06 January, 2012

Why I am not an Austrian economist

I do, however, empathize which much of what they do, and why. A lot of social science is model-building and smuggled assumptions. Where I disagree is with their assertion that they are immune from doing the same things. A good case in point can be found in Mark Crovilli's article on "absolute" knowledge and science. If you are interested, follow the discussion in the comments section. We'll see if anyone responds to mine:

Excellent article. One of the great things about a well-reasoned argument is you can identify precisely where you you disagree with it. In this case, everything up to "absolute certainty in science cannot be acquired by means of the "scientific method" and the collection and interpretation of empirical evidence. For beings that lack omniscience, collection and interpretation of empirical evidence can only yield imperfect and subjective beliefs about how the world works" makes perfect sense to me.

However, the statement "absolute certainty in science can only be acquired by discovering propositions about the world that can be known to be true a priori — propositions that cannot possibly be thought to be false" smuggles in an assumption I do not agree with: that there are statements about the real world that can be known a priori. I see no reason to assume such things exist, and every reason in my experience to assume they don't. Cases where things have been suggested as a priori true about the world that exists (as opposed to a world or system set up by a theorist) seem to me to be cases of a failure of imagination. The real world--whatever that is--is not only stranger than we imagine, it's probably stranger than we *can* imagine. All our concepts are imperfect simplifications.

Thus, partial "explanation" is the best we can do. See what works, see what doesn't, revise our models appropriately. If you want "absolute" knowledge from science, you're going to be disappointed.

(in my opinion, of course--that goes with the territory)
I suspect one of two things will happen. Either (a) my point will be completely ignored, or (b) it will trigger rage among the true believers. People love to protect cognitive consistency. I hope I'll learn something interesting. Maybe the students of Mises can teach me more than I've given them credit for.

What Is a Scientific Theory? - Mark R. Crovelli - Mises Daily


B said...

Is math included as a science in this instance? And what about my/your existance as individuals?

Daniel McIntosh said...

Good questions.

Personally, I'm not sure the reality of "individuals" is a given, although I tend to assume it (liberal/Western orientation). I once had a professor who followed Althusser that what we call individuals are essentially "bearers of structure." When I asked him about individuals, his reply: "there aren't any." I wonder if some Buddhists would agree.

I tend to see math as a language, or some other kind of tool. Something like Einstein's famous statement: "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." So no, it's not really a science