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Foundations of Economic Evolution

A Treatise on the Natural Philosophy of Economics

  • New Horizons in Institutional and Evolutionary Economics series

Carsten Herrmann-Pillath

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Chapter 7: Technology

Carsten Herrmann-Pillath


In the previous chapter, I discussed the deep connection between networks, technology and institutions (figure 6.2). I will now turn to the analysis of technology proper. The core insight is that technology is an integral part of the human extended phenotype. Superficially, this seems to vindicate the standard approach to see technology as a ‘tool’, a means to achieve human ends, which is also congenial to Robbins’ classical definition of economics that highlights the means/ends relationship (for example Arthur 2009: 28). I think that this ‘tool view’ is misguided for four reasons. _ Firstly, and most simply, actors do not have full knowledge about a technology when they use it. There are several factors that cause this incompleteness of knowledge, such as the disjunction between producer knowledge and user knowledge, and the unintended consequences of the use of technology. That means, if technology serves a human end, then individual actors are never fully informed about the means–end causalities and even the ends itself, if one considers the final results of technology use. We can only refer technological knowledge in toto to the human collectives that deploy technology.

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