Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

David Ricardo's Sefarad

Cremaschi Sergio, Università del Piemonte Orientale 'Amedeo Avogadro'

This is a contribution to reconstruction of Ricardo’s biography. I examine the first 21 years of his life, when he was a child in a London Sephardi household and, from the age of 13, a member of the Bevis Mark congregation. Given the scarcity of primary sources I try to add something to the accounts available (Sraffa 1955; Heertje; Weatherall; Henderson) by putting two tools at work on scanty evidence available. The first is a contextual approach, starting with recent historical work on eighteenth-century Anglo-Judaism. The second is pragmatic interpretation of utterances recorded in documents, starting with suggestions from Austin, Searle and Grice. I contend, first, that something more may be learnt on Ricardo’s formative years, religion, moral education, intellectual interests awakened and competences acquired than Sraffa and other biographers felt in a position to do with the scant documents available; secondly, that Ricardo’s Sephardi background is important both in order to account for his moral and political commitments, particularly his ideas on toleration; thirdly that this background is important in order to understand the kind of intellectual training he received and the kind of intellectual motivations he acquired. Starting with the context, I try to carry out a ‘thick’ reading of reticent utterances by Ricardo himself and other sources. I try to interpret what they meant, whom they were addressing, and what they wanted not to disclose to their audience. I carry out my thick reading by summarizing first the problems with interpretation of sources on Ricardo’s biography (sect. 2), then by illustrating the history of the London Sephardi community until Ricardo’s time (sect. 3-4), reconstructing, first, the context of his education (sects. 5 and 6), and secondly the circumstances of his marriage with a Quaker and the ensuing break with his religious community (sect. 7)


Keywords: Ricardo; religion; Enlightenment; toleration; classical political economy

Paper file