Back to Conventionalist Sources of the Epistemology of Economist Engineer Jacques Rueff

Marie Daou

Table of Contents


This paper focuses on Jacques Rueff’s connection with French conventionalists. His first academic piece, Des sciences physiques aux sciences morales (1922) is an epistemological book based on the unification of moral and physical sciences using a shared scientific methodology drawn from conventionalist principles. Indeed, Rueff extends and complements them by going beyond the exclusive scope of physical sciences. His goal is then to reconcile moral sciences – in particular political economy – with physical sciences, considering that “all sciences [including moral sciences] are rational” (Rueff 1922, 4).

First Lines

The idea of limits to commercial logic is the basis of a broad and interdisciplinary research field. The case of the distribution of organs taken from living donors is emblematic of the kind of issue broadly discussed in this field. An important part of the work – whether in economics (Becker and Elìas 2007; Kaserman and Barnett 1991), sociology (Steiner 2010a and b; Cohen 2003; Radin 1996) or philosophy (Radin 1996; Taylor 2005; Satz 2012; Grant 2012; Sandel 2012) – considers the social rejection of an organ market partly from a normative perspective. There is one exception: Alvin Roth. As an economist and an engineer (Roth 2002), Roth does not consider rejection of the market as an ethical problem, but rather as a fact with which we must work:

My point is that people find some transactions repugnant. That’s a reason to treat other people’s intuitions about repugnant transactions with respect, even if they don’t raise or lower their hands at the same moment we do.
Seeing himself primarily as an engineer, he accepts this market repugnance, and makes sure he provides an alternative efficient matching device:

As market designers, my colleagues and I are often faced with constraints. […] Sometimes constraints can be removed ; sometimes, it looks more promising to work around them.

Based on this principle, Roth, Sönmez and Ünver (2004, 2005) have developed matching structures to increase the number of organ transplants from living persons, without undermining the almost general prohibition on organ markets…


JEL Codes: B22, B23, B41

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