Carving Nature at Its Joints: Philosophical Perspectives on Accounting Entities
Washburn University. School of Business
Kaw Valley Bank
The complex task of carving nature at its joints is central to financial accounting practice. Yet basic philosophical problems and assumptions inherent in categorizing and representing selected aspects of reality are set aside by influential conceptual framework projects that claim the boundaries of accounting entities are self-evident and objectively determinable. This paper argues that questions about the dividing line between financial reporting entities and the separate elements within financial statements are at the heart of many significant problems in accounting practice. Scott's (1931) classic monograph on The Cultural Significance of Accounts is used to revisit objectivity and individualism as cultural foundations that seem to underpin dominant standard setters' claims that accounting entities are self-evident. The paper then discusses taxonomic principles, philosophical foundations of the unbounded self, and perspectives from quantum physics that all point to the nature of entities as being inherently intertwined, unbounded, and not at all self-evident or easily objectified. The paper concludes by weighing forces that point to a sea change in how organizations might be conceptualized against institutional structures that support conventional views.