Jon Cooper


A science of concord

Jon Cooper. “A science of concord: the politics of commercial knowledge in mid-eighteenth-century Britain.” Intellectual History Review (2020)

This article recovers mid-century proposals for sciences of concord and contextualizes them as part of a broader politics of commercial knowledge in eighteenth-century Britain. It begins by showing how merchants gained authority as formulators of commercial policy during the Commerce Treaty debates of 1713–1714. This authority held fast during the Walpolean oligarchy, but collapsed by the 1740s, when lobbying and patronage were increasingly maligned as corrupt by a ferment of popular republicanism. The article then explores how the Anglican cleric Josiah Tucker and country pamphleteer Joseph Massie made use of this vacuum in authority to formulate a novel basis for the production of commercial knowledge. In pamphlets written between 1749 and 1760, they argued that the competing interests comprising the nation’s increasingly complex commercial system could only be reconciled and geared to the national interest through the establishment of a science which harnessed an impartial and systematizing epistemology, developing highly idealized accounts of the abstract market as a realm of concord which operated according to regular, rationally deducible principles. The conclusion suggests that their arguments introduced the foundational conceptual bases for later sciences of political economy and legitimated a new form of expertise in statecraft.

Summer 2019

Loch Lomond

Structure as Metaphor

Many concepts are metaphorical coequals across physical, social, and mental space. One, for sure, is space. Others might be balance, order, and decay. But perhaps the most important is structure. Structure accounts for and describes the arrangement, relationships, and patterns between the objects, images, and devices present within in our physical, social, and mental space. Perhaps the clearest example of structure is provided by the physical structure of chemical substances. A molecule comprises atoms held together by chemical bonds, whose arrangement can be explained by molecular geometry; a three-dimensional molecular structure can be represented in models like the one in this two-dimensional image:

Comprised of many heterogeneous molecular structures reacting to each other are living organs and organisms, from bacteria to human beings, which bacteriologists and macrobiologists also think of as material structures. The concept of structure seems already to have an overwhelmingly capacious scope. And this is before we talk about how physicists understand and represent the structures of galaxies, gravitationally-bound systems of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines structure as ‘the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex’. But this definition doesn’t quite evoke the sense of how, when we use the word ‘structure’ to describe chemical substances, animal bodies, and galaxies we do so with a particular and contingent way of seeing the world. Structure is about how we measure, model, and represent physical phenomena, and therefore about the unified coherence we accord to particular objects, some of which more than others we speak into apprehension. It would be perfectly ordinary not to consider a cow a kind of biological structure. One could see a cow as a physical danger, an environmental threat, or simply as meat. In either case, the structure of the cow is somehow relevant to the subject of discussion: its mind, strength, physiology, digestion, and its constituent protein. But whether or not we intuitively conceptualise an object in terms of structure depends on how we encounter them. Though chemical structure is, save for absurdity, the only way we can think about a molecule, anatomy is just one of many ways we can think about an animal.


Lights out

Fully automated factories, free from human presence, can run with their lights off. Their machines churn away, satiating our greed for commodities, obediently thundering on in the dark. This productive process of industrial replication in the social body could be compared to the catabolic process of food digestion in the natural body. Both leave us unaware as they thereby, without our participation or consideration, sustain our lives.