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Conceptualizing CapitalismInstitutions, Evolution, Future$
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Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226168005

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226168142.001.0001

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Distilling the Essence

Distilling the Essence

(p.25) Chapter One Distilling the Essence
Conceptualizing Capitalism

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 1 outlines the philosophical and historical considerations involved in defining capitalism. Following Aristotle, a definition must identify the essential features of the type it defines. It is argued that the identification of essences is central to all science, and fashionable “anti-essentialism” is mistaken. But while adopting an Aristotelian account of essences, Aristotle's “natural state model,” where variety is seen as a temporary deviation from a representative type (as in works by defenders of capitalism and by opponents such as Marx) is rejected. Instead Darwin's “population thinking” can help in understanding varieties of capitalism. It is also argued that a reasonable definition of capitalism must identify the novel institutions that help to account for its spectacular growth from the eighteenth century. A definition has also to take into account “impurities” and internal variety. It is explained that constructing a definition is different from abstraction, analysis, or description.

Keywords:   Aristotle, definitions, essences, natural state model, varieties of capitalism, population thinking, birth of capitalism, impurity principle

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