Economics and Philosophy

Essay

HARSANYI BEFORE ECONOMICS: AN INTRODUCTION*

PHILIPPE FONTAINEa1

a1 École normale supérieure de Cachan

Upon learning that John C. Harsanyi (1920–2000) was awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, in 1994, for his pioneering work in game theory, few economists probably questioned the appropriateness of that choice. The Budapest-born social scientist had already been recognized as a first-rank contributor to non-cooperative game theory for some time (see, e.g., Gul 1997). However, as many readers of this journal will be aware, Harsanyi first contributed to welfare economics, not game theory. More importantly, he was philosophically minded and accordingly has been “acknowledged as the most influential philosopher in economics” (Güth 1994: 252).1 This is of some significance since, before Harsanyi became acquainted with economics around 1950, his main interest was philosophy and, to a lesser extent, sociology and psychology. Rather than an economist with philosophical leanings, Harsanyi was actually a philosopher turned economist.

Footnotes

* This introductory article was begun as I was Ludwig Lachmann Research Fellow at the Philosophy Department at the London School of Economics. It would not have been written without the assistance of one of my students at the École normale supérieure. Sandor Szakacs-Vass translated Harsanyi's article of 1947 into French and provided valuable research assistance. Luc Bovens suggested that it be translated into English. I am grateful to him for his encouragement and comments. Roger Backhouse commented on a longer version. Finally, for their assistance and kindness, I thank Anne and Tom Harsanyi.