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By Mary Poovey

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

Mary Poovey explores those questions in A background of the fashionable Fact, ranging throughout an amazing array of texts and ideas from the book of the 1st British guide on double-entry bookkeeping in 1588 to the institutionalization of information within the 1830s. She indicates how the construction of systematic wisdom from descriptions of saw details motivated govt, how numerical illustration turned the privileged car for producing beneficial proof, and the way belief—whether figured as credits, credibility, or credulity—remained necessary to the creation of knowledge.

Illuminating the epistemological stipulations that experience made glossy social and fiscal wisdom attainable, A background of the trendy Fact offers vital contributions to the background of political notion, economics, technological know-how, and philosophy, in addition to to literary and cultural criticism.

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

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9 My efforts to understand the Scottish Enlight­ enment have benefited particularly from the work of Nicholas Phillipson and Richard B. Sher, and I have found Andrew Skinner, Duncan Forbes, Knud Haakonssen, and Istvan Hont especially helpful in explaining the places Hume and Smith occupied in the Scottish Enlightenment. 1 0 The third general scholarly project A History if the Modern Fact overlaps with is the subset of the history of science that Lorraine Daston has called his­ torical epistemology.

Beyond epitomizing the peculiar­ ity written into the modern fact, numerical representation is also important here because numbers played a crucial role in the transformations of govern­ ment that occurred in the period I examine. As Michael Clanchy has argued, the collection of numerical information helped consolidate government power in England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; and as I argue be­ low, this process resumed at the end of the eighteenth century, although the British government had not collected numerical information in a theoretically informed way for most of that century.

In suggesting that Bacon's repudiation of Aristotelian cOirunonplaces was an attempt to persuade his readers that his method was new, I do not mean to downplay the signiflcance of this revision. Indeed, I agree with nearly all histo­ rians of science that Bacon's elevation of the observed particular looks in retro­ spect like the beginning of an epistemological revolution and that, because subsequent philosophers took Bacon at his word, the elevation of the observed particular has had consequential-and material-effects.

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