Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Schools of Empirism. Perspectives on Central European mining regions of the Early Modern Age as laboratories of modern Knowledge Societies

Lingg Andreas, University of Witten/Herdecke

The rise of the classical school of economic thought is often connected to an epistemological shift from a rather abstract and normative thinking towards an empirical and positivistic understanding of economics. The thesis presented in this paper is, that the empirical turn in the tradition of William Petty (1623-1687) and others is not so much a necessary theoretical step in a linear history of (Western) society, but rather a specific cultural pattern that evolves and reproduces itself within certain societal environments. Curiosity, knowledge and empirically backed information are, as will be shown, drastically gaining relevance in economic circumstances that bring together large numbers of relatively anonymous people to live and cooperate with each other. This thesis will be elaborated on by investigating the economic sphere of the mining industry in the late medieval and early modern Erzgebirge (Saxony/Germany). Integrating masses of people from different backgrounds, this highly economized area helps to demonstrate the scope in which curiosity, knowledge and empirical data can turn into societal core variables. In doing so, the paper focuses on two groups of actors: on the one hand the investors, their ways of dealing with asymmetric or insufficient information concerning mines and miners, eventually culminating in a certain empirical ethos. On the other hand, the inhabitants of these regions respectively the ways in which their market-culture is changing due to growing transaction volumes, turning these markets into dynamic and anonymous arenas which are characterized by an increased demand for empirical information - and by a certain behavior that will, in the course of the following centuries, enter evermore contexts and eventually form an object of modern topoi as the so called knowledge society.


Keywords: Empirism; Early Modern Age; Mining Industry; Economic Thought; Knowledge; Curiosity; Information; Laboratory; Economic Zone

Paper file