New publication: Alchemical transmutation and economic value in the seventeenth century

eigennutzSelf-promotion alert! (But if I don’t tell you, who will?) I’m happy to say that a piece I wrote on two seventeenth-century scientific projectors, Gabriel Plattes (c.1600-44) and William Petty (1623-87), has at long last come out as a chapter in the large volume shown at left. My contribution looks at how Plattes and Petty — one remembered as a utopian, the other as an inventor of economics — both made use of alchemical transmutation. Unlike the Great Bragadini, they did so not to produce gold or silver directly (Plattes thought his was possible, but not worth the trouble) but rather as a way of thinking about the production of economic value. In Plattes’s case, this meant picturing the operations of nature and of human labor as essentially continuous alchemical operations; in Petty’s, in meant envisioning the government of metropolitan and colonial populations as a species of alchemy, separation, mixture and transmutation so many means of producing loyal and industrious subjects. In short, it makes the case that alchemy was not simply an occult precursor to modern ideas about economy (and government, and population), but that it influenced their formation at a key moment.

The volume, which contains a lot of interesting new work on the development of economic ideas and world-views in the seventeenth century generally, by many greater lights than me, can be ordered here.

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