Augustin Cournot: Modelling Economics
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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.
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Chapter 2: Cournot’s Probabilistic Epistemology

Thierry Martin


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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