The Natural Origins of Economics

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9780226735702: The Natural Origins of Economics
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References to the economy are ubiquitous in modern life, and virtually every facet of human activity has capitulated to market mechanisms. In the early modern period, however, there was no common perception of the economy, and discourses on money, trade, and commerce treated economic phenomena as properties of physical nature. Only in the early nineteenth century did economists begin to posit and identify the economy as a distinct object, divorcing it from natural processes and attaching it exclusively to human laws and agency.

In The Natural Origins of Economics, Margaret Schabas traces the emergence and transformation of economics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from a natural to a social science. Focusing on the works of several prominent economists—David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill—Schabas examines their conceptual debt to natural science and thus locates the evolution of economic ideas within the history of science. An ambitious study, The Natural Origins of Economics will be of interest to economists, historians, and philosophers alike.

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Review:

"Fascinating...A wide-ranging and challenging book that can be read profitably both by economists and a wider spectrum of readers interested in the history of science."

0;Margaret Schabas7;s clear, concise, and carefully argued book on how economics came to be denaturalized in the nineteenth century is a model of intellectual history. It anchors big, abstract ideas like 6;nature7; in solid specifics by describing the ways in which Hume, Smith, Ricardo, Mill, and other luminaries thought about money, interest, and profit. This book will interest anyone who wonders about how the shifting boundary between the natural and the human has been drawn and redrawn since the Enlightenment.1;--Lorraine Daston, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
0;This is an essential book for anyone who is interested in understanding the dominant role that the discipline of economics is playing in our current world order. Through her meticulous historical reconstruction, Schabas shows how economists came to see themselves as agents in a human order that they might change for the better, rather than as mere observers of immutable natural laws. In the process, as she also shows, the philosophical ideas of Utilitarianism came to be embedded within the 6;scientific7; discourse of economics, where their controversial normative content escaped people7;s notice, as it often still does today. Anyone who wants to challenge this powerful framework needs to begin by understanding it, and Schabas is an exhilarating guide.1;--Martha Nussbaum, University of Chicago
"Fascinating. . . . . A wide-ranging and challenging book that can be read profitably both by economists and a wider spectrum of readers interested in the history of science." -- David Thorsby "Times Literary Supplement" (07/28/2006)

"Margaret Schabas's clear, concise, and carefully argued book on how economics came to be denaturalized in the nineteenth century is a model of intellectual history. It anchors big, abstract ideas like nature' in solid specifics by describing the ways in which Hume, Smith, Ricardo, Mill, and other luminaries thought about money, interest, and profit. This book will interest anyone who wonders about how the shifting boundary between the natural and the human has been drawn and redrawn since the Enlightenment."--Lorraine Daston, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

"This is an essential book for anyone who is interested in understanding the dominant role that the discipline of economics is playing in our current world order. Through her meticulous historical reconstruction, Schabas shows how economists came to see themselves as agents in a human order that they might change for the better, rather than as mere observers of immutable natural laws. In the process, as she also shows, the philosophical ideas of Utilitarianism came to be embedded within the scientific' discourse of economics, where their controversial normative content escaped people's notice, as it often still does today. Anyone who wants to challenge this powerful framework needs to begin by understanding it, and Schabas is an exhilarating guide."--Martha Nussbaum, University of Chicago

About the Author:

Margaret Schabas is professor in and head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia.

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