Edited by John B. Davis, Alain Marciano and Jochen Runde
Chapter 1: Natural Law, Natural History and the Foundations of Political Economy
José Luís Cardoso Introduction The emergence of political economy as an autonomous scientiﬁc discourse was a complex process, not a ﬁxed moment in a diary of events. Investigating its origins or roots therefore requires consideration of the multiple of factors involved, and lends itself to multiple interpretations and provides a variety of research orientations. Even if, in order to ﬁt in with conventional wisdom, it is accepted that 1776 represented the year of grace, the road that made it possible to announce the good news brought by the science that deals with the wealth of nations proved to be a long one. First of all, it was necessary for economic phenomena and problems to become established as an everyday reality that required attention, understanding and mastery. In other words, it was necessary to isolate and identify a subject that came to represent a permanent motive for constructed knowledge. This condition was met from the late ﬁfteenth century onwards, when the western economic world underwent gradual yet profound changes and suffered a series of convulsions that led to the production of an abundant economic literature. Such writings were not only intended to justify new forms for the political reconciliation of the interests of different social groups connected with the revival of mercantile activities, but also sought to explain the theoretical, technical and practical problems arising from these same activities, such as: variations in the balance of trade, oscillations in prices and their relationship with specie ﬂows, the ﬁscal and...
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