Economics and Philosophy

Essays

Shall I Compare Thee to a Minkowski-Ricardo-Leontief-Metzler Matrix of the Mosak-Hicks Type?: Or, Rhetoric, Mathematics, and the Nature of Neoclassical Economic Theory

Philip Mirowskia1

a1 Tufts University

Is rhetoric just a new and trendy way to épater les bourgeois? Unfortunately, I think that the newfound interest of some economists in rhetoric, and particularly Donald McCloskey in his new book and subsequent responses to critics (McCloskey, 1985a, 1985b), gives that impression. After economists have worked so hard for the past five decades to learn their sums, differential calculus, real analysis, and topology, it is a fair bet that one could easily hector them about their woeful ignorance of the conjugation of Latin verbs or Aristotle's Six Elements of Tragedy. Moreover, it has certainly become an academic cliché that economists write as gracefully and felicitously as a hundred monkeys chained to broken typewriters. The fact that economists still trot out Keynes's prose in their defense is itself an index of the inarticulate desperation of an inarticulate profession.