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Petty, William


Sir William Petty (1623–1687) was the founding father of the method of “political arithmetic” and is considered to be a predecessor to quantification in sciences of social phenomena. Petty was born a clothesmaker’s son in Romsey, England, but left the country at age 14, and studied at a Jesuit institution in Caen before returning home in 1638. He later returned to the continent to study physiology and medicine in Utrecht, Leiden, Paris, and Amsterdam, finally becoming anatomy instructor at Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1651. He soon left his position to join Oliver Cromwell’s army as physician-general in 1652, and later undertook the task of charting the Irish land in order to compensate Cromwell’s soldiers for the losses they had to suffer during the revolution. After measuring Ireland and determining the worth of its various parts (that is, carrying out the so-called Down Survey), he received a reward of 30,000 acres of land and became one of the biggest landowners in...

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  • Medicine
  • Medicine/Economics
  • Baconian method

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  • McCormick T (2009) Sir William Petty and the ambitions of political arithmetic. Oxford University Press, New York

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  • Petty W (1899) The economic writings of Sir William Petty (ed Hull JH). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

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This paper is part of the research program MTA BTK Lendület Morals and Science.

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Correspondence to Akos Sivado .

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Sivado, A. (2019). Petty, William. In: Jalobeanu, D., Wolfe, C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences. Springer, Cham.

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