Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Economics, History and Political Science

The Annals is a forum for the free exchange of ideas
among scholars working in the field of social sciences
Volume LI 1 - 2017

The Continuing Relevance of Keynes’s Philosophical Thinking: Reflexivity, Complexity and Uncertainty

John B. Davis,
pp. 55-75
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This paper explains the continuing relevance of Keynes’s philosophical thinking in terms of his anticipation of complexity thinking in economics. It argues that that reflexivity is a central feature of the philosophical foundations of complexity theory, and shows that Keynes employed an understanding of reflexivity in both his philosophical and economic thinking. This argument is first developed in terms of his moral science conception of economics and General Theory beauty contest analysis. The paper advances a causal model that distinguishes direct causal relationships and reflexive feedback channels, uses this to distinguish Say’s Law economics and Keynes’s economics, and explains the economy as non-ergodic in these terms. Keynes’s policy activism is explained as a complexity view of economic policy that works like self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecies. The paper closes with a discussion of the ontological foundations of uncertainty in Keynes’s thinking, and comments briefly on what a complexity-reflexivity framework implies regarding his thinking about time.