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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 5 No. 1 (Winter 1991)

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The When, the How and the Why of Mathematical Expression in the History of Economic Analysis

Article Citation

Mirowski, Philip. 1991. "The When, the How and the Why of Mathematical Expression in the History of Economic Analysis." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1): 145-157.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.5.1.145

Abstract

In writings about the history of the use of mathematical expression in economics, there seems to be a conviction that the movement towards its current flowering was cumulative, inevitable, and indeed, natural. While, such notions are widely held among practicing economists, I want to argue that they are not historically valid. The deployment of mathematical expression in economic discourse enjoyed neither an inexorable nor unhindered progress, but rather was characterized by two primary ruptures in the history of economic thought, episodes marking the inflection points in the rise of mathematical discourse. The main reason for such a disjointed narrative is that, in the evolution of economic thought, most of the participants were not convinced that the subject matter intrinsically demanded mathematical expression, while those so enamored experienced great difficulty in creating a community which could agree upon a formalism which was thought to be well-suited to economic issues.

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Authors

Mirowski, Philip (U Notre Dame)

JEL Classifications

B29: History of Thought since 1925: Other
B19: History of Thought through 1925: Other

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