Edgeworth’s Mathematical Psychics: A Centennial Notice

  • Warren J. Samuels


Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (1845–1926) published his Mathematical Psychics in 1881.1 While not an architectonic classic, such as Alfred Marshall’s Principles,2 it was a major work in the history of economics. It was, in retrospect, a book remarkable for its time in its emphasis on mathematical formalism, its depth of technical sophistication and formulation, and its studied application of utilitarian analysis to matters of economic and political policy, as well as its particular substantive contributions to the discipline. A book now apparently largely unread, it is striking for what it did, for what it tried but did not accomplish, and for what it contained that was neglected by subsequent writers until redeveloped much later. More important, it prefigured both the form which economic analysis was subsequently to take and the problems of applying economic analysis to problems of policy. It is a book worthy of centennial notice, indeed, perhaps capable of providing further insight.


Imperfect Competition Differential Capacity Determinate Solution Happy People Perfect Competition 
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  1. 1.
    F. Y. Edgeworth, Mathematical Psychics, ‘An Essay on the Application of Mathematics to the Moral Sciences’ (London: Kegan Paul, 1881). Subsequently reprinted for Economist’s Book Club by Augustus M. Kelley. All page references are to this work.Google Scholar
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    John R. Hicks, Value and Capital (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939), pp. 83–5.Google Scholar
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    John Maynard Keynes, Essays and Sketches in Biography (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), p. 107.Google Scholar
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    See S. Todd Lowry, ‘Recent Literature on Ancient Greek Economic Thought’, Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 17 (March 1979), pp. 65–86;Google Scholar
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    and Keith Tribe, Land, Labour and Economic Discourse (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), especially chs 3 and 5.Google Scholar
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    Overton H. Taylor, A History of Economic Thought (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960), p. 134: ‘leaving unanswered the question which is really to be maximized, the number or percentage of (more or less) happy people, or the intensity of the happiness of those most largely benefited’.Google Scholar
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    Henry W. Spiegel, The Growth of Economic Thought (Durham: Duke University Press, 1971), p. 526.Google Scholar
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    Randall Bartlett, Economic Foundations of Political Power (New York: Free Press, 1973).Google Scholar
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    See Warren J. Samuels, Book Review, Journal of Economic Issues, vol. 10 (March 1976), pp. 181–5.Google Scholar
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    See Warren J. Samuels, ‘Ideology in Economics’, in Sidney Weintraub (ed.), Modern Economic Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennyslvania Press, 1977), pp. 467–84; and ‘Normative Premises in Regulatory Theory’, Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, vol. 1 (Fall 1978), pp. 100–14.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Warren J. Samuels 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Warren J. Samuels
    • 1
  1. 1.Michigan State UniversityUSA

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