It is in the nature of bibliographical essays to point to topics or directions of research worth pursuing. Out of the diversity of the chapters in this volume on The quantifying spirit , as well as from a
survey of recent literature on the 18th century, emerge a number of possibilities, which may be collected under headings of economics and polity, discourse, and evidence of opposition.
Economics and Polity
In the discussions (in the "Introductory essay" and chapters 5, 6, 10, 11, and 12) of political arithmetic, economic development and policy, and meteorology, as well as in the work of Keith Baker and Charles Gillispie, we see signposts pointing to economics and polity as loci for the operation of the quantifying spirit. Vital statistics had economic value to tax collectors, conscription agents, and actuaries, and government bureaus and functionaries sought to police health as they managed princely coffers, coal, bread, and trees. The expanding literature on vital statistics and on public medicine in the 18th century thus promises a reasonable return on scholarly investment.
Cameralism and political economy, as they developed in theory and practice and in local and national settings, should not be ignored, nor studies of Adam Smith, influences on him, and impact of his ideas. The economic writings and policies of Physiocrats and Idéologues, especially as they relate to the philosophes and to intellectual movements in the Enlightenment, merit another look with the quantifying spirit in mind. The economic and political import of
scientism and the place of mathematics in scientism have relevance as well.
Mathematical metaphors and images frequently found their way into discourse in the 18th century, whatever the topic, and hence illustrate both the cultural appeal of quantification and a means by which the quantification message was reinforced and spread. Studies of language for other scientific fields explore the malleability and power of metaphor, and suggest useful approaches for considering the language of quantification.
If there was a quantifying spirit or esprit géométrique in the 18th century, there was surely a critical spirit as well, and the voices raised in favor of rethinking the place and power of mathematics and quantification ought also to be heeded. Buffon's criticism of mathematics and Diderot's quotable doubts about the future of mathematics speak to the prevailing faith in mathematics and mathematicians. Even d'Alembert wrote with some skepticism about the "esprit de calcul," which he saw as the dominant "goût de philosophie" in the 18th century. Tracts that decried the "abuse of mathematics in natural science," need to be set against 18th-century pæans in praise of mathematics.
The bibliographical burden can be made more enjoyable by seeing how mathematics and quantification fared in 18th-century scientific satires. Jonathan Swift's Gulliver watched savants labor to extract sunbeams from cucumbers; he heard their scheme for establishing a
universal language by abolishing all words; and he talked with an innovative projector in speculative learning. This worthy had secured the services of forty pupils to crank the handles on a frame twenty feet square: it carried a grid of "all of the Words of their language," based on careful computation of the proportions obtaining among the various parts of speech. Commanded first to crank, then to read and record the results, the pupils might thereby generate automatically books on all arts and sciences. That is not the method by which this book or this essay was composed.