Francis Ysidro Edgeworth

Francis Ysidro Edgeworth

A Portrait with Family and Friends

Lluís Barbé

Lluís Barbé has recreated the background and life of Francis Ysidro Edgeworth through a fascinating exercise of reconstruction that succeeds in shaping the first detailed biography ever published of this major economist and statistician. Originating from previously unexplored letters and documents kept in archives and registers of Ireland, England and Catalonia, Edgeworth’s relationships with his academic fellows – including Sully, Jevons, Marshall, Galton, Pearson, Walras, Pantaleoni, I. Fisher, Pareto, Keynes – are thoroughly depicted. Stemming from undiscovered primary sources, this book also reveals a close insight into the academic world of the period 1875–1925 in the fields of economics and statistics.

Chapter 3: Professor F.Y. Edgeworth

Lluís Barbé

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought


When from their game of dice men separate, He who hath lost remains in sadness fix’d, Revolving in his mind what luckless throws He cast: but meanwhile, all the company Go with the other; one before him runs, And one behind his mantle twitches, one Fast by his side bids him remember him. He stops not; and each one, to whom his hand Is stretch’d, well knows he bids him stand aside; And thus he from the press defends himself. (Purgatory, Canto VI, vv. 1–9). Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy. 3.1 PRESIDENT OF SECTION F OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION Edgeworth’s efforts on the committees of the British Association for the Advancement of Science were finally rewarded by his being elected president of Section F of this Association in 1889 – a presidency that he held again in 1922. As his first presidential address, he chose one of his favourite topics: ‘On the Application of Mathematics to Political Economy’.1 The address was an explicit homage to Jevons, who had ‘submitted to this section a general mathematical theory of Political Economy’, which, as he himself stated, was ‘received without a word of interest or belief’. Along with this tribute to Jevons, Edgeworth also confirmed his own conception of ‘our mathematical method rightly understood’: It is concerned with quantity, indeed, but not necessarily with number. It is not so much a political arithmetic as a sort of economic algebra, in which the problem is not to find x and y in terms of...

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