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History of Political Economy Annual Supplement to Volume 35 (2003) 204-233

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Medical Metaphors and Monetary Strategies in the Political Economy of Locke and Berkeley

C. George Caffentzis

Biographical Introduction: Between Medicine and Money

The intersection of medical and economic discourses can be traced to the beginning of the "autonomy of the economic" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It has been the subject of much recent scholarly interest (e.g., Groenewegen 2001). This intersection took many forms, from the use of medical metaphors for rhetorical effect to the direct application of medical knowledge to devise economic strategies. John Locke and George Berkeley were early contributors to this conceptual commerce between medicine and economic thought. In this essay I will show how their specific medical doctrines and practices helped determine the monetary strategies both thinkers proposed for their respective clients: the governments of England and Ireland.

The complex curricula vitae of these two philosophers certainly prepared them for a refined exploration of the territory between money and medicine.1 Locke, besides being the consummate bureaucrat of a growing world empire, was a physician by training and wrote extensively on medical theory. He had a medical practice for a time, and the ingenious prosthetic device he implanted in his patient the Earl of Shaftesbury not only gave him entrée to the path of power, it also sealed his fame as a physician.2 [End Page 204]

Locke also, with the Earl of Shaftesbury's help, became secretary of the Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations in 1673 and began his first serious involvement with economic issues (Kelly 1990, 5). He wrote the "Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas" at the earl's bidding in 1669. This experience of imperial economic administration and colonial political planning was crucial in his transformation from an academic to a man of affairs. It also provided the experiential humus for the writing of his famous economic texts of the 1690s: Some consideration of the consequences of lowering the Interest, and raising the value of money (1692) and Further considerations concerning raising the value of money (1695). Both texts were published as interventions in important political economic controversies, and Locke's views had weight in King William's government, since he had been such a wily (and successful) revolutionary conspirator who helped seat the Dutchman on the English throne.

Similarly, George Berkeley frequently traversed the space between medicine and money. Indeed, in the popular imagination of the eighteenth century, Berkeley was better known as the Irish bishop "shaman" of the tar-water cure for a wide variety of ailments than as the philosophical critic of matter. The medicophilosophical book he wrote in his last decade to justify his drug therapy, Siris ([1744] 1953), was, by far, the book of all his oeuvre most widely read by his contemporaries. But his medical research began almost three decades before in his travels in Italy as "bear leader" to a young English gentleman; he had been asked by a well-known London physician, Dr. Freind, to investigate the effectiveness of the tarantella cure for hysteria. Some of the results of his studies are included in his Journals on his travels in Bari, Lecce, and Taranto (Berkeley 1955; Caffentzis 2000, 329–32).

Berkeley was also well known in the eighteenth century as a projector of new monetary schemes. His most important work on political economy, The Querist ([1735–37] 1953), was written when he first became bishop of Cloyne in a deeply depressed and politically divided Ireland. He proposed a new form of paper currency to be issued and regulated by a national bank that would not represent or incorporate specie. This bank and currency were designed to solve the socioeconomic malaise he encountered on his return to Ireland after attempting to found a multiracial college in the Americas.

Consequently, money and medicine were often adjacent concerns in both Locke's and Berkeley's individual careers. They were brought [End Page 205] together by an overarching political trope of their time: the...


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