The Elgar Companion to John Maynard Keynes
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The Elgar Companion to John Maynard Keynes

Edited by Robert W. Dimand and Harald Hagemann

The most influential and controversial economist of the twentieth century, John Maynard Keynes was the leading founder of modern macroeconomics, and was also an important historical figure as a critic of the Versailles Peace Treaty after World War I and an architect of the Bretton Woods international monetary system after World War II. This comprehensive Companion elucidates his contributions, his significance, his historical context and his continuing legacy.
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Chapter 19: Treatise on Probability

Rod O’Donnell


Keynes was a philosopher before also becoming an economist. His 1908 Fellowship dissertation (equivalent to a PhD), after many interruptions, was published as his philosophical magnum opus, A Treatise on Probability in 1921. This advanced the logical theory of probability to replace its main contemporary rivals, the classical theory and frequency theory. In Keynes’s treatment, probability is the general theory of logic covering all situations, regardless of whether the available information is sufficient or insufficient to deliver certainty. Probability thus arises in the context of arguments from premises to conclusions, and expresses the degree of rational belief one is entitled to have in the conclusion, given the premises. The extent to which the philosophy of the Treatise on Probability influenced Keynes’s economics and politics, especially regarding uncertainty, rationality, formal analysis (mathematical and econometric), methodology and rational action, has been much discussed and debated, with divergent standpoints being taken.

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