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By Mary Poovey

How did the actual fact turn into modernity's such a lot favorite unit of information? 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 background of the trendy Fact, ranging throughout an staggering array of texts and ideas from the e-book of the 1st British handbook on double-entry bookkeeping in 1588 to the institutionalization of data within the 1830s. She indicates how the creation of systematic wisdom from descriptions of saw details inspired executive, how numerical illustration turned the privileged automobile for producing beneficial 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 financial wisdom attainable, A historical past of the fashionable Fact offers vital contributions to the background of political proposal, economics, technology, and philosophy, in addition to to literary and cultural criticism.

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

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L I I I I . d I l I l il W i l l i i l s . l I l c i i' 1 I 1 (·o l l l l l ('r p:l r l . l\s I p ( l i l l l ' I I I ( 1 . l r i f' 8 C H A PT E R O N E out in chapter 3, this contrast has been drawn most succinctly by Lorraine Das­ ton and Peter Dear. According to both Daston and Dear, the two features that characterized the epistemological unit from which ancient systematic knowl­ edge was made were universality and commonality. As Aristotle described it, in other words, genuine knowledge was not made up of discrete or observed par­ ticulars, especially if they were experienced by a single individual.

4 We need to keep in mind this disjunction between the modern fact and numerical representa­ tion, because chapters 4 and 5 detail episodes in the history of this epistemo­ logical unit in which what counted as a fact retained only a metaphorical relation to numbers. I also want to stress, then, that the focus of A History ofthe Modern Fact is the epistemological unit, not numbers per se. I am interested in how numbers ac­ quired the connotations of transparency and impartiality that have made them seem so perfectly suited to the epistemological work performed by the modern fact, but this book is not a history of numerical information, the uses to which numbers were put, numeracy, or mathematics.

Indeed, even after Hume refused to accept on faith any kind of expla­ nation not based on particulars that could be observed, most moral and natural philosophers continued to refer what they failed to understand to God, and most continued to insist that the order of philosophy simply reflected the order God had written into the universe. Even though the effect of Hume's skepticism was delayed, the issue he raised theorized the peculiarity inherent in the modern fact and made it visible as a philosophical problem.

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