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The Two Social Philosophies of Ostroms' Institutionalism


Paul Dragos Aligica is Senior Fellow at George Mason University—Mercatus Center, 3301 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22207.

Peter Boettke is BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University, University Professor & Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, MSN 3G4, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030.


The article argues that Ostroms' institutionalism has a dimension that is complex and profound enough to deserve to be considered a “social theory” or a “social philosophy.” The article pivots around the thesis that the “social philosophy” behind the Bloomington School's research agenda has in fact two facets that may or may not be consistent with each other. The article describes the main features of the two facets, offers a brief overview of the development of these ideas, and clarifies their relationship to Public Choice theory and alternative visions of public goods analysis, public administration, and governance. The argument goes further to raise the provocative question whether the two “social philosophies” involved in the approach undertaken by Elinor Ostrom and Vincent Ostrom are necessarily and inseparably connected with the rest of their research program.