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Showing posts from May 29, 2011

the roots of ethology revised

Between 1840 and 1900, the character of economic man, or homo economicus, was formulated not so much as a sociological type observed empirically, but rather as a theoretical necessity arrived at deductively. In the model of the market economy as a sort of variant of the electromagnetic field of Maxwell’s, there was need for some molecule upon which market forces could work, and economic man was elected for the task. But, admittedly, this molecule had a backstory, one that was smoothed out no doubt to make him the infinitely rational calculator of myth, and yet still one that imposed a certain historic weight. John Stuart Mill, in the System of Logic (1843), suggested that there should be, at the center of the social sciences, one that was devoted to character itself – ethology. In the twentieth century, ethology was hijacked to describe the study of animal behavior, while the science that Mill suggested died in its cradle. Its object, too, has lead a marginal existence in sociology and