A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the by Mary Poovey

By Mary Poovey

How did the very fact turn into modernity's so much preferred unit of data? How did description come to appear separable from conception within the precursors of economics and the social sciences?

Mary Poovey explores those questions in A heritage of the trendy Fact, ranging throughout an impressive array of texts and ideas from the booklet of the 1st British handbook on double-entry bookkeeping in 1588 to the institutionalization of records within the 1830s. She indicates how the creation of systematic wisdom from descriptions of saw details inspired govt, how numerical illustration grew to become the privileged car for producing priceless evidence, and the way belief—whether figured as credits, credibility, or credulity—remained necessary to the construction of knowledge.

Illuminating the epistemological stipulations that experience made sleek social and fiscal wisdom attainable, A heritage of the fashionable Fact offers vital contributions to the historical past of political notion, economics, technology, and philosophy, in addition to to literary and cultural criticism.

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I have deliberately blurred the I II 'gi n n i ng a n d t h e end of the story I tell here because I want to insist that what I il l l l cl L I ld i a n s i de n t i fy as ruptures can also be interpreted as part of a continu­ I . I I S . i f " COl l 1 p l e x , process. W h e n I suggest i n chapter 3 that Bacon a n d Boyle I l I l l c l . l i n l l' d t h l' I l OV ' I t y ot i n d u c t i on in o rder to cll::1 r ;] SpilCC tor n ew k n owl- 18 C H A P T E R O N E edge, for example, and when I argue in chapter 2 that a prototype for the basic epistemological unit of this new knowledge predated the new philosophy of the seventeenth century, I am rejecting the narrative of ruptures and revolu­ tions for an account of processes whose continuities were effaced-most often for social (rather than strictly epistemological) reasons.

C's c l a i m s abo u t the a i r pump did not dep -nd on p 'rsoni fications I i kc " 1 1 1 0n 'y," n o r d i d he T H E M O D E R N FACT 13 use the trope of balance to align natural philosophy with God's order. Never­ theless, as Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer have argued, seventeenth-century natural philosophy did derive its authority from claims that required a leap of faith-even if these were not self-evident fictions. These claims included the contention that the knowledge generated in the laboratory had nothing to do with politics and the assertion that this knowledge, which was artificially con­ trived, could be confirmed by an audience of credible witnesses but held good for the world at large.

Numerical representation is particularly central to this book because, once they were purged of the last vestiges of supernaturalism, numbers came to epitomize the peculiarity written into the modern fact. On the one hand, as signs of (what looks like or passes as) counting, numbers seem to be simple descriptors of phenomenal particulars, and because the mathe­ matical manipulation of numbers is governed by a set of invariable rules, num­ bers seem to resist the biases that many people associate with conjecture or theory.

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