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A History of the Modern Fact

Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society

How did the fact become modernity’s most favored unit of knowledge? How did description come to seem separable from theory in the precursors of economics and the social sciences?

Mary Poovey explores these questions in A History of the Modern Fact, ranging across an astonishing array of texts and ideas from the publication of the first British manual on double-entry bookkeeping in 1588 to the institutionalization of statistics in the 1830s. She shows how the production of systematic knowledge from descriptions of observed particulars influenced government, how numerical representation became the privileged vehicle for generating useful facts, and how belief—whether figured as credit, credibility, or credulity—remained essential to the production of knowledge.

Illuminating the epistemological conditions that have made modern social and economic knowledge possible, A History of the Modern Fact provides important contributions to the history of political thought, economics, science, and philosophy, as well as to literary and cultural criticism.

436 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1998

History: History of Ideas

History of Science

Table of Contents

1: The Modern Fact, the Problem of Induction, and Questions of Method
2: Accommodating Merchants: Double-Entry Bookkeeping, Mercantile Expertise, and the Effect of Accuracy
3: The Political Anatomy of the Economy: English Science and Irish Land
4: Experimental Moral Philosophy and the Problems of Liberal Governmentality
5: From Conjectural History to Political Economy
6: Reconfiguring Facts and Theory: Vestiges of Providentialism in the New Science of Wealth
7: Figures of Arithmetic, Figures of Speech: The Problem of Induction in the 1830s

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