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« Was Hayek Wrong? | Main | Lord Harris, IEA and the Place of the Economist in Public Discourse »


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Sraffa... without the "c".

Thanks for the catch on the typo.

In 1972 I had a friend in Cambridge for a while. When she kicked me out I had to go up the road and spend a couple of nights on the floor of a friend in Kings College before returning to base in London. At least Kings served a better breakfast. The Kings man was a philosopher and one of his colleagues introduced me to Spiro Latsis in a pub by the Cam. Spiro's father was a shipping magnate and he funded two conferences in the Greek Islands to explore the implications of the thoughts of Lakatos for economists. Nothing much emerged but I bet they had a good time.

Cambridge is full of history, not just in philosophy and the humanities but also in science from Newton to the double helix. Leonard Woolf (spouse of Virginia) wrote some wonderful memoires of his time in Cambridge and his friendship with Keynes and others of great note. Maybe things have changed but a few years ago they had just about the most obscurantist course in philosophy of over 200 worldwide that I checked on the net.

Liam Hudson also wrote a beautiful memoire of his time in philosophy and psychology at Oxford and Cambridge, a very revealing account of induction into reductionism and behaviourism, the inculcation of railway lines of thought that resulted in a lot of psychology that had next to nothing to do with living human beings.

"As in all systems of social snobbery, participants are under continual pressure to appear, indeed to become, what they are not. Research problems tend as a consequence, in psychology at least, to be tackled in a manner which is more artificial than either common sense or logic would dictate. Each problem is ‘promoted’ until it reaches its own level of methodological inappropriateness. The social psychologist, a creature of low status, acquires higher status by being an experimental social psychologist, and working in a laboratory fitted out with booths and one-way screens. And he can achieve higher status still, in the eyes of his colleagues if not of the academic community at large, by abandoning the study of man altogether, and joining the packed ranks of the methodologists. He then criticizes ineptitudes in experiments conducted by others. He speculates, like the country divine, on how good work might be done, but never risks the doing for himself."

"In such a situation, prejudices are potent. And they are particularly so, in science as elsewhere, for being implicit. The tough look down on the tender, but unless hard-pressed, deny that they do so. If cornered, they point to the unfortunate fact that, among psychologists, it is the weaker students who specialize in the more humane branches: those with lower seconds, young ladies with an interest in people. It follows, the tough point out with evident regret, that standards are lower in the more humane fields. The argument is a tricky one to combat, especially as it prophecies are self-fulfilling. As teachers and examiners, the tough-minded are in a position to give their own assumptions weight. With minds as open as any can be, they design courses and set papers that favour candidates whose style of intelligence suits them to experimental research. They thus operate a self-perpetuating social system. And being men of good faith and sociological naivety, they are free to deny that they do so. The more tender-minded know that a form of snobbery is being exercised at their expense, yet cannot convince themselves that it is groundless. They feel not merely embarrassed, but embarrassed about feeling embarrassed. And there are few more potent mechanisms for ensuring that a particular type of research is not done; or, if it is done, that it is not done well."

Reminds you of some schools of economics!

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