Carl Wennerlind on "The Scientific Revolution and the Rise of Modern Finance"

Lunch and Learn Series

Thursday, February 9, 2012 | 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM

The modern financial system emerged around the turn of the 18th century in England. The new political economic thinking paving the way for the Financial Revolution was grounded in a radically transformed worldview that drew extensively on developments in natural philosophy. Leaving behind the traditional notion that mankind exists in a material, social and economic world that is finite, static and knowable, 17th-century political economists embraced the ideas of infinite worlds, nature’s perfectibility and probabilistic knowledge. With these component parts, they constructed a new worldview in which mankind’s purpose was to ceaselessly pursue new methods for the infinite improvement of nature, society and mankind. For such a vision of perpetual progress to materialize, it was essential to these writers that England developed a more sophisticated system of credit. In this talk, Carl Wennerlind traces the origins of this worldview and argues that alchemical, Baconian and probabilistic thinking constituted its main conceptual frameworks. In this view, the Scientific Revolution played an integral role in the making of the Financial Revolution.

About the Speaker
Carl Wennerlind is an assistant professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia University, specializing in 17th- and 18th-century Europe, with a focus on intellectual history and political economy. He is particularly interested in the historical development of money and credit, as well as attempts to theorize these phenomena.

He recently published Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620-1720 (Harvard University Press, 2011) and is currently working on a monograph exploring the changing conceptual nature of scarcity from early modern Aristotelian-influenced thinking to modern neo-classical economics. In addition to his co-edited volume, David Hume’s Political Economy (with Margaret Schabas), Wennerlind’s work on Hume’s economic thought has appeared in various journals, including the Journal of Political Economy, Journal of Economic Perspectives, History of Political Economy, and Hume Studies.