The essay examines the natural law economics of the eighteenth century and the evolutionist economics of the nineteenth century by focusing on their methods for achieving a common, nebulously articulated goal: individual fulfillment and the happiness and welfare of mankind in a free, harmoniously ordered society. Illustrating the theoretical and, in practice, effective theories derived from natural law are cammeralism, the economic philosophy of the Physiocrats, and economic liberalism. It is emphasized that these theories do not represent a linear sequence of ideas in which one set of ideas „triumphed” over a preceding one. They show instead three different consequences reflecting the intellectual climate and the socio-economic empiricism of Germany, France, and England, of a fundamentally identical conceptual framework grounded in natural law. The different formulations of purpose relate to the socio-economic forces which determine the pattern of social intercourse - a pattern which influences all philosophic systems derived from natural law. For cameralism, this force was the state; for Physiocrats, an evident and calculable divine plan. For economic liberalism (Adam Smith), the force was the ensemble of human inclinations and impulses, mainly a morally refined self-interest.
The aims established by the evolutionist economic and social theories differ from one another in a similar manner. Representing these theories are the economic philosophy of the romantic period, the historical school of the German political economy, positivism, and Marxism. In contrast to economic theories based on natural law, the evolutionist theories no longer derived their formulations of purpose and goals from forces which determined the framework of social interaction. Instead, the theories reflected forces through which the historical development of social activity influenced its own empirical appearance. For the economic philosophy of the romantics, as for the cammeralists, this force was again the state, although its intellectual form had wholly changed. For the historical school, this force was a vaguely interpreted historical conformity; for positivism it was the purposeful advancement of scientific understanding. For Marxism the force was the tense dialectical advancement of the „forces of production” and the „conditions of production.”