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Toward understanding 17th century English culture: A structural topic model of Francis Bacon's ideas

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  • Grajzl, Peter
  • Murrell, Peter

Abstract

We use machine-learning methods to study the features and origins of the ideas of Francis Bacon, a key figure who provided the intellectual roots of a cultural paradigm that spurred modern economic development. Bacon's works are the data in an estimation of a structural topic model, a recently developed methodology for analysis of text corpora. The estimates uncover sixteen topics prominent in Bacon's opus. Two are key elements of the ideas usually associated with Bacon—inductive epistemology and fact-seeking. The utilitarian promise of science and the centralized organization of the scientific quest, embraced by Bacon's followers, were not emphasized by him. Using strategic communication, Bacon facilitated reception of his scientific methodology, targeted influential groups, and finessed powerful opponents. We provide the first quantitative evidence that the genesis of Bacon's epistemology lies in his experience in the common-law. Combining our findings with accepted arguments in the existing literature, we suggest that the effects of common-law culture can help explain the coincidence of early political and economic development in England.

Suggested Citation

  • Grajzl, Peter & Murrell, Peter, 2019. "Toward understanding 17th century English culture: A structural topic model of Francis Bacon's ideas," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 111-135.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jcecon:v:47:y:2019:i:1:p:111-135
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jce.2018.10.004
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    Cited by:

    1. Lino Wehrheim, 2017. "Economic History Goes Digital: Topic Modeling the Journal of Economic History," Working Papers 177, Bavarian Graduate Program in Economics (BGPE).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Francis Bacon; Culture; England; Law; Knowledge; Scientific method;

    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • C55 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Large Data Sets: Modeling and Analysis
    • N73 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • K10 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - General (Constitutional Law)
    • P10 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - General

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