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Was seventeenth-century British political arithmetic a precursor of nineteenth-century economic science?

TERRA ECONOMICUS, , Vol. 21 (no. 1),

The 19th-century English economist W.S.Jevons revisited the work of Gregory King. A seventeenth-century follower of Sir Francis Bacon, King had described in a brief empirical observation how price correlated with supply. The history of seventeenth-century commercial mathematics, this essay suggests, provides essential background for understanding the empirical observation which Jevons received from King. The 17th century was the pivot time during which new techniques appeared in higher mathematics, calculus and mathematical probability among them. Higher mathematics incorporated innovations which had previously appeared in commercial mathematics, Arabic numerals, pen and paper calculations, new notations, etc. At the same time, ancient Greek higher mathematics continued for a while, and Gregory King also borrowed some calculations from James Ussher who used ancient Greek higher mathematics. King learned Bacon’s empirical method from John Graunt and Sir William Petty, and all three represented a stage of political arithmetic which was midway between Bacon’s simple empiricism on the one hand and later mathematical probability and random sampling on the other hand. In this midway stage, statesmen made policy while taking care to obtain data from professional advisors whom they employed. The advisors based their advice at first on a combination of observation, skill, and intuition, but then later they added commercial arithmetic.
Citation: Taylor J.A. (2023). Was seventeenth-century British political arithmetic a precursor of nineteenth-century economic science? Terra Economicus 21(1), 32–46. DOI: 10.18522/2073- 6606-2023-21-1-32-46

Keywords: commercial mathematics; shop arithmetic; political arithmetic; mathematical probability; James Ussher; Sir William Petty; John Graunt; Gregory King; William Stanley Jevons; Ancient Greek Higher Mathematics

JEL codes: B11; B12

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Publisher: Southern Federal University
Founder: Southern Federal University
ISSN: 2073-6606