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Order, process and morphology: Sraffa and Wittgenstein

Richard Arena

Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2015, vol. 39, issue 4, 1087-1108

Abstract: This contribution is based on an exploration of the nature and meaning of some of Sraffa’s and Wittgenstein’s mutual ontological, methodological and philosophical influences whose initial findings are set out in Arena (2013). The article has two core objectives. First, I argue that, based on earlier findings, a different interpretation of Sraffa’s contribution to economics is possible from those that have been predominant so far and that hold that Sraffa’s approach is primarily a contribution to the theory of relative prices. I consider the two main interpretations of Sraffa’s price system in this regard. Whilst these differ in important aspects, I argue that they share a core feature, namely, an approach to prices based on the concept of economic or social order understood as a final outcome independent of the possible process through which this outcome can be achieved. Second, I am interested in highlighting a number of connections between Wittgenstein’s works post-Tractatus and certain developments contained in Sraffa’s Unpublished Papers. Taking Wittgenstein post-Tractatus as the starting point, I proceed to argue that core concepts employed by Wittgenstein are compatible with and reinforce an interpretation of Sraffa’s contribution in terms of a morphological and comparative analysis of the economic foundations of surplus-based societies. From this perspective, the notions of ‘surveyable representation’ and ‘snapshot’ are employed to characterise an analysis in which agents are guided by social rules, and the concept of mechanical causality is discarded. This convergence of Sraffa’s and Wittgenstein’s approaches does not, however, exclude differences concerning the social facts investigated and the use of analytical tools such as mathematics.

Date: 2015
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