Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 114: Gérard Debreu (1921–2004)
Gérard Debreu was an austere man who brought that austerity to economics. He, almost single-handedly, introduced the axiomatic approach to economic theory. He never speculated about what might be true and confined himself to saying what he knew to be true. His approach was essentially that of a mathematician and he used that to protect himself from getting involved in debates about economic matters. His reserved attitude to the profession and to the world can, at least in part, be attributed to the sad events that marked his early years (see Düppe 2012). Life Born in Calais in 1921, he was orphaned at a very young age and spent most of his youth in boarding schools, until, with the outbreak of the war, he was evacuated to the unoccupied part of France where he prepared for the competition to enter a “Grande École”. He succeeded and was admitted to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, then occupied by the Germans, to study mathematics. When he had finished he was going to take the aggrégation to become a mathematics teacher but went into the army until the end of the war when he finally took the examination and was also admitted as a researcher in the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). He had been heavily influenced by the Bourbaki School of mathematics and his research reflects that school’s approach. His interest, nevertheless, turned to economics and followed the courses given in Paris by Maurice Allais,...
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