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  • Cited by 33
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
November 2015
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Book description

Many studies relate modern science to modern political and economic thought. Using one shift in order to explain the other, however, has begged the question of modernity's origins. New scientific and political reasoning emerged simultaneously as controversial forms of probabilistic reasoning. Neither could ground the other. They both rejected logical systems in favor of shifting, incomplete, and human-oriented forms of knowledge which did not meet accepted standards of speculative science. This study follows their shared development by tracing one key political stratagem for linking human desires to the advancement of knowledge: the collaborative wish list. Highly controversial at the beginning of the seventeenth century, charismatic desiderata lists spread across Europe, often deployed against traditional sciences. They did not enter the academy for a century but eventually so shaped the deep structures of research that today this once controversial genre appears to be a musty and even pedantic term of art.


'Vera Keller develops a strikingly new perspective on early modern science by focusing on the genre of the wish list and its spread in English- and German-speaking contexts across the long seventeenth century. Ambitious goals that promised the fulfilment of political and economic desires amid an awareness of the precariousness of knowledge motivated a host of fascinating characters, from charlatans to major philosophers. In her richly researched analysis Keller shows how the early modern pursuit of desiderata fostered an ideal of sustained collaborative research that has endured to this day.'

Ann Blair - Harvard University, Massachusetts

'This is the mature, highly original, and fascinating book of a still young scholar. It brings together fields of research that have rarely been connected: history of science, economics, and political thought. Keller not only discovers the desiderata list as an object of historical research and gives for the first time its history - she also uses this topic to make wide-ranging statements about the so-called scientific revolution and the emergence of modernity.'

Martin Mulsow - Universität Erfurt, Germany

'Keller’s book provides a fresh look at the scientific revolution centered on the key notions of wish lists, advancement of learning, and reason of state. By bringing to the fore the complementary notions of desire and passion, and by taking into account the role of economic transformations and political thought in the early modern period, Keller urges readers to reconsider the controversial historiographic category of scientific revolution. Concentrating on such authors as Giovanni Botero, Guido Pancirolli, Trajano Boccalini, Jakob Bornitz, and Francis Bacon, Keller connects in an original way the parallel emergence of experimental science and reason of state as indicative of a broader shift in the early modern culture.'

Guido Giglioni - The Warburg Institute, London

'Vera Keller’s fascinating book aims to trace a pivotal shift in the understanding of scientific knowledge in early modern Europe, in the ways such knowledge was (and ought to be) pursued, and in the principal justifications for pursuing it. Supported by her admirably thorough research, she connects the rise of modern, collaborative scientific endeavor with the conception of a 'public interest' in mastering nature, and uses as the central tool of her investigation the development of desiderata, lists of desired knowledge in need of (re)discovery.'

Eric H. Ash Source: Early Science and Medicine

'In this erudite work Keller traces the long transition, from the Scientific Revolution to the cusp of the Enlightenment, of what Francis Bacon once described as a 'wish list' of desiderata, often since tied to early modern notions of usefulness. This is a tour de force, an impressive reach into Continental sources seldom related to the creation of Western European academies of science and refining the notion of a public interest.'

Larry Stewart Source: Isis

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