Varieties of Capitalism: Some Philosophical and Historical Considerations

Geoffrey Hodgson

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11 Citations (Scopus)
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The literature on varieties of capitalism has stimulated some authors to challenge notions of ‘essentialism’ and even the concept of capitalism itself. In this essay it is argued that the existence of varieties of capitalism does not rule out the need for, or possibility of, specification or definition of that type. Accordingly, ‘capitalism’ is still a viable term. The critique of ‘essentialism’ is also countered, after clarifying its meaning. In particular, it is pointed out that a suitably-defined ‘essentialism’ does not imply some kind of ontological or explanatory reductionism – ‘economic’ or otherwise. But while adopting what are basically Aristotelian arguments about essences, we need to reject Aristotle’s auxiliary notion that variety generally results from temporary deviations from a representative type or trend. Furthermore, capitalism is a historically specific and relatively recent system: we need to develop a classificatory definition of that system that demarcates it from other past or possible social formations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)941-960
Number of pages20
JournalCambridge Journal of Economics
Issue number3
Early online date6 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • varieties of capitalism
  • essentialism
  • definitions
  • Aristotle
  • Darwin
  • population thinking
  • historical secificity


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