Person: Cournot, Antoine Augustin
Antoine Cournot was a French mathematician who was a pioneer of mathematical economics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- He had siblings Joseph Antoine Cournot, who was born in 1803 but died in the following year, Judith Xavière Cournot (1805-1876) and Eugène Cournot (1810-1880).
- Augustin attended the secondary Collège de Gray between the years 1809 and 1816.
- Cournot had heard vague reports of the École Normale at Paris, and had determined to take this opportunity to find out from the inspectors the conditions of admission to the scientific department of the famous school.
- In 1821 Cournot began his studies at the École Normale Supérieur in Paris.
- Cournot found himself in the latter group, being considered lacking in piety.
- Cournot, along with his fellow student and friend Lejeune Dirichlet, was taught mathematics at the Sorbonne by Sylvestre Lacroix and Jean Hachette.
- The two friends Cournot and Dirichlet would attend meetings of the Academy of Sciences and were particularly interested in observing Laplace, the leading mathematical scientist.
- In 1823 Cournot had became a secretary to Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr, who wanted assistance in writing his military memoirs, and also a tutor to his son.
- This was not the easiest of occupations for Cournot who was finding difficulties with his vision both in his secretarial work and in his university studies.
- Poisson was impressed with Cournot and, in 1833, he obtained a position for him with the Academy in Paris.
- Again with Poisson's recommendation, Cournot was appointed to a newly created chair in analysis at Lyon in 1834.
- Cournot had begun publishing papers on mechanics before he submitted his thesis.
- On 24 October 1835 Cournot became professor of mathematics at Grenoble and rector there.
- He replaced Louis Antoine Stanislas Ferriot (1779-1859) who had himself replaced Armand Berroyer, who had taught Cournot mathematics at Besançon.
- This work makes Cournot a pioneer of mathematical economics, 25 years before Stanley Jevons.
- Jevons had not seen Cournot's work when he wrote The Theory of Political Economy in 1871 but by the time of Jevons' second edition in 1879 he had read Cournot's 1838 book.
- Cournot also worked on probability and, although his investigations into a logical foundation for it were unsuccessful, his work did lead the way to future important developments.
- We mentioned above Cournot's eyesight problems and over the years these became steadily worse.
- Perhaps eyesight was not the only reason for Cournot to give up mathematics for he was clearly saddened by the fact that his mathematical approach to economics was not being taken up.
- In 1864 Anne-Paul-Gabriel-Roger de Fontenay (1809-1891) reviewed all of Cournot's work on economics concentrating on his 1838 book.
- The review was partly positive and partly critical and, in many ways, influenced by Cournot's non-mathematics book of 1863 which, Roger de Fontenay felt, showed him to be an amateur economist when it came to social economy.
- Cournot reacted badly to the review, concentrating on the negative aspects and ignoring the positive ones.
- Now although he did not publish any further mathematical works, Cournot did publish several books such as Des institutions d'instruction publique en France Ⓣ(Public education institutions in France) (1864), Considérations sur la marche des idées et des événements dans les temps modernes Ⓣ(Considerations on the march of ideas and events in modern times) (1872), Matérialisme, vitalisme, rationalisme: études sur l'emploi des données de la science en philosophie Ⓣ(Materialism, Vitalism, Rationalism: Studies on the use of data from science in philosophy) (1875) and Revue sommaire des doctrines économiques Ⓣ(Summary of economic doctrines) (1877).
- Cournot is also well known for his views on scientific knowledge.
- After Cournot died at the age of 75, he was buried in Cimetière de Montparnasse in Paris.
- Cournot wrote his autobiography on scraps of paper, in tiny, barely legible writing.
- This manuscript was then hidden by Cournot, who did not want it to be published during his lifetime.
- After his death, his son, Pierre Cournot, did not consider it necessary to publish it either.
Born 28 August 1801, Gray, Haute-Saône, Franche-Comté, France. Died 31 March 1877, Paris, France.
View full biography at MacTutor
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive