The scientific method of Sir William Petty


  • James H. Ullmer Western Carolina University



deduction, empiricism, natural law, rationalism


An understanding of the precise nature of the scientific method of Sir William Petty has proved elusive to historians of economic thought, in no small part because of a lack of Petty's own characterization of his scientific approach. This research clarifies the nature of Petty's method, as to whether it was primarily inductive or deductive, and to what extent it relied on empirical foundations. The paper employs a two-pronged analysis. First, it examines the main sources of Petty's method: the works of Sir Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, and the synergistic influences of the Hartlib Circle, the Royal Society, the Dublin Philosophical Society, and the Mersenne group. Second, four of Petty's most noted contributions to political economy are deconstructed in order to identify his scientific method. This research concludes that Petty relied almost exclusively on deduction in his scientific approach and that his analysis does not reveal any inductive reasoning. When data was available, Petty constructed his economic theories on empirical foundations.

Author Biography

James H. Ullmer, Western Carolina University

James H. Ullmer is associate professor of economics at Western Carolina University. His main research interests are in the history of economic thought, especially the writings of seventeenth-century political economists, regional economics, and economic pedagogy. His recent publications include: “William Petty, Nicholas Barbon, multiples, and a new hypothesis of independent discovery” (2009); “The economic effects of Harrah’s Cherokee casino and hotel on the regional economy of Western North Carolina” (2007, with Steve Ha); “The macroeconomic thought of Nicholas Barbon” (2007); “Threshold market analysis of Western North Carolina” (2006, with Steve Ha); “The macroeconomic thought of Sir William Petty” (2004); “The value of learning communities in the economics classroom” (2003, with April Lewandowski).




How to Cite

Ullmer, J. H. (2011). The scientific method of Sir William Petty. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 4(2), 1-19.