puedefallar asked: Who is this Laruelle you talk of?
François Laruelle is a professor of philosophy in France who has developed what he calls ‘Non-Philosophy’ in response to what he perceives as philosophy’s limitations. He claims that the structure of philosophy prevents it from recognizing certain forms of thought, and that a radically “non-standard” philosophy allows us to overcome these boundaries. In short, I’ve come to the conclusion that Laruelle’s work is just as applicable to economics as it is to philosophy, but to explain why will take a while.
The best way to explain the “Non-” in Non-Philosophy is to say that it has the same meaning as the one in “Non-Euclidean geometry.” Most people know that back in Ancient Greece, Euclid developed geometry by postulating several axioms (statements that can’t be proved, but have to be taken for granted) from which he developed his entire geometrical apparatus. Over the next couple of thousand years, mathematicians were able to prove all of his axioms except for his fifth one: “Through any given point can be drawn exactly one straight line parallel to a given line.” That is:
Because they couldn’t directly prove Euclid’s fifth axiom, geometers eventually tried to indirectly prove it by showing that modified forms of this axiom (i.e. “through any given point MORE than one straight line can be drawn parallel to a given line” and “through any given point NO straight lines can be drawn parallel to a given line”) led to a contradiction. But they didn’t. Eventually a Russian geometer named Nikolai Lobachevsky developed a rigorous presentation of the version of the fifth axiom allowing multiple parallel lines: by changing the fifth axiom as well as a few definitions, he was able to create a geometry that applied to hyperbolic planes, i.e. surfaces that are shaped like a Pringle:
The weird thing about hyperbolic geometry is that it leads to conclusions that are completely different from what we’re used to in Euclidean geometry (which, for the record, applies only to flat surfaces). For example, on a hyperbolic surface, the sum of the angles of a triangle is always less than 180°. Eventually, the famous mathematician Bernhard Riemann was able to come up with a geometry which forbids parallel lines; this applies to spherical shapes, and leads to equally odd results:
It’s important to realize that Non-Euclidean geometry isn’t in any sense ‘more true’ than Euclidean geometry: they just apply only to certain settings. One practical use of Non-Euclidean geometry is demonstrated by airplane pilots, who instead of flying in a straight line from point A to point B, fly in a curved line, because given the curvature of the earth, a curved route actually takes less time and expends less fuel. However, Euclidean geometry is good enough for most purposes—it would be absurd to use Non-Euclidean geometry to measure a baseball diamond, for example, since the earth’s curvature is so infinitesimal. (For more on Non-Euclidean geometry, see here.)
In short, by creating a method that with different definitions and axioms than philosophy, Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy allows us to see how the structure of philosophy determines its conclusions, just Non-Euclidean geometry lets us see how one little axiom determines what kind of surface a given geometry will apply to. So Non-Philosophy is also a meta-philosophy: a philosophy of philosophy. This, unfortunately, makes Laruelle’s work hellishly difficult to read: it’s abstractions about abstractions, and totally different from standard ways of doing philosophy.
So now it’s time to link this to economics, which will involve some unavoidable self-promotion/autobiography. I first heard about the work of Piero Sraffa purely by chance, which stuck in my mind because of the claim that it did not require marginalist concepts of supply, demand, equilibrium, and capital. So I devoted quite a bit of time to researching Sraffa, and found that he did in fact succeed in this. What he did was to translate the work of the classical political economists into a form that made sense to contemporary economists. His primary aim was to show that economics is not a more sophisticated form of political economy, but rather, that the ‘marginalist revolution’ marked a fundamental break with the research programme of the Classicals, which had run into seemingly insurmountable problems after Marx, particularly the problem of an invariable measure of value. Sraffa solved this problem by developing a mathematical formula that he called the ‘standard commodity’ which retains its value despite changes in relative prices. This opens up the possibility of an entirely different way of doing economics, with different concepts, problems, and situations in which it is applicable. Most notably, Sraffa showed that marginalist methods of quantifying capital rely on circular reasoning, so therefore they didn’t really say anything at all. Sraffa’s method, on the other hand, is able to meaningfully theorize about capital, and even influential economists like Greg Mankiw accept that in order to talk about things like international trade which deal heavily with capital theory, we need to turn to Sraffian economics.
So hopefully the parallel is obvious with Non-Euclidean geometry and what I’ve been calling Sraffian ‘Non-Economics’. Marginalism is good for a lot of things, but it closes itself off from interpreting certain phenomena that other economic ‘geometries’ can interpret. This ‘Non-Economic’ interpretation is the core focus of my academic work, and I’ve personally found it to be really productive so far. For example, adopting a concept from Non-Philosophy, I was able to show that the axiomatic method used by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises presupposes a hidden axiom which prevents it from making any meaningful arguments against Keynesian stimulus. You’ve probably heard Austrians claim that government spending is exactly analogous to household spending, and of course if that were true then the idea of quantitative easing would be ridiculous; this, however, is the product of fallacious reasoning, and if you’re curious, my full essay on the topic is here.
Beyond that essay and a lengthy introduction to Sraffa’s work, I haven’t written much else yet on Non-Economics, but I’m really excited to explore its implications, and several professional economists (including professors) have said that they’re extremely interested. As you can see, this relies on concepts rather than math, but I really do think that Non-Philosophy provides an original and productive way of thinking through economic problems. In particular, I think that Sraffian economics can provide a sort of universal language by which different ways of doing economics (e.g. Marxism and marginalism) can be compared with one another, rather than—as they currently do—just talking past one another because each is based on different axioms. In short, Non-Economics is also a Meta-Economics—an economics of economics—that allows us to see which of our conclusions are determined by our axioms, and which are actually true under all circumstances. That’s why I’m devoting my entire undergrad thesis to researching Sraffa.
Hopefully that’s clear enough, even though the above description was focused more on what Non-Philosophy does rather than how it does it (which I don’t think is possible to clearly explain). If you’d like me to clarify or expand upon anything, just let me know. ^_^