Agrarian society regarded merchants with suspicion as the nonproductive exploiters of others' labor; however, territorial princes turned to commerce for revenue as the cost of maintaining the state increased. Placing Becher’s career in its social and intellectual context, Smith shows how he attempted to help his patrons assimilate commercial values into noble court culture and to understand the production of surplus capital as natural and legitimate. With emphasis on the practices of natural philosophy and extensive use of archival materials, Smith brings alive the moment of cultural transformation in which science and the modern state emerged.
Coverage first offers a critical discussion on the different versions of L'Homme, including the Latin, French, and English translations and the 1664 editions. Next, the authors examine the early reception of the work, from the connection of L'Homme to early-modern Dutch Cartesianism to Nicolas Steno's criticism of the work and how Descartes' clock analogy is used to defend two different conceptions of the articulation between anatomical observations and functional hypotheses.
The book then goes on to explore L'Homme and early-modern anthropology as well as the how the work has been understood and incorporated into the works of scientists, physicians, and philosophers over the last 150 years.
Overall, readers will discover how the trend over the last few decades to understand human cognition in neuro-physiological terms can be seen to be not something unprecedented, but rather a revival of a way of dealing with these fundamental questions that was pioneered by Descartes.