reading Keynes [assessed]

A few days ago, I got the following review of my paper on Keynes’ A Treatise on Probability, review which, while being rather negative, is quite fair.

When I looked at the title, I was expecting a paper that would be of considerable general interest. Now that I have read the paper several times, I am not quite sure what I got out of the paper. While I admire the authors goal, the paper is unfortunately not very informative.. [It] comes across as a collection of disjoint points. Even within sections, the points being made are not cohesive, and the paper does not flow smoothly. Some of this is to be expected from the nature of the paper, as one must select key points to discuss. But the organization has to be better. Also, the material following the quotes do not really embellish on the point in the quote; in fact, sometimes there is no direct connection. Take for instance the first part of Section 2, before 2.1. The quote just sits there  the material doesn’t make any connection to it. The main point of the section is in the top para on page 3 but it doesn’t do much. There is a mention on lack of analyses of data but this seems to be a throw-away sentence.
More work is needed to put this discussion of Keynes work in perspective. Many of the readers are not academics [and] even for academics, the discussion is too terse, and there is not enough background to fully absorb the finer points of the discussion. The author should invest a bit more time helping the readers. Instead of jumping into a critique right away, I suggest giving a slower and more detailed historical description of the period, what was known in Statistics at the time (Karl Pearsons work, before Fishers sufficiency, MLE, etc.) to set the stage for Keynes’ work. Did he substantially revise his dissertation or was the book a minor polishing? This would be important since there is quite a bit of time from 1907-1912 to 1921. This paragraph that starts with A Treatise  is important as it is going to set the stage for the whole paper and for people to appreciate the context of Keynes’ work and the critique that the author is attempting. So, I suggest spending more effort on this.
On page 2  [the paragraph] that starts with In this note  I agree with the point about ignoring old philosophical debates but it would be useful to spend a few lines describing the major contents of the Treatise and then focusing on what the author has to say. I have not read Aldrich’s work (and based on the authors description, I plan to), but again can we have a few lines of summary of what is there that is not covered here. It leaves the reader hanging to suggest that the author came across Aldrich as he was finishing up this paper, that Aldrich is an excellent source, and not say even a couple of more sentences about it…

Indeed, I agree with the reviewer that the flow of the paper follows my broken reading of the paper rather than providing a global and smooth picture. My vision of Keynes’ treatise on probability is unfortunately negative and pessimistic, as opposed to our earlier reading of Jeffreys’ Theory of Probability, and this transpires in the way I wrote my analysis. After a few months of letting the topic rest, I am currently convinced that the book is little more than Keynes’ dissertation turned into a book and that it is lacking the scope that would have seen it influencing the field for decades… I will certainly try to compose a revision in the coming weeks, maybe focussing on the more mathematical aspects of the book, although they are similarly negative. And integrating some of the historical background, even though my goal in writing this piece was rather in presenting the reaction of a 2010 reader than in putting the work of Keynes into historical perspective.

2 Responses to “reading Keynes [assessed]”

  1. […] Claude Saut will give a seminar in Orsay (bâtiment 425, salle 113, 13:30) on “Autour de `A Treatise on Probability’ de John Maynard Keynes  (II)”. I would have liked very much to be there and hear about a […]

  2. […] the past weeks, I have revised Reading Keynes’ Treatise on Probability and the new version is now arXived (and resubmitted). I have mostly focussed on the presentation of […]

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