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Richard Ely on Industrial Civilization and Socialism August 22, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
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Almost every economist who wrote from the French Revolution to the interwar period (and perhaps even to today)  defined the principles of their economics or political economy along with a narrative of the development of civilization.  Richard Ely was no exception.

Richard Theodore Ely (1854–1943)

As with Smith and Malthus, in Ely’s economics the reader is treated to several prolonged discussions of why savages made tools, what herdsmen were really like, and how medieval towns came into being. Not only did economists from Adam Smith forward have to address the increasingly complexities of land, labor, and capital, as well as banking and finance, but also the emergence of a new kind of civilization, industrial civilization. Ricardo and Marx’s discussions of technology and machinery alone argue for their continuing relevance.

Ely’s Elementary Principles of Economics (1915), intended for students, began the discussion of the emergence of industrial civilization with the all-too-familiar conceit, the “hunting and fishing stage.”  In this initial stage of development, economic activity is “isolated.”  Ely considered the earliest stages to be “independent economy” with little exchange of goods or coordination among individuals.  Ely also distinguished between two fundamentally differing views towards the natural world in human beings’ march towards civility, namely, “between uncivilized man, who uses what he finds, and civilized man, who makes what he wants.” (more…)

Schaffer on the Politics of Inquiry March 29, 2009

Posted by Will Thomas in Schaffer Oeuvre.
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Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

One of the ongoing themes in Schaffer’s work—perhaps the primary theme—is his commitment to the detailed investigation of the relationship between political ideology and natural philosophical inquiry from the 17th to the 19th centuries.  It was at the center of Leviathan and the Air Pump, was central to his work on Priestley in the Enlightenment era, and his concern with the relationship between the natural philosophy of pneumatics and spirits (same post as Priestley).

Schaffer took pains to discuss politics as not simply something that interferes with inquiry, or as something that motivates inquiry, or something for which inquiry has implications.  For Schaffer, both the subject and manner of inquiry were understood as being political themselves, linked intimately with principles of good governance.  Politics not only defined what arguments one could make without incurring charges such as atheism, but, because these convictions were also held by natural philosophers, politics went so far as to define what kinds of questions and manners of inquiry made sense.

Today I’d like to do some sweeping up on this subject from Schaffer’s 1980s writings:

(1) “Occultism and Reason in the Seventeenth Century,” in Philosophy: Its History and Historiography (1985), edited by A. J. Holland.  (Schaffer’s entry is available in full through Google Books.)

(2) “Wallification: Thomas Hobbes on School Divinity and Experimental Pneumatics,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science (1988): 275-298.

(3) “The Glorious Revolution and Medicine in Britain and the Netherlands,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 43 (1989): 167-190.

There is also one article I do not have easy access to that looks relevant:

(*) “The Political Theology of Seventeeth-Century Natural Science,” Ideas & Production 1 (1983): 1-43.

What must be the most interesting thing about being a historian of seventeenth-century natural philosophy is the sheer number of epistemological flavors deployed to address the same problems.  In the 1980s, conscientious historians took it upon themselves to sort out different epistemological commitments, rather than to rely on wholly (more…)