Debreu's apologies for mathematical economics after 1983


  • Till Düppe University of Hamburg



Gerard Debreu, axiomatic method, theoretical practice, ideology, social responsibility


When reassessing the role of Debreu's axiomatic method in economics, one has to explain both its success and unpopularity; one has to explain the "bright shadow" Debreu cast on the discipline: sheltering, threatening, and difficult to pin down. Debreu himself did not expect to have such an influence. Before he received the Bank of Sweden Prize in 1983 he had never openly engaged with the methodology or politics of mathematical economics. When in several speeches he later rigorously distinguished mathematical form from economic content and claimed this as the virtue of mathematical economics, he did both: he defended mathematical reasoning against the theoretical innovations since the 1970s and expressed remorse for having promised too much because it cannot support claims about economic content. The analysis of this twofold role of Debreu's axiomatic method raises issues of the social and political responsibility of economists over and above standard epistemic issues.

Author Biography

Till Düppe, University of Hamburg

Till Düppe is a teaching and research fellow in the department for the history of economics at the University of Hamburg. His main research interest is the historical epistemology of economics, inspired by phenomenological philosophy. This article stems from his doctoral research on The phenomenology of economics: life-world, formalism, and the invisible hand, a summary of which can be found on pp. 132-135 of this issue of EJPE or at <>.




How to Cite

Düppe, T. (2010). Debreu’s apologies for mathematical economics after 1983. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 3(1), 1-32.