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A “Foundation in Nature”: New Economic Criticism and the Problem of Money in 1690s England

A “Foundation in Nature”: New Economic Criticism and the Problem of Money in 1690s England Courtney Weiss Smith Wesleyan University People in 1690s England were concerned about money. They needed to decide how they wanted to deal with problems like a degraded currency and with new realities like credit and national debt. This essay argues that many contemporary English writers addressed these problems by paying close attention to the created natural world. These writers wanted their money and their economic systems more generally to have--as John Locke put it--a "Foundation in Nature."1 Exciting recent work that attempts to do economic history as history of science has recognized something similar: in Margaret Schabas's words, "until the mid-nineteenth century, economic theorists regarded the phenomena of their discourse as part of the same natural world studied by natural philosophers."2 I extend Schabas's argument to focus on what this belief meant for the pragmatics of economic theorizing. English economic thinkers of the 1690s approached the natural world as a rich source of concrete clues about the proper ways to order their economies, even about God's will for human economies. Silver bullion could dramatize the imperative of not meddling with value, or invite governments to take advantage of its stretchiness. Bits of metal could actually prompt human decisions. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Eighteenth Century University of Pennsylvania Press

A “Foundation in Nature”: New Economic Criticism and the Problem of Money in 1690s England

The Eighteenth Century , Volume 53 (2) – May 27, 2012

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University of Pennsylvania Press
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Copyright © University of Pennsylvania Press.
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1935-0201
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Abstract

Courtney Weiss Smith Wesleyan University People in 1690s England were concerned about money. They needed to decide how they wanted to deal with problems like a degraded currency and with new realities like credit and national debt. This essay argues that many contemporary English writers addressed these problems by paying close attention to the created natural world. These writers wanted their money and their economic systems more generally to have--as John Locke put it--a "Foundation in Nature."1 Exciting recent work that attempts to do economic history as history of science has recognized something similar: in Margaret Schabas's words, "until the mid-nineteenth century, economic theorists regarded the phenomena of their discourse as part of the same natural world studied by natural philosophers."2 I extend Schabas's argument to focus on what this belief meant for the pragmatics of economic theorizing. English economic thinkers of the 1690s approached the natural world as a rich source of concrete clues about the proper ways to order their economies, even about God's will for human economies. Silver bullion could dramatize the imperative of not meddling with value, or invite governments to take advantage of its stretchiness. Bits of metal could actually prompt human decisions.

Journal

The Eighteenth CenturyUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: May 27, 2012

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