A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society

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University of Chicago Press, Nov 15, 1998 - Science - 419 pages
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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.


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A history of the modern fact: problems of knowledge in the sciences of wealth and society

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Poovey (English, New York Univ.) defines the modern fact as systematic knowledge that is derived from the theoretical interpretation of observed particulars, i.e., numbers. This distinction between ... Read full review


1 The Modern Fact the Problem of Induction and Questions of Method
DoubleEntry Bookkeeping Mercantile Expertise and the Effect of Accuracy
English Science and Irish Land
4 Experimental Moral Philosophy and the Problems of Liberal Governmentality
5 From Conjectural History to Political Economy
Vestiges of Providentialism in the New Science of Wealth
The Problem of Induction in the 1830s

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About the author (1998)

Mary Poovey is Samuel Rudin University Professor of the Humanities and professor of English at New York University. Her primary scholarly work focuses on nineteenth-century British literature, history, and culture, although she has also published on eighteenth-century British literature and culture, the history of literary criticism, feminist theory, and economic history.

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