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Mathematics, Science and the Cambridge Tradition

  • Nuno Ornelas Martins

In this paper the use of mathematics in economics will be discussed, by comparing two approaches to mathematics, a Cartesian approach, and a Newtonian approach. I will argue that while mainstream economics is underpinned by a Cartesian approach which led to a divorce between mathematics and reality, the contributions of key authors of the Cambridge tradition, like Marshall, Keynes and Sraffa, are characterised by a Newtonian approach to mathematics, where mathematics is aimed at a study of reality. Marshall was influenced by the Newtonian approach that still characterised many aspects of the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos, where the emphasis was on geometrical and mechanical examples rather than on symbolic (Cartesian) mathematics. Keynes, who criticised (Cartesian) symbolic mathematics, was indeed an admirer of Newton and of his method. Sraffa's mathematical constructions are also in line with the Newtonian approach where arithmetic and geometry were strictly separated, since Sraffa's mathematical constructions typically use arithmetic without engaging in the mixture between geometry and arithmetic that occurs in the Cartesian approach. View the Open Peer Discussion of this paper »

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Article provided by World Economics Association in its journal Economic Thought.

Volume (Year): 1 (2012)
Issue (Month): 2 (December)
Pages: 2

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Handle: RePEc:wea:econth:v:1:y:2012:i:2:p:2
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  1. Pierangelo Garegnani, 1998. "Sraffa: the theoretical world of the 'old classical economists'," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 5(3), pages 415-429.
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  4. John Davis, 2002. "Gramsci, Sraffa, Wittgenstein: philosophical linkages," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(3), pages 384-401.
  5. Luigi L. Pasinetti, 2005. "The Cambridge School of Keynesian Economics," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(6), pages 837-848, November.
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  7. Amartya Sen, 2003. "Sraffa, Wittgenstein, and Gramsci," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(4), pages 1240-1255, December.
  8. Flavio Comim, 2002. "The Scottish Tradition in Economics and the Role of Common Sense in Adam Smith's Thought," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(1), pages 91-114.
  9. Davis, J B, 1988. "Sraffa, Wittgenstein and Neoclassical Economics," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(1), pages 29-36, March.
  10. Annalisa Rosselli, 2005. "Sraffa and the Marshallian tradition," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(3), pages 403-423.
  11. Dow, Sheila C, 1990. "Beyond Dualism," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(2), pages 143-57, June.
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