Publication details [#8840]

Phillips, Peter. 2007. Mathematics, metaphors and economic visualisability. 19 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language


It is argued that mathematics in economics involves the construction of metaphor and that mathematical metaphors have no strict equivalence in the field of literal expression. The paper also introduced the concept of visualisability to economic science and linked it to the image-invoking property of metaphor. The construction of metaphors, both mathematical and literary, is indispensable to the development of knowledge in economics. Metaphors allow us to see things in new and different ways and provide an effective way of communicating the images that may come to the scientist in a moment of inspiration. Metaphor plays a valuable part in this process. This role is likely to be more effective and valuable if the metaphors of economics invoke clear, vivid images. It is important, therefore, for economists to consider the visualisability of the metaphors in economic theory. Vivid and visualisable mathematical economics may communicate new discoveries more effectively than metaphors in which the connections between mathematical objects and economic elements are faint and clouded by a gulf between principal and subsidiary subject. It must always be remembered, in addition to this, that complete discourse on the nature of economic reality, the entire theoretical structure of economic science requires the deployment of a range of linguistic phenomena. The utilization of mathematics in economics and all of its strengths and weaknesses in this regard are language-based. (Peter Phillips)