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Francis Ysidro Edgeworth: A Portrait with Family and Friends

Author(s):Barbé, Lluis
Reviewer(s):Samuels, Warren J.

Published by EH.NET (August 2010)

Lluis Barb?, Francis Ysidro Edgeworth: A Portrait with Family and Friends. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2010.? xxxvi + 291 pp. $150 (hardback), ISBN: 978-1-84844-716 5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Warren J. Samuels, Department of Economics, Michigan State University.

Introduction

A glance at the subtitle of this book — A Portrait with Family and Friends — will suggest its unusual character, one derived from several sources with which the author, Professor of Economic Theory at Universitat Aut?noma de Barcelona, Spain, is both comfortable and candid.? Barb? writes that ?This book does not pretend to offer a profound intellectual portrait of Francis Ysidro Edgeworth; rather it is simply a personal portrait that can help us grasp his temperament and his feelings in order to better understand his development as an individual and as a social scientist? (p. xxiii).

The book does that and does it well.? I suggest, however, that Barb? has too narrow a view of what he has accomplished on behalf of other historians and methodologists of economic thought, in at least two respects:? (1) providing suggestive evidence of the comfortable fit of neoclassical economics in middle-class society and therefore that class?s receptiveness to neoclassical theory and ideas; and (2) providing evidence of how neoclassical economic theory was worked out during a major period of the transformation of economic theory. He has, intentionally or otherwise, provided both types of evidence at least in part because pieces of each type were to be found in his materials and in part because he was alert — sensitive to and receptive of its importance.? In regard to both (1) and (2), I doubt if any absolutely new type of evidence is presented; however, the evidence seems to be trustworthy.? The evidence was made and collected by members of Edgeworth?s extended family and professional colleagues in their correspondence to each other about their activities. The evidence was found in the hands of independent archivists.

Barb? was not alone in being comfortable with his project.? He received encouragement and assistance from a number of well-known economists.? The list includes Josep Fontana, Antoin Murphy, Jos? Luis Cardoso, A. W. Coats and John Creedy, who also contributed the Preface.?

Genealogical Matters

One source of evidence is the huge number of persons comprising Edgeworth?s extended family:? on his father?s side, an Anglo-Irish family of Protestant descent, and on his mother?s side, a Catalan family, much smaller in number but with at least some liberal and constitutionalist views.? The economist and statistician we know as Francis Ysidro Edgeworth was born in 1845, the son of Francis Beaufort Edgeworth (1809-1846) and Rosa Florentina Eroles (1815-1864). His paternal grandfather, Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817), was thrice widowed and altogether had twenty-two children. Eleven pages of genealogical diagrams were needed to identify the extended family, and it is incomplete.????????????????????

Barb? has made several genealogical discoveries. He has found that the future great economist and statistician had been given at birth the name, Ysidro Francis Edgeworth. After long being called Francis or Frank, however, he transposed his Christian names when he started publishing in 1876.?

Barb? also has corrected the misidentification of Edgeworth?s mother, Rosa Florintina Eroles, made initially by the Hispanist Lord Holland, and subsequently continued by Lord John Maynard Keynes and Sir John R. Hicks.? Her father was not the absolutist and anti-liberal Baron Eroles but General {?} Antonio Eroles i Sancho (1779-1840?).? The misidentification was partly predicated upon erroneously taking a name for a title.? The misinformation, however, helped overcome opposition by several female Edgeworth relatives to the (eventual 1831) marriage of his parents.? Those women had found Rosa Eroles deficient in social status and beauty.?

Barb? reports on related matters, which as a Catalan he apparently did not seek to find.? One possibility is established by the question, ?Yet what kind of honourable enterprises may a courageous militia commander undertake which allow him to get rich very rapidly??? He finds that ?we should not discard the possibility that part of Ecoles? income came from illegal trade or from the mere conveyance of smuggled goods? (p. 23).?

Several complications arise. The area in which Antonio Eroles and his family lived (bordering Andorra and France) was a center of the smuggling of Andorran tobacco, French mules and Canadian textiles (most commonly a cotton material printed on one side, roughly similar to calico and called indiana).? Also, Francis Beaufort Edgeworth translated indiana incorrectly as calico from the West Indies.? He also alluded to a gift of some mules from Antonio Eroles as an aid to the liberal cause.? One position was that smuggling was not a source of great wealth, only a means of supplementing one?s income during hard times (which. may very well have been frequent, perhaps so frequent as to seem to be, for all particular purposes, a permanent condition).

Other possibilities have Antonio Eroles being a (former?) stonecutter, performing questionable jobs for a superior, and, with his son, receiving higher salaries than their respective ranks warranted.? The actual military rank of the future bride?s father?s is uncertain.

Barb? suggests as another reputable alternative that Rosa?s father had retained unspent funds originally intended to pay soldiers who deserted when Spain was invaded by the Royalists in 1823. (Not everyone would consider that a ?reputable? explanation, though Antonio Eroles? relation to his commanding general and others is hazy.) Rosa?s age at the time is another complicating matter.? A further basis of the misidentification may have been Rosa?s ?childish version of the facts that her father had brought home,? namely ?to build a hospital in his native place? (pp. 22-23, quoting letter, dated July 1832, from Francis Beaufort Edgeworth to his mother Frances Anne Edgeworth). The letter offers still another explanation of her father?s rapidly accumulated wealth:? ?the father had been saving up money for a long time.? He had been a West Indies merchant dealing in indigo … and this money he was able to carry off in his hour of need? (pp. 22-23).? In 1830 Antonio Eroles and his family were political refugees in London.? Eroles worked with other anti-Royalists to organize expeditions moving through France against Spain (his rank may well have been self-adopted).? However, France, after reaching an entente with Ferdinand VII of Spain, reversed its policy of supporting expeditions to one of neutrality.? Eroles and his son, Isidro, were held under arrest by the French government for more than a year — and, inter alia, could not attend his daughter?s wedding.? Lord Holland, Lord Keynes and Sir Hicks have been corrected, but new questions have arisen.? The Edgeworth opposition to the marriage may have had some merit.

It is fascinating to think, as Ronald Coase has shown, that Alfred Marshall, undoubtedly the most influential economist of the period, was not exactly candid and honest about his family and ancestry.? With the nineteenth-century transformation of class structure, more people openly engaged in status emulation, even to the extent of misrepresentation.

The basis of those findings and, indeed, of much of the family history recounted by Barb?, was his discovery of a cache of some two thousand family letters and other documents that were archived in the National Library of Ireland and the Bodleian at? Oxford.? This principal discovery was precipitated by his visit, while touring Ireland, to the church and manor house of the Edgeworth family, now a senior citizens? residence, in Edgeworthstown, and his inquiry to a nun about any family letters or documents.?
The question of the identity and heritage of Edgeworth?s mother, with the concomitant opportunity to correct a Nobel Laureate (p. xxi), plus Barb? being a Catalan economist himself (p. xxi), motivated a fifteen-year research project.? It resulted in a novel — a ?fictional narrative on the most relevant events — both good and bad — that [the family] had witnessed? (pp. xxii) during roughly the period of Edgeworth?s life (1845-1926).? The novel, written in Catalan, won a literary prize and had a printing of 50,000 copies.?

The Comfortable Fit of Neoclassical Economics in Middle-Class Society

Barb??s portrait in the book under review is a set piece for Edgeworth?s family and class although the evidence is only suggestive.? Given people?s preferences, they tend to act in a manner congruent with the neoclassical model.

The family is large, active and interesting.? Early death by a new born and/or the mother was common.? Education, by either home tutors or organized schools is understood to be important for continuation and enhancement of class and individual position. To have in one?s family someone with an extraordinarily successful academic record is a mark of distinction.? For someone to go on and become a spectacularly famous scholar is even more impressive.? For a family to have more than one member recognized to be among the elite of their profession is unusual if not rare.? The Edgeworth family had at least two such individuals, Maria Edgeworth and her nephew, Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, and each was, in part, identified in terms of their activity pertaining to economics, in a period in which a main issue was whether or not the working class should be informed of the findings of Political Economy.? The aunt was particularly noted for her relationship to David Ricardo and to Sir William Hamilton.?? Other famous people who interacted socially with family members included Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, Joseph Priestly, Josiah Wedgewood, and Francis Galton.? Of course, on such matters one should not omit Edgeworth?s relations as a student with his and other professors.? The latter included John Kells Ingram at Trinity College Dublin and Benjamin Jowett and Thomas Hill Green at Balliol College Oxford.

Consideration of the relations of some family members to other famous people can hardly outdo the relations developed by the holder of the Drummond Chair at Oxford; the economist ranked second only to Alfred Marshall; the first editor of the Economic Journal, published by the Royal Economic society; president of the Royal Statistical Society, whose Guy Medalist he was five years earlier, and twice president of Section F of the British Association.? One cannot over-estimate the magnitude and importance of his relations to others.? As John Creedy knowingly commences his Preface, ?Edgeworth was a leading figure in the rapid development of economics during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century, by which time it was firmly established as an academic subject? (p. xii).? Creedy also notes that ?the period marks … a distinct change of emphasis in the study of economics, in the transition to neoclassical economics from the classical economics associated with Adam Smith? (p. xiii) and at least doubles Edgeworth?s importance by emphasizing that ?[h]e achieved eminence as a statistician as well as an economist? (p. xii).? In part due to his several highly visible positions, in part because he ?was a prolific and highly original author who, in a cosmopolitan age, had probably the widest correspondence with economists all over the world … a man? of enormously wide reading and considerable linguistic skills? (p. xii), he was indeed a leading figure.

But not all activity was laudable.? Excessive gambling and concomitant losses, alcoholism, extravagant spending, and/or failure in one?s career or position are deprecated.? One family member, an army officer serving in India was brought up on charges of participating in ?a heavy gambling affair.?? The family as a whole is not necessarily, even likely, to come to the rescue of a member exhibiting self-destructive, noxious, or harmful behavior.? Albeit not necessarily fully excluded from the group, such an embarrassing member would not have an affirmative, salient role.?

One individual had to be careful with money; another might become wildly independent at the tender age of seven (pp. 4-5) and require family control, to whatever extent if might be effective. Some activity in feudal or post-feudal institutions is likely (in the case of the family, Edgeworthstown, an inheritable community, which provided rent-paying tenants but also ?administrative headaches? (p. 210).? Upon inheriting the property in 1911 and having assumed his new role of landlord, under pressure from the Tenants? League, the Oxford professor lowered all rents by 20 percent (p. 211). Francis was ?just like his grandfather Richard Lovell Edgeworth. … also a Justice of the Peace in the best feudal tradition? (p. 153).

Support of and/or participation in scientific activities, here the Lunar Society, is found in varied activities.? Individuals and the class to which they belonged could encompass diverse beliefs, some rejecting religious creeds, some feeling that creeds were only fit and proper, some more or less willing to be associated with a particular creed and/or that some individuals wished to be, say, a Christian, or that one no longer held the youngster?s early intention to enter the church (in Edgeworth?s case, changing his mind twice, first, the church, and, second, law (pp, 85,163)).

Mistrust and disputes could develop between individuals and/or subgroups.? Some individuals were engaged in political activity (in either Ireland or England).? The same and/or other individuals could be engaged in social activities.? One could say, in retrospect, that family members contemplated the family as an institution, i.e., the family was something in which its members made investments akin to (we would say) human or social capital.? Relations among family members were manifest in the cache of letters.? Relations between family members and others were also manifest but more episodic.

Every family has episodes of the unusual.? One 13 year old managed to escape boarding school. Five years later, he deserted and his father had to pay ?10 to the Royal Navy for his expenses (p. 5).

The Act of Union provided for Irish representation in the two houses of Parliament.? One member of the family, in response to what he thought were non-democratic pressures, left the new politics completely (p. 7).

Maria Edgeworth was named an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy, of which her father had been a founder. She is reported by Barb? to have greatly enjoyed the distinction, ?since she humbly considered that, despite her texts on education, she had no scientific merits whatsoever? (p. 31).? Barb? also writes that Maria ?was to her dying day the leading character in Edgeworthstown.? All decisions of any importance, especially financial ones, were referred to her.? She was active even in the education of Rosa?s children? (p. 37).?

On the basis of the foregoing information, and without passing judgment, I suggest that the businesslike, rationally calculating, order- and security-loving attitudes of what appears to have been held and acted upon by (at least) the Anglo-Irish members of the Edgeworth family were congruent with the middle-class belief system of neoclassical economics.

How Neoclassical Economic Theory Was Worked Out during a Major Period of the Transformation of Economic Theory

Both Creedy and Barb? focus on Edgeworth?s period as one in which economists transformed their discipline from classical into neoclassical economics.? This transformation centered on several lines.? One line was that of the meaning to be given to economic action.? A second line had to do with the scope and central problem of economics, especially the system of organization and control, or power structure.? A third line was the construction of a purely conceptual, i.e., a-institutional model of the economy.? A fourth line was the protocol stipulating what was required in the analysis of problems and the generation of solutions.? The stipulation that was worked out required the theorist or analyst to produce unique determinate equilibrium optimal solutions — typically competitive solutions.?

Through his utilitarianism, Edgeworth was clearly most importantly involved in the first line, the meaning to be given to economic action, but he seems to have had influence in the other lines as well.

Most economists have seemed to prefer to think that the transformational lines which they articulate on blackboards are somehow related to a given, transcendental economic order.? Barb??s study of Edgeworth suggests that any meaningful account of the transformational process in which he participated was one in which decisions were made, consciously or unconsciously, about the content of those four lines.? In this manner human subjective perceptions and preferences — all essentially assertions — dominate the process of defining and explicating the economy.? Particularly noteworthy is Barb??s view of Edgeworth that ?the most original subject in his research so far [i.e., by 1877] had been what he had called ?Exact Utilitarianism,? which was close to theoretical research in natural law? (p. 85).?? It seems to this reviewer that the adoption of a purely conceptual notion of the economy has been the equivalent in practice of combining those two concepts, even though the imagined ?exactitude? is either a fiction or wishful thinking.? Economists from at least the time of Alfred Marshall have sought to construct an economics that would facilitate and reinforce the status of economics as a science.? It appears to this author that notwithstanding the depth and brilliance of Edgeworth?s utilitarianism, his approach was too laden with ontological formulations to unequivocally comport with the desires of his high-theory oriented colleagues and their quest for the status of economics as a science.?

Although the construction of the protocols involved a number of ironies, I mention only the one involving the juxtaposition of purely conceptual categories in Edgeworth?s economics to the statistical techniques he created or adopted for handling empirical economic substance.

(Two terms — ontology and utilitarian — require a few words for sake of specificity and, hopefully, clarity.? One historiographic problem arises when one takes, for example, the elements of an eighteenth-century body of thought and defines one of those elements using a twentieth-century understanding of that element.

By ontology I mean that branch of metaphysics which deals with the absolute and ultimate nature of things.? It assumes that things have an ultimate nature that transcends both materiality and human choice, i.e., empirical economic substance.

By utilitarianism I intend to include Hedonism and Benthamism as theories of human nature, of ethics, of whose interests count/should count, of how meaning and values are worked out by the interactions among decisional agents, and so on.

Kevin Hoover emailed me, in his commentary on an earlier version of this review, that ?It is odd to me to identify ?the theory of bargain in the wide sense,? with utilitarian moral philosophy? as you do here.? Bargaining as analyzed by Edgeworth employs utility functions, but the mere fact of using utility functions does not itself implicate one in being a utilitarian in an ethical sense, Classical utilitarianism is not about bilateral bargaining in which one the individual puts himself first, but is a social/ethical doctrine that says that we ought to base policy on the good of all people properly aggregated.? Edgeworth was, no doubt, a utilitarian, as well as a user of utility functions, but the analysis of a bargaining itself can?t be the essence of his utilitarianism, since it is not necessarily utilitarian at all? (Hoover to Samuels, July 07, 2010).? The discussion in this section of my review derives from the central argument of this review, namely, that reformulated economic theory during 1850-1925 was worked out in a helter-skelter manner and reflected the philosophical and economic and other interests of individual economists and not the economy itself.)

Without intending to comment on Hoover?s commentary, I must say that one can use it to illustrate the main point of this review:? that the history of the transformation of economic theory during the period roughly 1850-1925 involved an ad hoc slicing and dicing of ingredients assembled without a recipe, or without a fully detailed recipe.? In the resulting array of positions one can find combinations of elements of ontological and of utilitarian theory.? The resulting dish was thus likely to taste differently from cook to cook and from several versions of the dish produced over a period of time by one cook.?

Creedy rightly suggests that the place to start is the Mathematical Psychics (1881), which was ?written right at the start of Edgeworth?s career as an economist? and which ?also provides the key to all his later work and his lasting importance to economists? (p. xii).? In a sense the transformation from classical to neoclassical economics was a retrenchment, from ?dynamic themes of growth and development? to ?the nature of exchange? (p. xiii).? The two were quite different visions.? The classical vision teased a theory of exchange out of the social product.? ?Edgeworth himself? later remarked ?that ?in pure economics there is only one fundamental theorem, but that is a very difficult one:? the theory of bargain in the wide sense?? (p. xiii).? The latter was principally utilitarian moral philosophy.? On the one hand, it signified utility maximization, for which a famous line by Malthus and numerous famous discussions by Bentham were directional precursors.?? On the other hand, the Edgeworth box illustrated the multiple (i.e., a range of non-unique) possibilities of trading, given different initial endowments. Both in its original form in the Edgeworth box and in the subsequent work of Pareto, a core of multiple possible but noncomparable efficient solutions existed.? ?The utility maximizing approach was immediately congenial to Edgeworth, who was steeped in utilitarian moral philosophy? (p. xiii). This was so notwithstanding the inability, inter alia, to settle conclusively on the terms of the initial endowments.? This had several consequences, each unpalatable to different economists: power governed efficiency, interpersonal comparisons of utility needed to be made, and questions of income and wealth distributions had logically to be determined prior to market exchange even though income and wealth distributions were influenced by market exchange. In working out/stabilizing solutions to this (and other) problems of disciplinary construction, some aspects were retained and others cast aside. For Knut Wicksell and others, for example, these factors provided substantial opportunities for different theoretical constructions — especially when presented in terms of indifference curves and contract curves, further refashioning or remodeling the contract curve into what Kenneth Boulding, the better part of a century later, thought should more appropriately be called the conflict curve.? (Economists have had enormous difficulty with topics into which enter both initial and consequential distributions, e.g., both the Stigler and Coase versions of the ?Coase theorem.?)?

The relationship between vision and theory of exchange could easily be variably identified.? Experience with increasingly market-organized economies could lead to a vision of action, price determination, and interpersonal relationships which, in turn, could lead to the centrality of a theory of exchange.? Conversely, it might appear that the central focus should be on the determination of price/value through exchange, a result of which would be transactions and hence ?the theory of bargain in a wide sense.?

One type of fastidious mentality might require a single ultimate determinant of price understood as value, e.g., labor command or embodied labor, or utility.? Another type could provide for multiple potential sources, such as the price-theory model which eventually became dominant, with the variables distributed in any particular case among the categories of demand, supply, and irrelevant.

As Creedy writes: ?The existence of a range of initial endowments has important implications.? First, without introducing further structure to the barter framework, it is not possible to say what the implied rate of exchange is, given only information about the preferences and endowments of individuals.? It results in ?indeterminacy? whereby all that can be said is that the actual trade depends on the relative bargaining strength of the traders? (p. xiv).? Needless, perhaps, to say, the identification of an economic reality of dependence of price structure and resource allocation on the result of relative power, was anathema to those who wanted to exclude considerations of power and any connotation of an important role for government in managing the structure of rights, because they sought either or both a ?pure? economics or a ?laissez-faire? economic policy by government.? Both objectives involved wishful-thinking.? To such economists, bargaining-power theories of prices and wages were not only ?bad? economics but they opened the door to ?bad? policy.? The eventual reconstruction of economic theory along the lines of Kenneth Arrow, Gerard Debreu, Paul Samuelson and others (though not Tjalling Koopmans) served to obfuscate the non-uniqueness of price and resource allocation, thereby rendering dubious the efficiency claims of the new welfare economics.? Koopmans established a survival requirement for Pareto optimality, thereby negating death as a marginal decision.? Not only did the adoption of the indifference-curve technique fail to mollify every dissenter and even some supporters, the institutionalist critique of the new welfare economics was shown to have merit at fundamental levels. But most high theorists, while personally/privately acknowledging the existence and impact of differential power on economic performance, seemingly preferred to leave neither themselves nor the discipline open to scrutiny and criticism. If law/rights are a function of legal (legislative and judicial) action, and if changes in relative rights led to (intentional and unintentional and/or foreseen/expectable and unforeseen/unexpectable) changes in economic performance, then actions by economic agents to influence if not capture the putative regulatory agencies of government (through which the putative rights, opportunities and exposures, and the existence, nature and structure of markets are in part formed) meant that certain hitherto excluded topics had to be included.

Reliance on utility led to the need to somehow identify utility in a manner which seemed to not only organize the relevant material properly but provided acceptable answers to questions about a utilitarian approach.? It should be noted that such terms as ?properly? and ?acceptably? refer either to some bargain among participants or a social contract by their ancestors and not necessarily agreement among philosophers.?

One effect is to introduce into the past, as the source of the present, the same problems encountered in the present independent of the past, including, as we have seen, opportunities for circular reasoning.

It was to the theory of utility that Edgeworth surely felt that he was making his most fundamental contribution in economics and would have preferred comprise the payoff of some of his statistical work.? He was absorbed in controversies over the measurement/measurability of utility, the relative meaningfulness of cardinal and ordinal utility, the possibility of transcending that conflict using the indifference curve, the nature of the utility function, the necessity of establishing interpersonal comparisons of utility or welfare, the relevance of the purpose to which the specific use of utility analysis would be made, and so on.? Moreover, no small proportion of the animosity with which he and others approached each other involved differences of opinion over the foregoing issues.?? This was the case with Leon Walras and Karl Pearson.

Differences of opinion or of belief have existed to the present day.? George Stigler was of the opinion that microeconomic theory did not come of age until it became required for authors of journal articles to stipulate utility functions.? Whether or not one believes that such was another case of economic theory being led down a false track, the following seems historically and epistemologically correct.?? In and about 2000 many of the same issues remained unsettled and unresolvable.? Economists continued to exercise a propensity to refer to like-minded ?authorities.? The result continues to resemble a carnival of the animals, with several groups following elderly leaders, much as judges cite favorable series of precedents.? In each case the function is the same: to identify or claim an authority(ies) through the use of which to assert positions or results.? Each new difference has elicited variations on old assertions but assertions they nonetheless remain.

The development of much (I do not say all) economic theory in the Edgeworthian period of its transformation was due to neither new fundamental ideas nor to more sophisticated means of theory appraisal and choice nor necessarily to more deeply knowledgeable economists.? It was due to regarding, disregarding and weighting differently certain positions that had been around for some time and continued to be discussed, from time to time, for almost a century.

To emphasize Edgeworth?s brilliance and eminence should not be to forget his failure to receive several academic appointments to positions to which he had applied.? Three from 1881 were to King?s College London (Philosophy), University College London (Political Economy), and University College Liverpool (Logic, Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy) (see pp. 105-106, 128-129), his disagreements with others on technical matters of economic and statistical theory and their application, including with Marshall on the use of mathematics (pp. 101, 148,189, 204, 207,215-216) and that for some years he was poorly paid.

Barb? writes that: ?Edgeworth?s connection with King?s College London would span eleven years, from 1880 to 1890. These King?s College lectures were poorly paid, and although his inherited private income allowed him to survive comfortably, he repeatedly tried to secure a better academic position.? However, in order to succeed, he first needed to bolster his curriculum vitae and build a reputation in academic circles through his publications? (p. 92)?? I am not sure what exactly to make of Barb??s language.? Minimally, it may signify merely the operation of the historic ?publish or perish? incentive and reward system.? It may indicate a concern of Edgeworth about his consumption level or standard of living.? The period in question was neither one of economic growth nor a stable level of employment and income — and the next ten to fifteen or so years were worse.? He may either have changed the specifics of his status goal in life or come to appreciate that he could make a name for himself. Certainly more information is required as to the payment levels and policies in academia at the time, as to whether those who made salary decisions appreciated his contributions and potential, as to whether he hid his potential, perhaps inadvertently and (if so) for what reason, how he fared in comparison with others at his level at the time, and so on. Or perhaps he was a ?late? bloomer.? And possibly (for some interpreters, presumably) even if Edgeworth did not need the money of a well-paid academic position, he would have wanted the status (Hoover to Samuels idem).

[Kevin Hoover finds that ?There is a little contrariness and lack of charity in this [the foregoing] paragraph.? ?Private life,? whatever else it could mean, does not normally mean one?s intellectual or inner life, but one?s personal relationships with other people (family, friends, lovers, etc.). Barb??s point seems clear enough to me. And in fact, I find my own intellectual life to be wonderfully exciting, my ?private life? in the usual sense of that term is dry as dust and would make a really poor novel (Hoover to Samuels idem).]
I think that the difference between the professor whose intellect and self-perception is unbound as to range and depth, given training, experience, and innate ability in his or her enthusiasm and effort exerted and the professor who at worst is faking being one and the professor who allocates only so much effort as to qualify for promotion, tenure and merit raises, is reasonably clear to their colleagues and students.? Members of all schools of economic thought may be found in all the foregoing and still others.

It would be interesting, presumably, to know why Mathematical Psychics did not acquire its eventual status much earlier (though as recently as its centenary some thirty years ago, it was clear that the book remained objectionable to many).? Barb? devotes some three pages to reviews of the book published at the time it was published.? Edgeworth had distributed copies of the book to a number of people; some authored and published reviews, some sent him letters with comments.

When one juxtaposes Mathematical Psychics to the economics and social-science literature of the time, it is not inconceivable that it was too strange, too demanding, too alien for those to whom any serious consideration of utilitarianism or issues of equality versus inequality, or the issues of power, right and peace, such as one can find in the work of Thomas Hobbes and others, were repugnant, and so on. The book requires a high degree of personal confidence, due to training and experience, in philosophy and mathematics as well as economics/political economy.? It would not be surprising if its disposition, by many who might have learned from it, was to the class of books ?talked about but never read,? such as, for example, those of Adam Smith.

Conversely, it may be felt that Edgeworth?s own eminence is at least in part due to the subsequent dominance of the type of economics and statistics to which his work led, and then to the explanation of the dominance.

One lesson of the foregoing is that it is misleading to attribute the status of a scholar achieved late in his or her career to an earlier stage. Another lesson is that it may be misleading to attribute later developments and choices to earlier brilliant cognate formulations.
?
As Creedy writes, ?The importance of this new justification of utilitarianism cannot be exaggerated? (p. xv).? Among the issues were: (1) the identity of utility maximization and its utility in theory construction and policy, in part inasmuch as the term is a primitive one (i.e., lacks specificity and is therefore inconclusive); (2) the related existence of indeterminacy; ( 3) the use of a priori probabilities; (4) the adoption of utility maximization within the welfare economics of the Edgeworth box, with its assumption of utilitarianism as a principle of justice, that, as Edgeworth himself put it, ?in the? absence of any definite principle of selection, [an individual] has about as good a chance of one of the arrangements as another? (p. xiv), i.e., equal a priori probabilities, which requires that one easily can ignore the enormous multiplicity of sources of inequality in life, including the existence and structure of the control of government; (5) the ?willingness to accept … utilitarian arbitration in terms of choice under uncertainty?? (p. xiv); (6) the optimality of price under Paretian theory; (7) the difference between an equilibrium and how it is achieved in practice (p. xv); (8) whether recontracting can apply to whatever is thought of as the ?social contract? as well as to contracts for buying and selling; (9) whether all individuals (or classes) can form coalitions to improve their position, and which coalitions are and are not considered collusion; and (10) the status of ontological assumptions or usages in articulating utilitarianism (or any substitute) and of the assumptions on which they rest vis-?-vis ignoring them and utilizing primitive terms (for example, hedonism vis-?-vis other forms of utilitarianism) (cf. pp. 86-87).

Edgeworth is lauded by Barb? as a pioneer in the use of Lagrangian multipliers and determinants (p. 96).? Barb? also refers to an ?important instrumental improvement? that leads to the coincidence of lines of indifference (pp. 96-97) and to a mathematical proof of the greatest happiness principle (p. 98).? But Barb? makes clear that Edgeworth also tries to justify utilitarianism ?by basing it on a ?social contract?? (p. 99) and by the use of definitions and mathematical constructions that are esoteric and contrived (pp. 114-115).

Barb? treats ?the conceptual symmetry between the ?calculus of feeling? and the ?calculus of belief?? as amounting to a symmetry between utility and probability (p. 110).?? That, in my view is either a dead or a narrowing end compared with late twentieth century linguistics and analyses of belief systems.? On the other hand, the reconstruction of value theory (as above) managed to disparage the Marxian and other socialist vision(s) which had been the objective of at least a significant percentage of economists from the beginning of the period of transformation.? That is, not all esoteria have been treated equally.

Oddly, Barb? concludes that ?Edgeworth?s private life was quite devoid of memorable events? (p. 209).? I do not see how such a judgment can be sustained.? Edgeworth?s intellectual life was his private life. Every time that Edgeworth entered a classroom to give a lecture, every time he worked on and submitted a paper, every time he gave a paper at a professional meeting, every time he opened an envelope with a paper submitted to the Economic Journal, he savored a ?memorable event.?? Barb? points to the routine imposed by the annual academic cycle. Surely, there is more to Barb??s life, as I think there was to Edgeworth?s.

Be that as it may, and notwithstanding the limitations and channeling imposed by the availability of data for all biographers, Barb??s work is a well-done, almost unique study and it is a pleasure to recommend it to historians of economic theory in particular.

Warren J. Samuels is Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University.? His principal fields of research and teaching were the history of economic thought and the economic role of government.? His study, Essays on the Invisible Hand, will be published by Cambridge University Press early in 2011.

(The author is indebted to Kevin Hoover and Steven G. Medema for unusually insightful and helpful comments on an earlier draft of this review.)
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Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII