International Statistical Review

Statistical Regularity and Free Will: L.A.J. Quetelet and P.A. Nekrasov

Journal Article


In the 19th century, causes of empirically observed stability of averages in settings relating to human behaviour were a topic of intense discussion in western Europe. This followed an extensive study of empirical stability by the founder of modern statistics (and of the International Statistical Institute) L.A.J. Quetelet, published in 1835, in what he called “Social Physics”. The eminent mathematician of strong probabilistic and philosophical inclination and Russian Orthodox religious belief, P.A. Nekrasov, took up and modified Quetelet's Social Physics in 1902, with (social) independence seen as prime cause of statistical regularity. Our paper focuses on the role free will plays in the statistical writings of Quetelet and of Nekrasov. The work of the latter has remained little known in general, mainly for politico‐ideological reasons.

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