“I want to bring out a general feature of our modern self-understanding which comes to light when we contrast the economy with the other two forms. Both of these—the public sphere and the self-ruling ‘people’—imagine us as collective agencies. And it is these new modes of collective agency which are among the most striking feature of Western modernity and beyond; we understand ourselves after all to be living in a democratic age.
But the account of economic life in terms of an invisible hand is quite different. There is no collective agent here, indeed, the account amounts to a denial of such. There are agents, individuals acting on their own behalf, but the global upshot happens behind their backs. It has a certain predictable form, because there are certain laws governing the way in which their myriad actions concatenate.
This is an objectifying account, one which treats social events like other processes in nature, following laws of a similar sort. But this objectifying take on social life is just as much part of the modern understanding, derived from the modern moral order, as the new modes of imagining social agency. The two belong together as part of the same package. Once one is dealing with an idea of social order no longer as Forms-at-work in reality, of the kind invoked by Plato, but as forms imposed on inert reality by human agency, we need pictures of the lay-out of this inert reality, and the causal connections which structure it, just as much as we need models of our collective action on it.
And so this age also sees the beginnings of a new kind of objectifying social science, starting from William Petty’s Survey in Ireland in the mid-17th century, the collection of facts and statistics about wealth, production and demography, as the basis for policy. Objectifying pictures of social reality are just as prominent a feature of western modernity as the constitution of large-scale collective agencies. The modern grasp of society is ineradicably bi-focal.”
[Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 181–182]