Introduction: Human sciences – the study of our existence
My name is Carsten Herrmann-Pillath, mostly referred to as ‘CHP’. I am a transdisciplinary researcher in human sciences. I am Professor and Permanent Fellow at the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at Erfurt University, Germany. By training, I am economist and expert in Chinese studies, with a focus on culture and economy. I am now slowly approaching the age of sixty, and I have been doing research since my high school times with a consistent ‘master plan’. This website gives an overview about the results of my work, as a personal statement.
The term ‘human sciences’ covers two defining aspects of my work. Firstly, my interest is in analysing and understanding human life, our existence and the world of artefacts created by human beings in the course of the evolution of human civilization. Secondly, I try to combine and synthesize methods and theories from the natural sciences and the humanities. Human sciences is a synthesis of ‘Naturwissenschaften’ and ‘Geisteswissenschaften’.
I think that economics plays a central role in human sciences, for the simple reason that scarcity of resources is a basic fact of life, that is our biological existence. However, human beings have developed the capacity to overcome given resource constraints by means of cultural creativity, which includes technological innovation on the one hand and on the other hand the capacity to create vast networks and organizations of cooperation. In the history of human civilization, both aspects have played together in the emergence of markets as ‘spontaneous orders’. I regard economics as the science of markets: markets are a technology of cooperation which is unique to the human species, and thus deserves special attention in human science (which implies that I reject the extension of economics beyond the study of markets). I emphasize the word ‘cooperation’ here: People ‘inside’ markets may only see the competition side, but as a human scientist I see the cooperation side in the first place. This has deep implications for the question how markets and ethics relate.
Economics is another creation of human civilisation, a social technology that is built on economic theories, just as physics relates to engineering. So, one remarkable fact about economics is that it also shapes economic activities, so it is endogenous to economic change (this is not true for the natural sciences, which do not evolve together with their object and do not play a primordial role in changing its principles and mechanisms). So, economics does not merely describe and analyse natural phenomena, but takes part in transforming human existence. I call this the ‘performative function’ of economics.
Performativity of economics is part and parcel of cultural creativity. Therefore, one of my major interests in economics always has been the role of culture in shaping economic institutions and economic processes. It seems that this is today recognized also by so-called ‘mainstream’ economics, but the devil is in the detail here. In my view, understanding the impact of particular cultural frames and activities on economic behaviour and institutions requires a deep knowledge of history, society and politics in a region or country. This knowledge is specific to time and place, and is mostly gained by other methods as typically applied in economics today. This is why I am also a student of China, as one of the most significant case studies beyond the scope of the 'Western' experience.
You can send a message to me, I am happy to receive your comments (sorry, my homepage kit only knows German, but the box should be self-explaining. Of course, you can insert English text)!