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

By Mary Poovey

How did the actual fact turn into modernity's so much favourite 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 historical past of the trendy Fact, ranging throughout an amazing array of texts and concepts from the booklet of the 1st British handbook on double-entry bookkeeping in 1588 to the institutionalization of records within the 1830s. She exhibits how the creation of systematic wisdom from descriptions of saw details prompted govt, how numerical illustration grew to become the privileged automobile for producing necessary proof, 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 monetary wisdom attainable, A historical past of the fashionable Fact presents vital contributions to the historical past of political inspiration, economics, technology, and philosophy, in addition to to literary and cultural criticism.

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One reason I do not dis­ cuss race, gender, and class in A History ofthe Modern Fact is that with a very few exceptions most of the writers I am concerned with were not primarily en­ gaged with these issues. Even though women were excluded de facto from the ranks of economic experts by the codification of the rule-bound, credential­ dependent practices adumbrated by double-entry bookkeeping, Luca Pacioli did not design the rules of double-entry bookkeeping in order to exclude women; even though peoples of color undeniably were adversely affected by the truisms about racial inferiority perpetuated by the conjectural historians, these Scotsmen were not trying to oppress the peoples they called barbarians­ even though, as theorists of unanticipated consequences, they might be ex­ pected to have been more alert to the deleterious effects of their own philosophical discourse.

I I 1 I;�lor)' 0/"1111' /lllo lil'YII I 'i /( { is :d�( ) :It k:lSl . C H A P T E R 6 O N E a rudimentary history of the disciplines, focusing on the stages by which the ensemble of knowledge practices that dominated the ancient world was re­ ordered in such a way as to separate numerical representation from figurative language and, gradually, to elevate practices associated with numbers over those associated with metaphorical language. In the chapters that follow, I argue that the emergence of the modern fact coincided with this reordering-indeed, was instrumental to it-and that effacing this epistemological unit's character­ istic peculiarity was central to creating, then sustaining, the illusion that num­ bers are somehow epistemologically different from figurative language, that the former are somehow value-free whereas the excesses of the latter disqualify it from all but the most recreational or idealist knowledge-producing projects.

Igenda of this subdiscipline that accords remarkably well with what I have tried ( I do in this book. lve needed a narrative of novelty and absolute breaks. Drawing heavily on S I I : l p i n a n d Schaffer's work, Latour argues that when modern historians iden­ ( d y ruptures b etween the premodern age and modernity and when they -, ('p: l ra te k n owledge about n ature (science) from knowledge about society (pol­ I I I C S ) , lh 'y repeat the gestu res fi rst ma de by Bacon, Boyle, and Hobbes in the -,t ' Vl " l l l ' - 1 1 th c n tu ry.

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