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Resurrecting the Body Politic – Physiology’s Influence on Sir William Petty’s Political Arithmetick

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Sir William Petty (1623-1687), the founder of the method of “political arithmetick,” was a trained physician and anatomist. Receiving medical education both in England and on the continent, he later turned away from an academic career and a medical practice in favour of dealing with political and social matters, becoming one of the first advocates of quantifying social phenomena in order to better govern a population. Offering his services to both Oliver Cromwell and Charles II, Petty sought to reform and transform society (in Ireland in particular), while considering the physician’s treatment of natural bodies and the political advisor’s treatment of the body politic to be analogous enterprises. In doing so, he did not refrain from suggesting serious interventions into social life – something that his contemporary peers did not consider compatible with their medical backgrounds. This article attempts to investigate how Petty’s proposals could have differed so much in their scope and content from those of his colleagues, while remaining true to their largely shared Baconian and Harveyan origins.

Affiliations: 1: Hungarian Academy of Sciences


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