October 2017

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        
Blog powered by Typepad

« Atlas Sound Money Contest | Main | The Genius of Mises, and the Brilliance of Kirzner »

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Thanks for the recommendation. That said, I'm unconvinced about the claimed 'dangers.'

A glaring problem with this paper is that it is based off of Mises' and later Rothbard's defense of methodological dualism. However, both of their views, especially Mises', tacitly approve of Carnap's postivistic view of physics when differentiating the physical sciences with the praxeological ones. This is a problem because it does not take into account Popper's work on the subject and his, to use a term Mises was fond of, explosion of induction. A Misean exposition of methodological dualism is persuasive only when the philosophies of Carnap, Hempel and other logical positivists are taken into consideration. It is unpersuasive with the lessons of Popper's _Logic of Scientific Discovery_ taken into consideration.

hsearles:

I don't believe in falsificationism, at least not in the social sciences, where "data" are never given and always subject to interpretation, and appeal to facts has rarely or ever solved a single debate in economics.

However, I don't get the relevance of your argument. You say:

1. Mises divides epistemology in natural and social sciences.
2. His epistemology of natural sciences is wrong.
3. So Mises's epistemology is unpersuasive.

Was Mises a chemist? It is irrelevant to consider whether Mises's view of the natural sciences was right or not. What matters are his views concerning the social sciences: he was an economist, not a chemist.

Sounds like: "Arts are divided in painting and music. Michelangelo was a very bad musician. Thus, Michelangelo was a poor artist."

While I do not care for the use of mathematics in economics and hold views thoroughly opposed to logical positivism, I come away from reading that article with a higher opinion of Samuelson and a lower opinion of Higgs (as an economist, at least).

hsearles and Pietro:

I think the way Mises builds up his argument does depend on his model of physics, which is indeed wrong. But I don't think this flaw in the argument matters very much. The basic point holds up.

In Theory and History (1957) he is very clear that its about reduction, not induction. So far, he says, we have not been able bridge the gap between mind and matter. Until we do, we must rely on the human understanding of human meanings. Dear old Hayek improved the case for methodological dualism with his diagonal argument at the end of The Sensory Order.

What hsearles said.

Pietro M, it is not about falsificationism. It is about fallibilistic or conjectural apriorism as per Barry Smith on Menger and the Aristotelian roots of Austrian economics.

This is spelled out in a paper in press with
"Nuova Civilta delle Macchine" for a collection of papers on Rothbard's development of the thoughts of von Mises.

The paper argues that the best way to develop the economics of von Mises is along the lines of “fallible apriorism” rather than the strong program of apriorism advocated by Rothbard and his followers. This position is supported by Popper’s epistemology which can be described as “conjectural apriorism”. Barry Smith presented his views as a part of the Aristotelian framework that he detected in Menger’s work. This framework is practically identical to the “metaphysical research program” that Popper developed in dialogue with the physicists.

An advanced draft of the paper can be found here. http://www.the-rathouse.com/WritingsonMises/FallibleApriorism.html

The picture of Popper's philosophy that is put about under the label of "falsificationism" is a travesty and it perists due to the efforts of Lakatos and the logical empiricists who have ensured that it is practically impossible to get a straight feed on Popper's ideas from the philosophers or the people who write about the philosophy of economics. Dan Hausman is a good example.

For a sample of the literature in this genre.
http://www.the-rathouse.com/Pop-Schol/TrashingPopper.html

Rafe,

Although I agree about the misrepresentation of Popper's philosophy as "falsificationism", his criterion of falsifiability remains a useful "rule of thumb" to determine empirical testability. (Whether we demarcate "scientific" from "non-scientific" theories according to this criterion is a mere semantic quibble.) I sometimes think you overstate these points against "falsificationism" and in turn mislead in an entirely different way.

In any case, Popper was more of an a priorist than Mises, because for Popper there is no methodological dualism, at least not on a fundamental level (e.g. higher level practices and pragmatic limitations may differ. All knowledge grows and develops according to Darwinian principles, from the tacit knowledge of simple organisms to the subjective knowledge thinking beings. Knowledge is always an a priori conjecture, a creative mutation, logically irreducible but causally related to what came before.

According to Popper, any and all knowledge that is true is true a priori. This seems absurd and meaningless and, in a sense, it absurd and meaningless. Describing Popper's views in this kind of language inevitably misleads, because it is an attempt to shoehorn them into a different philosophical tradition. I can understand why this may be necessary under some circumstances, but I can't help being frustrated by its inadequacy.

I'm curious what zinger Samuelson tossed at Higgs. For all the gravitas he attached to that, what was it?

This part was disconcerting for me: "This claim flies in the face of what everyone ought to sense intuitively: that human beings, who have purposes, choose means of serving them, change their purposes from time to time, and on occasion devise completely new means, differ fundamentally from electrons, molecules, and light waves (or are they particles?)."

Higgs accuses Samuelson of physics envy without any real substantial explanation. So Samuelson uses a little calculus that you see physicists using... that would be bad if he only chose it because physicists use it, but it would be good if he chose it because it was useful for describing the behavior of economic actors. I agree with Samuelson that it is very useful for describing the behavior of economic actors, and for describing their dynamic behavior in disequilibrium.

If Higgs wants to challenge that, he needs to do more than just note that it's akin to thermodynamics.

Anyway - to get back to the quote I found disconcerting - despite all the physics-envy Higgs accuses Samuelson of, it's clear that it is Higgs, and not Samuelson, that is holding physics as the ultimate metric of what science is!!! Higgs is the one saying "economics cannot do what physics does therefore it is wrong for Samuelson to suggests economists are scientists facing the same sort of methodological problems as other scientists". Higgs is the one holding up physics as the standard. Higgs is the one guilty of physics envy.

We as economists do face the same methodological problems that other scientists do, and we should not be held up to physicists because they study relatively simply mechanical systems (four dimensions for non-string theorists, a few laws of motion, a few forces, etc.). Economists are scientists who study complex systems and they should be compared to other scientist that study complex systems, such as biologists. If a few math techniques are useful for economists that's great. Biologists use differential equations too, do they not? Do we lambast them because that's a tool of physics? Of course not.

In the end, I have to agree with Lee. Samuelson, for all his problems, comes out quite well here. Higgs is the one that appears to have physics-envy.

I'll leave the positivism/falsificationism/Popper stuff to Rafe and Lee. I have always understood science to be the pragmatic rule-of-thumb attempts to approximate falsification in the search for useful understandings, but I do not have epistemologically strict expectations of anything more than that myself.

Daniel,

Can you give us an example of how "a little calculus . . . is very useful . . . for describing their dynamic behavior in disequilibrium"? I'm with you on equilibrium, at least in a general sort of way. But not so sure about "dynamic behavior in disequilibrium."

"I don't believe in falsificationism, at least not in the social sciences, where 'data' are never given and always subject to interpretation, and appeal to facts has rarely or ever solved a single debate in economics."
I must second Rafe's assertion that the term "falsificationism" is a terrible interpretation of Popper's ideas. Furthermore, even in the physical sciences, data is complex, a la the Quine-Duhem, so the process of falsification is messy even there. Nevertheless, never did Popper ever assert that the process of falsification will be a certain one; in a world of conjecture and refutation, even instances of falsification are conjectures that can be refuted.

"However, I don't get the relevance of your argument. You say:

1. Mises divides epistemology in natural and social sciences.
2. His epistemology of natural sciences is wrong.
3. So Mises's epistemology is unpersuasive."
My basic assertion there is that any demarcation between two objects in which the creator of that demarcation has an inadequate and flawed comprehension of one object is dubious. The claim of methodological dualism must be understood both from the perspectives of both methods and a misunderstanding of one severely weakens the case. So yes, I would expect Mises to know something about the nature of the physical sciences when asserting methodological dualism.

"In Theory and History (1957) he is very clear that its about reduction, not induction."
Mises' point against reduction in the social sciences is based on the incapability of the use of induction in them because they are so complicated. Ergo, the two are tied together in such a way in Theory and History that they cannot be disentangled.

Of course Mises may not use the exact term "induction," but the sentiment is there since the vision of the physical sciences elucidated there is almost identity to that of Carnap and Hempel who spoke more at length about induction.

" So far, he says, we have not been able bridge the gap between mind and matter. Until we do, we must rely on the human understanding of human meanings. Dear old Hayek improved the case for methodological dualism with his diagonal argument at the end of The Sensory Order."
And yet according to Hayek, there is not any separation between mind and matter, instead Hayek had a far more nuanced understanding of our limits to understand all emergent phenomena with the brain being a prime example. Furthermore, this does not adequately take into consideration the philosophy of biology, which is a physical sciences that shares much of the complexity of economics due to the existence of emergent phenomena within its discipline.

Mises is pretty, hsearles. He says:

>

Hayek did "reduce" mind to matter, but only "in principle." Moreover, he gave a kind of Cantorian argument that it is logically impossible to go beyond the "in principle" reduction of mind to matter and describe human action in physical language. Hayek says, "Our conclusion, therefore, must be that to us mind must remain forever a realm of its own which we can know only through directly experiencing it, but which we shall never be able fully to explain or to ‘reduce’ to something else."

Oops. That should be "Mises is pretty *clear*. I suppose he was pretty too, at least in his mother's eyes.

Mises is pretty clear, hsearles. He says:

"Methodological dualism refrains from any proposition concerning essences and metaphysical constructs. It merely takes into account the fact that we do not know how external events—physical, chemical, and physiological—affect human thoughts, ideas, and judgments of value."

Hayek did "reduce" mind to matter, but only "in principle." Moreover, he gave a kind of Cantorian argument that it is logically impossible to go beyond the "in principle" reduction of mind to matter and describe human action in physical language. Hayek says, "Our conclusion, therefore, must be that to us mind must remain forever a realm of its own which we can know only through directly experiencing it, but which we shall never be able fully to explain or to ‘reduce’ to something else."

Sorry about the messy multiple posts. Formatting problems!

I recommend to all those here to take the time to read the first editions of both Samuelson's ECONOMICS, and FOUNDATIONS. You can see in Samuelson an alliance between statism and scientism at the highest level and also an intellectual confidence that is unmatched. Only Stigliz would rival Samuelson on all 3, while working at the cutting intellectual edge of academic royalty. Krugman does, but he never was at the same edge of formal theorizing.

You don't have to trust Higgs's report, but you don't have to look to only in the history of economics to see Samuelson indicting himself with his words of overblown scientistic claims, silly ideological nostrums, and arrogance (he in one writing compares himself with Newton).

There is no doubt that Samuelson (just like Stiglitz, or even Krugman) is amazingly smart, but I think the intellectual talents were directed in ultimately unproductive directions. See Kenneth Boulding's wonderful articles "After Samuelson Who Needs Smith?" and also "The Waste of Intellectual Resources."

Pete

Kirzner quotes Samuelson (in "Entrepreneurship, entitlement and economic justice" and in other articles) in regard to the theory of profit. I would like to know if Samuelson ever replied

"Methodological dualism refrains from any proposition concerning essences and metaphysical constructs. It merely takes into account the fact that we do not know how external events—physical, chemical, and physiological—affect human thoughts, ideas, and judgments of value." - Theory and History
How did Mises come to this? His course of reasoning is more important than the conclusion that he arrives at. His reasoning is essentially that induction cannot operate with respect to complex phenomena like the mind hence the inductive techniques should not be used with those complex phenomena. It is very important that Mises never asserts that a physical approach to the mind is metaphysically impossible, but that without such techniques, we are forced to demarcate between mind, in which induction is impossible, and matter, in which induction is impossible. However, induction is unsound so this entire argument becomes moot. Overall, its not Mises' conclusion that shows his errors, but his reasoning because his conclusion can be reached by other routes.

Furthermore, like the logical positivists, Mises' understanding of "physical sciences" is just physics, which chemistry can be reduced to. As a result, methodological dualism essentially becomes a demarcation between physics and praxeology. However, where does a science, like biology, that deals with emergent phenomena yet the approach of physics cannot yield much knowledge. Mises' methodological dualism simply cannot handle a complex science like biology. This is yet again an area where an adequate understanding of Popper would have helped Mises since Popper did not disregard biology in his philosophy of science, unlike Carnap and Hempel.

Hayek on the mind: "You know, I belong to the people who really regard their mental process as part of the physical process, to a degree of complexity which we cannot fully comprehend. But I do not really believe in metaphysically separate mental entities. They are a product of a highly developed organism far beyond anything which can be explained, but still there is no reason to assume that there are mental entities apart from physical entities."

FYI Bob Higgs wrote an almost identical piece to this three years ago on Mises.org. http://mises.org/daily/2947

Peter -
That Samuelson is haughty I don't challenge. It's the "scientism" argument in general that I've always found a little hollow, so of course accusations of it don't sound all that damning to me. The scientism accusation always seems to say more about the accuser than the accused.

But I worry we're talking past each other too. If you think the math is largely useless or at least misleading, then comparing yourself to Newton is indeed the height of arrogance. If he's simply saying "I formalized economics with mathematics the way Newton formalized physics with mathematics", then I would say he's exactly right. What is the big deal with that?

How would you compare Samuelson's disposition to, say, Mises's? Everybody has their affiliated loud-mouths and sharp tongues. When we see a valuable argument, we say "well he didn't have the nicest attitude, but he made an important contribution". When we don't appreciate the contribution, we get more frustrated with the attitude because there's nothing to sweeten the deal.

Pete

Just to be clear, I do not have a very high opinion of Samuelson. Even after reading this paper, I have a higher opinion of Higgs than Samuelson. I haven't read much that Samuelson wrote, and have no intention of doing so any time soon. I mostly take the word of people like you, Steve, Richard, etc. about Samuelson.

Samuelson may indeed represent the alliance of statism and scientism at its highest level, but, though I may prefer thier political implications, I am not particularly convinced of Higgs's rebuttals either.

hsearles,

Mises makes a pretty simple and direct statement we just don't know how mind and matter relate and must, therefore, "start" with human purposes and the like in the social sciences. That argument simply does not depend on one's model of physics. Sorry, but I really don't see a lot of ambiguity here.

Was your Hayek quote was meant to counter my statements on Hayek? I sort of get that feeling, and yet it supports the description I gave. Note especially the passage, " a degree of complexity which we cannot fully comprehend."

BTW: I don't recognize that quote. Cite please?

Hayek: "I want to do this to avoid giving the impression that I generally reject the mathematical method in economics. I regard it in fact as the great advantage of the mathematical technique that it allows us to describe, by means of algebraic equations, the general character of a pattern even where we are ignorant of the numerical values which will determine its particular manifestation. We could scarcely have achieved that comprehensive picture of the mutual interdependencies of the different events in a market without this algebraic technique. It has led to the illusion, however, that we can use this technique for the determination and prediction of the numerical values of those magnitudes; and this has led to a vain search for quantitative or numerical constants. This happened in spite of the fact that the modern founders of mathematical economics had no such illusions. It is true that their systems of equations describing the pattern of a market equilibrium are so framed that if we were able to fill in all the blanks of the abstract formulae, i.e. if we knew all the parameters of these equations, we could calculate the prices and quantities of all commodities and services sold. But, as Vilfredo Pareto, one of the founders of this theory, clearly stated, its purpose cannot be "to arrive at a numerical calculation of prices", because, as he said, it would be "absurd" to assume that we could ascertain all the data.4 Indeed, the chief point was already seen by those remarkable anticipators of modern economics, the Spanish schoolmen of the sixteenth century, who emphasized that what they called pretium mathematicum, the mathematical price, depended on so many particular circumstances that it could never be known to man but was known only to God.5 I sometimes wish that our mathematical economists would take this to heart."

It's clear that neither Mises nor Hayek had any problems with the use of math in economics. What they objected to was the oversimplification of economic theory and the ridiculous assumptions necessary to force the field into a particular mold. For example, the necessity to assume equilibrium is everywhere in order to make the equations work.

And they objected to the rejection of logic as a means to truth and the fetish with attempting build theory from the data.

I think Mises would have been fairly comfortable using statistical techniques the way I was taught: build sound theory first then employ statistics to test the theory. Sometimes that is hard to do. Just try to find empirical evidence that people buy less of something when the price rises and more when prices fall. It's very difficult to do because price is rarely the only factor determining demand. Instead of nice moves up and down the demand curve, the curve is constantly shifting position.

I think econometric models of the Austrian theory will prove very powerful.

Any mathematics that can be finished in the lifetime of the mathematician without use of a computer is of little use. Computational models that model complex, self-organizing systems will prove very useful -- and will prove Austrian theory -- but not the kinds of econometrics currently in use.

Whew! What a flurry. For folks who take falsification to be central to science, please provide a definition of the simple word "fact."

Daniel Kuehn, you came very close to saying what I say; science is the search for true positive statements.

Some econometrics and more mathematics of a different sort will be useful in our ongoing search for true positive statements in economics, I suspect. In the end, we seek to discover one or another positive statement to be true. That is to say, a "fact."

I believe a fact is a positive statement that lots of people are persuaded is true. I don't think we can improve on that definition, but I am willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Kendell,

How does one go about proving a definition of "fact". How is one to determine exactly what is, in fact, the true definition of "fact". You believe that a "fact is a positive statement that lots of people are persuaded is true", but clearly not very many people are persuaded that this definition is true, so how can it be a fact itself? The fact that you pose such questions and then try to answer them suggest you have misunderstood that, in fact, a definition is.

A fact is just that which is the case, and a truth is a proposition or statement that corresponds to the facts. There is no need to further this stipulation, and it cannot be wrong as a matter of fact.

Edit of above comment:

How does one go about proving a definition of "fact"? How is one to determine exactly what is, in fact, the true definition of "fact"? You believe that a "fact is a positive statement that lots of people are persuaded is true", but clearly not very many people are persuaded that this definition is true, so how can it be a fact itself? The fact that you pose such questions and then try to answer them suggest you have misunderstood what, in fact, a definition is.

A fact is just that which is the case, and a truth is a proposition or statement that corresponds to the facts. There is no need to further this stipulation, and it cannot be wrong as a matter of fact.

"Scientism" is usually used as a term of abuse to signal that the person is using the methods of the natural sciences in the human sciences where they not apply. Hayek used the term in the 1940s but even as he wrote he suspected that scientism did not necessarily represent the approach that actually works in the natural sciences.

The practice of scientism can be compared with the cargo cults in the Pacific islands after WW2. The natives saw people coming from overseas, clearing the jungle to make airstrips, setting up a tower and a radio shack, and then loads of cargo arrived from the skies. So later when the flow of cargo stopped they set about clearing strips, putting up a tower, sitting in the shack with homemade earphones on their heads etc in expectation of cargo.

Because Newton delivered a big load of cargo, apparently using the method of induction (no guessing, masses of careful and accurate observations, plus mathematical formalism etc) then all of that was enshrined as the Scientific Method.

However the real power of Newton's theory came from its boldness, its scope, its explanatory power and its testability. There were known anomalies, although some were incorporated, the persisting anomalies indicated the need for improvement and eventually Einstein produced an even bolder and more explanatory theory, which was also incomplete etc.

The big difference between Newton and the formalism of GET and mathematical economics was that Newton took account of the essential factors and variables that are required to understand his system but Samuelson did not, hence his belief that the Soviet economy wasa performing strongly and overauling the US. In addition, when a part of his theory was shredded by Stanley Wong, instead of taking notice and seeing that the system was rendered problematic (at least) apparently the profession mostly looked the other way, as though it did not matter.

In defence of falsification without getting into the definition of a fact, attempted falsification or testing is just one of the ways of subjecting theories and policies to critical appraisal. Practical people do it all the time. Unfortunately it became central due to the rise of positivism which inflated empirical verification to the be-all of scientific merit and even meaningful discourse. The remnant of that program still appears to be prominent in the mainstream of philosphy, competing with the Continental approach, and they both create a toxic environment for good economics.

Part of the problem is that there is a great deal of confusion about the nature of facts -- and the difference between facts and of another kind of truth. Indeed, there is a distinction between facts and truth. In his essay “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” Nietzsche discusses the statement that a camel is a mammal, saying that this is a truth of a sort, but one of limited value. These truths of “limited value” are what I would call “facts.” Facts are in the realm of knowledge, and are defined by the language. It is a fact that a camel is a mammal. A mammal is defined as an animal which is warm-blooded, has hair, and feeds milk to its young. Since a camel does/has all of these things, we classify camels as mammals. It fits into this arbitrary conceptual category we created so we can better study, understand, and talk about them. To use another example, let us say I filled my car with gas. One would typically say it is true that I filled my car with gas. I would rather say it is a fact that I filled my car with gas. This use of the word “fact” is supported by its etymology: “fact” comes from the Latin factum, for “done,” the neuter past participle of facere, “to do.” An action of some sort is needed for something to be a fact. That action is our hierarchical categorizing of objects. “All knowledge originates from separation, delimitation, and restriction; there is no absolute knowledge of the whole” (Nietzsche, PT 109). So “all explaining and knowing is nothing but categorizing” (PT 141). With facts, we end up with a plurality of pluralities. To be reductionist or deconstructionist is to be concerned only with the facts. On the other hand, those against knowledge, who believe we cannot know anything, are those who cannot find fulfillment in knowledge alone. But that is no reason to abandon knowledge – any more than the connection of wisdom to religion was sufficient reason, despite the decline of religion in the West, to abandon wisdom. If we abandon knowledge, we will only find ourselves doubly absent – of knowledge and wisdom. Instead, we need a return to wisdom, to replace what is truly missing.

Nietzsche says art “speaks the truth quite generally in the form of lies” (TL 96). Nietzsche is talking about truth as facts. Art does not need facts – it gives us everything as illusion. One can have art that is blatantly non-factual, yet still have wisdom-truth. Works of art and literature act as one of the primary sources of this kind of wisdom-truth. This seems to me to also resemble Mises' idea of "Imaginary constructions" as the proper method of praxeology and economics (Human Action, 236). But wisdom may or may not be connected to facts. Consider this example from literature. Gabriel Garcia Marquez does not really believe someone can be so beautiful they can literally contradict the law of gravity and shoot up into the air. With magical realism we have “fact-statements” coming into conflict with “truth-statements.” One way of creating meaning is through repetition. Another way is to create an image so amazing one cannot forget it. This latter approach is the soul of magical realism and of such surrealist painters as Dali and Magritte. How can one forget the scene in One Hundred Years of Solitude where Remedios the Beauty shot into the heavens because was so beautiful? Or when José Arcadio shot himself and

A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.
"Holy Mother of God!" Úrsula shouted. (129-130)

This blood goes places and does things blood should not be able to do, but that does not matter. What matters is the truth uncovered by this scene, and that, because it is so strange, we remember it. Meaning is tied to memory (Memory, in Greek mythology, is the mother of the Muses). We remember things which are repeated (patterned repetition is doubly repetitious, and thus more meaningful), and we remember things that are as amazing as these images. We give meaning to things we remember. We see this connection too in the Greek word for truth, aletheia. Lethe is the river of forgetting, the river dead souls must drink from before rebirth. Letheia is thus forgetting. A-letheia is not- or un-forgetting. Thus truth, aletheia, is unforgetting, remembering. Art speaks the truth precisely because it, as Milan Kundera says, uncovers aspects of existence we have forgotten. Great art speaks aletheia what we are continually letheia, even after we have experienced the work of art. Art does this through lies because every uncovering of physis/logos is a covering, since “physis kryptesthai philei” (Heraclitus, K. X), “Nature loves to hide.” This is how we understand, if not on a completely logical, rational level of explanation, what Marquez means about a woman being that beautiful, or a murdered man’s blood returning home. We understand these a-rational truths, a-rational because they are true without being factual. Marquez highlights and makes beautiful the potential separation between truth and fact.

This separation is the soul of methodological dualism. If you don't like knowledge-wisdom, one could redefine them as reductionism-emergence. Hayek points to a separation not between the physical and the social sciences, but rather between simple and complex sciences. I think that is a better division overall. In either case, reductionism/simple science gives us facts, while emergence/complex science gives us models. These models can be tested against reality, but they can never match reality perfectly, as can facts. Which is not to say that we shouldn't try to make them match as closely as possible, as that will result in truer understanding. In other words, the simpe sciences aim at facts; the complex sciences aim at truth. Thus the latter are far more akin to the arts and humanities.

Lee and David -
So I agree with the spirit of David's post but the letter of Lee's post. I would not tie "facts" to the extent of their acceptance so strictly, David. Partly for the reasons that Lee mentions. But also because that is entirely depedent on how informed the population you're polling is.

I think we need to have a basic understanding that real knowledge of truth is largely elusive. Indeed I think that should be the message of the idea of falsification. You never really know something is true, just if it is not true. As a rule of thumb we adopt as a "useful understanding" something that withstands a battery of tests - ideally falsification tests, but not exclusively.

Are they claims that the majority of people agree with? That's less important to me. That sounds like a definition of "common sense" not science.

When people identify science with strict experimental falsification, they make the mistake of thinking that falsification demonstrates truth when at best it can demonstrate untruth.

The search for truth is hopeless. Even if we hit on "truth" we'll never know it. The search for a pragmatically useful understanding is full of opportunity. We put a man on the moon with no help from string theory, after all - that was all off Newton. Ultimate truth is not the goal of science - increasingly useful understanding of our world is. I'm afraid people insistent on discovering ultimate truth are going to end up living extremely unfulfilling lives.

Following Daniel, and adding a significant detail, Popper often pointed out that the logic of falsification is decisive but in practice there can be no decisive falsification due to the Duhem problem, theory dependence of observations, malfunction of instruments etc. See p 51 of The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

So he drew a distinction between FALSIFIABILITY, where a general statement is formulated in a way that would permit a true observation statement to falsify it, and FALSIFICATION (in practice) which CAN be decisive for practical purposes but can never be logically decisive.

Lakatos, Kuhn and others practically made careers out of fudging that distinction, as though Popper was a "naive falsificationist", so scores of introductory texts move from logical positivism to Popperian falsificationism, then recite a list of "defects" with a straw dummy of Popper and then move on to Laktos, Kuhn, Feyerabend, the sociology of science, constructivism, etc. Some of the recent "state of the art" books dont even bother to mention Popper at all.

One of the most influential books in that genre is "What is this thing called science? by Alan Chalmers which started in 1976, is still in print (third edition) and was translated into 15 languages. On the proceeds he purchased a small ranch on the outskirts of Sydney. He is a great guy and an excellent thesis supervisor. He supervised my thesis on the Duhem problem.

My review of his book is also into a third edition, each one more critical than the previous.

http://www.the-rathouse.com/shortreviews/WhatisThisThingCalledScience.html

IMO there is a simpler reason why it is useless to study human choices with math borrowed from physics.

All economic phenomena are reducible to (that is, determined by) choices that happen in the heads of human beings. In fact one may argue that since we don't observe these choices empirically, we can't study them with the methods borrowed from empirical sciences.

But what can we do scientifically?

We can first study what is common to all sane human beings - that is the logic of choice.

And we should primarily study it with the tools of logic, because people make choices in terms of logic.

That means that praxeology consisting of a set of inter-conncted apriori true statements about the world should be the core of the economic science.

Only after we have fleshed out the praxeological core (which IMO has not yet been done and Mises's enterprize is probably far from completion. E.g. it is still unclear what is the connection between profit and opportunity cost in the logic of choice, whether purpose or value should be the central category of praxeology, etc.) should we venture away from praxeological issues into studying the non-aprioristic implications.

The comments to this entry are closed.