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Showing posts from October 17, 2010

The origin of laissez faire in nature itself or Fortuna and the circulation of the blood.

As Jean-Louis Billoret has noted, the modern paradigm for wealth, in the 1690s, was captured by the old analogy between the body and the social body. He does not note – but I do – that the notion of circulation is connected, connotatively, with the wheel of the goddess of fortune. Which is in turn related to the paradigm of humors – in which we cycle from deficiency to excess. This system of denotation and connotation – this semiotic – is what is in question when, changing the way in which the anatomy of the body was understood from the point of view of Gabriel Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood, we begin to understand what circulates in the state by anology. Hobbes, who always worked in the shifting space between the most modern paradigms, made the analogy between human and social bodies a way of explaining the whole function of money, bringing ‘nutrition’ to each part of the body. “By concoction I understand the reducing of all commodities which are not presently c

How unhappiness comes to serve happiness in the best of all possible worlds

When Nemesis perched on the city walls, the signs were evident, and the causes were clear. The monarch had offended the gods with his pride, the people had offended with their neglect of the sacrifices and usages. They had defied the rules concerning food, for instance. They had indulged in forbidden luxuries. The balance between the divine and the human had been broken, or somehow violated. In Rouen, in the 1690s, Nemesis was evidently sitting on the city walls. One had merely to look to the countryside. One had merely to tally up the decline in trade with the Berbers, or the British. But this time, the prophet who descried the shadow of Nemesis had a different interpretation of the balances in question – an interpretation that eventually became the hermeneutic through which the scholars and officials both interpreted and implemented the Great Transformation. In this hermeneutic, the categories of sacrifice and of luxury were up-ended. Yes, the monarch offends the balance with his

Berkeley's floating world

Berkeley was a pre-classical economist – not that he knew it. Our captions exist outside of our frames, scribbled in by who knows who, the hand that writes and having writ - continues mindlessly to write endlessly more. But of those of his commentors who have taken the trouble to reflect on Berkeley’s political economy, especially as it is presented – or undermined – in that oddest of Irish bulls, The Querist – it is certain that, as Patrick Kelly puts it in his essay for the Cambridge companion to Berkeley, “Given the absence of any conception of the achievement of equilibrium through hidden harmony or the design of nature, a pivotal responsibility was accorded to the state in bringing about the necessary conditions to promote what Berkeley asserted to be the public objective of full employment.” One might think that ‘equilibrium’ – that frame upon which economics has woven its mythology since it got its science pants on – was, alas, not articulated in Berkeley’s time – but this is n

carlo ginzburg

Yesterday, I saw a fascinating talk with Carlo Ginzburg. The format was that his translator, Martin Rueff, would ask him questions. Actually, Rueff read a small essay on his work, and occasionally intervened to let Ginzburg riff about what he wanted to. Because this session was connected with the publication of a new book of Ginzburg’s essays, le fil et les traces, the discussion tended to sound some old controversies, including that between Ginzburg and the ‘postmodern’ skeptics, notably Hayden White. Which is how one of the ‘threads” in this conversation was about proofs and the truth. Another thread, though, was about Ginzburg’s relationship with the documents he used to trace his histories – notably, the records of Inquisitorial interrogation. And there Ginzburg brought up the anthropological distinction between etic and emic, which, he modestly said, has really only been utilized by one historian – himself. These themes fascinated me, and I was tempted to try the temper of the

the tactile privilege

Riddle me this: Berkeley returns to Great Britain from Italy in 1721, and publishes a pamphlet, An Essay towards preventing the ruin of Great Britain, which aims to moralize the collapse of the South Sea Bubble. Berkeley is not simply distressed by the economic collapse of the speculation, one of those annexes to John Law’s system, but is incensed at what he takes to be the symptoms of irreligion and moral decay: “Industry is the natural sure way to wealth. This is so true that it is impossible an industrious free people should want the necessaries and comforts of life, or an idle enjoy them under any form of government. Money is so far useful to the public as it promoteth industry, and credit having the same effect is of the same value with money ; but money or credit circulating through a nation from hand to hand, without producing labour and industry in the inhabitants, is direct gaming. It is not impossible for cunning men to make such plausible schemes as may draw those who ar

what kind of idealism is this? Berkeley and modernity

Last night, after reading my post about Berkeley and the spider, A. asked me about the point I was trying to make. I had to respond that honestly, I’m not sure. In one sense, it simply fascinates me that three philosophers who each took a stance against l’esprit geometrique are found in Southern Italy in the early eighteenth century. Vico turns to the ingenium, and Shaftesbury to common sense, as the intellectual force that resists the mechanization of the spirit - Berkeley, by contrast, traces the path of the skeptic and radicalizes l’esprit geometrique, in a way heralded by Pascal and Bayle – who also applied skepticism in the service of faith – but that goes far beyond them in its ontological conclusions. Yet, Berkeley’s response to Locke’s milktoast metaphysics contains an ambiguity, a pull between the ancients and the moderns, a re-constitution of the terms in which l’esprit geometrique is understood, that can be read as according, in the absence of the divine DJ, everything to