If Mathematics is Informal, Then Perhaps we Should Accept That Economics Must be Informal Too

  title={If Mathematics is Informal, Then Perhaps we Should Accept That Economics Must be Informal Too},
  author={Roger E. Backhouse},
  journal={The Economic Journal},
  • R. Backhouse
  • Published 1 November 1998
  • Economics
  • The Economic Journal
Discussions of formalism in economics are bedevilled by confusion over what the word means. Though finer distinctions may be possible, it will suffice to distinguish three meanings of the term, which I will refer to here as axiomatisation, mathematisation and a third category that can be termed methodological formalisation. Axiomatisation is perhaps the best understood term. It involves reducing a body of knowledge to a set of independent axioms, with all propositions being derived from those… 

Mathematics in economics: some remarks

Attempts to throw some light on the sensible use of mathematics in economic theory. Argues that mathematics is a valuable and useful tool which economists should and must apply as long as its use is


Lionel Robbins’s Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science (1932, 2nd edition 1935) was not arguing for an axiomatic economics as this term is commonly understood. Though he was a

Formalism, Logic and Reality: A Keynesian Analysis

It is the purpose of this paper to elaborate on the argument that formalism is non-neutral; analyses which today would be described as informal turn into something quite different when formalised.

Computing the Perfect Model: Why Do Economists Shun Simulation?*

It is argued that true simulation is seldom practiced because it does not fit the conception of understanding inherent in mainstream economics and economists do not therefore consider them viable candidates for generating theories that enhance economic understanding.

Mathematics in economics: Schmoller, Menger and Jevons

Investigates the economic methodologies of Carl Menger, William Stanley Jevons and Gustav Schmoller with respect to the issue of whether mathematics is or is not an adequate language to express

Methodological monism and methodological pluralism in economics

The aim of the paper is to give an outline of the relation between general epistemology and the epistemology of economics. The epistemology of economics can be treated starting from the ‘general

Sraffian indeterminacy: a critical discussion

This paper is aimed at discussing Mandler's interpretation of Sraffa's price theory. In particular we will analyse Mandler's idea that an institutional determination of distribution, suggested by


Abstract: This paper is aimed at discussing Mandler’s interpretation of Sraffa’s price theory. In particular we will analyse Mandler’s idea that an institutional determination of distribution,

Methodological Monism in Economics

The aim of the paper is to give an outline of the relation between general epistemology and the epistemology of economics. The epistemology of economics can be treated starting from the 'general

Michael Mandler, Dilemmas in Economic Theory: Foundational Problems of Microeconomics (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) pp. ix, 211, $35.00. ISBN 0 19 510087 5

  • R. Backhouse
  • History
    Journal of the History of Economic Thought
  • 2001
Hennings’ mild criticism (pp. 150, 182). Perhaps the in ̄ uence of SchaÈ Ze (Chapter 4) constitutes a rejection of Menger’s method and thus of the de® ning nature of the Austrian School. Indeed, if



Axiomatics in Economics

A correspondent who heard me talk last year about "Economics as an Inductive Science" interpreted me as saying "axiomatic theories are useless." Since I neither said nor intended to say anything of

Problems in the Philosophy of Mathematics

Written for teachers in training and liberal arts students taking a cultural mathematics course, this little book introduces the language and concepts of set theory and makes an introductory study of

Mathematics, Science and Epistemology

This book discusses the significance of non-standard analysis for the history and philosophy of mathematics and the role of inductive logic in the development of science.

Models and theories

Economic theories are systems of beliefs about the world. Models formalize parts or aspects of theories but leave much of their content out. An example of a component of theories not contained in

Games Economists Play: A Noncooperative View

* For some thirty years following World War II, most bright young economists did not go into industrial organization. It was not hard to see why this was so. The quick, big payoffs in economics tend

A Renaissance of Empiricism in the Recent Philosophy of Mathematics*

  • I. Lakatos
  • Philosophy
    The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
  • 1976
According to logical empiricist orthodoxy, while science is a posteriori, contentful and (at least in principle) fallible, mathematics is a priori, tautologous and infallible. It may therefore come

The Scientific Illusion in Empirical Macroeconomics

It is argued that formal econometric work, where elaborate technique is used to apply theory to data or isolate the direction of causal relationships when they are not obvious a priori, virtually

The Vices of Economists; The Virtues of the Bourgeoisie

The 'vices' are three bad habits into which economists have fallen over the past fifty years: bad statistics, bad theory, and bad applications of statistics and theory to public affairs. This book

Development, Geography, and Economic Theory

Why do certain ideas gain currency in economics while others fall by the wayside? Paul Krugman argues that the unwillingness of mainstream economists to think about what they could not formalize led

Monetary Trends in the United States and the United Kingdom

Editor’s Introduction Originally published in Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 1972, pages 4-17. At the 1971 annual conference of the American Economic Association, Milton Friedman (1912-2006) delivered