On the foundations of mathematical economics

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J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.

James Madison University


February, 2010


Kumaraswamy Vela Velupillai [74] presents a constructivist perspective on the foundations of mathematical economics, praising the views of Feynman in developing path integrals and Dirac in developing the delta function. He sees their approach as consistent with the Bishop constructive mathematics and considers its view on the Bolzano-Weierstrass, Hahn-Banach, and intermediate value theorems, and then the implications of these arguments for such “crown jewels” of mathematical economics as the existence of general equilibrium and the second welfare theorem. He also relates these ideas to the weakening of certain assumptions to allow for more general results as shown by Rosser [51] in his extension of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem in his opening section. This paper considers these arguments in reverse order, moving from the matters of economics applications to the broader issue of constructivist mathematics, concluding by considering the views of Rosser on these matters, drawing both on his writings and on personal conversations with him.

Acknowledgements: I thank K. Vela Velupillai most particularly for his efforts to push me to consider these matters in the most serious manner, as well as my late father, J. Barkley Rosser [Sr.] and also his friend, the late Stephen C. Kleene, for their personal remarks on these matters to me over a long period of time. I also wish to thank Eric Bach, Ken Binmore, Herb Gintis, Jerome Keisler, Roger Koppl, David Levy, and Adrian Mathias for useful comments. The usual caveat holds.

I also wish to dedicate this to K. Vela Velupillai who inspired it with his insistence that I finally deal with the work and thought of my father, J. Barkley Rosser [Sr.], as well as Shu-Heng Chen, who supported him in this insistence. I thank both of them for this.

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