CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition


1 For the economist today there exists a codified way of thinking about the connection between economics and philosophy, and we find a good statement of it in an editorial, printed in the new journal Philosophie économique. In that editorial, these connections are said to have to do with an interface between the usual categories of economics and those of philosophy, which involves three cross-relationships: between political economy and social philosophy, between normative economics and moral and political philosophy, and between the science of economics and the philosophy of science. No matter which of these is emphasized, the philosophy of economics takes the connection between economics and philosophy to be in accordance with the famous thesis of the philosophical veil defended by Schumpeter in his posthumous work History of Economic Analysis [1954], according to which ‘the veil of philosophy can also be lifted with regard to economics: at no time in history has economic analysis been based on the philosophical opinions various economists may have had.’ [1983, vol. I, p. 60]. [1] The economist necessarily includes philosophical elements at the level of his pre-analytic view of the economy, but his overall economic analysis remains independent of his philosophical position as concerns ‘ultimate truths (realities, causes).’ [Schumpeter, History, vol. I, p. 59]. His corpus of arguments based on primary concepts (themselves shaped in an analytic manner) is thus related to philosophy historically, without philosophy ever becoming anything more than a veil. This frequently-referenced thesis of Schumpeter’s concerning the relationship between economics and philosophy is accompanied by the idea, related to the progress made by economics, that the very fact that economics is increasingly becoming a science of analytical tools means that the pre-analytic part of it gets smaller and smaller with the passage of time. [2]

2 The connections between economics and philosophy that the economist develops when doing economic philosophy may still be in conformity with Schumpeter’s thesis about the veil of philosophy, but nonetheless the thesis has two defects. On one hand, by holding that economic analysis has at all times in history remained unaffected by philosophical positions, the thesis prevents us from holding in turn that economics was constructed as a science, beginning in the eighteenth century, as the result of a movement which pulled economics away from moral and political philosophy, to which it had been thought to belong. Traces of this supposed philosophical influence lasted long enough to be visible in Walras’s Éléments d’économie politique pure [1874]. But the movement toward autonomy for economics in relation to philosophy was complete by the mid-twentieth century, as we can prove by examining Debreu’s Theory of Value [1958]. On the other hand, however, the thesis prevents us from suggesting that a different economics is possible, that is, one different from modern economics, and whose heterodox character would thus constitute a renewed internal relationship with philosophy (met with once again), understood as ontology. No longer left outside, philosophy would in these terms allow this different economics to borrow some things belonging to philosophy itself, in order that economics might construct and equip its own form of analysis.

3 As a matter of fact, such an economics with substantial connections to philosophy was indeed developed in the recent past. American institutionalism in economics, during the first half of the twentieth century, constructed economic analyses by borrowing the methods and tools of pragmatic philosophy, which was at that time the dominant school of philosophy in the United States. [3] Taking advantage of the rediscovery of John Commons in the English-speaking world, and even more the corresponding rediscovery in France – Commons was a leading figure of American institutionalism in the period between World War I and World War II – we will show how his work is internally connected to pragmatic philosophy, particularly to the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce, who has some claim to being the founder of American pragmatism (section 1). In a manner reminiscent of Commons’s institutionalism, we here propose an approach in economics, the tool kit for which borrows part of its material from Peirce’s theory of signs. Thanks to our use of the Alceste program for textual data analysis, in the case of the thirty-five-hour week for example, we will exhibit the connections between our version of micro-institutionalism in economics and Peircean pragmatism (section 2). In both cases, pragmatic philosophy is more than a veil for institutionalist economics; it appears to be its touchstone.

1. Pragmatism in the Institutionalist Economics of John Commons

4 Commons’s work is being rediscovered in France, some time after having been revived in the English-speaking world. [4] We will take advantage of this situation in order to show that his work is internally linked to pragmatic philosophy, such that the latter is at the center of even his economic analyses. This internal connection appears in three distinct forms. First, in some early writings by Commons that appear before his more theoretical writings, he says they correspond to ‘a pragmatism in action.’ [5] Second, we will consider the object that is constructed by Commons’s institutionalist economics, which he himself viewed as an extension of Peirce’s pragmatism. Regarding the third form, we will approach the source of the scientific methodology Commons inherits from Peirce and Dewey, leading him to establish at the base of his theoretical tool kit the concepts of repetition, usage, habit and futurity.

1. The ‘Pragmatism in Action’ of the Double Reform

5 The first appearance of pragmatism in Commons’s work concerns the part of it that comes earlier, in chronological terms. This period includes articles and books on the subject of applied economics. [6] These works come before the more general and more theoretical works, the first of which is Legal Foundations of Capitalism [1924]. This is the work which Commons described as ‘pragmatism in action’, and we will explore the meaning of this expression in accordance with the thesis which Bazzoli [2000a] devoted to the early period of Commons’s work. [7]

6 Contrary to a long-standing and widely shared impression, the early work which Commons devoted to three areas of applied economics (public regulation, labor problems and monetary questions) is not theory-free. The later theoretical treatments of institutionalist economics in Commons are located at the intersection of three empirical fields. At the time of their composition, these empirical works tended to falsify two then-current ways of thinking about empirical economics: either as purely empirical or descriptive (without theory), or as an application of neoclassical economics and its pure theory. This opposition comes about because of the pragmatic nature of the epistemology Commons sees as appropriate for his empirical works. Bazzoli characterizes these by noting two features. On one hand, young Commons had ethical presuppositions that led him to concern himself personally with the ‘problems of the common man’. He wanted to avoid becoming an ‘armchair scientist’. On the other hand, Commons was affected by certain experiences connected with reform, especially as these concerned labor-related questions – what is called, in Europe, the ‘social question’. One might even say that pragmatic epistemology is the epistemology of a politically involved economist. And it acquired concrete form at the School of Labor Economics of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Commons’s professor had recommended he go there to do research concerning the history of labor in the United States. There along with colleagues he developed a particular school of economics, known as the Wisconsin school of institutionalism. As Rutherford [1990, p. XXXII ] notes in his introduction to the most recent edition of Institutional Economics, the project that included Commons’s empirical work on labor problems had two goals, one of which was to ‘transform economic theory so as to take into account in an appropriate manner the institutional factor’; the other was to ‘reach a reasonable reconciliation of the conflicting interests of capital and labor [which] are simply different aspects of the same problem’ (cited by Bazzoli [2000a, p. 107]). These two objectives, brought together by ‘pragmatism in action’, also mark the latter (I borrow a happy expression from Bazzoli, (2000a, p. 108) as a ‘double reform’, that is, a theoretical reform driven by practical experiences, and a political reform enlightened by theory.

7 This pragmatism of the double reform undoubtedly testifies to the influence of pragmatic philosophy in the American cultural landscape of that period. Without actually containing direct references to pragmatism, Commons’s empirical works may be placed ‘in the tradition of pragmatic philosophy, the most fundamental teaching of which resides in the analytic non-separability of human activities having to do with knowledge as opposed to those related to action; that is, theory and practice.’ (Bazzoli, 1995, p. 40)

2. Institutionalist Economics as an Extension of Pragmatism

8 The second appearance of pragmatism in Commons’s work occurs through his inheriting a pragmatism that was common to American institutionalism in economics; [8] this institutionalism, under the influence of pragmatism, had been led to formulate a theory of economic action as instituted action. Gislain [2003, p. 38] goes as far as saying that if indeed American institutionalism, in the area of theory, goes beyond the European sources from which it drew inspiration, it is because of ‘the contribution of the pragmatist philosophy of C. S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey [...] which would furnish institutionalism with a surplus of theoretical consistency, offering it an epistemological foundation for the conception of a theory of economic action as economic ‘instituting’.’ In addition, this epistemological foundation, by offering institutionalism the possibility of conceiving of ‘instituted’ economic action as individual and collective action (individual because collective), allows American institutionalism to avoid falling into ‘the methodological dualism of economic sociology of either the Weberian or the Durkheimian type, involving a theory of action that is too expansive or a theory of the institution that is too deterministic.’ We will see in what follows that this theoretical surplus does not come without a serious risk of losing the ability to distinguish between that which institutes and that which is instituted. Undoubtedly, Commons today is a greater inspiration for the institutionalist revival than Veblen because he was able to solidify his economic institutionalism by bringing it closer to pragmatic philosophy, as opposed to relating it to the Darwinian evolutionism that Veblen preferred.

9 The reference to pragmatism is central to institutionalist economics as Commons develops it; the self-explanation of institutionalism is part of the very definition of the field, which is then conceived as an extension of pragmatic philosophy, as Commons himself states in Institutional Economics: ‘Peirce’s pragmatism, applied to institutional economics, is the scientific investigation of these economic relations of citizens to citizens. Its subject-matter is the whole concern of which the individuals are members, and the activities investigated are their transactions governed by an entirely different law, not a law of nature but a working rule, for the time being, of collective action.’ (p. 157) Cited by Grinberg [2001, p. 180, n. 7].

10 When Commons presented, along the same lines, the object of his institutionalist economics in his article on ‘Institutional Economics’ (American Economic Review, 1931), he emphasized the pragmatic concept of transactions, observing that behaviors that were characterized as institutional were ‘individual actions [that] are literally trans-actions and not individual behaviors or exchanges of merchandise.’ He went on to indicate that ‘it is this passage from reasoning in terms of merchandise and individuals to reasoning in terms of transactions and rules for collective action which marks the transition from classical and hedonistic schools of economic thought to institutionalist economics. Classical and hedonistic economists, with their communist and anarchist connections, have based their theories on the relation between man and nature, but institutionalism is based on relations between men dealing with each other. The smallest unit used by economists is merchandise. [...] On the other hand, the smallest unit for institutionalist economists is a unit of activity: a transaction and its participants.’

11 Unlike Schumpeter’s thesis, Commons’s institutionalist economics affirms, in the very process of constructing its object, a very clear relationship with philosophy, specifically the pragmatic philosophy of Peirce. This relationship leads him to distinguish his work from neoclassical (hedonistic) economics as well as from other schools of economics, but he does not conceive of institutionalist economics as involving a sharp break from tradition, as the current movement for a revival of institutionalism appears to suggest. In fact, Commons states at the end of his article that ‘institutionalist economics is thus not separated from the theories of classical or neoclassical economists, but it projects them into the future.’ We shall return to this point in what follows.

3. The Legacy of a Scientific Methodology

12 The legacy of pragmatism in this case is not limited to an extended definition of the economic object, which it leads economic institutionalism to retain. The influence goes even deeper, having its effect at the level of scientific methodology. Here we follow Grinberg’s commentary [2001, p. 182]: ‘…it is by basing himself on Peirce, who makes habit and custom the basis of all science, distinguishing individual habits from collective customs, that Commons applies these concepts to economics.’ For Commons, there is no systematic repetition of behaviors in economics, but ‘there exists a form of repetition and similarity that is expressed in common law, because it is based on the theory of precedent. The latter notion is not unlike the notion of custom; in fact, practices that are repeated can become customs when individuals are pressed to conform to them. A custom can later become part of common law through the decisions of higher courts. This is the source of Commons’s interest in basing himself upon the notion of repeated use, or upon that of consensus at some point, because this provides an essential point of contact with the physical sciences.’ [2001, p. 179]. Commons adopts the scientific methodology of Peirce’s pragmatism, and then also borrows some of his fundamental concepts – which we shall also find at work in what follows, using the textual data analysis program Alceste.

13 There is yet another essential element of pragmatism at work in Commons, which again shows his close relation to Peirce, but for which he may in this case be even more directly indebted to Dewey. This concerns the ability of words to refer to the kinds of uses that make up their meaning, as it were in a future in which they are employed. In this view, the meaning of words is worked out in their internal relationships with their uses (the meaning of a thing consists in the habits it implies). Equally, ‘ideas are to be considered as part of experience and are nothing outside it, and the (instrumental) truth of ideas consists in their aptitude for doing some kind of work.’ (James [1968], explaining the positions of Dewey and Schiller, cited following Grinberg, p. 180). These internal links between the meanings of words and uses or habits, between the truth of ideas and the orientation of actions, at bottom involve their relation to time: they are turned toward the future. Gislain [2003, p. 42] analyzes the future as a ‘central concept in this pragmatist theory of action, also taken up by Commons. Futurity is future reality as it is apprehended in the present by an actor, taken as an acting being in the process of becoming.’

14 Two interconnected reasons explain why Commons’s institutionalist economics was forgotten during the second half of the twentieth century. The first is that Commons’s economics contradicted the famous thesis of Schumpeter that had been generally endorsed by economists. The second is that these economists, whose vision was obscured by the supposed separation between modern economics and philosophy, could not see the theory Commons’s economics carried within it, because they willingly and unfortunately took philosophical references to be no more than signs of confusion.

2. Pragmatism and the Micro-Institutionalist Approach in Economics

15 Our own work in economics has no direct relationship to the institutionalist economics of Commons, but there is nonetheless a certain kinship. This kinship extends also to the level of our methodological position, at some distance from the individualism of the economics of conventions such as this was developed in Defalvard [1992 and 2002], and which was characterized by Boyer [2004, p. 109] as holistic individualism; and the kinship is also present at the level of our modeling of ‘institutional games’ as presented in Defalvard [1999 and 2000]. In both cases it is a question of conceiving of economic action as instituted, such that its first characteristic is to be produced in and through language, which marks its collective and social nature. However, alongside these similarities there is a difference between our position and that of Commons’s institutionalist economics. Our modeling of instituted action in institutional games distinguishes between the macro-institutional level of actions whose object is to produce general rules, and the micro-institutional level on which we have to do with action within the framework of general rules. In other words, and although there is a continuum between the two levels, through this distinction we provide ourselves with the means to avoid mixing up the instituting act and that which is instituted; on the other hand, as Guéry notes [2001, p. 29], for American institutionalism ‘the institution refers us back to the instituted as well as to the instituting, by placing them both on the same level in a game of social creation and recreation of rules and norms which is perpetual, and which is called evolution.’

16 However, this difference with regard to Commons’s institutionalism in no way interferes with our sharing with him a connection to Peirce’s pragmatism, which is constitutive of our micro-institutionalist approach to economics. In fact, the latter, supported by the use of the Alceste program for analysis of textual data, develops a pragmatic methodology that gives support to the previously mentioned double reform of ‘pragmatism in action’, as we will show in discussing our own study of the thirty-five-hour week. [9]

1. The Approach to the Thirty-five-hour Week Using the Language of the Common Man

17 As we remember, the pragmatism inherited from Peirce led Commons to adopt, for his institutionalist economics, a scientific methodology that gave great importance to the repetition of uses, which become customs, or even part of common law, through the operation of higher courts. In our modeling, the custom, like common law itself, belongs to the macro-institutional level, while the micro-institutional level is made up of the words actors use to conceive their actions, which are also traces of that which is repeated in their practices and uses. We approach the thirty-five-hour week based on what salaried workers who have begun working that schedule say about their experiences; this is a micro-institutionalist approach that borrows from Peirce’s pragmatism, and this borrowing leads us to discover the basic laws of interpretation of the thirty-five-hour week, such as these laws operate among salaried workers.

18 Our study of the thirty-five-hour week, to speak more precisely, made use of the answers to the only open question asked by the Dares RTT et Modes de vie survey, which was preceded by a closed question, asking salaried workers if their changeover to a thirty-five-hour week, in terms of their daily life at work and outside of work, had made things better or worse for them, or had left things unchanged. The open question simply asked them to give reasons for answering as they had.

19 Our use of the Alceste program is based on the construction of a corpus composed of individual answers to the open question asked by the survey, most of which are made up of one or two phrases. Each answer is preceded by a starred line that displays the modalities of socioeconomic variables that characterize the social profile of the respondent. The analysis of the data calculated by Alceste focuses on content-bearing words in the answers (including verbs), that is, words that only have a grammatical or syntactic function are ignored. Alceste thus emphasizes the pragmatic dimension of language, since the selection of words is centered on the relation of sign to object, and the reference to Peirce allows us to take account of both these aspects: the immediate object which the sign designates, and the dynamic object that is the cause of the sign, and which is thus the trace of uses and practices that are deposited in language itself by means of the game of their repetition. [10]

20 Next, let us consider an individual response from the corpus, with the content-bearing words displayed in bold type:

21 to get some free time on weekends, we don’t need to go to the stores anymore (on weekends), much more time for the children.

22 Our access to the meaning of the thirty-five-hour week for those who are working it is attained through a pragmatic analysis of content-bearing words whose relation to the object is conceived in terms of three modes of functioning, as icon, as index and as symbol. We can make this point clearer by reproducing the triadic relation of the sign in Peirce, as Balat has modeled it [2000, p. 71]: As an icon (#1), the word refers us to the object because of its internal nature; as an index or indication (#2) the word is linked to the object by a real relation; as a symbol (#3) the word is connected to the object by the mediation of another sign, which functions as its interpretant, in the terms of Peirce’s theory. [11] The three faces of the relation of sign to object can also be expressed in terms of three different levels, which are the imaginary, the real and the symbolic.

Figure 1. Diagram of the Triadic Relation of the Sign

Figure 1. Diagram of the Triadic Relation of the Sign

23 The second operation performed by Alceste on the corpus is to cut the units into elementary context units (ECU). These are corpus segments containing a string or sequence of x occurrences of content-bearing words at the most (the variable is defined depending on the length of the corpus). In our use of Alceste, each individual response, since it is short and not very well developed, constitutes an ECU in general. The segmentation of an ECU takes place in accordance with the natural character of language, proceeding by association of ideas, as this is exhibited by a sequence of content-bearing words in an ECU, and is also affected by the arbitrary character of language, insofar as the segmentation always is aleatory to some degree.

24 The analysis of textual data is made according to a table of basic data, with content-bearing words from the corpus arranged in columns, and the ECUs going across (see Table I); in this Table, a ‘1’ indicates the presence of a content-bearing word column in an ECU line (across), while a ‘0’ in this location represents the absence of such a word.

Table 1. Table of Basic Data

MP1 …………… MPi …………… MP262
ECU1 0 0 .. 1
.. .. .. ... .. ..
.. .. .. .. .. ..
ECUj 0 .. 1 .. 0
.. .. .. .. .. ..
.. .. .. .. .. ..
ECU1622 1 .. 0 .. 1

Table 1. Table of Basic Data

25In the corpus under consideration, Alceste counted 262 analyzable content-bearing words (with at least four occurrences in the corpus) and 1622 ECUs for a number of respondents equal to 1618, which confirms that each ECU is an individual response. Through the iconic repetition of ‘1’ in the columns Alceste formed the hypothesis that practices and uses are found in the form of a condensed trace in each ECU: ‘the simultaneous presence of content-bearing words in a single ECU is the possible trace of content’ [Reinert, 2003, p. 403]. Thus Alceste is a pragmatic tool insofar as ‘discourse is conceived not by what one represents to oneself in it but by that which is written into it as activity’ [Reinert, 2003, p. 401]. Nonetheless this repetition is only revealed in the third-order play of signs that the hierarchical descending method of classification attempts to capture by calculating the ‘lexical worlds’ of the corpus, which are only discerned through being mutually opposed, as the theoretical Table II (below) shows. The vocabulary (or lexical world) of a class does not appear in specific terms except insofar as it is opposed to another vocabulary.

Table 2. The Two First Mother Classes of the Corpus

Table 2. The Two First Mother Classes of the Corpus

2. The Double Reform of the Thirty-five-hour Week

26 In our study of the thirty-five-hour week, the descending hierarchical classification calculated five classes, which are represented in the following dendrogram (cf. diagram 2) in which, for each class, the content-bearing words which are most characteristic (in an associated descending chi-square order) make up its ideal-typical lexical world. The latter forms a law of interpretation of the thirty-five-hour week by salaried workers whose responses belong to this class. The results obtained are thus the bearers of the double reform, theoretical insofar as it modifies the neoclassical theory of arbitrage between work and leisure, political insofar as it opens up new pathways toward a different policy concerning the time of the work week.

Figure 2. Dendrogram of the Five Classes

Figure 2. Dendrogram of the Five Classes

27The neoclassical theory assumes that the work schedule of salaried workers is the result of an arbitrage between work and leisure. The lexical worlds concerning the thirty-five-hour week calculated by Alceste contribute two points of clarification to this question. On one hand, only 33% of salaried workers (those belonging to class 5) share their experience of the thirty-five-hour week by speaking in terms of free time and leisure. For them, free time is indeed the topical basis of the thirty-five-hour week, the topos of their usage of language in this case, but for others, the topical locus in which iconic repetition operates as the trace of an activity is instead the nonworking days (days off) given to the salaried workers of class 1; and for the salaried workers of class 4, it is the work schedule for the day shift, the night shift and Saturdays. Otherwise, in its opposition to work, leisure is not experienced for its own sake, but most often involves the family and children. In other words, this comparison in terms of the experience of work time vs. leisure time allows us to see the centrality of family life in the problematic of the proper division of social time. Although it only concerns a third of the salaried workers, this problematic still remains the dominant law of interpretation for the thirty-five-hour week. All in all, with the lexical worlds of the thirty-five-hour week, we are far removed from the economic theory of the arbitrage between work and leisure.

28 All the same, this distance does not constitute either a complete break or an alternative in theoretical terms, relative to the dominant form of economics. Regarding this nonseparation, we nonetheless offer a vision that is different from that proposed by Commons in the terms of his institutionalist economics. In fact, the micro-economics of the arbitrage between work and leisure constitutes the Text in Legendre’s sense [1999], legitimating the macro-institutions of market-based societies, establishing the fiction or the social imagination that makes social relations make sense. Institutionalist economics, macro and micro at the same time, thus contains micro-economics to the extent that the latter is constitutive for market-based societies. It does not represent an alternative, but a theoretical envelope.

29 By using the socio-economic variables on the starred lines as supplementary variables, it is possible to draw a typical social portrait of a salaried worker who is representative of each of the five classes produced by Alceste. To the typical social portrait of salaried workers of class 5, who have a high level of training or education, who tend to work in service industries, who work regular hours rather than irregular hours, who have at least one child and who are slightly more likely to be female than male, we may oppose the typical social portrait of the salaried workers of class 1, who tend to work at a travail posté (a job which might entail working double or triple shifts) with a changing work schedule that has not been reduced; these workers most frequently have no degree, have spouses who do not work, and no children. The thirty-five-hour week has thus given rise to very different experiences, depending on whether one is part of the social world of young parents who are symbolic analysts (in the expression of Reich [1993]), or part of the post-Fordist social world. For the first group, the thirty-five-hour week was associated with free time to be spent with the family; for the second, the extra time off was just more time off, but did not change anything else. For the salaried workers of class 4, there is another social world that could be depicted based on their lexical world, involving a modulation that concerns salaried workers not protected from the constraints involved in unlimited salary flexibility.

30 In the face of the economism that makes work a factor in production, a factor that can be increased and made more productive, assuring ever-greater growth that is ever more unequally distributed, and which brings with it, as if yoked to a brother enemy, a level of radical political opposition in the name of equality and the protection of the weakest, we can envisage another way forward which links work time to family life, proposing a limit for work time that is also a break with what had gone before. In fact, time spent in family life is part of another experience of time, that of shared and intangible time, as opposed to economic time, the measured time of production. Based on the experience of the salaried workers of class 5, a different policy regarding the work week is possible and desirable; by expanding its conditions of possibility and allowing more freedom for experimentation, it leads us to imagine through abductive reasoning the elements of an improved disposition of social time, one in which the limitation of work time is not implemented in order to provide more time for consumption, but acts in favor of more intangible time for life that is shared with others. This different policy concerning the work week brings us back, in concluding, to a remark by Arendt [1994, p. 271] about the ‘striking reversal of the ancient relationship between private and public [in commercial society]…[which requires] that men show themselves only in the privacy of their families, or in the intimacy of their friends.’ This point of view makes philosophy something other than a veil that superficially covers over institutionalist economics, because the words of the latter have borrowed even the horizon of their meaning from the former.


  • [1]
    Another version of this thesis is given by Schumpeter a little further on, which affirms that ‘philosophy, in all the technical senses of the word, is by its nature incapable of influencing economic analysis, and has not in fact influenced it.’ [vol. I, p. 62].
  • [2]
    ‘When the modern student encounters this phenomenon [that of competitive prices] at an advanced point in his studies, for example in the books of Hicks or Samuelson, he finds himself in the presence of a great number of concepts and problems that may seem difficult at first, and which certainly would have been completely incomprehensible to an author as recent as John Stuart Mill. But the student will discover that new intellectual tools allow him to consider and to resolve problems, which the authors of earlier times would have found very difficult to answer. This situation defines, in a manner that is accessible to common sense and in which there is not the least ambiguity, in what sense there has been scientific progress since Mill’s time, up to the present time of Samuelson. This is the same sense in which we are able to say that there has been technological progress in the extraction of teeth since the time of John Stuart Mill.’ [vol. I, p. 71]
  • [3]
    Regarding the place of pragmatism in American philosophy, the reader should consult the work of Deledalle [1983].
  • [4]
    The new edition of 1990 of Commons’s major work, Institutional Economics. Its Place in Political Economy, is the surest indication of this rediscovery, as is the new introduction written for this edition by Rutherford [1990]. This publication was followed in 1996 by the appearance of another new edition of one of Commons’s major works, Legal Foundations of Capitalism.
  • [5]
    Commons, Myself, 1934, p. 160. Cited after Bazzoli [2000a, p. 103].
  • [6]
    One may find in Cahiers d’économie politique [2001, no 40-41], following the translation of the article ‘Institutional Economics’ which first appeared in 1931 in The American Review, a bibliography of Commons’s work which contains 98 references, with dates of publication that go from 1892 to 1950.
  • [7]
    Bazzoli wrote his doctoral dissertation about Commons’s work; it was defended in December 1994 at Lyon, and published in Bazzoli [2000b].
  • [8]
    For a presentation of American institutionalism in economics from its foundations, one may consult COREI [1995] (in French).
  • [9]
    For a more detailed account of this study, see Defalvard [2005].
  • [10]
    This aspect of the methodology of Alceste was developed by its creator in Reinert [2003].
  • [11]
    For an introduction to Peirce’s theory of signs, see the commentaries of Deledalle [1978] that accompany the French publication of Peirce, Écrits sur le signe.


Many economists’ view of the relationship between economics and philosophy has been affected by the famous thesis of Schumpeter concerning the “philosophical veil”, and which states that economic analysis is always independent of philosophy. The object of the article is to show that as a sort of counterpoint to modern economics, which is autonomous with regard to philosophy, there is another economics, which has internal connections to pragmatic philosophy, which is the source of its object and its method. This was the case with the institutional economics of John Commons in the first half of the 20th century, and it is also the case with my micro-institutional approach in economics, which is here employed in an analysis of the 35-hour work week in France.


  • Arendt, H. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999 [La Condition de l’homme modern. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1994].
  • Balat, M. Des fondements sémiotiques de la psychanalyse, Peirce après Freud et Lacan. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000.
  • Bazzoli, L. “L’économie de l’action collective de J. Commons,” in T. Corei.
  • — “L’économie institutionnaliste du travail de J. Commons: un ‘pragmatisme en action’,” Les Cahiers du Gratice 9 (2000): 101–34.
  • L’Économie politique de John Commons. Essai sur l’institutionnalisme en sciences sociales. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000.
  • Boyer, R. Une théorie du capitalisme est-elle possible? Paris: Odile Jacob, 2004.
  • Commons, J. “Institutional Economics,” in The American Economic Review 4 (1931) [trans. L. Bazzoli et V. Dutraive, Cahiers d’économie politique 40—41 (2001)].
  • Corei, T. L’Économie institutionnaliste. Les fondateurs. Paris: Economica, 1995.
  • OnlineDefalvard, H. “Critique de l’individualisme méthodologique revu par l’économie des conventions”, Revue économique, 1(1992): 127–44.
  • — “Coordination, anticipations et croyances: la part des institutions”, Économie appliquée 3 (1999): 7–39.
  • — “Croyances individuelles et coordination sociale. À propos de quelques résultats récents en théorie des jeux non cooperatives,” L’Actualité économique 3: 341–64.
  • — “L’économie des conventions à l’école des institutions,” Économie appliquée 4 (1999): 7–33.
  • — “Les 35 heures et la préférence pour le loisir. Éléments pour une autre politique du temps de travail,” Revue économique (forthcoming).
  • Deledalle, G. “Commentaire,” in C.S. Peirce, Écrits sur le signe. Paris: Seuil, 1978.
  • — La Philosophie américaine. Brussels: Éditions universitaires-De Boeck Université, second edition, 1990.
  • OnlineGislain, J.-J. “L’émergence de la problématique des institutions en économie,” Cahiers d’économie politique 44 (2003):19–49.
  • OnlineGrinberg, M. “Un cheval est-il un cheval ? Les mots, les faits, le capitalisme et le droit,” Cahiers d’économie politique, 40–41 (2001): 177–89.
  • OnlineGuéry, A. “Propriété, droit et institution dans l’institutionnalisme américain,” Cahiers d’économie politique 40–41 (2001): 9–38.
  • Legendre, P. Sur la question dogmatique en Occident. Paris: Fayard, 1999.
  • Reich, R. L’Économie mondialisée. Paris: Dunod, 1993.
  • Reinert, M. “Le rôle de la répétition dans la représentation du sens et son approche statistique par la méthode ALCESTE”, Semiotica 1/4: 2003, 389–420.
  • OnlineRutherford, M. “Introduction to the Transaction Edition,” XIII-XXXVII, in COMMONS J., Institutional Economics, Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990.
  • Schumpeter, J. Histoire de l’analyse économique, vol. I, L’Âge des fondateurs. Paris: Gallimard, 1990.
Hervé Defalvard
Economic Sciences, University of Marne-la-Vallée.
Uploaded on on 03/07/2014
Distribution électronique pour P.U.F. © P.U.F.. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Loading... Please wait