Handbook of Knowledge and Economics
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Handbook of Knowledge and Economics

Edited by Richard Arena, Agnès Festré and Nathalie Lazaric

By illuminating the philosophical roots of the various notions of knowledge employed by economists, this Handbook helps to disentangle conceptual and typological issues surrounding the debate on knowledge amongst economists. Wide-ranging in scope, it explores fundamental aspects of the relationship between knowledge and economics – such as the nature of knowledge, knowledge acquisition and knowledge diffusion.
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Chapter 6: Imagination and Perception as Gateways to Knowledge: The Unexplored Affinity between Boulding and Hayek

Roberta Patalano


Roberta Patalano 6.1 INTRODUCTION In 1956, Kenneth E. Boulding claimed that human behaviour depends on mental representations. Every action, including economic action, is guided by the images of the world that the subject has built up in his/her mind. In those times, Boulding’s revolutionary message was not understood. His ideas remained widely unheard, especially by the economic public to which they were addressed. In the same period, cognitive scientists – and some economists among them – were reacting against behaviourism, thus bringing back mental phenomena to the centre of theoretical inquiry in social sciences. Herbert Simon supported the revolution from the inside: by highlighting the bounds of rationality he pointed out the necessity of exploring mental activity more deeply (Simon, 1955). Years later, when introducing the concept of ‘problem space’, he argued that solutions to problems are not found in the external world but in the mental representation of the problem that the agent elaborates (Newell and Simon, 1972). Although Boulding and Hayek were not directly involved in the cognitive revolution, two of their most eclectic contributions on knowledge pertain to these years. The Sensory Order: An Inquiry in the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology (Hayek, 1952) and The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society (Boulding, 1956) were both looking at the interaction between the individual cognitive structure and the external environment as a determinant of human behaviour. Perception, for Hayek, and imagination, for Boulding, were considered the main cognitive activities involved in the construction of knowledge. Recently, a new field of research...

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