Introduction: William Petty and Political Arithmetic

Ted McCormick

in William Petty

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780199547890
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191720529 | DOI:
Introduction: William Petty and Political Arithmetic

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This chapter introduces William Petty and his invention, political arithmetic, setting both in historiographical perspective. It discusses the particular challenges posed by Petty's voluminous archive and his pattern of manuscript circulation to standard accounts of his life and work based on printed sources. It argues that while Petty's work in different areas (his ‘Down Survey’ of Ireland, his role in founding the Royal Society, and his political arithmetic, most famously) are usually parceled out between different historical subfields (the history of economics or social science, the history of science, and the history of seventeenth‐century Britain and Ireland, respectively), a more integrated and contextualized approach to Petty's work better fits the evidence and suggests problems with the standard interpretation of political arithmetic as an early form of quantitative economic or social analysis. Finally, it summarizes the contents of the book.

Keywords: political arithmetic; William Petty; history of economics; Britain; Down Survey; Ireland; Royal Society; manuscript circulation

Chapter.  5285 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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