SV: [OPE] Marshall's rules for the use of methematics

From: Martin Kragh <>
Date: Mon Jan 12 2009 - 12:31:57 EST


Marshall was a trained mathmatician, and he made extensive use of math in his "Principles of Economics" (which I have read 2-3 times). However, he aimed at a broad audience, and he made sure that most of the modelling were in the footnotes or appendices. He had no "disdain" for tradesmen or scientists, but he thought math should be used as a tool, not an end in itself. He was in fact a propagator of social reforms and workers' welfare. I believe that his approach was fundamentally sound.

All the best

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Från: [] För Ian Wright
Skickat: den 12 januari 2009 17:46
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Ämne: Re: [OPE] Marshall's rules for the use of methematics

You get the same advice for the Cambridge Journal of Economics.

The passage has some good intent: try to communicate as clearly as possible to the widest range of people. But fundamentally it is philistine. On what grounds is there to suppose that Natural Language is an adequate language to describe natural and social processes?

Many of the most important advances in scientific knowledge are intimately bound-up with the innovation of new kinds of technical languages (e.g., calculus, logic, computer simulations etc.)

Applied mathematicians generally use Natural Language as shorthand and then use Mathematical Language to reason and communicate. Natural Language simply lacks the concepts.

I hear an echo of Britain's landed aristocracy in this passage: the disdain for the world of commerce, of numbers, of grubby tradesmen at the back door with their talk of science.

Obviously I think that this is rotten advice!

And I suspect that many that promulgate this advice do not even follow it. In other words, they go straight to the Natural Language without doing the math and burning it.
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