Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume I
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Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume I

Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert

Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz

Volume I contains original biographical profiles of many of the most important and influential economists from the seventeenth century to the present day. These inform the reader about their lives, works and impact on the further development of the discipline. The emphasis is on their lasting contributions to our understanding of the complex system known as the economy. The entries also shed light on the means and ways in which the functioning of this system can be improved and its dysfunction reduced. Each Handbook can be read individually and acts as a self-contained volume in its own right. It can be purchased separately or as part of a three-volume set.
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Chapter 31: Hermann Heinrich Gossen (1810–1858)

Heinz D. Kurz


Little has come down to us about the bachelor who spent a life in obscurity. We do not even know what he looked like. Most of what we know about him we owe to Léon Walras (1885 [1952]). William Stanley Jevons draws Walras’s attention to Gossen in a letter and in the second edition of The Theory of Political Economy (1879) he mentions several precursors of his own ideas and of the use of mathematics in economics, including Gossen’s Entwickelung der Gesetze des menschlichen Verkehrs, und der daraus fließenden Regeln für menschliches Handeln (1854). He rightly calls Gossen’s “fundamental theory even more general and thorough” than his own (Jevons 1879: xxxviii). Walras gets hold of Gossen’s book, is deeply impressed by it and seeks to learn more about the “économiste inconnu”. He contacts Gossen’s nephew, Hermann Kortum, a professor of mathematics, who provides him with information about his uncle, on the basis of which Walras publishes a paper in the Journal des économistes, in which he calls Gossen “one of the most remarkable economists that has ever lived” (Walras 1885 [1952]: 71). For details of Gossen’s life, see Blum (n.d.) and Georgescu-Roegen (1983). Heinrich Wilhelm Joseph Hermann Gossen was born on 7 September 1810 into a family of civil servants in Düren near Cologne, at the time a part of the Napoleonic Imperium. His father worked as a tax collector for the French administration and later leased and managed a manor estate, which yielded the family...

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