Where does order come from? And how are seemingly random moments of disorder accounted for? The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mark a new and important departure in Western responses to these questions, one that can be seen in domains as far apart as religion and philosophy, science and economy, law and politics: a family of new ideas about the origins of order and harmony, about causality and chance. My paper, drawing on a book-in-progress co-authored with Jonathan Sheehan, will take as its point of departure a key early moment in the story: the unprecedented and dramatically experienced financial crises of 1720 (Law's System, the South Sea Bubble). These events brought into relief key questions of randomness and chance, order and disorder, human agency versus divine providence, and the limitations of linear causality. The paper will then look back at the preceding half-century, in order to identify earlier developments (social, theological, scientific) that made it possible for some Europeans to think about these questions in new ways; and forward to the following half-century and beyond, in order to show how these novel ways of thinking of the 1720s were to become an important component in European understandings of order and disorder across a wide array of disciplines and bodies of knowledge, central (inter alia) to Adam Smith, Marx and Darwin. (philosojerk)
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