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Petty, Sir William

Petty, Sir William (1623–87). Born in Romsey (Hants), his education took him to the Jesuit College, Caen, and later to Leiden, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Oxford, and London, where his studies focused upon medicine. With doctorates in both physics and medicine, he became professor of medicine, then anatomy, at Oxford University (1648), taking a chair in music in 1651 at Gresham College, London, and at the same time acting as medical officer to the English army in Ireland. In this latter connection he undertook a topographical survey of land in Ireland later assigned to Cromwell's soldiers (as well as to himself). Hence his work covered many subject areas. His best-known and most influential publications were Political Arithmetic (1678) and Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662), two texts in economics. They both placed emphasis upon the use of economic statistics in determining economic policy. Two years before his death he became adviser to James II.

John R. Presley

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Petty, Sir William

Sir William Petty, 1623–87, English statistician and physician. He was a founder of the Royal Society and was physician general to the army of Ireland in 1652. Petty's survey of the Irish estates appropriated by Oliver Cromwell, begun in 1654 and carried out in 13 months, was the first attempt at scientific surveying on a large scale. He won favor with Charles II, was knighted (1662), and became surveyor general of Ireland. In 1673, Petty's detailed map of Ireland was completed. It is as a political economist, however, that Petty is remembered. He disapproved of the ban on bullion export, favored an Irish-British union, and contended that labor determines price. His important writings include A Treatise on Taxes and Contributions (1662) and The Political Anatomy of Ireland (1691).

See biography by E. Fitzmaurice (1895, repr. 1973).

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