Mathematics as a tool or as a diagnostic: Reconstruction of a silent debate between Walras and Pareto

Irène Berthonnet and Thomas Müller

Table of Contents


This article suggests a new argument for the de-homogenization of Walras’ and Pareto’s contributions, showing that even the common analytical instrument used for the mathematical representation of general equilibrium does not have the same status. Both consider mathematics as relevant in economics, but their epistemological interpretation of it is different, and sometimes even contradictory. The paper shows that mathematics are linked to a form of determinism in Walras, whereas they are a tool to promote individual freedom in Pareto. This opposition is then connected to the opposition between mathematics as a language of nature (in Walras) and mathematics as a tool for science (in Pareto).

JEL classification: B13, B16, B31, B41


  • Walras
  • Pareto
  • mathematics
  • epistemology
  • Lausanne school

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