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Friday, May 05, 2006

Alfred Marshall on Mathematics in Economics

There is a discussion in the comments to the post about economists writing for general audiences about the role of mathematics in economics and how it dominates professional training, undermines communication with more general audiences, and so on.

In 1906 Alfred Marshall wrote about his skepticism regarding the use of mathematics in economics1:

[I had] a growing feeling in the later years of my work at the subject that a good mathematical theorem dealing with economic hypotheses was very unlikely to be good economics: and I went more and more on the rules - (1) Use mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than an engine of inquiry. (2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics. (6) If you can't succeed in (4), burn (3). This last I did often.

I don't mind the mathematics, it's useful and necessary, but it's too bad the history of economic thought is no longer required or even offered in many graduate and undergraduate programs. That's a loss.
1The quote is in Brue, The Evolution of Economic Thought, 5th ed., pg. 294.

    Posted by on Friday, May 5, 2006 at 07:11 PM in Economics, History of Thought, Methodology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (22)



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