Chapter 2: Cournot’s Probabilistic Epistemology
Thierry Martin Introduction One of the most immediately striking features of Cournot’s work is its wide diversity. Although Recherches sur les principes mathématiques de la théorie des richesses (1838) falls within the domain of economics, a field to which he returned in Principes de la théorie des richesses (1863) and Revue sommaire des doctrines économiques (1877), Cournot’s publications were first and foremost those of a mathematician, including his 1847 work, De l’origine et des limites de la correspondance entre l’algèbre et la géométrie, numerous scientific articles and reports published between 1825 and 1831,1 and his treatises on infinitesimal calculus (1841) and probability calculus (1843). His work is also that of a philosopher eager to subject all contemporary scientific knowledge to critical investigation, an approach he adopted in Essai sur les fondements de nos connnaissances et sur les caractères de la critique philosophique (1851) and Traité de l’enchaînement des idées fondamentales dans les sciences et dans l’histoire (1861), to which he added a historical dimension in Considérations sur la marche des idées et des événements dans les temps modernes (1872) and which he summed up in Matérialisme, vitalisme, rationalisme. Études sur l’emploi des données de la science en philosophie in 1875. Finally (although this aspect of his work is not relevant to our present purposes), Cournot held the position of Rector of the Academy of Dijon and displayed an enduring interest in questions of education, embodied...
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