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Regarding Margaret C. Jacob's review of Mary Poovey: A History of the Modern Fact. Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society, Chicago 1998. In her review (History and Theory 40 (May 2001), 280-289) Margaret C. Jacob tells us that Mary Poovey is writing bad history. Furthermore, she is doing it in a "language intended to unsettle". Mary Poovey, so we are told, is promoting "an anti-realist epistemology" according to which facts are not stable entities of human knowledge. They are presented as rhetorical constructions motivated by political, economical or ideological interest, not by a desire to establish reliable knowledge of the real world. Consequently Margaret C. Jacob would hate to see the clever, but 'eccentric' Poovey as a role model for the next generation of scholars. The review misrepresents the epistemological attitude displayed in 'the Modern Fact'. Surely Mary Poovey is a nominalist rather than a realist, and so what? She does not deny that facts provide information on the world. Neither does she - as implied in the review - distance herself from the cognitive value and the practical usefulness of the style of knowledge, based on complementarity between facts and theory, that arose from the 17th Century Scientific Revolution. Mary Poovey does not by her book present herself as an anti-modernist. On the contrary, a remarkable feature of 'the Modern Fact' is the author's support to the notion of social and intellectual progress within the framework of modern society. The remarkable thing is that the support is based upon typically post-modern reading strategies. The fact that these creative methods are now in a phase of mainstreaming, i.e. no longer dominated by hypercritical paranoia towards everything modern, should be greeted welcome. Margaret C. Jacob, unfortunately, does not use the evident opportunity to do so. As far as realism is concerned it is rather surprising that anyone today would expect everybody else to accept the phenomenon and the notion of the 'fact' as something that is just and simply 'plain'. That, however, is not the most important flaw with Margaret C. Jacob's criticism. The major problem, and the reason why the review is so utterly unfair, is the failure to make the reader discern the big picture that Mary Poovey paints with her readings of several important texts from between 1588 and 1830. Instead one is given the impression that the book is a series of relativistic exercises in deconstruction with the sole purpose of reducing the great spirits of the epoch and their scholarly achievements to so many microhistorical cases that illustrate how the game of power and money is played. To be sure, these motives do help fuelling the process, but it is precisely a process, and a coherent one at that, that Mary Poovey depicts, not just episodes. The emphasis is on the history of (real) knowledge, not exclusively or even mainly on coarse discoursive manipulation of the social environment. Mary Poovey first gives an account of how the introduction of double entry bookkeeping at the same time provided a useful accounting tool, a firm-internal device of management and control, and an (allegorical) rhetorical figure to sustain the idea of liberal trade as an occupation of moral integrity and social responsibility. Margaret C. Jacob objects that this innovation had taken place all over the West. The example does not explain why the factual mode of reasoning gained so much ground particularly in England. This is true enough, but surely the phenomenon may have had some significance in the case of England even though it was not by itself neither a necessary nor a sufficient determinant of the subsequent events and processes. The whole question of what is the proper historical interpretation of early double entry bookkeping is not so unimportant or trivial as might be suggested by the remark that it was in use everywhere. Double entry bookkeeping did not undergo a general diffusion through the economic institutions of the modern world till the 19th century. Nevertheless such great figures of culture and knowledge as Goethe and later Max Weber emphasized the ingenuity and even aesthetic refinement embodied in the system and attributed to it a status, from the Renaissance and onwards, as a cornerstone of society. Perhaps they did so because double entry bookkeeping is not just a tool for handling and manipulating figures, it is also exemplary in terms of thought style and social rhetoric. Mary Poovey then proceeds to the mercantilists and William Petty who likewise in various ways and with various motives advocated the systematic collection and use of empirical data for purposes of argument and of administrative efficiency. By the case of William Petty, who is justly reckoned among the founding fathers of national accounting, we see another example of how practical usefulness and interest-driven rhetoric are two faces of the same coin. Petty's Irish landmapping scheme and formulae for attributing value to factors of production helped the English monarchy and Petty personally in their pursuit of economic interests. Somewhat paradoxically, such devices that were exploitative and repressive in their immediate context, also did generate some relatively value-free knowledge and competence on how to distribute burdens of taxation in a more rational and just way than hitherto possible, thus helping to create the fundamental mechanisms of a modern state and to convince its citizens of the feasibility of a state apparatus directed towards serving collective interests. In the first part of the chapter on Petty Mary Poovey presents some important characters and events of the Scientific Revolution, centered round the Royal Society. However, she receives nothing but scorn for it as Margaret C. Jacob claims that the account does not do justice to the crucial role of Newton. Another source of resentment is the reproduction, following Schapin and Schaffer, of the Boyle-Hobbes controversy. At stake here was whether or not Boyle's air-pump actually evacuated an air-filled space. Margaret C. Jacob considers that when you overemphasize the micro-level interaction between the two parties you tend to ignore the question of what is incontestable truth and what is not. According to the review the book promotes the idea that what na´ve souls take to be True is just the outcome of unpredictable events in the grey area of rhetoric. The main part of Margaret C. Jacob's criticism hinges on these two points. My objection is that the points are misplaced, considering the purpose, the subject and hence also the content of the book. It is about the "... Sciences of Wealth and Society" (quoted from subtitle), not about physics, chemistry or other 'hard' sciences. I do not believe Mary Poovey will dispute neither that an air-pump can actually work and produce a vacuum, nor that Newton is the rightful superstar of modern science since it was he who so elegantly and convincingly transcended the divide between speculation and observation. He introduced the sophisticated dialectics between data and model that enables scientists to handle and represent even the 'hidden' connexions of nature. The reason why Mary Poovey concentrates on Newton's method and not on, say, the veracity of the law of gravity, is that it (the method) became such an important model and ideal for everybody working in the field of knowledge, even in those areas concerned with human behavior, morality and wealth. Likewise I believe that Mary Poovey does not make us walk over the Boyle-Hobbes controversy in order to discuss whether Hobbes might, in the long run, have succeeded in etablishing as a 'fact' that there could be no such thing as a vacuum-pump. The point is that even a natural scientist like Boyle, who was definitely right on the substance of the matter, could be seriously challenged on his home ground by a rhetorically and theoretically more clever and skilled opponent like Hobbes. This was due not to any objective uncertainty regarding the laws of nature (even if you consider that the linguistic articulation of these is the work of humans), but to the combined scholarly and social context in which the dispute took place. So the two points upon which an understanding of Mary Poovey's general interpretation should be hinged are not those adopted by Margaret C. Jacob, but the combined facts that the output of the revolution in natural sciences represented both an ideal model and a challenge, the latter as opposed to an unproblematic recipe. Even the learning processes of objective, empirical science was not without risk of being affected somehow by the rhetoric contained in the speculative part of modelbuilding. This is the background against which Mary Poovey unfolds her long final analysis on how the factual became an integral part of the social sciences. The epistemological foundations had already been laid out for the British Enlightenment thinkers. These were aware of the necessity of basing their argument on facts, i.e. elements of knowledge referring to phenomena of the world. Evidently this was a different matter in scholarship on man and society than on nature. The option of continuing along the path laid out by the mercantilists and William Petty was not available because the economic and social agenda had changed. Focus was no longer primarily on reason of state. Or rather, a reason of state worthy of its name anticipated the fact that social interaction was beginning to run in a more liberal mode. With evolving modernity the shared incentive structures behind individual behavior had moved to center stage. As an object of study the typical citizen had become more important than the sovereign. On seeing that the relevant facts were not accessible to direct scrutiny recourse was made to other techniques than numerically oriented data retrieval: psychological introspection, moral speculation, history and ethnology etc. These methods of establishing 'facts' raised new epistemological problems. Especially important to Mary Poovey in this respect is of course the contribution of David Hume who realized that no logical procedure could definitively solve the dilemma of induction. He drew the conclusion that intersubjective control, mediated by the genre of the essay and by a lively interaction within and between the learned as well as the lay segments of the public sphere, was a viable and realistic way of certifying the cognitive and moral worth of scholarly statements on the nature of society. In her interpretation of Hume, who is obviously the heroic figure of this epic of knowledge, Mary Poovey suggests linkages to at least a couple of 20th century traditions: pragmatism and Habermas-style critical theory. This is worth emphasizing in the context of the present debate because it indicates that Mary Poovey actually endorses progress and has a good deal of faith in contemporary efforts to continue the Enlightenment project, as opposed to the anti-modern relativism she is being accused of in Margaret C. Jacob's review. The general difficulty of establishing datasets that were a par with those of the natural sciences helps explains why the founder of modern economics, Adam Smith, did not rely mainly on numbers, but used these rather fragmentarily, side by side with historical knowledge and stylized facts, based on conjecture, loose observations and assumptions concerning the nexus between the inner self of a person and his or her social behavior. Not even the core of the new economic theory, i.e. the idea of the market as the central institution of modern society, could easily be backed up by figures, but relied on an analogy with the observable fact that people in a local area would organize a mutually beneficial division of labor by meeting and exchanging goods in a public arena. The idea of the market was a consistent and appealing theory, but its empirical support was not systematic quantitative information that could be fitted into exact formulae. Adam Smith did employ some quantitative information, but the essential articulation of his model was made by means of a figure of speech. By this remark I make a digression from Mary Poovey's interpretation and use the terminology of Hayden White: The whole of society was abstractly construed as 'market economy'. This was done in terms of a local (partial), tangible phenomenon: the market. Technically this is a synechdoce (the part representing the whole) or even a metonymy (the concrete representing the abstract). It is not so strange, then, that there was a discontinuity, or rather an interlude of history and moral philosophy, between William Petty and the classical economists. Economics was and is a behavioral science whose coherence and relevance depends on a highly diverse set of information and assumptions. The message Mary Poovey conveys is that the notion of the fact and the interplay between facts and theory/speculation is comprehensive, complicated and ambiguous. It involves rhetoric, whether one likes it or not. That goes even for the case that makes up the final stage of the exposition: the introduction of the systematic use of numbers, organized in tables, in 19th century political economy. In this section we follow the process that began with the indignation Thomas Malthus met when he used figures systematically in order to substantiate his theory of population. Later on classical economists and others made the use of figures in the 'dismal science' more acceptable by participating in the establishment of statistics as a particular discipline, thus trying to emulate, with institutional means, the natural sciences' somewhat more plain and genuine distinction between data and theory. As i think most will agree this separation may be highly useful, but it has never been able to eliminate the rhetorical aspect of the employment of facts in the social sciences. Nor has it turned out to be possible to base all reasoning on sets of adequate, clear-cut factual data. As Mary Poovey points out this was realized and reflected upon already by John Stuart Mill who in his age epitomized the by then finally trusted and respected mainstream of classical economics. Summing up, I would say that Mary Poovey demonstrates that facts are indeed a rhetorical device, which is not the same as being without cognitive value or not showing ample correspondence between signifier and signified. In spite of its limited reach and sometimes unstable character the modern fact is shown to be an import factor in a very real, progressive development of our ability to embrace intellectually the nature and mechanisms of society. Another important although implicit conclusion that emanates from the historical analysis is that a sophisticated understanding of what one could and could not do with facts have been present for a long time. Along the timeline there has been a whole series of qualified debates on that issue. This fact concerning the modern fact should give food for thought for anybody who used to believe, for better or worse, that the insights and criticisms brought about by the linguistic turn are so completely new and sensational. There has really never been any consensus that facts were stable and ever-reliable. On the other hand, putting the question to discussion is not the same as a relativistic denial of the possibilities of knowing anything for certain. The purpose of this intervention has been to argue that 'the Modern Fact' is not dominated by any scepticist attitude, rather by a faith in the positive value of knowledge which is all the more confidence-inspiring because it is not hard-headed or na´ve, but subtle and balanced. I would like to add one short remark on the question of method and style in the writing of history. It upsets Margaret C. Jacob that Mary Poovey sometimes takes things out of their context and thus deprives their rendering of the quality of realism. Contextualism has many merits, but its flaw as representational strategy is that it tends to narrow down scope and perspective. The determination to produce a mirror image of the past will obstruct the possibility of conceiving structural, long-term insights. It is true that Mary Poovey's style is not realistic. But there are other relevant objectives than to reproduce past reality. It is legitimate to use historical sources in order to form any sort of ideas and concepts that may facilitate the apprehension of how the distant past is linked to the present by a combination of reproduction and transformation of the order of things. A sworn adherent of contextualism will have difficulties doing that, but is capable of performing other useful sorts of analysis. The writing of history is a business of words. It is not harmful or wrong to use and interpret the sources in different, even unconventional ways if only it somehow adds to our understanding. Mary Poovey's writing on history is not unsettling. It is exciting. Jan Pedersen University of Copenhagen Department of History