Augustin Cournot: Modelling Economics

Augustin Cournot: Modelling Economics

The Cournot Centre series

Edited by Jean-Philippe Touffut

From his earliest publications, Cournot broke from tradition with his predecessors in applying mathematical modelling to the social sphere. Consequently, he was the first to affirm the mathematization of social phenomena as an essential principle. The fecundity of Cournot’s works stems not only from this departure, but also from a richness that irrigated the social sciences of the twentieth century. In this collection, the contributors – including two Nobel laureates in economics – highlight Cournot’s profound innovativeness and continued relevance in the areas of industrial economics, mathematical economics, market competition, game theory and epistemology of probability and statistics. Each of the seven authors reminds us of the force and modernity of Cournot’s thought as a mathematician, historian of the sciences, philosopher and, not least, as an economist.


Thierry Martin and Jean-Philippe Touffut

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought


Thierry Martin and Jean-Philippe Touffut If a symbolic date were to be chosen for the birth of mathematical economics, our profession, in rare unanimous agreement, would select 1838, the year in which Augustin Cournot published his Recherches sur les principes mathématiques de la théorie des richesses. Gerard Debreu (1984, p. 267) Economics has secured the posterity of Augustin Cournot’s works, but there was a large temporal gap between their application and their original publication. Cournot’s role in applying mathematics to the social sciences is an exceptional, and perhaps unique, contribution. Clearly ahead of his time, the nineteenth-century French mathematician found almost no interlocutors. The engineer–economists, for whom he wrote, had no need for his abstract and general approach, and the theoreticians simply ignored him. It was not until Walras, Jevons, Marshall or Pareto that Cournot found attentive readers who were eager to further his work. It is without a doubt Irving Fisher who introduced Cournot to economists in his 1898 commentary on the English translation of Recherches sur les principes mathématiques de la théorie des richesses, exactly 60 years after its original publication in French. In the second half of the twentieth century, the triumph of game theory consecrated Cournot’s market theories, which were nonetheless marked by the ambiguities inherent in such a time lag. Finally, in 2008, Cournot’s name will appear for the first time on the list of authors on secondary school biology syllabi in France. Cournot’s works have had such a vast...