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Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics

Edited by John Laurent and John Nightingale

Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics brings together contributions from eminent authors who, building on Darwin’s own insights and on developments in evolutionary theory, offer challenging views on how economics can use evolutionary ideas effectively.
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Chapter 4: The Evolutionary Economics of Alfred Marshall: An Overview

Peter Groenewegen


Peter Groenewegen Marshall’s saying, ‘the Mecca of the economist lies in economic biology’, is well known, as is the fact that this gave an evolutionary slant to his economics. This is also captured in the Latin motto which graced the frontispiece of his Principles – natura non facit saltum – designed to draw attention to the principle of continuity as the underlying ‘special character’ of the book. Marshall may have derived his fondness for this saying from his youthful studies of the philosophy of Kant or, equally plausible, from the pages of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, a book he likewise studied during this time (see Groenewegen, 1995, pp. 130, 411). The evolutionary thrust of Marshall’s work is frequently explicit, especially in his Principles of Economics, the work for which he is now mainly remembered, and which spread his economic message of the wide-ranging benefits of progress over its eight editions from 1890 to 1920 and its subsequent frequent reprintings. This chapter intends to trace the development of Marshall’s evolutionary economics. It does so in the following way. Its first substantive section examines Marshall’s interest in and acquaintance with evolutionary thought, largely acquired during the second half of the 1860s when he turned away from the study of mathematics to the moral sciences of philosophy and psychology and, eventually, economics. It also looks at the impact thereof on his early economics. Subsequent sections then review the evolutionary content of Marshall’s economics in two further distinct stages: first, that in the various editions...

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