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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: January 2010

8 - The Economic Turn


Life is both acquisition of information, i.e., a cognitive process, and economic enterprise (one is almost tempted to call it commercial). An increase in knowledge about the outside world produces economic advantages; these then exert the selection pressure which causes the mechanisms that acquire and store information to develop further.

[Lorenz 1977, p. 28]

The central concern of that branch of philosophy known as epistemology or the theory of knowledge should be the growth of knowledge. This means that the theory of knowledge is a branch of economics.

[Bartley 1990, p. 89]

The production of knowledge is an economic activity, an industry, if you like. Economists have analyzed agriculture, mining, iron and steel production, … and the production of all sorts of goods and services, but they have neglected to analyze the production of knowledge. This is surprising because there are a good many reasons why an economic analysis of the production of knowledge seems to be particularly interesting and promising of new insights.

[Machlup 1962, p. 9]

[T]he attempt to constitute a thriving “economics of science” … is not calculated to win friends and converts to the project, nor will it achieve its intended effect of recommending economic analysis to the denizens of science studies, but will rather simply confirm … pre-existing prejudices about economists being incorrigibly imperialistically aggressive, preternaturally surly, hopelessly tin-eared when it comes to listening to the actors, lumpenly lead-footed when trespassing on other disciplines, and woefully ignorant.

[Mirowski 1996a, pp. 72–3]