William Stanley Jevons and the Making of Modern Economics

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The Victorian polymath William Stanley Jevons (1835-82) is generally and rightly venerated as one of the great innovators of economic theory and method in what came to be known as the 'marginalist revolution'. This book is an investigation into the cultural and intellectual resources that Jevons drew upon to revolutionize research methods in economics. Jevons's uniform approach to the sciences was based on a firm belief in the mechanical constitution of the universe and a firm conviction that all scientific knowledge was limited and therefore hypothetical in character. Jevons's mechanical beliefs found their way into his early meteorological studies, his formal logic, and his economic pursuits. By using mechanical analogies as instruments of discovery, Jevons was able to bridge the divide between theory and statistics that had become more or less institutionalized in mid nineteenth-century Britain.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a fascinating addition to those recent studies that ground the history of political economy and its methods in a cultural context infused with the complexities of Victorian scientific endeavor. More generally, this complex case study illustrates the vehement contests played out when methods borrowed from the sphere of the natural sciences have been applied to that of the moral sciences."
-Ben Marsden

"Maas is well versed in the literature and humanists can learn much from his book about the history of British economic thought and its ties to Victorian science from this fascinating and logically organized study of Jevon's 'mechanical reasoning.'"
-Gerald M. Koot, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, American Historical Review

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Harro Maas is lecturer in History and Methodology of Economics at the University of Amsterdam. He is an associate researcher at the Centre for Philosophy of the Natural and Social Sciences at the London School of Economics. Dr Maas's research has been published in the History of Political Economy, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, and the Revue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines.

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Table of Contents

1. The prying eyes of the natural scientist; 2. William Stanley Jevons: Victorian polymath; 3. The black arts of induction; 4. Mimetic experiments; 5. Engines of discovery; 6. The machinery of the mind; 7. The private laboratory of the mind; 8. The laws of human enjoyment; 9. Timing history; 10. Balancing acts; 11. The image of economics.

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