Time, Mechanisms and Technology: Challenges of Abstraction and Decision in Realist Economic Theory

Mark William Johnson


This paper argues that Humean causal successionism, which has been the principal target for critique by Bhaskar’s Critical Realism, remains very present in the concept of “mechanism” itself. It is argued that the concept of mechanism implies a Newtonian abstraction of time which is uninspected within Critical Realism. However, this is a broader problem of mechanistic abstraction, and the paper discusses the problem both within Critical Realism and within the discipline which focuses on the study of mechanisms, cybernetics. The question of how descriptions of causal mechanisms, for all the benefits they bring to social methodology, can reconcile themselves with their own abstractions is addressed through suggesting the dissolution of the time problem in real experience. The pedagogy of teaching abstractions, the creation of contexts for collective playing with new distinctions and the role of technologies in facilitating playful contexts is discussed. The deeper implications for realist research and the need for reconciling the problems of abstraction with the problems of pedagogy and technology are discussed.

Jel Codes: B400, B410, B410


  • ontology
  • abstraction
  • realism


  • Introduction: the hidden ontology of mechanicism
  • Economics and abstraction
  • The nature of mechanism in critical realism
  • Time, mechanisms and cybernetics
  • Absence, constraint and mechanism
  • Abstraction and successionism
  • Decision, performance and play
  • Technology, teaching and absence
  • Conclusion