The Teaching of Pure Political Economics and Social Mechanics in Switzerland

The Teaching of Pure Political Economy and Social Mechanics
Original French title page to Leon Winiarski's 1900 report “The Teaching of Pure Political Economy and Social Mechanics”, outlining the teaching of thermodynamics in sociology, economics, and politics at the University of Geneva. [1]
In famous publications, “The Teaching of Pure Political Economy and Social Mechanics” is a March-April 1900 four-page report by Polish social-economist Leon Winiarski describing the outlines of a new experimental course on applied thermodynamics in sociology, economics, and politics that was being taught at the University of Geneva, during the previous six years (1894-1900), the fortuitousness of this teaching method being advocated to other universities. The following is the key paragraph of the report wherein Winiarski mentions the incorporation of thermodynamics: [1]

Turning to the dynamic part of the problem, we gave a definition of social-biological energy in two forms: potential (hunger and love) and kinetic (economic, political, legal, moral, aesthetic, religious, and scientific). This led us to the principles of thermodynamics, including the third, the Clausius same time explains the progressive spiritualization any closed social aggregate to show a decrease in potential. This dissipation of entropy that occurs is the same in the social world as in the physical world.

The report is part of Winiarski's collected text Essay on Social Mechanics. [2] The English translation is shown in full below, which seems to have been done by American sociologist Lester Ward, the general editor of the journal in which the translation is found. [3] This paper is similar, to note, to American historian Henry Adams 1910 A Letter to American Teachers of History, advocating the teaching of thermodynamics in history courses.

Introduction note (by translator): The report of Dr. Leon Winiarsky, of the University of Geneva, mentioned above (supra, p. 1492) by M. Suter, on the teaching of pure political economy and social mechanics in Switzerland, assumes a special importance in view of M. Gide's remark (supra, p. 1469), pointing out the lack in France of any treatment of the social sciences from the point of view of method, and calling attention to the advance in this direction that has been made in Switzerland. Walras and Pareto, of the University of Lausanne, and Winiarsky, of the University of Geneva, constitute a strong school of pure or theoretical economics and sociology, based on mathematics. As this report gives a brief account of the history and present status of methodological social science, it deserves a place here:

"The teaching of pure political economy and social mechanics in Switzerland"
by Dr. Leon Winiarsky, privat-doccnt at the University of Geneva

Every science has two sides: A rational or pure side, which studies the most general and abstract form of the respective phenomena, and an applied side which studies their concrete and detailed form. The rigorous distinction between these two divisions, accepted in the physical sciences, is tending more and more to be introduced into the domain of the social sciences.

For purposes of instruction this distinction is of the first importance in practically accustoming students to the logical necessity of a truly scientific method and in facilitating the clear and systematic conception of the facts. It prepares them at the same time for independent personal work by furnishing them methods of investigation that are sure and necessary to any productive research.

Logicians of the first rank, like Professors Ad. Naville, Goblot, and others, show us with reason that it is henceforth impossible to employ, as absolutely as was formerly done, a method in physics, psychology, and sociology opposed to that of mathematics. The processes of the physicist, the psychologist, and the sociologist always resemble those of the mathematician more and more as they attain greater perfection.

All sciences have an abstract side, which studies the relations between concepts. These sciences of laws have, moreover, an experimental point of departure. Mathematics had at the outset a wholly empirical phase; it was only with further development that it assumed a more and more a priori character. The products of reasoning push the data of observation more and more into the shade, but they exist none the less.

At the present time in certain departments of physics abstract reasoning occupies as prominent a place as observation. The development of psychology and sociology is pursuing the same course, so that without diminishing the importance of the historical and descriptive part, which is principally based on observation, it is necessary to recognize the paramount value of the abstract and rational part. It is the mark of a good logical method, and at the same time of a good method in teaching, to introduce and strictly maintain this distinction.

Among the social sciences political economy was the first to introduce this distinction in the most rigorous way, by accepting for the rational part the mathematical form.

Cournot was the true founder, to have, in his Researches into the Mathematical Principles of the Theory of Wealth (1838), clearly stated in what was the application of mathematics to political economy, to have raised the demand curve of goods according to declining prices and have deduced the mathematical theory of monopoly.

In 1854, Hermann Gossen, in his The Development of the Laws of Human Interactions, established another curve, that of the intensity of the last want satisfied as a decreasing function of the quantity consumed, and from it he deduced the formula of the optimum division of two commodities between two individuals, so as to produce the absolute maximum utility, measured by the equal intensities of the last wants satisfied of each commodity by the two individuals (communistic sharing).

In 1802, Jevons drew the same curve as Gossen and deduced from it the formula of free exchange of two commodities between two individuals, showing the inverse proportion for each party to the exchange of the intensities of the last wants satisfied ( "final degree of utility") to the quantity of the commodities exchanged (individualistic sharing).

Finally, in 1873, Mr. Walras explains in a paper entitled Principle of a mathematical theory of exchange, the theory of economic exchange of two commodities between any number of exchangers. To do this he introduces the problem, as unknowns to be determined, the prices of both goods (that Jevons was replaced by the inverse relationships of quantities traded). Then, the utility curve of Goshen, he deduces the curves of demand and supply, under the condition of maximum satisfaction of needs, expressed in a form identical to that of Jevons.
In this way M. Walras found deductively the curve of demand empirically arrived at by Cournot, and also the curve of supply. Finally he determined the prices current of equilibrium, by virtue of the condition of equality, of the actual supply and demand, by the intersection of two curves of demand and supply.

In his Elements of Pure Political Economics, M. Walras has successively derived from the mathematical principles indicated above: (1) The theory of exchange of any number of commodities for one another; (2) the theory of production of those commodities considered as products resulting from the combination of the effects of different kinds of productive capital; (3) the theory of capitalization, or of the production of new capital, and, finally, (4) the theory of money, or the theory of the determination of the prices of products, services, and capital in a form of goods serving not only as a standard for the measure of values, but also as a medium of exchange. Finally, from all these theories taken together, M. Walras derived a theory of general economic equilibrium.

Thus was economic statics definitely established. It still remains to found economic dynamics. It is on this task that certain economists are engaged, as Mr. Patten in America.

On the other hand, some writers, as MM. Wicksteed, Barone, Clark, and Montemartini, are completing the theory of marginal utility by a theory of marginal productivity, which constitutes, at the same time, the point of departure for a theory of the distribution of wealth. Great activity prevails in this domain of the science, as is proved by the list of mathematical economists: Marshall, Edgeworth, Launhardt, Lebr, Auspitz, lieben, Wicksell, Rossi, Giddings, Fisher, etc. To these must be added the representatives of pure economics who employ deduction without having recourse to mathematics, such as Menger, Wieser, Sax, Bohm-Bawerk, etc.

To follow, step by step, this entire movement and set forth its pa-ogress in the successive phases acquired is the task that we have undertaken in a course that we have been giving for the past six years at the University of Geneva.

Moreover, encouraged by the example of pure political economy, and convinced that this is the route that social science must necessarily pursue in order to attain a definite character, we have attempted to apply the same methods of investigation and reasoning to all the other departments of general and abstract sociology.

It is thus that we have arrived at the conception that the theory of equilibrium may be extended from economic phenomena to all social phenomena—political, juridical, moral, esthetic, religious, and scientific; the two modes of division, the Gossenian and Jevonian, adapting themselves very well to the communistic regime of primitive societies and to the individualistic regime of the historic societies.

By extending these results attained through pure political economy to social science, we have arrived at the discovery that the fundamental equations of M. Walras— expressing, for a party to an exchange, the equivalence of the quantities offered and the quantities demanded of various commodities at certain prices, and the proportion of the intensity of the last wants satisfied to these prices—-may be deduced from the general equations of motion of Lagrange, and we have shown analytically in what way this deduction can be made. Having furnished the equations of social equilibrium, we have laid the foundations for social mechanicson its static side— on the principle of Lagrange, that of least effort or greatest energy, i. e., on the principle that serves as the basis of universal mechanics.

Turning to the dynamic part of the problem, we gave a definition of social-biological energy in two forms: potential (hunger and love) and kinetic (economic, political, legal, moral, aesthetic, religious, and scientific). This led us to the principles of thermodynamics, including the third, the Clausius same time explains the progressive spiritualization any closed social aggregate to show a decrease in potential. This dissipation of entropy that occurs is the same in the social world as in the physical world.

Finally, we have shown how the principle of least effort and of the acceleration of velocity explains the gradual differentiation and integration of social aggregates by their more and more perfect adaptation to the natural and artificial environment. All this forms the subject of a course on social mechanics that we are giving under the title, "Economic bases of social science," parallel with our course on pure political economy. In fact, the point of departure of our researches was, as we have shown, pure political economy, to which we refer all social science, and bring it all back to mechanics.

In our course we do not content ourselves with the abstract or pure science, but make applications of it to the primitive and historic societies by a detailed study of the facts.

The results of our research in pure social mechanics were published in the Philosophical Review (March 1898) under the 'title: "Essay on the social Mechanics", which contains three parts: 1 The economic and social balance; 2 "the transformations of social energy, and 3 social dynamics.

A year after the publication of our work, we were pleased to note the appearance of two books of great value, that of Professor Maurce Haurion: Lessons Social Movement (1899) and that of Professor Andre Lalande: The Dissolution Opposed to Revolution in the Physical and Moral (1899). These studies, while differing on some points of our findings in the philosophical journal (March 1898), based on the same principles and tend in the same direction, toward an application of mechanics and thermodynamics to social science.

In 1889 we applied these principles to the theory of the family and of property in an article published in the Rivista italiana di Sociologia (November, 1899). We showed that it is the family and property that lie at the basis of society, and that all other institutions constitute its superstructure. Finally, during the present year, we have more thoroughly analyzed (in the Revue philosophique, February-March, 1900) certain points in our theory, and shown how quantitative methods may be applied to social mechanics, with a view to the creation of a sociometry.

Some of this work has attracted interest from abroad and have been translated into Polish (Athenaeum Warsaw), German (Soc. Monatshefte Berlin) and Russian (Saint Petersburg Scientific Review). The samples were analyzed, among others, in the Rivista Italiana di Filosofla1 by Professor Groppoli which, while recognizing the need for a general science of society and abstract, it would retain the title of pure sociology. But I prefer title social mechanism, which I gave to this science, especially since Professor Lester Ward, Columbia University, author of Dynamic Sociology, now follows the same path in memoir presented at The International Congress of Sociology of this year a entitled: "Social Mechanics". [note1]

Such are the stages in the career thus far pursued by social mechanics. Though teaching it for six years at the University of Geneva, I do not think it can replace descriptive and comparative sociology represented with us with so great authority and mastery by Prof. L. Vuarin, but I do think that it may become an independent and complementary discipline, allying itself at the same time to mathematics, political economy, and sociology.

I have ventured to inform the congress of this isolated experiment, and the first of its kind. As to pure economics, it is already taught in a score of universities in England, America, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and it would be desirable that this example be followed by those of France. I am happy to add that the teaching of these sciences, which might appear dry, interests its hearers, whose number is constantly increasing.

● Note 1: Ward, Frank. (1900). “Social Mechanics”, Read before the Fourth Congress of the Institute International de Sociologie at Paris, Sep, 25, 1900; Reprinted in: Sociology at the Paris Exposition of 1900 (pgs. 1579-93).
● Translator end note: In view of the importance of the subject and the novelty of the experiment, I have introduced Dr. Winiarsky's report entire. The question of methodology in social science will come up later (p. 1576).

1. Winiarsky, Leon. (1900). “L’enseignement de l’economie politique pure et de la mecanique sociale en Suisse” ("The Teaching of Pure Political Economics and Social Mechanics in Switzerland") (see: translation), Privat-Docet, University of Geneva; reprinted in: Le Premier congres de l’enseignement des Sciences Sociales: Comte rendu des séances et texte des memoirs publies par la Commssion permanente international de l’enseignement social (The First Congress of the Social Science Education: Count summary records and texts of memoirs published by the Commission permanent International Education office) (pgs. 341-46), 1901.
2. Winiarski, Leon. (1967). Essai sur la Mécanique Sociale: Collected Works (pgs. 291-295), compiled by Giovanni Busino. Librairie Droz.
3. Winiarski, Leon. (1900). “The Teaching of Pure Political Economy and Social Mechanics in Switzerland”, (pgs. 1497-1500), Sociology at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Government Printing Office.

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