Moral Economies of Nature, Religion and Science

  • Eamon Wright


At the end of the eighteenth century, British women writers across a range of political sympathies, such as Maria Edgeworth, Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft, were keen to demonstrate that they too had witty, enquiring and hungry minds just like men. Women writers used literature, therefore, as a vehicle to explore ‘nature’, ‘reason’ and ‘education’; their dialogue pivoted around the possession of, and the ability to express, rationality. This was an exposition of personal and social development, and was in essence an ideological and political battle waged inside British culture. At its heart were sexual and racial subjectivities.


Human Nature Eighteenth Century Racial Identity French Revolution Slave Trade 
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Notes and References

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    See Kline, op. cit., passim. See R.K. Wallace, Jane Austen and Mozart: The Classical Equilibrium in Fiction and Music (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983): in this light, perhaps the triple-volume novels by Jane Austen in England and the tripartite structure of symphonic compositions by the supranational Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart assume a much more critical significance than at first seems obvious; not least here is the symbolic association with the Holy Trinity. But there is more to this problematic: what is considered to be Western mathematics in point of fact is not a derivative of the West at all. Western mathematics is a cultural mix, a composite of writing, counting and measuring from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Through trade and administration (for which we might read annexation), the cognitive map of ‘western mathematics’ has been inextricably connected to the effacing of other ethnic ways of counting, measuring and valuing. The buying and selling of slaves in pounds sterling in Africa for transportation to the Caribbean is a case in point. Such transactions were conducted with the complicit involvement of black people against black people, and were contingent upon a specific West European system of commodity accountancy with regard to the value of human life generally. Between 1790 and 1807, a male slave sold in Jamaica could fetch between £50 and £70; a healthy female between £50 and £60: see Wolf, op. cit., pp. 195ff. This system of exchange, we may note, operated a sexual dynamic, in which a black woman was worthless than a black male. Additionally, many localized systems of accounting were destroyed through the agency of ‘western mathematics’ and the imposition of administrative techniques: British colonizers in Nigeria, for instance, did not keep track of large numbers of Igbo by using Nigerian methods of calculation:Google Scholar
  52. see Alan J. Bishop, ‘Western Mathematics: The Secret Weapon of Cultural Imperialism’, Race & Class, Volume 32, Number 2 (1990), 53–4. We may conclude that the logic of ‘western mathematics’ proved to be an invaluable source of vicarious power. It most clearly exhibited its propensity and ability to control as westerners navigated their way across the globe brandishing the spoils of their applied science, technology and industry.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Eamon Wright 2005

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