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How influential was mechanics in the development of neoclassical economics?: a small example of a large question

By Ivor Grattan-Guinness


It is well known that classical mechanics played a significant role in the thought of several major economists in the neoclassical tradition from the 1860s to the 1910s. Less well studied are the particular parts or features of mechanics that exercised this influence, or the depth and extent of the impact. After outlining the main traditions of mechanics and the calculus, and describing types of analogy between theories in general, I review some main pertinent features of the work of eight neoclassical economists from the 1830s to the 1910s. I argue that the influence took various forms but that in practice it was modest. Then I briefly describe a fresh set of possible influences with the development of dynamical systems in the period 1920-1950, where again the role of mechanics was limited. I end by raising a large question: does economics need some mathematics designed for its own purposes rather than that traditionally obtained by analogizing from mechanics and physics

Topics: HC Economic History and Conditions
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1017/S1053837210000489
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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