… and to expect that by any multiplication or enlargement of our
faculties we may be able to know a spirit as we do a triangle, seems so
absurd as if we should hope to see a sound.
Almost all real numbers are irrational.
Without a doubt, mathematics has become the main language of modern economics. This was already described by George Stigler in 1965: “The age of quantification is now full upon us. We are now armed with a bulging arsenal of techniques of quantitative analysis, and of power —as compared to untrained common sense —comparable to the displacements of archers by cannon.” 3 And economics has caught these opportunities as it could. Today economics is clearly the most mathematical social science, and if it has a scientific example of sorts, it would be physics (not a social science field, as one would expect). And really: If you were to open an advanced economics textbook (or most academic economics journals) and hold it far enough away to be readable, it would look like a page of a physics textbook.
In the first part of this book I have tried to show that economic thought in the course of history was always meaningfully influenced by philosophical and religious currents, and it always had ethical content. Economics, as we have come to know it from the work of its founding fathers, was like this.
Later, though, mostly in the twentieth century, economic thought was influenced especially by determinism, mechanical Cartesianism, mathematical rationalism, and simplified individualistic utilitarianism. The emergence of these influences changed economics into the form we know from today’s textbooks. It is economics full of equations, graphs, numbers, formulas … well, mathematics. In economics, we now find little of history, psychology, philosophy, or a wider social science approach.
1 Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, part 3, 97.
3 Stigler, Essence of Stigler, 113.