Invisible Hands

Self-Organization in the Eighteenth Century

Jonathan Sheehan and Dror Wahrman

Invisible Hands
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Jonathan Sheehan and Dror Wahrman

384 pages | 5 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226752051 Will Publish March 2015
E-book $36.00 ISBN: 9780226233741 Will Publish March 2015
Why is the world orderly, and how does order occur? Humans inhabit many systems—natural, social, political, economic, cognitive, and others—with seemingly obscure origins. In the eighteenth century, older certainties rooted in divine providence or mechanistic explanations began to fall away. In their place arose a new appreciation for complexity and randomness along with an ability to see the world’s orders—whether natural or manmade—as self-organizing. If large systems were left to their own devices, eighteenth-century Europeans came to believe, order would emerge on its own without any need for external design or direction.

In Invisible Hands, Jonathan Sheehan and Dror Wahrman trace the versatile language of self-organization in the eighteenth-century West. Across an array of domains including religion, philosophy, science, politics, economy, and law, they show how and why this way of thinking entered the public view and then spread in diverse and often surprising forms. Offering a new synthesis of intellectual and cultural developments, Invisible Hands is a landmark contribution to the history of the Enlightenment.
David A. Bell, Princeton University
Invisible Hands is a landmark piece of work, a brilliant excavation of eighteenth-century patterns of thought. Sheehan and Wahrman demonstrate in a virtuoso manner that eighteenth-century thinkers came to discern the same fundamental quality of self-organization at work in many different systems. The authors often wax lyrical, beautifully so, in their exploration of their topic, and do not shy away from posing questions of profound philosophical import. This book will cause a stir.”
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