity) have two general aspects. They are deterministic (if you know the initial conditions, both future and past are determined) and time-reversible. Past and future play the same role. Therefore, science was associated with certainty.

Koyré, A. (1968), Newtonian Studies, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Prigogine, I. (1945), ‘Etude thermodynamique des phénomènes irreversibles’, Bull. Acad. Roy. Belg. 31: 600
Prigogine, I., and I. Stengers (1993), Das Paradox der Zeit, Munich: Piper