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Marx reads Quetelet: a preliminary report

Wells, Julian (2017): Marx reads Quetelet: a preliminary report.

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Marx's engagement with the work of Adolphe Quetelet has been little noticed and, arguably, even less well understood. Indeed, Quetelet himself is now all but forgotten except by specialists in the history of statistics, despite his being the creator of the notion of the 'average man', ubiquitous in modern discourse. This neglect is unfortunate in the light of another under-appreciated fact, namely the profoundly probabilistic character of Marx's political economy. This is apparent throughout his career, from preoccupation with the issue of chance and necessity in his earliest writings through to the sophisticated statistical arguments in "Capital". Until very recently it has not been possible to directly assess the influence of Quetelet on Marx's thought. However, this has changed as a result of the recent digitisation and on-line availability of Marx's notebooks. This article presents the �rst analysis of Marx's excerpts from Quetelet. Although the results are preliminary, it is clear that Marx used Quetelet not only as support for his own historical materialism, but also to sharpen his understanding of statistical concepts as such.

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