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Individuating Assets and Liabilities in Financial Accounting

Rutherford, Brian A. (2022) Individuating Assets and Liabilities in Financial Accounting. Abacus, 58 (2). pp. 233-261. ISSN 1467-6281. (doi:10.1111/abac.12244) (KAR id:102646)


Until recently, accounting theorists gave little thought to what makes a particular instance of an asset or liability a single object and the very object it is—what individuates assets and liabilities. This paper offers an analysis of this individuation in the IASB's Conceptual Framework. It can be read at two levels: as an exploration of the coherence of the framework in its own terms, or, at a deeper level, as a philosophical analysis, located within philosophical pragmatism. I argue that the IASB framework's individuation is radically incoherent. I set out the case for a pragmatist approach and offer pragmatist principles of individuation. Standard setters have recently given some attention to individuation via a new kind of accounting object, the unit of account, and this is taken further in the IASB framework. This thinking is a good deal more convincing than the attempt to individuate assets and liabilities and is consistent with pragmatist principles. I propose reconceptualizing assets and liabilities using the principles developed for the unit of account. The paper extends our understanding of the way assets and liabilities are conceptualized in financial accounting; my proposal would improve the coherence of the conceptual framework in its own terms, provide a philosophically sound underpinning for its individuations, and open up the possibility of reconnecting the framework to the pragmatist epistemology encountered in classical accounting theory, extending the underpinning to the framework as a whole and, perhaps, reviving scholarly interest in the accounting theory of the framework project.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/abac.12244
Uncontrolled keywords: Accounting
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Kent Business School - Division > Department of Accounting and Finance
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: JISC Publications Router
Depositing User: JISC Publications Router
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2023 14:45 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2024 21:25 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Rutherford, Brian A..

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