Invisible Hands: Self-Organization and the Eighteenth Century
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In Invisible Hands, Jonathan Sheehan and Dror Wahrman trace the many appearances of the language of self-organization in the eighteenth-century West. Across an array of domains, including religion, society, philosophy, science, politics, economy, and law, they show how and why this way of thinking came into the public view, then grew in prominence and arrived at the threshold of the nineteenth century in versatile, multifarious, and often surprising forms. Offering a new synthesis of intellectual and cultural developments, Invisible Hands is a landmark contribution to the history of the Enlightenment and eighteenth-century culture.
eventually, resulted in our universe (2.217–18). The result was a swirl of unpredictable change. In Lucretius’s terms: . . . our world was made by nature, when atoms, meeting by chance, spontaneously, and joined in myriad useless, fruitless ways, at last found patterns, which when thrown together Providence and the Orders of the World 23 became at once the origin of great things— earth, sea, and sky, and life in all its forms. (2.1058–63) All things living and dead were spontaneous and
Equilibrium,” Bayle wrote, either by pretending to exert his will or by “Lot or Chance,” just as a man with “a mind to divert himself ” with two courtesans could decide the order of his pleasures by flipping a coin.73 A light-hearted story, perhaps. But it had serious consequences. Certainly Leibniz thought so, since it offered the two visions of the world that most plagued him and his age. On the one hand, pure necessity; on the other, the pure randomness of the rolled dice. “The case of
with Complexity circa 1700 49 Peterborough) concluded that this “unaccountabl[e]” outcome was “the Finger of God . . . a Wheel within a Wheel.”4 More to the point, Defoe’s musings were in line with the speculations about providence rife among those theologians, divines, and natural philosophers during the previous half century who sought what we termed in the previous chapter a third way. A providential third way was a compromise between determinism and fortuitousness, an intermediate level
French, saddled with equally debilitating military expenses, were soon to follow suit.) These financial developments, in turn, fused with others equally important: the economic buoyancy since the Restoration, the political consequences of the 1688 settlement, the effects of the subsequent wars on the growth of manufacturing and trade in new markets, the influx of Huguenot and Dutch capital and skill. The combined result was a startling economic success. The expansion of English trade in the 1690s
mobilized the deceptiveness of the relationships between cause and effect for his own public defense. “My Lords,” he speechified in Parliament, “there was something very extraordinary in the Consequences of this Affair.” The extraordinariness lay in the fact “that the more the South-Sea Company were to pay to the Publick, the higher did their Stock rise upon it.” This positive feedback loop then spiraled out of control, generating an outcome out of any proportion to its cause (economists call