Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Multitude of Economic Points of View - The Economic Point of View
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The Multitude of Economic Points of View - Israel M. Kirzner, The Economic Point of View 
The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought, ed. with an Introduction by Laurence S. Moss (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews McMeel, 1976).
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The Multitude of Economic Points of View
Certainly the most outstanding result of the urge to expound the nature of the economic point of view has been the number and the range of the definitions to which it has given rise. This startling multiplicity and variety of formulations was noticed long ago—at a time when their number was modest in comparison with the subsequent accumulations. And for over three–quarters of a century the depressing lack of unanimity among these formulations has led writers to doubt seriously whether they have any value at all.8
Economists have, for example, been well agreed among themselves that the operations of the merchant are of specific interest for the economic perspective on social phenomena; but at this point their unanimity abruptly breaks down. For some, the merchant is engaged in economic activity because he deals in material goods; for others, because his operations involve the use of money; for still others, because these operations hinge on acts of exchange. Some writers see the merchant as an economic agent be- cause his activities are allegedly motivated by selfishness or marked by a peculiar shrewdness in calculating the pros and cons of his dealings. Others see his relevance for economics in that his wares are to some extent related to the maintenance of human life; others, in that they pertain to human “welfare.” Still others classify mercantile pursuits as economic because they involve the judicious disposition of scarce means, while others again find their economic character in their reflection of human motives that permit of measurement. And the list could be still further extended.
The disquietude to which the contemplation of such an array of criteria gives rise is deepened by the realization that in most cases each of them represents a completely different opinion concerning the function of economic analysis. Nor is our equanimity restored by observing the diversity of ways in which the problem of definition is approached. Probably the most significant differences are not those among the specific definitions arrived at, but the disagreements among writers concerning the kind of entity that they are seeking to define and the very direction in which they are to begin their search. Definitions of economic science have time and again required preliminary discussions revolving around the question whether the discipline concerned a kind of object, a kind of activity, a kind of man, or a kind of satisfaction or welfare.
The natural consequence of this state of affairs has been to stimulate frequent soul–searching among economists about the fundamental purpose of defining the economic point of view, as well as a salutary awareness of the real complexity of the problem. The fact that so many different starting points to a territory of knowledge are conceivable is a sign of the intricacy with which the purely economic must be intertwined with other phenomena. And it raises serious questions regarding the very concept of a specifically economic point of view and the usefulness of its precise formulation through rigorous definition.
[]For examples of writers who saw in the multiplicity of definitions a proof of their fundamental weakness, see L. Walras, Elémentsd'économie politique pure, ou Théorie de la richesse sociale (Lausanne, 1874), p. 3; A. P. Usher, “The Content of the Value Concept,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, August, 1917, p. 712; F. Kaufmann, “On the Subject Matter and Method of Economic Science,” Economica, November, 1933, pp. 381–382.