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« Liberty Fund Conference on "Markets, Socialism and Liberty" | Main | Mises and the Importance of Context »


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Well done, Pete.

"Mises was not just some quack..."

I'm sincerely hoping this was "just" a slip of the tongue.

Eric Evans,

Prof. Boettke was clearly using "just" in the same way that you are.

My comment on the original site has been in moderation for three days so it might as well run here (from memory since I can't read it myself). It contains a "neutral" point, some positives and a carping criticism.

The neutral point is that it will really help to get over discussing political positions in terms of left and right. Hayek in his famous essay sketched a non-conservative or classical liberal position that cannot usefully be categorised as left or right. We get hit from both sides. I think if we allow ouselves to be tagged "rightwing" we have practically lost the debate before we start. My "non-left" friends have not been receptive to this argument but one of our colleagues at the Uni of Buckingham has made this point powerfully.

Some positive comments - von Mises never objected to the use of mathematics, just the abuse, this is the rejoinder to people who like to say that Austrians "reject maths". People at George Mason have used mathematics, at least once for an interesting formal proof of something (can't recall what) and in regression models. Of course these are subject to use and abuse as well. Dani Rodrik has a nice paper on the limitations of regression models.

See also Roger Koppl on big players.

Finally the criticism. Pete commended von Mises on his rejection of the natural science approach to developing and testing theories and policies. I am not sure if this amounts to accepting the strong (justificationist) form of apriorism that Rothbard and Hoppe have taken from von Mises, or whether it just means recognizing that plans and intentions have to enter into theories in the human sciences in a way that they don't in the naural sciences.

Taking up the issue of justification first. If the strong form is given up and we fall back to the fallibillistic apriorism of Barry Smith (which is identical to Popperism) then we can simply evaluate theories on their explanatory power, their truth, capacity to inspire effective policies, generate productive research programs, resist various forms of criticism etc. That means focussing on the strengths and weakness of rival theories instead of getting bogged down in debate over rival theories of epistemological justification (none of which work).

Insisting on strong apriorism practically guarantees that other schools of thought will not take Austrian economics seriously.

Moving on to the major difference between the natural and human sciences. It can be argued that the logic of the hypothetico-deductive method is not affected by the specific content of theories or the particular methods of investigation that are used in different fields. Sure, the contents of the theories are different, but the same applies to different disciplines in the natural sciences as well (and of course in the different fields of human sciences). I appreciate that there is supposed to be some special form of understandig that applies to human activities but natural scientists have to use the faculty of understanding as well and some would claim to be so involved in their subeject matter that they develop feelings of "empathy" or intuitive understanding of the behaviour of bosuns and black holes or the leaves of plants.

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