Monday, December 14, 2009

Reasoning, quantitative and otherwise

We've had serious losses in the world of public intellectuals recently.

Like about half the planet, I used Paul Samuelson's econ textbook way back when. (Not the first edition from 1948, but an early enough one.) NPR interviewed Paul Krugman, a former student of his, tonight. In talking about the role of math in economics, Krugman said that Samuelson wanted mathematical sophistication, but "math in the service of ideas".

That reminded me of Stephen Toulmin, who passed away earlier this month. I certainly didn't agree with him about everything, but I do try to keep in mind his admonition, viewing (to quote the linked obit just above):
formal logic as an overly abstract, inadequate representation of how human beings actually argue. He also challenged its claims to universality, as well as its faith in absolute truth and moral certainty.

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