is owned and operated by the Economic History Association
with the support of other sponsoring organizations.

The Intellectual Foundations of Alfred Marshall?s Economic Science: A Rounded Globe of Knowledge

Author(s):Cook, Simon
Reviewer(s):Caldari, Katia

Published by EH.NET (March 2010)

Simon Cook, The Intellectual Foundations of Alfred Marshall?s Economic Science: A Rounded Globe of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. xviii + 331 pp. $90 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-521-76008-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Katia Caldari, Department of Economics and Management, University of Padova.

Simon Cook?s book The Intellectual Foundations of Alfred Marshall?s Economic Science aims to inquire into ? and bring to light ? the philosophical background of Marshall?s economic thought. The book is a testimony to the recent interest in and rediscovery of Marshall?s contribution to economic science, developed in recent years and most notably synthesized in The Elgar Companion to Alfred Marshall, edited in 2006 by T. Raffaelli, G. Becattini and M. Dardi.

Cook?s volume is divided into four main parts. In the first, devoted to ?The Contexts of Marshall?s Intellectual Apprenticeship,? Cook gives a sketch of the philosophical and intellectual milieu of Victorian England in which Marshall studied and started his academic career (chapter 1). This chapter is mainly focused on Leslie Stephen and Henry Sidgwick, who participated into the vivid debate that took place in England, specifically in Cambridge academic circles, on the foundations of economic science. Chapter 2 underlines how Cambridge became a center of liberal education and deals mainly with Smith?s legacy and the contributions of William Whewell, J.S. Mill, H. Fawcett and the young Marshall. Particular attention is given to the structure and the working of the University of Cambridge and to the long and difficult path towards the emancipation from the still highly influential religious and aristocratic dominance.

Part II, titled ?Dualist Moral Science: 1867-1871,? begins with a chapter on Marshall?s ?mental crisis? which, according to the author, in contrast with Keynes? position in his obituary of Marshall, ?culminates not so much with a loss of faith as with its discovery? (p. 90). As underlined by Cook, we find here an explicit recollection of Mill?s mental crisis, exposed in his Autobiography which Marshall had certainly read. In introducing Alfred Marshall?s early philosophical writings, Cook dwells on the background and context of those writings, focusing especially on the role of the Church of England in shaping some of the main philosophical pillars acquired, criticized or developed by influential intellectuals such as Coleridge, Maurice, Hare, Jowett, Mansel, and Grote. Marshall?s early philosophical writings (?Ferrier?s Proposition One,? ?The Law of Parsimony,? ?The Duty of the Logician,? ?Ye Machine?) enter this complex and manifold debate. The four papers, already well known since Raffaelli?s publication of the original texts in 1994, are examined by the author but particular emphasis is given to ?Ye Machine? (chapter 4) and its important connection with some chief pillars of Marshall?s reasoning. In chapter 5, titled ?Political Economy,? Cook focuses on some of Marshall?s early economic essays (?On Value,? ?On Wages,? originally published by Whitaker in 1975), with a due reference to J.S. Mill (especially on the wage fund question) and W.S. Jevons.

In the third part of the book, ?Neo-Hegelian Political Economy, 1872-1873,? Cook lingers on those people that form the background for the relevance Marshall gives to history, in particular Spencer, Maine and Hegel (chapter 6) and to education, referring to Mill, Smith, Beesly and Hegel again (chapter 7).

Finally, in the last part, ?A Rounded Globe of Knowledge,? Cook aims ?to sketch the broad outlines of Marshall?s mature philosophy and to identify its relationship to his mature formulation of economic doctrine? (p. 265). The author collects the complex frame scattered in the previous chapters in order to underline the connection between the young and the mature Marshall?s philosophical thought. This part chiefly embraces the development of the concept of organization and the significance of economic science.

An author?s intellectual background is extremely relevant in order to deeply understand his thought and this becomes more important when the author in question is a complex one. Alfred Marshall is no doubt an economist whose thought is highly intricate, with plenty of facets, and an inquiry into his background is really welcomed as a way of disentangling some of this complexity. In this respect, Cook?s book is, therefore, absolutely welcome. Nevertheless, some perplexities arise in reading the volume. From the first the reader can see the predominance of the philosophical in the book in comparison with the economic side: from the title of the book, you would expect to find a large part of Marshall?s economic thought explained. However, on the contrary, when the author deals with his economic foundations, he slips back very often into philosophy, without convincing the reader of the necessity to insist on this. Some relevant economic questions remain almost untouched. For instance, in dealing with the labor market and wages, the likely role of education, according to Marshall, in determining the level of wages is rightly underlined. Nevertheless, in stressing the fact that Marshall did not develop much further the curves of demand and supply for the labor market, nothing is said about the attempt ? although unsuccessful ? Marshall did to take into consideration the existence of the noncompeting groups by means of the curves of international trade and his following opinion that the labor market could not be represented by means of simple curves, due to high complexity of the matter (see for instance, the letter to Edgeworth of 1880 in Whitaker 1996, I, p. 125). Again, when dealing with Marshall?s travel to America in 1875, the focus is especially on the philosophical motives for it (pp. 266-270) and overlooks the fact that America?s growing economy ? with the increasing size of its industries ? was also an important element that encouraged Marshall to cross the ocean.

Another perplexity is connected to the relevance given to Hegel and his influence on Marshall. Some Hegelian elements can be seen in Marshall, but perhaps not so many as is suggested: moreover, some other influences are not mentioned, as, for instance, the Historical School, that had a great influence on Marshall ? especially Schmoller (only partially Hegelian), who Marshall quoted more than Hegel in his writings and correspondence, in particular on questions of method.

In conclusion, this book is an important philosophical inquiry into Alfred Marshall and Victorian England. It is extremely detailed, clearly the result of a hard work done on several texts and manuscripts, but perhaps it does not go deeply enough on the economic as it does on the philosophical side; and the bridge between the two remains incomplete ? perhaps a new challenge for the author.

Katia Caldari?s recent publications include (with T. Nishizawa), ?Marshall?s Ideas on Progress: Roots and Diffusion,? in H. Kurz and T. Nishizawa, The Dissemination of Economic Ideas, Edward Elgar (forthcoming, 2010); (with F. Belussi) ?At the Origin of Industrial District: Alfred Marshall and the Cambridge School,? Cambridge Journal of Economics 33 (2009); and ?Alfred Marshall?s Critical Analysis of Scientific Management,? European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 14 (2007).

Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century