Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

The General Directing of Trade Cannot Be a Science: D’Argenson’s 1751 Commentary Essay and the Response to It

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Abstract

René Louis de Voyer de Paulmy, Marquis d’Argenson (1694–1757) published a wonderful essay in French in 1751, expounding that knowledge problems foil any pretense of making the general directing of trade into a science. The essay was published in English, translated by Tobias Smollett, in 1754 and reprinted in 1762 in Edmund Burke’s The Annual Register. Here Smollett’s translation is reproduced with minor changes made by Benoît Malbranque based on the 1751 French publication and an original manuscript text of the essay. Malbranque also provides here a first-ever translation of a response by an unknown author who argued that, yes, the directing of trade can be a science. The exchange between d’Argenson and the anonymous author raises issues about the meaning of ‘science’ and who it is that can justly claim to speak in the name of science.