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ANTOINE AUGUSTIN COURNOT (1801-1877)

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Originally appearing in Volume V07, Page 321 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ANTOINE AUGUSTIN COURNOT (1801-1877), French economist and mathematician, was born at Gray (Haute-Saone) on the 28th of August '8oi. Trained for the scholastic profession, he was appointed assistant professor at the Academy of Paris in 1831, professor of mathematics at Lyons in 1834, rector of the Academy of Grenoble in 1835, inspector-general of studies in 1838, rector of the Academy of Dijon and honorary inspector-general in 1854, retiring in 1862. He died in Paris on the 31st of March 1877. Cournot was the first who, with a competent knowledge of both subjects, endeavoured to apply mathematics to the treatment of economic questions. His Recherches sur les principes mathematiques de la theorie des richesses (English trans. by N. T. Bacon, with bibliography of mathematics of economics by Irving Fisher, 1897) was published in 1838. He mentions in it only one previous enterprise of the same kind (though there had in fact been others)—that, namely, of Nicholas Francois Canard (c.1750-1833), whose book, Principes d'economie politique (Paris, 1802)., was crowned by the French Academy, though " its principles were radically false as well as erroneously applied." Notwithstanding Cournot's just reputation as a writer on mathematics, the Recherches made little impression. The truth seems to be that his results are in some cases of little importance, in others of questionable correctness,. and that, in the abstractions to which he has recourse in order to facilitate F :s calculations, an essential part of the real conditions of the problem is sometimes omitted. His pages abound in symbols representing unknown functions, the form of the function being left to be ascertained by observation of facts, which he does not regard as a part of his task, or only some known properties of the undetermined function being used as bases for deduction. In his Principes de la theorie des richesses (1863) he abandoned the mathematical method, though advocating the use of mathematical symbols in economic discussions, as being of service in facilitating exposition. Other works of Cournot's were Traite elementaire de la theorie des fonctions et du calcul infinitesimal (1841); Exposition de la theorie des chances et des probabilites (1843); De l'origine et des limiter de la correspondance entre l'algebre et la geometric (1847); Traite de l'enchainement des idees fondamentales clans les sciences et clans l'histoire (1861); and Revue sommaire des doctrines economiques (1877).
End of Article: ANTOINE AUGUSTIN COURNOT (1801-1877)
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