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On mathematics and economics

Summary:
On mathematics and economics Studying mathematics and logic is interesting and fun. It sharpens the mind. But economics is not pure mathematics or logic. It’s about society. The real world. Forgetting that, economics becomes nothing but an irrelevant and uninteresting ‘Glasperlenspiel.’ Or as Knut Wicksell put it already a century ago: One must, of course, beware of expecting from this method more than it can give. Out of the crucible of calculation comes not an atom more truth than was put in. The assumptions being hypothetical, the results obviously cannot claim more than a vey limited validity. The mathematical expression ought to facilitate the argument, clarify the results, and so guard against possible faults of reasoning — that is all. It is, by

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On mathematics and economics

Studying mathematics and logic is interesting and fun. It sharpens the mind. But economics is not pure mathematics or logic. It’s about society. The real world. Forgetting that, economics becomes nothing but an irrelevant and uninteresting ‘Glasperlenspiel.’ Or as Knut Wicksell put it already a century ago:

On mathematics and economicsOne must, of course, beware of expecting from this method more than it can give. Out of the crucible of calculation comes not an atom more truth than was put in. The assumptions being hypothetical, the results obviously cannot claim more than a vey limited validity. The mathematical expression ought to facilitate the argument, clarify the results, and so guard against possible faults of reasoning — that is all.

It is, by the way, evident that the economic aspects must be the determining ones everywhere: economic truth must never be sacrificed to the desire for mathematical elegance.

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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