Bourgeois Ideology and Mathematical Economics – A Reply to Tony Lawson

Brian O’Boyle, Terrence McDonough


This paper challenges Tony Lawson’s account of the relationship between mainstream economics and ideology along two key axes. First off, we argue that Newtonian physics has been the primary version of pro-science ideology within mainstream economics, rather than mathematics per se. Secondly, we argue that the particular uses of mathematics within mainstream economics have always been ideological in the pro-capitalist sense of the term. In order to defend these claims we develop a line of argument that Lawson has thus far strategically avoided. Namely, we view mainstream economic theory as an integrated theoretical paradigm with intrinsic links to the capitalist economy. Viewed in this way, it becomes clear that Lawson’s (trans) historical account of ideology is too general to capture the complexity of the relationship between natural science, mathematics and mainstream methods. Having briefly outlined Lawson’s central argument, we highlight the non-mathematical methods underpinning Classical Political Economy. Thereafter, we assess the nature of the mathematics associated with the Marginal Revolution of the 1870s and the Formalist Revolution of the 1950s.

Published on 31 Mar 2017 in Economic Thought Vol 6, No 1, 2017