Chapter 3: Knowledge: Uncertainty, Probabilities and the Moral Sciences
3. Knowledge: uncertainty, probabilities and the moral sciences The hope, which sustained many investigators in the course of the nineteenth century, of gradually bringing the moral sciences under the sway of mathematical reasoning, steadily recedes – if we mean, as they meant, by mathematics the introduction of precise numerical methods. The old assumptions, that all quantity is numerical and that all quantitative characteristics are additive, can no longer be sustained. Mathematical reasoning now appears as an aid in its symbolic rather than in its numerical character. I, at any rate, have not the same lively hope as Condorcet, or even as Edgeworth, ‘éclairer les Sciences morales et politiques par le flambeau de l’Algèbre’. A Treatise on Probability (1921-1, p. 349) We are merely reminding ourselves that human decisions affecting the future, whether personal or political or economic, cannot depend on strict mathematical expectation, since the basis for making such calculations does not exist; and that it is our innate urge to activity which makes the wheels go round, our rational selves choosing between the alternatives as best we are able, calculating where we can, but often falling back for our motive on whim or sentiment or chance. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936-1, pp. 162–3) The pseudo-analogy with the physical sciences leads directly counter to the habit of mind which is most important for an economist proper to acquire. I also want to emphasise strongly the point about economics being a moral science. I mentioned before...
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