Obituary: Warren J. Samuels (1933-2011)

10 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2011

See all articles by John B. Davis

John B. Davis

University of Amsterdam; Marquette University

Date Written: December 15, 2011


This paper examines the research and career of the late Warren J. Samuels (1933-2011), an influential institutionalist economist in the Wisconsin John Commons tradition and well-known historian and methodologist of economics. It discusses four main positions Samuels developed and held regarding the history of economic thought as intellectual history, the theory of economic policy, methodological pluralism, and the invisible hand doctrine. Among the views considered are: his matrix approach to meaningfulness, his characterization of intellectual systems, his emphasis on the centrality of the social order, his theory of economic policy as a neglected subject, his discourse analysis of language, his emphasis on the hermeneutic circle and critique of foundationalism, and argument that the invisible hand lacks ontological and epistemological credentials and functions as a means of social control and psychic balm. Much of the discussion is cast in terms of Samuels’ own reflections on what he believed is involved in being an historian of economics.

Keywords: Samuels, institutionalism, matrix approach, invisible hand

JEL Classification: B25, B31, B41

Suggested Citation

Davis, John B. and Davis, John B., Obituary: Warren J. Samuels (1933-2011) (December 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

John B. Davis (Contact Author)

Marquette University ( email )

P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
United States

University of Amsterdam ( email )


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