Evolutionary Economics and the Counterfactual Threat: On the nature and role of counterfactual history as an empirical tool in economics

R. Cowan*, D. Foray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Counterfactual conditional statements are ubiquitous in any scientific endeavour. This paper contains an analysis of the nature of counterfactual conditionals and the conditions under which they are considered assertable by scientists. The paper then applies this analysis to the use of counterfactuals in evolutionary economics, arguing that because evolutionary economics is inherently concerned with historical processes it cannot avoid the use of counterfactual history as one of its tools of empirical analysis. We discuss the strengths and pitfalls of counterfactual history. We argue that because evolutionary economics starts from the foundation that randomness may be inherent in any economic system, the very aspects of evolutionary economics that make counterfactual history a desirable empirical tool also make that tool difficult to employ.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-562
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Economics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002

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