Proof And Possession: A Conversation About Knowledge-Making Between Two Artefacts From The 1740s, Tyson D. Rallens
When considering the intellectual achievements of the past, the means by which knowledge was obtained - or created - deserve specific study apart from the objects of that knowledge. This article uses two artefacts from the 1740s as lenses to examine the methods of knowledge-making in the mid-eighteenth century. The first artefact, an essay by the philosopher Thomas Reid, illustrates the role of mathematical proofs and quantitative reasoning in contemporary moral and natural philosophy. The second artefact, an engraving of the mathematician-astronomer Abraham Sharp by George Vertue, demonstrates the importance of tangible objects of knowledge, even in abstract disciplines like geometry. Together, these artefacts indicate that knowledge-making in the eighteenth century often began with abstract first principles which then had to be grounded in the practical world in order to be accepted by the intellectual community.