From Oikonomia to Political Economy
Constructing Economic Knowledge from the Renaissance to the Scientific Revolution
Renaissance Europe witnessed a surge of interest in new scientific ideas and theories. Whilst the study of this 'Scientific Revolution' has dramatically shifted our appreciation of many facets of the early-modern world, remarkably little attention has been paid to its influence upon one key area; that of economics. Through an interrogation of the relationship between economic and scientific developments in early-modern Western Europe, this book demonstrates how a new economic epistemology appeared that was to have profound consequences both at the time, and for subsequent generations. Dr Maifreda argues that the new attention shown by astronomers, physicians, aristocrats, men of letters, travellers and merchants for the functioning of economic life and markets, laid the ground for a radically new discourse that envisioned 'economics' as an independent field of scientific knowledge. By researching the historical context surrounding this new field of knowledge, he identifies three key factors that contributed to the cultural construction of economics. Firstly, Italian Humanism and Renaissance, which promoted new subjects, methods and quantitative analysis. Secondly, European overseas expansion, which revealed the existence of economic cultures previously unknown to Europeans. Thirdly factor identified is the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century crisis of traditional epistemologies, which increasingly valued empirical scientific knowledge over long-held beliefs. Based on a wide range of published and archival sources, the book illuminates new economic sensibilities within a range of established and more novel scientific disciplines (including astronomy, physics, ethnography, geology, and chemistry/alchemy). By tracing these developments within the wider social and cultural fields of everyday commercial life, the study offers a fascinating insight into the relationship between economic knowledge and science during the early-modern period.
Germano Maifreda is Associate Professor of Economic and Social History of the Early Modern Age in the Dipartimento di Studi Storici at the UniversitÃ degli Studi di Milano, Italy.
"... this is an ambitious, learned, and fascinating book. It is full of interesting observations and will provoke the attentive reader to revisit texts and assumptions about these. It will also inspire new research."
--Journal of the History of Economic Thought
"The author demonstrates enormous erudition and knowledge in assembling his case that origins are difficult and obscure and that they, as Foucault suggested, may not exist at all! Further he raises intriguing links between culture, psychology, medicine, biology and economic categories... As it is, Maifreda’s reference-filled book is an important addition to our knowledge (such as it will ever be, as the author freely admits) of the origins of political economy."
--Professor Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., Department of Economics, Auburn University in EH.Net
"From Oikonomia to Political Economy will principally be of interest to historians of economic thought. Students of the broader Scientific Revolution will also find much relevant to the impact of the new developments in physical and biological science to changes in thought about society and economy."
--Sixteenth Century Journal
"A professional academic tends to read a great many books each year. This is expected and necessary in order to keep up with the latest trends and innovations within one’s field. However, not all of these books get read cover-to-cover. Some turn out not to meet our expectations; others may contain slightly off-course chapters that we tend to skip or skim. And then there are the rare occasions when a book fully justifies a thorough and critical read. From Oikonomia to Political Economy is one of those books."
--British Journal for the History of Science
"The book is erudite and detailed. Maifreda does an impressive job contextualizing a broad and diverse set of writers and ideas."