One of the points I make in my forthcoming SEJ paper is that Kirzner’s metaphor of entrepreneurial discovery is, like Freud’s cigar, just a metaphor. It’s invoked by Kirzner to explain the tendency of markets to clear, not to describe a particular behavior or personality type. Applied entrepreneurship studies aimed at identifying what kinds of people really “are” more alert to opportunities, in some sense we can measure with a survey or experiment, misses the point of the metaphor. Likewise, Kirzner does not mean that opportunities literally are given, objectively, in the environment, independent of human creativity. “Discovery” is an analytical construct, an instrumental device, not a description of behavior.
Kirzner explains all this in a 1997 interview:
Q: What do you mean in saying something is “waiting” to be discovered?
A: Philosophically, people have objected to that. I do not mean to convey the idea that the future is a rolled-up tapestry, and we need only to be patient as the picture progressively unrolls itself before our eyes. In fact, the future may be a void. There may be nothing around the corner or in the tapestry. The future has to be created. Philosophically, all this may be so. But it doesn’t matter for the sake of the metaphor I have chosen.
Ex post we have to recognize that when an innovator has discovered something new, that something was metaphorically waiting to be discovered. But from an everyday point-of-view, when a new gadget is invented, we all say, gee, I can see we needed that. It was just waiting to be discovered.
Q: Consumer demand was there, resources were there, and the technology was there. . .
A: Yes, so there was no reason why it wasn’t being done. The entrepreneur is alert to this reality, to the profit opportunity it represents, and responds creatively to it.
Notice the emphasis on opportunities “metaphorically waiting to be discovered,” not literally waiting to be discovered. Kirzner isn’t offering a particular ontology or epistemology, just proposing an analytical device, designed for a specific purpose (to understand market clearing). Some of the literature comparing “discovery” and “creation” as alternative conceptions of the entrepreneurial act seems to me to read too much into Kirzner.