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Economic thought in the 17th and 18th centuries: a linguistic approach

Iara Vigo de Lima (Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Federal University of Paraná, Curitiba, Brazil)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 7 September 2015




The purpose of this paper is to analyse Michel Foucault’s new epistemological model regarding an analogy between the theory of language and economic thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


Through the scrutiny of language, Foucault intended to demonstrate that some analogies, among different branches of knowledge (interdiscursive practice), allow us to apprehend the underlying configuration of thought regarding ontological and epistemological conditions that have historically determined knowledge. He draws a parallel between four theoretical segments borrowed from general grammar (Attribution, Articulation, Designation and Derivation) and economic thought on wealth.


One of the most remarkable propositions of this approach is that the theory of language and economic thought were epistemologically isomorphic in that context. What the theory of language stated in relation to “attribution” and “articulation” corresponded to the “theory of value” in economic thought. What grammar investigated regarding “designation” and “derivation” was analogous to the “theory of money and trade” in economic thought. The relationships that were – directly and diagonally – identified between and among them led to the conclusion that there was ‘a circular and surface causality’ in economic thought insofar as “circulation” preceded “production”. It was “superficial” because it could not find an explanation for the cause of “wealth”, which was only possible when “production” was placed in the front position of theories.

Practical implications

Such an epistemological point of view can inspire other studies in the history of economic thought.


This paper offers a perspective on how to think about the history of ontological and epistemological conditions of economic thought.



Lima, I.V.d. (2015), "Economic thought in the 17th and 18th centuries: a linguistic approach", On the Horizon, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 260-270.



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