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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10933/freedom-and-property-where-they-conflict/

Freedom and Property: Where They Conflict

October 29, 2009 by

There may be cases where there is a conflict between claims on behalf of one person’s freedom and claims on behalf of another person’s private property. In such cases, the question arises, which claims should prevail? FULL ARTICLE by Frank van Dun

{ 138 comments }

Verdyck Yannick October 31, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Why is that a flaw? You can’t close a gate in a libertarian society at a random moment in time?

T. Ralph Kays October 31, 2009 at 7:22 pm

No, he starts with a person on a piece of land surrounded by land owned by other people who do not want to allow passage across their land, thus trapping the first person. It begs the question, how did that person get there in the first place? (Dun assumes that everyone in this imaginary world respects property rights) They could be there voluntarily, having chosen to buy a parcel that had no easements allowing them to leave, which would be entirely their own choice. The only other possibilities involve this person traveling to that location and necessarily creating an easement when they did so, thus keeping them from being trapped. The scenario Dun describes requires that someone be in a place without ever going to that place.

Bala October 31, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Yannick Verdyk,

Thanks for restarting the (hitherto fading) discussion on this blog in this manner.

In fact, while I originally thought the article is good, further thinking forced me to change my mind.

The reason I think the idea behind this article is incorrect is that it assumes pervasive irrational human behaviour in an uncoerced environment. Any rational and self-interested human being will be able to realise that securing an easement all around their own property is the best and only way of securing their own freedom of movement in and out of their own property without violating the property rights of others. That is all they can do. They need to operate on the hope (rather the confidence in human rationality and selfishness) that all others also see the obvious selfish reason for securing similar easements around their respective properties, thus securing a network of fully privately owned but freely accessible pathways that we can call a network of roads.

If we assume such rationality as being common among human beings, there is therefore a very selfish reason to secure easements around one’s own property.

The reason everyone on the hypothetical planet described in the article is likely to think thus is that in the final equilibrium, everyone is locked into their own property. The only exceptions are those that fall on the border between agglomerations of owned land and patches of unowned land. However, these people too face the prospect of being locked in once someone homesteads land currently unowned and bordering their own. If they are not aware of that risk and continue working as they currently are, they are either acting on the range of the moment or being plan irrational.

Thus, the article is guilty of ignoring a very basic aspect of human nature – the fact that humans are rational animals capable of thinking of their own long-range well-being and acting not just for the range of the moment but well beyond.

pbergn October 31, 2009 at 10:45 pm

The T. Ralph Kays’s argumentation is correct in its narrow Libertarian sense, solely focused on property rights…

Although he misses the main point of this article, where the author is trying to demonstrate that the mere property rights do not guarantee freedom and prosperity to the majority of the population in its classical sense: freedom to move, freedom to choose, freedom to exist, freedom to pursue happiness…

Here is why:

With only the emphasis on property rights, and given the inhomogeneous nature of property, and its interconnectedness, some owners of the property will have disproportionately greater advantage in bargaining power over the others, gradually resulting in the extreme polarization of the ownership, i.e. resulting in some owning large percentage of overall property, and others – “encircled” or trapped, in a sense that they are not able to make legal moves to preserve their existence without breaking the property laws of others. This situation will inevitably lead to violence, since those who are deprived of property ownership, and who are unable to leverage their situation via productive means, will inexorably resort to non-productive means such as violence.

It is easy to see that the hypothetical society on the quasi-Earth, where the property rights are sacrosanct no matter what, will quickly evolve into handful of large land-owners, with the majority of populace forced into serfdom by the basic necessity to earn subsistence…

This situation is very well known from the Medieval history, where various kings and land-lords owned large parcels of land (possibly very legitimately acquired by purchasing or sending discovery scouting expeditions into the unknown lands, and subsequently proclaiming as their own (homesteading in a way)), leaving all others, the less-fortunate ones no choice but to subscribe into the serfdom, or face the exile…

It is hard to imagine that a person born into serfdom can be called “free” in Libertarian sense, his or her only fault being simply not having any bargaining chips on the table (since most of the property around is already owned by the others, and this person has no chance to compete)…

T. Ralph Kays November 1, 2009 at 5:55 am

pbergn

Excuse me but I am not the one who missed the point of Duns article. Dun begins his description of this imaginary libertarian world by specifically eliminating the possibility of the actions you claim will result. The feudalism of the medieval era with its reliance on violence to establish and maintain that social system is clearly forbidden by Dun in his thought experiment. You are making a very common mistake in assuming that libertarian property rights are equated with property rights as coercive governments have historically defined them. Under a libertarian system kings would be recognised as the thieves and murderers that historically they have always been. Under libertarianism your description of someone “legitimately” acquiring land by sending out scouting expeditions to proclaim it theirs would simply be laughed at, no such claim would ever be recognised. To describe that as “homesteading in a way” is nothing short of ludicrous.
The major point that you and Dun both miss is that property rights means rights to all types of property. Both of you are describing a world where people have absolute property rights in land and no property rights in easements. Of course if you deny people the right to own easements there will be major problems, but libertarians do not limit property rights that way.
The problems you and Dun describe have been solved for at least 2,000 years through the common law application of easements as a property right.

Yannick Verdyck November 1, 2009 at 6:56 am

So you deny the fact that one can use his own property rights to make the life of my other fellow people more miserable.

I can -for instance- go to a market and by all the bread available with the deliberate intention of making it harder for other people to satisfy there basic needs (and destroy all the bread I had bought). Doing that I could quite clearly (theoretically) cleans the world of certain people I dislike.

You could -quite clearly- use property rights to make life of other people a hell. This is the exactly what Van Dun tries to points out here. In that sense he is right.

It is quiet easy to make up such examples. I personaly do not bother about the ongoing discussion wether this certain example is absolutely -in every possible way- correct. Such is not the point.

T. Ralph Kays November 1, 2009 at 9:59 am

That is another false example. Simply looking at the history of societies that abandoned private property rights should make that clear to even the most casual observer. Without exception the most prominent feature of such societies has always been widespread hunger.

T. Ralph Kays November 1, 2009 at 10:06 am

Yannick Verdyck

Do you realise that your last statement amounts to saying that you don’t care if your ideas are wrong, you are still going to believe them?

Yannick Verdyck November 1, 2009 at 11:55 am

I’m not saying(and I have not said) such a thing at all. I am in certainly in favor of building a society based on private property rights (an anarcho-kapitalist society).

But what I do reject, is the statement that “such a society would instantly become a “utopian” state in which no problems or conflicts would occur or continue to exist”. (And that is exactly the thesis that you are trying to defend here.)

The use of logic and reason plus a certain number of welldefined legal principles. Is in my honest opinion not applicable to infinity (that is to say in each and every (unimportant) situation that might occur in reality).

Man remains a social creature and is thus condemned to interact with other people. Cooperation (production going beyond indivudualist autarky) requires a certain degree of goodwill and understanding.

The entire concept of capitalism is founded on the principle of free social interaction.

I hope that in a libertarian (anarcho-kapitalist) society, you will not be nagging all day to me about each violation of your property rights committed by my housecat which happens to be walking around in the neighbourhood? (That is not to say that I am permitted to let my Bengalese tiger free to rampage freely on your private property ofcourse, but I do think the point is clear.)

Is that an unreasonable assumption? There is a difference between the fundamentalist attitude (like you and Van Dun are displaying here on the subject of private property rights). I am not interested in to “who is right”.

So in principle I agree to you and Van Dun. It al depends on the precise definitions and assumptions you make about reality. (Minor changes can make enormous differences in that respect.)

But such (logically consistent) discussions and conclusions are quiet pointless if you would try to use them to solve your problems in every day life.

pbergn November 1, 2009 at 1:34 pm

TO: T. Ralph Kays

Thanks for your response. I see your point…

It’s just there are two fundamental problems that property rights alone do not address:

1. Who and how these rights are going to be enforced and arbitrated? And if there is such a thing as “enforcement” in your ideal world, would there not be a conflict of interest among the enforcers? And if not, do we assume that all quasi-Earthlings are very disciplined and ideal?!

2. The inhomogeneous nature of the material resources and their interconnectedness will inexorably lead to uneven distribution of material goods among the members of the society given sufficient time from its original evenly distributed state, even if (and perhaps because of) they are strictly adhering to property rights alone. This trend is exponential in its nature and self-feeds via positive feedback, which in an electrical circuit would have resulted to a surge, necessarily followed by the overwhelming of the system, leading to a highly imbalanced state with possibility of a complete shutdown…

Now, I agree with you that the property rights are fundamental to freedom and must be upheld, but the question this article is trying to raise – is whether they are sufficient by themselves, or whether they have to be accompanied by a set of well-defined exceptions and other guiding principles guaranteeing fundamental human rights to the members of the society, such as right to exist, to move freely, to have a fair share of natural resources such as air, fresh water, forests, mountains, oceans, be free from unreasonable cruel punishment and persecution, have rights to express themselves freely, etc, etc.…

I think the author of this article is trying to point out the non-material, thus subjective, dimension of the intuitive notion of “freedom” that each of us, human beings, subconsciously or consciously cherish and strive for…

Thank you for upholding an intelligent and civilized dialog. I appreciate it in any case…

T. Ralph Kays November 1, 2009 at 2:10 pm

pbergn

I like your response and I would suggest that you read Murray Rothbards work on how a free society would handle law enforcement.
Your second point is one that many people express and again would probably best be addressed by reading Rothbards work on economics although Mises, F.A. Hayek and several other austrian economists would also solve these issues for you.
I would like to address a couple of points quickly.
I do not believe that there was ever a time when material goods were evenly distributed, differences between people and their condition in the real world are constant and inevitable in any society. That such a trend is exponential in nature is a wholly unproven point and I would encourage you to see if you can prove it. But I warn you, that specific point is addressed extremely well by austrian economists.
Finally I would point out that central to libertarian thought is the recognition that human rights and property rights are in fact the same thing.

T. Ralph Kays November 1, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Yannick Verdyk

I am sorry to be the one to point this out but the last sentence of your latest blog says that rational thought has no place in real life.
Why would anyone bother to have a discussion with someone who believes being rational is a waste of time?

Yannick Verdyck November 1, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Praxeology has an enormous affinity with mathematics, the mathematical method is enormously powerfull and offers us many tools.

But it is a tool to understand reality, not reality itself. Concepts like “justice” and “law” only exist in our minds. Not in “real” life, they are concepts, principles which allow us to solve problems. They offer a variety of logically consistent ways to reason, but they are not reality itself.

Rationality, logic is not omnipotent, this has been proven by Gödel.

Look for “Gödel’s completeness theorem” on wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method#Relationship_with_mathematics

The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. — Albert Einstein

How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? — Albert Einstein

There is only one thing which is more unreasonable than the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics, and this is the unreasonable ineffectiveness of mathematics in biology. — Alexandre Borovik

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unreasonable_Effectiveness_of_Mathematics_in_the_Natural_Sciences

So if you wish to insinuate that I totally reject rationalism, you are false. Most of my thinking is rationalistic, but not into infinity.

So claiming that I think that rationality is a total waste of time is just ridiculous.

T. Ralph Kays November 1, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Yannick Verdyck

Interesting, can you not read what you write? Or do you believe words have no meaning?

Yannick Verdyck November 1, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I’m not interested in a intellectual Stalingrad or Verdun right now(I have neither time, nor energy to do so).

I was once like you too I suppose. Keep on looking, never think you know everything and take time to look at the different angles.

Bala November 1, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Yannick Verdyk,

I think Einstein was wrong. Mathematics originates in man’s never-ending work of measuring the world around him. After all, what is Mathematics if not the “science of measurement”? Measurement always presupposes measurement of something. In this case, that happens to be the real world.

No one is claiming that logic or rationality is omnipotent. However, as human beings, rationality is the only tool we have to comprehend the world around us. Either we are rational and human or irrational and non-human. To act irrationally is to deliberately act to harm oneself.

Yannick Verdyck November 1, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Mathematics is not “the science of measurement”. Mathematics is more a kind of abstract-thinking-game so to speak. One must not confuse “high-school mathematics” -so to speak- with real academic mathematics (logic, analysis, algebra, ….). I’m not talking about statistics which are a special case of a special case of mathematics (statistics is one of the most misused mathematical instruments in science).

The link below is actually quite good (came to read it just now).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unreasonable_Effectiveness_of_Mathematics_in_the_Natural_Sciences
For instance…

“Hamming gives four examples of nontrivial physical phenomena he believes arose from the mathematical tools employed and not from the intrinsic properties of physical reality.

“Hamming proposes that Galileo discovered the law of falling bodies not by experimenting, but by simple but careful thinking. Hamming imagines Galileo as having engaged in the following thought experiment (Hamming calls it “scholastic reasoning”):”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_mathematics

And the link above offers another inside in the controverse, although some of the points made there are complete nonsense.

Yannick Verdyck November 1, 2009 at 5:51 pm

I think I consider myself adherent to the camp of the “formalists” for now.

Some of the greatest mathematical minds in history have been puzzled by these questions, so it is not so surprisingly that a clear simple answer is not available.

Bala November 2, 2009 at 3:17 am

Yannick Verdyck,

I can see why we differ so widely in our conclusions. If you really believe that Mathematics is just a set of abstractions, just ask yourself a simple question. What is the concept “1″? The very concept “number” is an abstract concept. However, any number is an abstraction from reality. A number refers to the quantity of a certain unit that has been identified as being distinct from its surroundings. You could say “4 men” or “3 women” or “5 children”, but in each case, the number refers to a concrete number of units of the type being observed. In fact, that is why 3+4 is always 7. 3 men and 4 men together can only form a group of 7 men. That’s also why we have the saying “You can’t add apples and oranges”.

All Mathematics ultimately has its roots in reality. The sole purpose of Mathematics is the measurement of the real world. Higher Mathematics describes a number of nuances involved in the interactions of quantities, but ultimately has its roots in reality.

Yannick Verdyck November 2, 2009 at 4:33 am

@ Bala

“I think Einstein was wrong.”

I think that’s a pretty ambitious claim to make, If Einstein was wrong, and you are right, then why haven’t you figured out string theory yet?

I honestly don’t know for sure, you can’t know everything, but life just ain’t that simple, clear cut.

With a al do respect, but mathematics is not about “counting”. The origins of natural numbers finds its roots theory of sets.

And 1 meter, 1 yard, what kind of measurement do you have in that department. I have never seen a definition that gives me a 1 meter out of mathematics that always allows me to find the right length (or “measure”) so you want. When we need a “unity”, we just pick one (at random).

How “much” is 1 meter?

Gil November 2, 2009 at 6:10 am

Indeed pbergn it’s a cop-out to say all Monarchs stole their way to wealth or things would have been considerably different if they never did.

After all, if a new continent was found there’d be a land rush, the new continent is filled up with l’il sovereign landowners, some succeed in their endeavours whist others don’t and those who don’t will sell their land to those who have succeeded thus the continent experiences fewer and fewer private landowners, most people keep wealth in the family thus private landowners will bequeath their land to their children thus creating an aristocracy, to help unify the rules between fellow aristocracies the aristocrats create a federation council and vote one aristocrat to be a central figurehead who acts as an arbitrator between debates with fellow aristocrats (i.e. the early feudal era where a king was a central figure but had no real special powers over fellow lords).

It seem as though what might happen in Anarchtopia will follow pretty much what already has happened. Maybe Libertarians feel society went off the rails when aristocratic wars see the emergence of an absolute monarch and the serfs who have no respect for property rights overthrew the monarchies and replace it with Socialistic structure where power is held by a council and the members are determined by the workers themselves otherwise known as Democracy.

T. Ralph Kays November 2, 2009 at 11:44 am

Gil

Interesting post, but I would like to hear you explain why events would necessarily play out the way you have described. It may be possible that they would play out that way, but why is that the only scenario you consider? If you would bother to investigate the libertarian position I think you might be surprised to find that it consists mostly of describing a way to achieve a social structure that avoids precisely the scenario you describe.
I would also challenge you to identify even one monarch whose wealth was not based on the forcible appropriation of other peoples property, in other words theft.

Jay Lakner November 2, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Bala said:
**********
I think Einstein was wrong. Mathematics originates in man’s never-ending work of measuring the world around him. After all, what is Mathematics if not the “science of measurement”? Measurement always presupposes measurement of something. In this case, that happens to be the real world.
**********

Mathematics is not a science. Mathematics is a language.

The usefulness of Mathematics is that there are no ambiguities, no double-meanings and no contradictions. Therefore logical reasoning can occur with exact precision and without bias or underlying false assumptions.

Unfortunately, one can only reason in the language of mathematics using known quantities. Hence mathematics can not be used for the logical reasoning involved in Austrian Economics because we cannot quantify the unknown constantly changing subjective values of individuals in society.
Therefore we have no choice but to reason logically in another language. (In my case English)

Mathematics is the perfect language to use when we take measurements. Logical reasoning becomes so much simpler to perform. Complex calculations become extremely simple if expressed in the language of mathematics.

But this does not make Mathematics the “science of measurement” as you say. Mathematics is simply the most practical known language to accurately express measurements with.

Mathematics is a language. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bala November 2, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Yannick Verdyck,

” And 1 meter, 1 yard, what kind of measurement do you have in that department. ”

Ask yourself the question “1 meter or 1 yard. Of what?”

” How “much” is 1 meter? ”

Once again, ask yourself the question “How much is 1 foot?” and the answer will be obvious.

The point is that you are confusing the methodological and epitemological aspects of Mathematics. Methodologically, Mathematics is an abstract science. Epistemologically, it is the “science of measurement”.

” The origins of natural numbers finds its roots theory of sets. ”

Try doing this with pre-schoolers. I know how that works because I deal with them. Incidentally, you are (probably inadvertently) debunking all the fantastic work done by Maria Montessori in the teaching of Mathematics to little children.

Bala November 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Jay Lakner,

” Unfortunately, one can only reason in the language of mathematics using known quantities. Hence mathematics can not be used for the logical reasoning involved in Austrian Economics because we cannot quantify the unknown constantly changing subjective values of individuals in society. ”

What you are saying is essentially that measurement becomes impossible or perpetually incorrect in Economics because one cannot fix a standard of measurement that can be applied to all objects being measured, i.e., acting humans.

What you said reminded me of the movie Matrix where the human being making choices is described as a singularity by the Architect of the Matrix who believes in the omnipotence of mathematical modelling.

Jay Lakner November 2, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Bala I think you need to have a look at your definition of “measurement”.

I am saying logical reasoning is impossible with the language of mathematics in the field of economics. There is a big difference between measurement and reasoning.

I can measure things using English too… that table is very long compared to that other table, my finger nails are very short compared to most people’s finger nails, my computer is quite slow compared to my friend’s computer… but as you can see it’s quite a poor language to use for that purpose.

To be accurate, measurement requires mathematics. But that does not mean that mathematics is exclusively the science of measurement.
Mathematics is used every day in a non-measurement way.
If I have $30 and I spent $18 on a meal then I will have ($30 – $18) = $12 left to spend on my lunch tomorrow.
I am not “measuring” anything here. I am using the language of mathematics to logically deduce if buying the meal I want now will allow me to also purchase the meal I want tomorrow.
This is not measurement. This is reasoning.

Jay Lakner November 2, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Another example:
When Newton developed the concept of a force, he defined F=ma (Force equals mass multiplied by acceleration) and he defined acceleration as the rate of change of velocity, ie a = v/t (acceleration = velocity divided by time).

A constant force F applied over a period of time t is Ft (Force multiplied by time). If you now use logical deduction to see what happens you get the following:
F=ma
F=mv/t
Ft=mvt/t
Ft=mv
Ft/m=v
Therefore, assuming the mass is initially at rest, one can conclude that if you apply a constant force F for a time period t to a fixed mass m, the mass will be travelling at velocity v.
I am not “measuring” the velocity v. I am logically deducing it. If the fundamental assumptions are true then the mathematical conclusion must also be true. It does not matter what units of measurements I use as long as the same units are used consistently.
I could use units of time called qwerts and units of mass called yoips and units of distance called hilks. Then as long as I measure velocity as hilks per qwerts and Force as yoip hilks per qwerts squared, then the equation will always work regardless of the amounts assigned to qwerts, yoips and hilks.

What was Newton measuring here? He wasn’t measuring anything. He was simply using the language of algebra to arrive at logical conclusions to his fundamental assumptions.

(Note: I greatly simplified the example above for clarity. I felt it wasn’t necessary to go into calculus to illustrate my point)

Yannick Verdyck November 2, 2009 at 2:16 pm

@ Jay Lakner

“Unfortunately, one can only reason in the language of mathematics using known quantities.”

This is simply not true. Logic(and not only logic) is not about quantities…it really is about playing abstract “entities”. In mathematics, I really have a professional edge on you guys, but I even so, I don’t claim, that such and such is the absolute truth about mathematics (for instance formalism). I do not rule out the possibility that I even might be wrong.

Stop raping the science of mathematics all the time… it is a wonderfull tool, like a kind of Swiss Knife, you use the specific substool of mathemtics which helps you the best in the specific task you wish to accomplish.

Mathematics has an enormous repertoire of different tools to offer us. It is not because you or Bala know only very little about mathematics(and believe me you both don’t know not even one tiny little fraction of the different kinds of tools en tecnics there are out there), that this implies that there is nothing more then your eye can see.

You guys are simply not qualified to judge on this specific matter.

Hint: Only make absolute statements about those things you really know well.

Yannick Verdyck November 2, 2009 at 2:21 pm

It is not because of the fact that Newton used mathematics(an only tiny little fraction of it) for a “measurement-problem”, that mathematics is all about “measurement-problems”.

It is not because of the fact that monkeys can ride bicycles, that only monkeys can ride bicycles.

It does not take a genius to figure that out I think.

Yannick Verdyck November 2, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Newton used in this specific instance mathematics(and only a very very specific part of it) as a tool to solve his specific problem in physics.

Mathematics is not about physics.

(By the way, algebra is not about “x + y = z or cos² x + sin² x = 1″).

If you wan’t to get an impression of what it’s possibilities are… check it out. You can wander around for the rest of you’re entire life, not having to see even one subject twice.

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/

Jay Lakner November 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm

“Unfortunately, one can only reason in the language of mathematics using known quantities.”

Yes Yannick you’re right. This statement is very poorly worded. I see and completely agree with your objection to it.

I not sure how to state what I actually meant by that statement. “known quantities” is certainly not my intended meaning.

Do you understand my intended meaning of that statement?

I wasn’t really prepared when I entered this discussion and typed my post in haste.

My apologies.

I’ll have a longer think about it and reword that statement in a more correct way (but later … gotta sleep now).

P.S. Yannick, maybe you should tone down the arrogance a bit … I know a lot more about mathematics than you think.

P.P.S. While typing this post I just saw your latest post. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by it. I am clearly arguing that Mathematics is NOT the science of measurement … but it looks like you’re criticising me.

Yannick Verdyck November 2, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Sometime I get a little emotional when people “stigmatize” Mathematics.

One should not look to mathematics when looking for scientific mistakes, but rather in ourselves, mankind, which has all to often made terrible mistakes and has time and time again tried to misused mathematics to cover those mistakes up.

Jay Lakner November 2, 2009 at 3:01 pm

**********
Mathematics is not about physics
**********

I never said it was.

**********
(By the way, algebra is not about “x + y = z or cos² x + sin² x = 1″).
**********

Algebra is the study of the rules of operations. Both examples you mentioned are specific examples of algebra.
But is there any real reason for me to explain the generalisations of addition and multiplication to illustrate my point that mathematics is NOT the “science of measurement”?

I find it is better to stick to simple examples with simple language if I have a point of view I wish to communicate. After all this is a website about Austrian economics, not complex mathematics.

Michael A. Clem November 2, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Praxeology has an enormous affinity with mathematics,
Is it just me, or is this the first time Austrian Economics has been accused of being too mathematical??
As for mathematics, I may not have gotten beyond calculus, but I have developed a theory about math–maybe you more knowledgeable mathematicians would like to critique it: essentially, mathematics is a system of logic. Thus, a common statement like 2 + 2 = 4 is an analytical statement: it is true because it has been defined so, as the numbers and the equation have been derived.
However, like any logical system, its application in reality is very much dependent upon the premises used as mathematical input. We can say that 2 apples + 2 apples equals 4 apples, and nobody will seriously disagree. But if we try to add 2 apples to 2 cans of applesauce, we’re not really going to be sure what that equals, because we have not defined or found the relationship between apples and applesauce, and don’t have a common unit to work with.
Thus, a logical system like math can and is indeed be very valuable in the real world, as long as it is applied properly. And this is the essence of the Austrian critique of mainstream economics’ use of mathematics–it is often based upon a fallacious premise, like Keynesian consumerism, or it’s mixing apples and applesauce, and not really telling us anything useful.

Yannick Verdyck November 2, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Indeed, the problem is not the mathematics, but it is the way how it is applied in mainstream economics that is completely fallacious.

As for this:

“But is there any real reason for me to explain the generalisations of addition and multiplication to illustrate my point that mathematics is NOT the “science of measurement”?”

Try P-adic numbers, FiniteGroups, Coding Theory, Sudoku, Rubic-cube, Graph Theory, Ring Theory, Fractional Ideal, Manifolds, Quaternions, Set Theory, infintiy, …

What those things have to do with “measurement” remains a big enigma to me.

First you start out assuming that some axioms are true. Then by using logic you can arive to certain conclusions and statements. Some statement is mathematically correct because you have a proof for it, not because you can “measure” it. You know that your conclusion must be “true” if the fact is given that your assumptions were right.

That’s why Newton was not “really right” with his law of gravity. His assumptions concerning reality proved to be false…

Bala November 3, 2009 at 12:35 am

Jay Lakner,

” I am saying logical reasoning is impossible with the language of mathematics in the field of economics. ”

I agree with you completely on this, but see no need to revisit my concept of measurement. I was just trying to say why I think you are right. I was just identifying the point that human action is not amenable to mathematical measurement because of the inherent subjective nature of value and the fact that it all starts with “choice” which does not have to and probably will never be the same for all people.

Hope that clarifies.

Bala November 3, 2009 at 12:51 am

Yannick Verdyck,

” First you start out assuming that some axioms are true. ”

Please… I am not disagreeing with you that methodologically, Mathematics is a set of abstract ideas. However, my point is that epistemologically, Mathematics evolves from our attempts to understand the world around us. I am just saying that the axioms of Mathematics often lie in reality and that we try to grasp that reality through our conceptual faculty. For instance, take the simple concept of the Axiom of Identity.

1 = 1, not because I randomly choose it to be but because in the real world, 1 apple remains 1 apple (unless of course something happens/is done to it).

There is also the fundamental point ‘What is 1?’. It is a concept of quantity evolved because man can see that one of the differences between objects in his surroundings is in terms of quantity.

I am not knowledgeable in any of the areas of Mathematics you have identified, but would wager that the source of the validity of the axioms would become visible in the linkages these areas have to other fundamental areas of Maths or in the application of these areas to reality.

That apart, let me also attempt to bring this discussion back to the original point. I was just saying that rational people acting in their long-range self-interest will clearly see securing easements on their own property is the best way to advance their own Liberty without violating that of others. That’s what, in my opinion, makes the article fundamentally incorrect. It assumes a scenario in which none of the land owners on the hypothetical planet is rational enough to see what is obvious even to me.

Yannick Verdyck November 3, 2009 at 5:41 am

“Mathematics evolves from our attempts to understand the world around us.”

No, it does not.

“Mathematicians also engage in pure mathematics, or mathematics for its own sake, without having any application in mind, although practical applications for what began as pure mathematics are often discovered later.”

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