October 2017

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« The Great Caplan-Boettke Debate | Main | On Reading Hayek: Rules and the General Welfare, or Why Mises I (discussed by Richard Ebeling) Might Have to Give Way to Mises II (too often dismissed as dogmatic) »

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Right on, Pete. We often think of science and reason as our best epistemic tools. But accumulated tradtion allows us to respond adaptively to a host of unobserved and unobservable facts of the past. That is a deeply conservative message that lets us be sceptical about science from, oddly enough, from a strictly scientific perspective. True conservatives (in the really old fashioned sense from which Hayek rightly distanced himself) must simply cleave to tradition and sniff at any scientific challenges to it. They can have no real *critique* of science. Left liberals may have a critique of science, but it must be based solely on considerations such as power, bias, corruption, and the supposed "ideology" of different scientists or sciences. Only the critical rationalist of the Humean liberal tradition can have a truly scientific critique of science itself.

You can read a lot of Hayek and Popper on society and agree with most of it but find it very hard to explain to other people why it is so good, especially if they are just looking for support for a party political program. Not being a good party person I was looking for something different and the penny dropped when I realised that Popper was talking about the rules of the game and the way that so many of the greatest thinkers of all time put into play rules (including the rules about the questions that you are supposed to ask, like "who shall rule?") that undermine the rules that make for peace, freedom and prosperity. And then it was apparent that Hayek was doing the same thing.

This approach keeps you in touch with practical problems, the possible solutions and whatever branch of theory is appropriate to the problem at hand. This reminds me of something in the Caplan Boettke debate, about keeping undergrads out of policy. Pete would have none of that and quite right. The strength of rural research in Australia (where I come from) is the way so many Ag Scientists came off the land or small country towns so whatever bizarre theoretical problems they attacked (like the penetration of clay by root hairs) they never forgot about practical things and they were always alert to the practical implications of the research. Pete calls it looking out the window. You need to track in and out of the work, to see it close and to see it in relation to a bigger picture (surrounding disciplines, practical problems).

Taking up Roger's point, science and reason are tools, not authorities.

It also helps to see that the common factor in Popper's work on scientific method and politics is the critical appraisal of the rules of the game. You have to be seriously interested in the game and you have to be critical as well (but with a light touch). Any game will do, if you get serious about what is happening in baseball or cricket or anything else you will soon encounter many of the fundamental problems in philosophy and the social sciences. Like the problem of induction, how people generate plans and expectations and what it is that stops society from being a chaos of uncertainty (another point from the debate).

Pete,

Thanks for the interesting account of your own intellectual evolution.

This theme:

"the possibility of justice rests on this necessary limitation of our factual knowledge"

is worked out in detail in Hayek's _TCofL_ and builds on the ideas pioneered in his _The Sensory Order_.

I've always though his account of the connection beween our ignorance and our holding people responsible for their violations of negative rules of just conduct is among the most important developments in all of his work -- a real landmark in the history of philosophy, which deserves great recognition.

Roger, philosopher Ed Feser has a really good article on Hayek and the claims of tradition against simple-minded accounts of the claims of "reason" or "science" here:

http://mises.org/journals/jls/17_1/17_1_2.pdf

I use precisely this reasoning in the paper I presented on the arts as a spontaneous order at the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference, the paper of which will be appearing soon at www.studiesinemergentorder.org

The model solves all sorts of problems in the sociology of the arts, including the source of the canon of great works. Current theories essentially boil down to claims of conspiracies -- the theory of spontaneous order explains how the Canon emerged naturally, and why it emerged as it did.

The basic message (one also stated by Mises, but not explored as much) is that there is something more than the old, ancient Greek distinction between nature (physis) and convention (nomos), natural science and morality, determinisc natural laws and artificial, value-laden convention and so on which most of the social and philosophical European tradition has been explicitly built.

The model solves all sorts of problems in the sociology of the arts, including the source of the canon of great works. Current theories essentially boil down to claims of conspiracies -- the theory of spontaneous order explains how the Canon emerged naturally, and why it emerged as it did.

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