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Petty, William


Subject Literature » Renaissance Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405194495.2012.x


Sir William Petty (1623–87) was influential as a natural philosopher, political economist, and intellectual entrepreneur. He published on a range of topics from educational reform to demography, and was a key figure in the Baconian movement for philosophical and scientific reform that would be institutionalized in the foundation of the Royal Society. Petty was born in Romsey, Hampshire, on 26 May 1623, the son of a clothier. After an early interest in the mathematical and mechanical arts, he was educated in Caen, Normandy, and returned to the Continent after the outbreak of the Civil War to study medicine in Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Leiden. Soon afterwards, Petty visited Paris where he met thinkers such as Pierre Gassendi and Marin Mersenne, and also made the lasting acquaintance of Thomas Hobbes, whose philosophy would have an important role to play in shaping his own ideas. On his return to England (by 1646), these contacts helped him to the professorship of anatomy at Oxford, which in turn brought him broader public notice when he managed to resuscitate the corpse of one Anne Greene, after she had been cut down from the gallows. In the late 1640s Petty also became involved with the plans for educational and philosophical reform championed by Samuel Hartlib, the educational thinker to whom he addressed The advice of W.P…. for the advancement of some particular parts of learning ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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