From Term to Concept: the Entrepreneur and his Economic Function
1.1. Etymological and conceptual bases of the entrepreneur
The term "entrepreneur" entered economic theory during the 18th Century (initially in the writings of Richard Cantillon), but it is much older than that. It took some time for the word to take on today's meaning of a person who creates a (frequently innovative) business; the original meaning of "entrepreneur" was an individual who behaves actively, one who acts. For this reason, the French verb " entreprendre " denoted warlike action. A brief summary of the history of the term reveals that it developed in the same way in several cultures. The same word is used in both French and English: entrepreneur. It comes from the Latin phrase " inter prehendere ", meaning "seize with the hand", in the sense of physically mastering something.
The French words " entrepreneur " and " entreprise ", which come from the verb " entreprendre ", can be traced back to the 16th Century. Their meaning and the way they are used have both evolved considerably over the centuries, according to usage and practice. Before the 16th Century, during the Middle Ages, the word " entrepreneur " denoted an individual who indulged in speculative activities. The word did not yet denote manufacturers, tradesmen or businessmen, but more generally a person who entered into a contract with a monarch to build a public building or provide supplies for armies. The same is true of the meaning of the French word " entreprise ", which comes from the vocabulary of war [VER 82]. Waging war requires a complex organization to manage technologies and equipment. For the French military engineer Vauban (1633-1707), the siege of a town was similar to an enterprise, the aim being to achieve the target with as little human loss as possible, while monitoring the attacking army's food and armor supplies. In short, "(...) an entrepreneur was a person who had a contractual relationship with the government for a service or for the provision of goods" 1 . This requires financial risk-taking, because the total sum allocated for the completion of the work is fixed before the contract is executed.
Outside the military domain, the word " entrepreneur " had a more general sense in the 16th Century, meaning "a person who undertakes something" or, in a more general sense again, an active individual. Le dictionnaire universel du commerce , published in Paris in 1723, defines " entrepreneur " and " entreprendre " as follows:
- " Entreprendre ": to be responsible for the success of a business, a negotiation, a manufacturing process, a building, etc.;
- " Entrepreneur ": a person who undertakes a piece of work. The compound words " entrepreneur de manufacture " (manufacturer entrepreneur) and " entrepreneur de bâtiment " (building contractor) are used to denote a manufacturer and a master mason respectively.
According to various sources, the words have evolved over the centuries, without changing dramatically. In 1755, in the Encyclopédie , which aimed to bring together all available scientific and technical knowledge in a new world characterized by new creative ambitions, D'Alembert and Diderot defined an entrepreneur as someone who undertakes a piece of work: " entrepreneur de manufacture " (manufacturer entrepreneur), " entrepreneur en bâtiment " (building contractor). Entrepreneurs are mainly found in the industrial sector, a transformative field by definition. Yet, Diderot and D'Alembert's work on this project was certainly entrepreneurial, connected as it was to the Enlightenment period, of which they were the most illustrious representatives. However, a few years later, in E. Littré's 1889 publication Dictionnaire de la langue française , the definition of