Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Mathematical Cameralism in Germany: the example of Florencourt

Bertram Schefold, Goethe-University, Frankfurt

The rise of mathematics that followed upon the development of calculus and of mechanics in physics led to early attempts to introduce mathematics also to economics and business administration in the 18th century, especially on the Continent. Leibniz was not only one of the creators of calculus, but, with his universal scientific interest, he also worked on problems of compound interest. A subsequent outstanding cameralist contribution is the book „Abhandlungen aus der juristischen und politischen Rechenkunst“ by Carl Chassot von Florencourt of 1781. The applications of mathematics he presented would today primarily be seen as belonging to economics and business administration, but the history of the disciplines here is more complicated. It was not simply an application of the science of mathematics to the science of economics. The problems that arose in practical business dealings were first structured and conceptualized by theology and jurisprudence in the usury debates. The concepts formed in the discussions about licit and illicit forms of interest-taking made it possible to calculate the claims of borrowers and lenders exactly. Formulas derived for the analysis of, for instance, depreciation were more sophisticated than what was usually taught in business administration in the early 20th century. The book therefore illustrates how knowledge that had originated among the scholastics became part of applied economics in the period of cameralism and mercantilism, although it was addressed to lawyers (Florencourt spoke of „mathematical jurisprudence“), and only later it was incorporated in the body of economic knowledge.


Keywords: Cameralism, scholastics, mathematical economics, law and economics

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