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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11305/what-we-can-know-about-the-world/

What We Can Know About the World

December 23, 2009 by

Because man has always gone amiss in his attempts to bridge the gulf between mind and matter, he must adopt a dualistic approach — or methodological dualism. FULL ARTICLE by Hans F. Sennholz


Matt H. December 23, 2009 at 9:39 am

I have long thought that as a general rule of thumb, statists tend towards materialism (the mind reduces to the physical brain) while libertarians tend towards classic Cartesian Dualism (the mind is separate from the physical world) and even overt spiritualism. I think there are many interesting possible explanations for this. To some extent, someone who defies the rule-of-thumb, a materialist libertarian for example, would strike me as confused and have some ‘splaining to do.

In any event I am intrigued that Mises discussed these more philosophical issues. I will have to check out Theory & History. If only LvMI published in the Palm Doc PDB format…

ABR December 23, 2009 at 11:44 am

The material world is a theory that can never be proven nor disproven. All I have are my thoughts, emotions and sensations. Beyond that is pure speculation.

Brad December 23, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Matt H,

I am the complete opposite. As soon as one posits that they are removed from the material world – that there is an existence or reality outside the material – then that is how we get the fertile soil that leads to Statism.

To me the fact that I have an ability to have self regard, while absurd, gives me the natural right to exist as I please. I make a concession, to others that I deem are experiencing the same thing, that I will leave them in peace so long as they leave me in peace. And that is pretty much the sum of it.

It is people who contrive some sort of dual system that get confused. They tend to fill the void between the material world that exists and the world as their own mind sees it with superstitions and contrived cosmological nonsense. It is the preservations of these constructions, these comforting blankets, that lead people to crack other people over the skull for not buying into their constructs.

Again, as I see it, there is only one material reality. Out of this material is an absurd abilty to have self indentification. But that doesn’t mean that there is a moral equivalence or irrelevance, in fact it is the complete opposite. The fact that I think and therefore I am that justifies itself alone. I don’t justify myself because I buy into someone else’s cosmological dualism.

ABR December 23, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Berkeley had it right: Esse est percipi. To be is to be perceived.

Materialism, objectivism: bunk.

Inquisitor December 23, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Bear in mind Mises is primarily an advocate of methodological dualism. He thought our knowledge was/is too limited to ever decisively prove materialism/dualism in an ontological sense one way or the other and that at any rate subjective experience will not allow us to peer around it. At least this is how it seems in HA and UFOES.

DAF December 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm

ABR: “The material world is a theory that can never be proven nor disproven”.

Are we to take this seriously?

If so, all philosophical niceties aside, let alone epistemological idealism, the simple stubbing of a big toe on the dining room table leg will “prove” the material nature of the world to each and every one who is so fortunate to have a material table and a material toe in his house. End of “proof”.

Back to reading Mises.

ABR December 23, 2009 at 3:34 pm

DAF: Samuel Johnson offered the same sort of ‘proof’ but he used a rock instead. All it proved was his own foolishness.

Sam would have had an unpleasant sensation had he kicked the rock. Thus, the next time he had the sensation of seeing a rock, he might prove wiser and not instruct his leg to kick it.

All of that proves a material world? Bunk. The material world is a useful supposition, that is all. And perhaps not so useful when one wades into Einstein’s relativity theory and the quantum mechanics.

DAF December 23, 2009 at 5:44 pm


“Concepts of ‘materials’ are formed by observing the differences in the constituent materials of entities. Materials exist only in the form of specific entities, such as a nugget of gold, a plank of wood, a drop or an ocean of water. The concept of ‘gold”, for instance, is formed by isolating gold objects from all others, then abstracting and retaining the material, the gold, and omitting the measurements of the objects (or of the alloys) in which gold may exist”. Ayn Rand, IOE, 1970, p. 20.

Beyond those “material” entities, objects, substances, particles (Q physics), etc. there is, of course, no separate “material world”. It’s just a simple, yet broadly encompassing (modal) concept that refers to the vast terrain of different and similar objects made of similar or different “materials” discoverable by an “immaterial” mind in a “material” human body in the “world”.

More important for this blog, than sophomoric linguistic analysis like this, are the rammifications of the non-existence of the “material” “gold” as the “world” standard for monetary expansion policy. Namely “world”-wide recession and currency debasement.

For this? As I said, back to reading Mises.

Mike December 23, 2009 at 6:09 pm

I am an unrepentant materialist libertarian. So now exactly what “‘splainin’” do I have to do again? The fruits of capitalism speak for themselves.

ABR December 23, 2009 at 6:14 pm

DAF: I suggest that, in addition to reading von Mises, you also read Bertrand Russell’s “Problems in Philosophy” — in particular his discussion of sense-data.

People typically confuse sense-data with the ‘objects’ they suppose effect that data. Once one has it clear in one’s mind the distinction, the impossibility of proving or disproving an external ‘material’ world becomes obvious.

billwald December 23, 2009 at 6:57 pm

“Millions today enthusiastically support policies that aim at the substitution of planning by an authority for autonomous planning by each individual. They are longing for slavery.”

So if I build a house I am longing for freedom but if I buy condo I am longing for slavery?

DAF December 23, 2009 at 7:25 pm


“In order to know anything at all about the table [geez, the table he stubbed his toe on earlier?], we must know truths connecting it with things with which we have acquaintance (the sense-data we are aware of)”. Bertrand Russell, Problems of Philosophy, Oxford, 1959, p. 47.

Either in the phenomenal mind field (Russell) or the human existential/praxeological field (Mises) – a table is a table is a table. But as Rand would testify, they are usually made out of “a plank of wood”. One of those bits of “material” that make up the “world”.

Fallon December 23, 2009 at 7:41 pm

A more apt analogy would be public housing vs. condo association/building own house.

Seattle December 23, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Materialism is a complicated subject, but here’s a simplified version of how I like to look at it.

When you stub your toe on a rock, does it honestly make any difference whether that rock is “real” or not? For the purposes of our minds processing the information it receives, so long as two experiences are exactly the same, then they’re the same thing. We can substitute one or the other and it makes no difference.

This was Mises’s point I think. Is it possible to determine whether someone is acting in a way because they “choose” to be, or because an external factor is “forcing” them to? It is not.

John Shepard December 24, 2009 at 8:50 am

Even idiots exists in the material world.

Cloyd G Hinkle December 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I very much enjoyed reading one of the linked articles in the December 23rd blog, Libertarianism in Ancient China. All too often I have notice a tendancy for writers to roll in the mud with people in positions of political power, and with the supporters of ideologies which form their power base. This artificially elevates those in power and gives credence to their claims of power. The truth is timless and does not alter with the march or time. Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Pao Ching-yen, and Ssu-ma Ch’ien told the people the truth. They did so in a way that everyday people could understand. The truth will set us free. Debating fine points
of false ideologies, while entertaing, will not.

Timothy December 27, 2009 at 2:48 pm

The flag on a mailbox is a form of perceptual organ, a marker of changes in the environment; not altogether unlike motion-sensing neurons which flag the occurrence of movement in the visual field. To epistemic dualists, this is a problematic similarity. They wast their finite brain resources showing that mailboxes and minds belong to two fundamentally distinct epistemic realms.

The scientific content of our knowledge suggests that such functions are causally similar. This is one of the insights emphasized by cybernetics. The point is not that they are identical but that they are continuous, and susceptible to the same principles of operation.

It’s reasonable to admit many methods of knowledge, crudely called “methodological dualism” – the retina and the mailbox are different sensory organs. But Methodological dualism in no way commits us to agnosticism. Any fool or wise man knows the difference.

It is only philosophical dabblers who tread carefully around illusions and stub their toes on real stones.

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