“Mechanical” Metaphors and Theory Formation: a Cognitive-Historical Analysis of Economic Discourse


  • Natalya Davidko Moscow Institute TOURO (MIT)




Metaphors and categories are an inalienable part of any science. For centuries, mechanical metaphors have been active in shaping economic thought performing their cognitive function. Economists as different as A. Smith and J. Hicks resorted to metaphors not only to name new phenomena (filling vocabulary lacuna), but, what is more important, to make sense of ontologically given parts of economic reality (a heuristic function) and create a cognitive conceptual system, which served as a basis for economic theories (a theory-constructive function). In this article, I will endeavor to analyze why the way of thinking based on mechanical analogies has proved so fruitful in the history of economics. For this purpose, a cognitive-historical model of analysis is used, which allows one to place the emergence of concepts in the 'context of discovery'. I will undertake to examine the ideology underlying mechanical metaphors, their epistemology and interpretative capacity, as well as their theory generating power. One more aspect of research is to see how the development of a science enriches the language itself. The subject matter of the current research is the focal concepts of modern economics such as 'the market', 'the economy', 'the business cycle', etc. Their analysis is based on the works of the leading economists, starting from the the 17th century. Belonging to different schools of thought, addressing different economic phenomena, they have one thing in common – reliance on mechanical metaphors.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5755/j01.sal.0.27.13744