The merchant of Venice, or Marxism in the mathematical mode

Posted: 3 December 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Treviso

Since we’re on the topic of the supposed superiority of economists, I thought I would provide a link to one of my first published articles, “The Merchant of Venice, or Marxism in the Mathematical Mode” [pdf], which appeared in the journal Rethinking Marxism.*

My basic argument is that, while mathematics has been granted the status of a special code in economic discourse (including in Marxian theory)—thus demonstrating the superiority of economists who use that special code—it is actually a set of metaphors that can be useful and harmful in turn. In other words, the use of mathematics “does not guarantee the scientificity of the theory in question; it is merely one discursive strategy among others.”

There are two interesting stories associated with this article. First, it was used against my case for tenure, by a member of the committee who (from what I have been told) was simply incensed that I would attempt to deconstruct the use of mathematics as a special language for doing economics. (Fortunately, it didn’t work and I was in fact granted tenure.)

Second, I disappointed not a few literary scholars who came to one of my seminars on the article expecting a discussion of Shakespeare’s play. The joke is that the title refers to the Treviso Arithmetic, which was written by an anonymous author in 1478 in Treviso, a commercial town annexed to the Venetian Republic in 1339, and is considered to be the first book on mathematics ever published in the West.

The problem that begins in the middle of the left-hand page of the illustration above is the following:

Two merchants, Sebastiano and Jacomo, enter into partnership. Sebastiano put in 350 ducats on the first day of January, 1472; Jacomo put in 500 ducats, 14 grossi on the first day of July, 1472. On the first day of January, 1474 they find that they have gained 622 ducats. Required is the share of each.

 

*A scholar overseas, without access to the journal, asked me to send him a copy of the article. That’s the reason I now have a pdf file of the article on hand.

Comments
  1. […] The implication is that anyone who does not agree with the presumed consensus is engaged in an activity other than science. It is the fetishism of mathematics, which I’ve had the occasion to write out before (in one of my first published articles). […]

  2. […] The implication is that anyone who does not agree with the presumed consensus is engaged in an activity other than science. It is the fetishism of mathematics, which I’ve had the occasion to write out before (in one of my first published articles). […]

  3. […] that I avoid the problem I encountered when I presented my “Merchant of Venice” paper, this post is not about Shakespeare’s […]

  4. […] that I avoid the problem I encountered when I presented my “Merchant of Venice” paper, this post is not about Shakespeare’s […]

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