1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cournot, Antoine Augustin

COURNOT, ANTOINE AUGUSTIN (1801–1877), French economist and mathematician, was born at Gray (Haute-Saône) on the 28th of August 1801. 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 mathématiques de la théorie 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 François Canard (c. 1750–1833), whose book, Principes d'économie 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 his 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 théorie 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 Traité élémentaire de la théorie des fonctions et du calcul infinitésimal (1841); Exposition de la théorie des chances et des probabililés (1843); De l'origine et des limites de la correspondance entre l'algèbre et la géométrie (1847); Traité de l'enchaînement des idées fondamentales dans les sciences et dans l'histoire (1861); and Revue sommaire des doctrines économiques (1877).