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

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  • Philip Mirowski
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    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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    Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

    Volume (Year): 5 (1991)
    Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
    Pages: 145-157

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    Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:5:y:1991:i:1:p:145-57
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.5.1.145
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