Luca Pacioli’s Research Program
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Publication date: 2010-09-30
GNPJE 2010;242(9):83-96
The paper examines an alternative approach to the theory of economics based on a work by medieval mathematician Luca Pacioli, Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita, published in Venice in 1494. Luca Pacioli was an Italian mathematician and Franciscan friar, collaborator with Leonardo da Vinci, and seminal contributor to the field now known as accounting, for which he is often regarded as the “father of accounting.” While discussing Pacioli’s research, Niemczyk sets out to show that philosopher Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz’s key theorem that “the construction of every science ispermeated by a collection of axioms that accumulate subject knowledge” also applies to economics. The paper outlines the complex historical circumstances surrounding the publication of Summa de arithmetica—circumstances that strongly influenced the final shape of Pacioli’s work, Niemczyk says. The author describes the essence of Pacioli’s research program and examines its link with theories governing finance and banking, insurance and managerial accounting. The paper follows a methodology of scientific research programs proposed by Hungarian-born mathematician and philosopher Imre Lakatos (1922-1974), who argued that a theory may actually be a succession of slightly different theories and experimental techniques developed over time, that share some common idea, or “hard core.” Lakatos called such changing collections “research programs” and argued that scientists involved in such programs attempt to shield the theoretical core from falsification attempts behind a protective belt of “auxiliary hypotheses.” Historically, one prominent example of a research program in economic sciences was that undertaken by Adam Smith in his 1776 work entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Niemczyk says. The beginnings of Luca Pacioli’s research program date back to the publication of Summa de arithmetica. Today, after five centuries of consistent development, Niemczyk says, Pacioli’s program covers several scientific disciplines and specialties, including economics, accounting, finance, banking and insurance. Pacioli’s economic language features the kind of precision that is normally found in physics, and the axiomatic foundations of his research program make it possible for today’s economists to express themselves using logical formulas and mathematical equations, Niemczyk concludes.
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