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Showing posts from October 31, 2010

the exchange matrix

The other day, my friend M. sent me a copy of a letter that was written by an editor of a press to another person, in which the editor solicited a small essay for a line of books that would contain small, one hundred page essays on a variety of topics. M. suggested that this was definitely up my alley – and I have to agree. So I have been thinking of carving out a small bit from my human limit project for a book to be tentatively entitled, Homo Oeconomicus: the biography of a myth. Much of what I’ve been writing lately (about the origin of the equilibrium idea in economics) would flow very easily into a book about the rise of the idea of the homo oeconomicus – the rational actor whose ectoplasmic calculations are at the center of mainstream economics. To paraphrase Paul Veyne’s book, “Did the Greeks believe their myths”, I think an essay about whether the economists believe theirs – and more importantly, how their belief has helped form the political and economic order of modernity –

Pascal's modernity

Ernst Coumel, in an essay on Pascal’s contribution to the theory of probability (La théorie du hasard est-elle née par hasard ? 1970), cites a Jesuit opponent of Pascal’s, one Abbe de Villars, who, in responding to Pascal’s devastating attack on casuists in Lettres écrites à un provincial, asked a very good question about Pascal’s interest in and contribution to the theory of gaming: But I had heard that you were a very great enemy of permissive Casuists: from whence, then, does it come that you not only do not condemn gambling, but that you make religion and divinity depend on a game of heads or tails?” Coumel, in his essay, is at pains to point out that Pascal’s interest in the theory of games must have deeper reasons than that, by chance, he was the friend of Chevalier de Méré. Coumel is combating the opinion of Cournet, who wrote that it was simply by historical chance that the problems of chance in games – for instance, the problem of dividing the stakes of a game that had bee