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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13484/methodological-dualism-debate/

Methodological Dualism Debate

August 4, 2010 by

Here’s a one-on-one debate I just had over methodological dualism with Community forum member “Neoclassical”, a fan of logical positivism. And here’s a “sidelines” thread where members are discussing the debate. I would like to thank “Neoclassical” for a friendly, stimulating discussion.

{ 139 comments }

Bruce Koerber August 4, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Grayson,
You were very patient and thorough. The ‘give away’ indicating that the ‘neoclassical’ person was not going to be able to understand methodological dualism was his bold assertion that humans do not have free will. With that as a non-negotiable point the chance of convincing him about the concepts in the subjectivist methodology was very low indeed. You did well and maybe he will have learned enough to begin to break away from the grip of materialism.

Iain August 4, 2010 at 8:40 pm

“If we enlarged a human brain, Grayson, and took a tour within it: we would find the electrochemical mechanics of neurons, synapses, and so on. If we enlarged it even more, we would find the movement of molecules.

I contend that we would only see mechanistic, determined movements. There would be no break in causality. One movement triggered the next.”

You would never see the conscious thinking agent though.

Bruce Koerber August 4, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Subjectivists don’t need to dissect a human brain to understand human action! Will the ‘neoclassical’ person volunteer to be the guinea pig or does he want power so he can select who his guinea pigs will be?

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm

The thinking agent is made up of the neurons the same way a hand is made up of 5 fingers and a palm. They’re both different levels of analysis of the same thing.

Abhilash Nambiar August 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I concur there is no break in causality. Teleology therefore can be considered a subset of causality. Having said that, I recognize the teleology which is an emergent outcome from complex causal interactions as a phenomenon can be studied in and off it self.

scineram August 6, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Lain, are you really Lain? lol

Slim934 August 4, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I liked his example of the Amazon gift card; the one where someone chooses to willfully impoverish themselves by 4 dollars. The best part was Grayson’s response. =)

He seemed to not really understand that the whole underlying basis of empiricism is itself based on an a priori notion. He consistently claimed not to hold to a prior reasoning, yet without the a priori notion of constancy empiricism completely and totally falls apart. It tells you even less about the world if you try to assert that the constancy principle does not exist (since it is a prior).

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 6:40 am

I am a “fan” of logical positivism, but not an adherent. I want to make that clear. I more fully endorse Quinean empiricism.

And, yes, I deny all a priori knowledge. If “constancy” is a priori, then what isn’t? Is “red”? Is “solidity”? I don’t even believe mathematics is a priori; I subscribe to the school of thought known as “mathematical empiricism.”

The point is simple: concepts develop in response to observations–many become far removed from that periphery and become very basic to our thinking, but that doesn’t mean there is a transcendental (in the Kantian sense) realm of knowledge.

Iain, that’s what I was addressing: the “conscious thinking agent” is a theoretical belief, nothing more.

Bruce Koerber August 5, 2010 at 7:45 am

A dismal view of reality! The next time you dream convince yourself that it is a physical thing!

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 7:58 am

Bruce, “dismal”? Isn’t that adjective reserved for economics?

I’m not sure what you mean that I should “convince [myself] that [a dream] is a physical thing.” If anything, I am attempting to dismantle some of our central dreams: that selves exist, that motion can be willed indeterminately, that “a priori” knowledge is wholly detached from an empirical process.

Inquisitor August 5, 2010 at 9:01 am

“I am attempting to dismantle some of our central dreams:”
Extreme arrogance to begin with.

“that selves exist,”
Is not a dream.

” that motion can be willed indeterminately,”

Who said it is?

” that “a priori” knowledge is wholly detached from an empirical process.”

Who said it is?

Maybe you should let Grayson teach you rather than debate you, because your understanding of the Austrian method is very, very weak.

Russ the Apostate August 6, 2010 at 3:03 pm

By saying “I am attempting to dismantle the dream that selves exist”, aren’t you implicitly assuming a self (an “I”) that is attempting to do the dismantling?

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Russ the Apostate, I will admit that my use of ordinary language contributes to a distorted, albeit commonsensical, conception of the world. Here, pragmatism reigns. Scientifically, selves are rubbish, merely “the user illusion” as one researcher dubbed it.

Inquisitor August 5, 2010 at 9:06 am

“And, yes, I deny all a priori knowledge. If “constancy” is a priori, then what isn’t? ”

Then all the worse for empiricism tbh, and indeed all human knowledge. There is no getting around this one. If the constancy principle is not assumed and the a priori principle of induction is not assumed, you’ve no leg to stand on. Absolutely no epistemic justification in moving from one piece of data to conclusions about another. You just experience sensations, and NOTHING more. You can try worm yourself out of this by musing about colours or solidity but it’s not going to help you with this problem.

“The point is simple: concepts develop in response to observations–many become far removed from that periphery and become very basic to our thinking, but that doesn’t mean there is a transcendental (in the Kantian sense) realm of knowledge.”

Then give me an “empirical” justification of constancy and induction that does not presuppose the concepts in the process of justifying them.

“Iain, that’s what I was addressing: the “conscious thinking agent” is a theoretical belief, nothing more”

Then who is making these arguments? You may impress other people here not very knowledgeable of philosophy but to me you seem like a rank amateur who’s just begun to read some arguments, has not properly digested them (in fact your very frequent references to wikipedia and other sources further compounds this belief) and worse yet your understanding of the Austrian method is full of holes. Why are you not instead taking the time to bolster it by reading methodological texts within the school?

Amanojack August 6, 2010 at 7:10 am

“You just experience sensations, and NOTHING more.”

What other type of experience would you posit, if it is not to count as a sensation? If it is not a sensation, how would you know about it or be aware of it? In what possible sense could you say you “experience” it at all?

Inquisitor August 6, 2010 at 10:35 am

I mean you experience a mish-mash of sensations, colours etc. You cannot even treat them as data, you cannot make inferences regarding patterns in them (since induction itself is an a priori principle and you also need the assumption of the constancy principle for it to hold, as well as the LNC to realise something is a datum as opposed to being and not being a datum.) So you experience sensations, but that’s it. It is like being an infant.

Amanojack August 6, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Ah I see. But conscious inferences are also sensations, for the same reason I mentioned above.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I don’t even mind if you want us to assume a priori knowledge. I’ll go ahead and do so.

But, then, where does such “knowledge” come from? Our minds? They are contingent upon the evolved nature of human biology, and are thus still susceptible to skepticism (thus, there is still no resolute grounding for “absolute” certainty).

P.S. But, to be clear, I would appreciate you explaining the nature of a priori knowledge; do all sense-enabled creatures have the same a priori capacities we do?

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Iain, that’s what I was addressing: the “conscious thinking agent” is a theoretical belief, nothing more.

Just because the human brain is made of neurons doesn’t mean we don’t think, any more than our bodies being made of atoms means we don’t exist.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Seattle, the human brain performs a physical activity that can be called “thinking”; it can also be called computation. The point is, when you insert a theoretical construct (“a self can willfully develop thoughts”), then you disengage from another viewpoint (“trillions of cells within the skull are processing information causally and mechanistically”). One perspective might be more useful than the other in certain contexts, but one cannot deny the theoretical nature of the perspective.

Ryan August 5, 2010 at 8:05 am

If all action is mechanistic, then what on Earth compelled Neoclassical to engage in such a debate? His morning coffee? His early childhood? There has never been any attempt at explaining why similar stimuli result in such wildly different human responses. Indeed, there can never really be any explanation for this. There are so many variables involved that one could never control enough of them to allow for a credible scientific experiment on even one of them.

For this reason, I find it preposterous that anyone could take themselves seriously in making the claim that there is no free will. Such a claim is illogical and unscientific. No wonder these folks believe praxeology and a priori reasoning are governed by biased predispositions – their entire view of epistemology is such!

The phrase “Mystics of Muscle” comes to mind.

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 3:05 pm

If all action is mechanistic, then what on Earth compelled Neoclassical to engage in such a debate?

Easy, the mechanics did.

There has never been any attempt at explaining why similar stimuli result in such wildly different human responses. Indeed, there can never really be any explanation for this. There are so many variables involved that one could never control enough of them to allow for a credible scientific experiment on even one of them.

It’s called cognitive science. I’m not defending the positivists here but just because the causes of motivations are irrelevant for economics doesn’t mean they’re unknowable.

Ryan August 6, 2010 at 8:25 am

They are unknowable in the sense that Neoclassical means, i.e. in the sense that you can deconstruct a series of chemical reactions and find motives contained within.

It’s an attractive prospect when considering the human brain, but we need not take it that far. DNA molecules’ reprpoduction is a volitional act that is equally mysterious to science. Why a cluster of amino acides “lives” while a cluster of hydrogen and oxygen merely oozes is at the root of this difference of opinion. Cognitive science can provide no clues here. There are insufficient degrees of freedom to conduct a scientifically legitimate analysis of the topic.

I respect that you and others will likely disagree with this point, but the take-home message is that believing that cognitive science can explain these chemical reactions is every bit the leap of faith that believing otherwise is. With respect to Neoclassical, we can see why he accuses the Austrians of begging the question – because he himself does so unwittingly.

Seattle August 6, 2010 at 9:13 am

They are unknowable in the sense that Neoclassical means, i.e. in the sense that you can deconstruct a series of chemical reactions and find motives contained within.

Well of course not! You don’t take apart a brick and expect to find a wall, do you?

DNA molecules’ reprpoduction is a volitional act that is equally mysterious to science. Why a cluster of amino acides “lives” while a cluster of hydrogen and oxygen merely oozes is at the root of this difference of opinion. Cognitive science can provide no clues here. There are insufficient degrees of freedom to conduct a scientifically legitimate analysis of the topic.

You kinda lost me there. How is the reproduction of a DNA molecule volitional?

Amino acids “live” because life is amino acids. There’s nothing in your body that determines whether you’re alive or not other than the state of various molecules and the reactions between them.

Ryan August 6, 2010 at 9:42 am

Well, we more or less agree at this point, but what I’m getting at is that the reproduction of DNA is neither an accident, nor some inherent chemical property of DNA. It’s not as if the sky is blue and DNA multiplies. It’s not a chemical fact. On the contrary, it is still a fundamentally unexplained property of life.

If you contend that we will one day trace this property to physics, that is every bit the leap of faith that the opposite contention – that we will trace this property to metaphysics – is. Mises was content to observe that it is currently unknowable and irrelevant to praxeology, and I agree.

But I do occasionally have to point out that this kind of speculation is never truly scientific, even if it uses scientific language like “atoms” and “molecules.” Until we actually unveil a scientific discovery, the hope of a hypothetical future scientific discovery is the same kind of wishful thinking expressed by religion or children who read comic books.

Inquisitor August 6, 2010 at 10:41 am

Incidentally, this is exactly the stance eliminativists take, like the Churchwells. That one day science will disprove the existence of the mind, that as it progresses it will displace it like it has many other beliefs in our past etc. IOW, it’s purely hypothetical.

Seattle August 6, 2010 at 11:22 am

Perhaps we never will be able to completely explain the reproduction of a DNA molecule as the sum of the properties of its constituent parts, I will grant you this is a possibility. It is also a possibility that we will. It does not follow that because both are possibilities, their probabilities are the same.

Inquisitor August 6, 2010 at 10:38 am

No, Ryan is correct. This is a vibrant debate in the topic of philosophy of the mind as well as cognitive science, related to the “poverty of the stimulus” argument. Stimuli do not acount for all the responses human minds are capable of producing. The entire field is moving away from positivism rather than towards it.

“Well of course not! You don’t take apart a brick and expect to find a wall, do you?”

There is nothing in a wall over and above its physical constituents. Physiologically, though, where do you locate consciousness/thought etc.? They’re often treated as emergent phenomena, i.e. ones over and above their physical constituents.

Seattle August 6, 2010 at 11:18 am

Stimuli do not acount for all the responses human minds are capable of producing.

I never said it did.

There is nothing in a wall over and above its physical constituents. Physiologically, though, where do you locate consciousness/thought etc.? They’re often treated as emergent phenomena, i.e. ones over and above their physical constituents.

Consciousness and thought are a derived property of all the parts of you together, similar to how the “wall-ness” is a property of all the bricks.

To make an analogy to economics, the market isn’t a separate thing from the individuals who act within it.

Inquisitor August 6, 2010 at 11:42 am

Yet that is precisely the problem. That currently there is no way but to posit emergence to go from physical constituents to the mind. With bricks there’s nothing non-physical. The wall itself is physical and exhibits no peculiar qualities. Mental phenomena are entirely peculiar. Not specious, but they’re unlike anything in the physically observable world. Yes, they’re probably derived from all the parts fitting together, i.e. emergent, but that’s exactly why a strictly positivist stimulus-response view of the mind is currently on the way out.

Ryan August 7, 2010 at 6:47 am

I think it should satisfy scientists to explain how the brain works, as opposed to pining after the unknowable wish that they will one day be able to predict all human behavior with certainty. If one conducts scientific experiments with bias, then one’s results are invalid. I think you understand this, but I’m not sure Neoclassical does.

Put it another way, mathematics has greatly expanded on Euclidian geometry not by refuting it or assuming it is “just a theory,” but rather by proving it as a special case of Rheimannian geometry. To misunderstand this would be to genuinely believe that the universe may take on any shape, so long as the geometry works out. That’s what someone like Neoclassical might believe. The truth is that the universe is shaped how it is, and our task is to work toward gradually more accurate measurements, not to proclaim that any set of measurements is just a “theory. “

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Inquisitor states, “The entire field is moving away from positivism rather than towards it.”

The entire field? That’s a bold statement. Cite 5 researchers that support your claim.

Hayekian February 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm

“There has never been any attempt at explaining why similar stimuli result in such wildly different human responses”

wrong. there is a whole scientific debate about this under the label of non-trivial machines. read heinz von foerster about it

moreover, there is not a single scientific reason to believe there is a free will. read the austrian review about the topic:

http://www.csun.edu/~hceco001/Researchpapers/FreewillAustrian.pdf

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 8:17 am

Well, don’t get me wrong: I do talk about personal responsibility and so on; in fact, I tend toward a Dennettian “compatibilism” on the issue of free will. Essentially, agency as commonly conceived is the result of a complex system of mindless molecules; the brain is three pounds of self-organized meat, capable of information-processing, what we call “consciousness.”

Centrally, my point is that conceiving of the human self as radically free, indetermined and separable from the causality of the universe, is erroneous. You can’t get “apodictic” truths starting from such a falsehood. At best, in a sense similar to Friedman’s positivism, you might use such unrealistic assumptions to make accurate predictions of human behavior.

Ryan August 5, 2010 at 8:43 am

I think you might be accusing Austrian-school economists of something they aren’t guilty of.

Reading through the debate, it became clear to me that you know a lot about what you’re talking about, but I feel like each argument you make falls just shy of addressing any tangible issue. For example, you don’t seem to ever take issue with any example of praxeological analysis; instead, you seem to object an abstract synopsis of catallactics before anyone even gets started.

You might have a point – but what will you replace it with? If you are correct, it might help the rest of us if you could provide a tangible example of where a given, specific praxeological analysis goes awry, rather than simply arguing that the foundation is bad.

To put it another way, if praxeology yields faulty logic, then it should be easy to point out in any given praxeological argument where the fault is, and what the correct logic should be. Unless and until you can present us with something like that, most of us will remain unconvinced.

Just my two cents.

Inquisitor August 5, 2010 at 9:03 am

So basically you just skipped the first 200 pages of HA, I take it?

G8R HED August 5, 2010 at 10:09 am

————————————————————————————
“All human knowledge concerning the universe presupposes and rests upon the cognition of the regularity in the succession and concatenation of observable events. It would be vain to search for a rule if there were no regularity. Inductive inference is conclusion from premises that invariably include the fundamental proposition of regularity.

The practical problem of ampliative induction must be clearly distinguished from its logical problem. For the men who embark upon inductive inference are faced with the problem of correct sampling. Did we or did we not, out of the innumerable characteristics of the individual case or cases observed, choose those which are relevant for the production of the effect in question?”
———————————————————————————–

Is deciding what is relevant illusory?
Specifically, how do ‘mindless molecules’, as Neoclassical calls them, ‘decide’?

What relevance does the illusory or non-illusory property of deciding have regarding subjectivity?

G8R HED August 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

…….oops, sorry, “Ultimante Foundation of Economic Science” LvM pg.11

RG August 5, 2010 at 9:22 am

What Neoclassical fails to grasp is that a priori begins at birth and ends at death. Until you can determine what conciousness is before and after those bounds, then you must subscribe to free will and dualism.

J. Grayson Lilburne August 5, 2010 at 10:18 am

I would stress that neither Mises nor I argue for substance dualism. So any who think of substance dualism as dubious should not discount Austrian thought on that basis. Austrian methodological dualism is agnostic with regard to substance dualism.

In other words, you needn’t believe in the “ghost in the machine” to be an Austrian.

Abhilash Nambiar August 5, 2010 at 11:05 am

As soon as I heard the term methodological dualism, I was uncomfortably reminded of the dubious notion of substance dualism that I had abandoned long time back. I wanted to make sure that they where not the same thing. So I looked it up and no they are not. Methodological dualism does not imply substance dualism or vice-versa.

Bruce Koerber August 5, 2010 at 10:33 am

The horrific ‘science’ of Mr. ‘Neoclassical’ is subscribed to by himself and who? And this disunified group of ‘thinkers’ want to approach the well-developed-over-centuries-and-millenia contributions to classical liberalism with vain imaginings!

If to learn is one thing, but to adhere to absurdities is ridiculous.

Othyem August 5, 2010 at 12:43 pm

My impression of those who are dismissive of methodological dualism is that many of them attribute it strictly to Misesian praxeologists, which they think is nothing but a weird methodology totally divorced from how the rest of the social science community views their role in science. There are of course plenty of positivists throughout all disciplines of the social sciences, but there is much more harmony with Mises’ position than one would think, especially if one is ignorant of the literature and intellectual history (e.g., Shutz, Parsons, etc.). Debates about methodological dualism aren’t reserved for economics. There are lively debates of this topic in history, sociology, psychology, etc., and in many of the views positing methodological dualism, you’ll find shades of Mises.

Othyem August 5, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I should say logical empiricists, as they are more about the “unity of science” thesis than the positivists.

RG August 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm

This is starting to sound like some delusional discussion found at HuffPo.

Free will? yes

Other goofy synonymns and antonymns? who cares

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I would love to learn of any neuroscientist that conceives of “free will” as Austrians do.

To answer Bruce Koerber’s skepticism, I can cite Thomas Metzinger in his book “The Ego Tunnel,” Francis Crick in “The Astonishing Hypothesis,” Tor Nørretranders in “The User Illusion,” Douglas R. Hofstadter in “Godel, Escher, Bach” and so much more.

I just can’t believe all of you are acting as if there is no philosophic argument over “free will”–I mean, c’mon now. I’m not some lone man in the woods concocting ridiculous theories; there is a remarkable pedigree in Wester culture that agrees with me.

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 4:43 pm

I don’t get what you’re on about. People make choices. Whether those choices are the product of physics (and I believe they are) doesn’t change this.

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm

J. Grayson Lilburne, I fully agree that methodological dualism isn’t substance dualism outright. However, methodological dualism approachs the world as if substance dualism is true, leaving little to no difference in practice. Principally, you are attempting to understand the world in a manner that is indistinguishable as if you truly believed in substance dualism.

Now, here’s where I like Mises: “methodological” is crucial, and I fully agree with that. But, then, doesn’t his epistemological approach break down into pragmatism? That, too, is fine with me. You can even deduce logical truths from such axioms.

I’m worried that proponents of Austrian economics forget that their “apodictic” truths derive from a methodological stance, not an error-proof metaphysics.

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 4:36 pm

The very first thing aspiring Austrians learn (or rather, should learn) is exactly what methodological dualism means. We reason about means and ends as black boxes, only caring about the properties concerning this (very) high level of analysis, as going any lower isn’t useful for our purposes. (Similarly, a man trying to figure out how to build a bridge doesn’t start by learning QCD.) It’s not that we assume nothing’s inside the box, we just don’t care what is, at least not when reasoning about problems of economic theory.

That some self-styled proponents of Austrian economics misunderstand this is not an argument against the theory itself, any more than X-Men is an argument against evolutionary biology.

unger August 5, 2010 at 4:40 pm

C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism’ is probably worth inserting here. http://www.philosophy.uncc.edu/mleldrid/Intro/csl3.html

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I don’t necessarily disagree with Austrian epistemology and its methodology. I disagree with its exclusion of other approaches, since I don’t believe in any fundamental incompatibilities. Mises exposes his hand right there in the term: methodological dualism. Mises wants us to assume dualism is true, whether or not it really is. That’s a false assumption used to provide further conclusions. This can (and I believe has) produced logical deductions that seem to explain and predict economic phenomena. That’s all fine and dandy with me. I greatly admire Mises and his work.

But there is a dishonesty to claim “apodictic certainty” from a method that is openly skeptical of its own validity. That’s all I’m saying.

Sure, Milton Friedman admits he begins with unrealistic assumptions, but he never claims “apodictic certainty,” either. His models can be improved over time, as new data and insights suggest better formalization.

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Praxeology is absolutely certain in the same way as Geometry. So long as all the assumptions hold true, there is no logical way for its theorems to come out false. Praxeology is only as valid in the world of reality as its assumptions are.

We know Praxeology applies to you because you have terminal values (ends) and instrumental values (means). We know this is true with a very high probability because you posted this message. Just because both of these things aren’t physically fundamental things doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Amanojack August 6, 2010 at 7:25 am

These two messages encapsulate the issue nicely. Everything that logically follows from a scientific theory is also apodictically certain *given that theory as a starting premise.*

Ryan August 6, 2010 at 8:54 am

Certain concepts simply can’t be expressed efficiently – or even realistically – by using a mathematical model. Over the course of the last 60 years, there have been thousands of versions of the electric spoon, but how many of those variants do you use to eat your breakfast cereal in the morning?

I mean, sure, you can put a cocktail dress on a warthog, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t take a farm animal to the senior prom, if you follow my analogy…

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Seattle, I request a clarification: when you ascribe subjective “ends” to persons, is that from observable bodily movements?

Furthermore, I’d like someone to answer this question: when you notice a human “act,” is that a change in physical states or mental states?

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 6:25 pm

As Austrians use the term an end is a logical component of an action: When a person acts, they are using a means to satisfy an end. The end is not really separate from the action, but merely a deconstruction, if you will.

Praxeology is not concerned at all with the content of actions. It merely states If A Then B. Determining what a person’s ends and perceived means actually are is not within Praxeology’s domain.

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Finally, I don’t believe the “category of action” is a clearly defined, unproblematic scheme for interpreting the world. There is an entire field of study, titled “action theory,” that has fierce disputes on what “action” actually is or if it exists at all.Furthermore, even if we assume “action” is an innate feature of the human mind, that does not mean it should remain unquestioned (e.g., colors don’t actually exist in the external world; optical illusions exploit our frail perceptual apparatus; etc.). If this foundation is, at root, contingent upon human nature, then all logical deductions from it must remain suspect.

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Purposeful action, as the term is meant by praxeology, is that which is performed when an intelligent being attempts to satisfy a felt uneasiness. (Again, just because the uneasiness and attempt aren’t physically fundamental things doesn’t mean they don’t exist). We’re pretty sure humans do this and rocks do not (and this is an empirical observation). Finding a human that doesn’t or a rock that does will not render Praxeology false.

Othyem August 5, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Neoclassical: “Mises wants us to assume dualism is true, whether or not it really is”

I don’t think it’s stretching too far to assume it is. Social reality is *constitutive*, it can’t be reduced via physical eliminativism. It’s not just a pragmatic step toward simplicity; our social world is insoluble with strictly physical description. There can be no true understanding in it.

Othyem August 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I’m willing to go part of the way with you Neoclassical, in that I too feel praxeology isn’t as fully developed as it could or should be. But whereas I see potential you see poverty.

Bruce Koerber August 5, 2010 at 6:37 pm

‘I just can’t believe all of you are acting as if there is no philosophic argument over “free will”–I mean, c’mon now. I’m not some lone man in the woods concocting ridiculous theories; there is a remarkable pedigree in Wester culture that agrees with me.’

There is a remarkable pedigree that agree with Krugman and Keynes and Marx and they all have their reasons. And they probably would find reasons to close their ears and eyes to classical liberalism and to the use of the subjectivist methodology.

Human free will is the truth regardless of how many materialists dispute it. Ignorance of this concept would definitely be a primary reason for denying subjectivism. It is good that no one is taking away your free will to believe whatever you choose to believe, even though you will stifle your potential.

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 6:52 pm

It depends on what is meant. Unfortunately “free will” means so many things to so many people you can’t talk about it meaningfully without giving a very specific definition first. If it means that the mind is not influenced by any outside factors at all then obviously it is false.

Ryan August 6, 2010 at 9:09 am

I contend that arguments about “free will” are mostly just rhetorical games. There is absolutely no meaningful information brought forth in such debates. As you aptly put it elsewhere in the discussion, no matter where you believe motives come from, they exist.

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Bruce Koerber, is the “mind” dependent upon the brain? Is the “mind,” in some sense, identical to the brain? Or what is your alternative explanation for how one relates to the other?

Bruce Koerber August 5, 2010 at 9:04 pm

The mind is the intellectual expression of the spirit.

Othyem August 5, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I think it’s pointless in any meaningful way to try to reduce human action to a mere mechanistic cause and effect. Although I don’t know if this issue has been broached or not in this topic but it seems this goes back to whether the sum equals its parts. Physically, yes, we are “nothing but” a dizzingly complex of neurons. But stating things in physical terms is an impoverished way to truly understand the social reality we live and interact in, if one can even call it “understanding.”

Seattle August 5, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I can think of plenty of useful technological applications for better understanding of how the human brain works on a mechanistic level. The search for this understanding is certainly not pointless. But knowing how the brain works on the physical level won’t make the higher-level reasoning we do here worthless. Probably the opposite, really.

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Seattle, I think that’s fair.

If we concede that the brain works according to physical laws and mechanistically, then we should recognize, to some extent, that what Mises presents is a theoretical framework: “Yes, there is a brain that conforms to causality, but let’s assume the agent acts, has purpose, values ends, etc.”

That viewpoint may be true, but I fail to see how it is incompatible with the empiricism of Friedman, et al.

Want the nail to the Austrian coffin? Several researchers are now investigating whether or not autistic individuals lack a “theory of mind” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind) for other persons; they suffer what is called “mind-blindness.” This does lend weight to the idea that a “category of action” is innate, but it also indicates that such theoretical interpretations are contingent upon human biology and should not be left unquestioned.

Seattle August 6, 2010 at 2:51 am

The core postulate of Praxeology is purposeful action. More specific theorems use other assumptions (the disutility of labor, etc.), however you seem to think our “assumption” of purposeful action is like the ether or phlogistons. The evidence that humans act and rocks do not is pretty staggering, honestly you’re better off trying to deny Gravity as an “illusion of biology.” From where I stand it looks like you’re practicing reductionism for its own sake: Somehow, more fundamental things are “truer” than the higher levels.

As I’ve said before, should bridge builders work in quarks?

Amanojack August 6, 2010 at 7:40 am

Well, the very idea that there exist other humans and that they “act” is, in the end, just a useful predictive model one assumes in moving through the world. It is frequently *useful* to see humans as purposeful agents; it is rarely (if ever) useful to see rocks as purposeful agents.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Seattle, I’m comfortable with people ascribing agency to some physical objects, like other humans. I believe those concepts (purpose, desire, belief, etc.) can track real patterns, and I believe it takes much less calculation to do that than to try to measure every molecule.

So, once again, from a pragmatic standpoint, I’m okay with that.

Quoting Quine, “As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries — not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.”

The point I am addressing is simple: I want Austrians to admit what they’re doing (generating logico-deductive consequences from a revisable theory), instead of claiming their foundations rest upon “self-evident” “irrefutable” truths.

Ryan August 6, 2010 at 8:47 am

You’re still missing the point. So long as autistic individuals get hungry and seek food, praxeology applies to them.

As Mises pointed out, praxeology does not apply to people who get hungry and do nothing and consequently starve to death. Psychology may have much to say about such individuals, but their actions are irrelevant to actors in a working economy.

You are doing a good job of obfuscating the issue by running tangents across technical theories, but as I mentioned before, until you can poke a hole in an actual praxeological anaysis (really! give it a try!) you are really just objecting to some of Mises’ most precise language, which you interpret in a less precise way.

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Othyem, sure, I’ll take that as a reasonable position.

We are physical systems, wholly determined, yet we mask over that reality with the intentional stance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance). I’m comfortable with that. But this smacks of instrumentalism. Once again, that isn’t necessarily problematic, but it’s hard to go from there to “apodictic certainty,” and that’s all that I want to address.

Fundamentally, my point (if I have one!) is that Mises has more in common with Friedman than either Mises or his predecessors admit: once again, even conceding that one’s approach is “methodological” is a confession of theoretical suppositions, not a priori irrefutability.

Inquisitor August 6, 2010 at 10:32 am

“Once again, that isn’t necessarily problematic, but it’s hard to go from there to “apodictic certainty,” and that’s all that I want to address.”

Which you cannot since you lack sufficient understanding of the Austrian method. By “theoretical” propositions incidentally you mean a priori. And no, the postulate of “man acts” is not “theoretical”. You will never succeed in making an argument that remains veridical by denying it, for it will merely be an ejaculation of empty words. It is for all purposes, a priori and irrefutable. If this term bothers you, tough luck.

“Want the nail to the Austrian coffin? Several researchers are now investigating whether or not autistic individuals lack a “theory of mind” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind) for other persons; they suffer what is called “mind-blindness.” This does lend weight to the idea that a “category of action” is innate, but it also indicates that such theoretical interpretations are contingent upon human biology and should not be left unquestioned.”

Or it means they simply do not act purposefully and therefore are not in the orbit of praxeology. This is probably garbage as I doubt these people are incapable of purposeful behaviour, but it is not anywhere close to being a “nail” in the Austrian edifice, touching that you would think so. Please, put some bloody thought into your arguments rather than resorting to a barrage of wikipedia articles (which smacks of ignorance on your own part of the theories you’re proposing.) You’re not coming across as intelligent, merely as a contrarian with very, very little knowledge of the position he’s coming up against. I’ve studied philosophy myself as well as Mises’s texts, so I am quite familiar with your theories.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Inquisitor, you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. And, referencing Wikipedia articles is supplemental, it’s helpful, it’s added material for the sake of clarification. I have no idea how someone can seriously criticize that practice.

To get my point: can you conceive of a person who interprets the world using only “the physical stance”? Ascribing “agency” to physical objects is an evolved trick; in fact, some people believe “hyperactive agency detection” is the condition that creates beliefs like animism. When you see a collection of macromolecules and declare, “That person is acting,” then you are adding a layer of interpretation that can (conceivably) be lacking; there’s no logical contradiction. The further point that this seems to actually be a fact of our world: autistic individuals may have “mind-blindness.”

It’s very simple: methodological dualism is openly skeptical of substance dualism; hence, Mises even concedes that monism is possibility. When you see that the world can be conceived of within a framework of methodological monism, then you will understand that “action” is theoretical, although useful, nonetheless.

Ryan August 7, 2010 at 6:57 am

You are talking about the difference between logical consistency and logical validity. You point out a possible invalidating feature of Austrian logic by violating one of its axioms – an axiom consistent with your logic. The rest of the discussion is a bit of a wild goose chase.

Any of us are only likely to agree with you if we accept the premise that thoughts are a chemical illusion. So maybe start with that. Don’t just provide theories and names of researchers, present a cogent argument for why thoughts are the result of chemicals. Why is it thus, and not the other way around, i.e. that my brain physically responds to a thought rather than the thought being the result of the neurochemistry?

If this question is currently unanswerable, then perhaps you could provide a reason why it is better to think of it your way. I think you are convinced that most of us “just don’t get it,” which isn’t true. We get it, we’re just don’t believe it. You have to reason with us. Present us with a reason to think your way.

Russ the Apostate August 7, 2010 at 7:19 am

“It’s very simple: methodological dualism is openly skeptical of substance dualism; hence, Mises even concedes that monism is possibility.”

I don’t think that methodological dualism is so much “openly skeptical of substance dualism” as it is agnostic on the subject. It says that whether there is substance dualism or not is irrelevant to economics. If you assume substance dualism, then methodological dualism is obviously necessary. But even if you assume substance monism, methodological dualism is still necessary because we cannot in practice derive economic laws from the laws of physics. We still have to start out by taking the way humans act as a given, because we cannot in practice derive human behavior reductively from physics.

Othyem August 5, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Instrumentalism in what respect? To say, for example, that money derives its existence from the way we subjectively treat it and that there is no physical THING that IS “money” outside of the subjective beliefs of individuals doesn’t entail intrumentalism at all. Money by its very definition has a logical “essence”, so to speak, and it is by this logic of the inherent attributes of human categories that we can come to know (i.e., to have an epistemic justification) of the social world.

Neoclassical August 5, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I would contend that all of the assumptions we make when using “methodological dualism” are instrumental: rather than attempting to predict the behavior of trillions of cells moving in a quickly-changing environment, we simplify our analysis by relying on the intentional stance, a theory of mind. I do believe such thinking can target real patterns, but I consider the physical stance to be more conclusive and exacting. To put it more bluntly, “methodological dualism” can reveal a good appromixation of what the truth is.

That is, by reflecting upon “action,” one can further disentangle what bodily movements must implicate: seeking one object rather than another reveals a “preference,” for instance, but–more truthfully–there is a vast network of neurocomputational processing happening, trillions of mindless cells moving causally.

I want to stress that I don’t believe that “methodological dualism” and the logico-deductive consequences arising from “action” are categorically mistaken, wrongheaded, or untrue. But I do believe the Austrian movement unfairly denies that their foundations are theoretical–not irrefutable, “self-evident” truth.

Seattle August 6, 2010 at 4:01 am

I would contend that all of the assumptions we make when using “methodological dualism” are instrumental: rather than attempting to predict the behavior of trillions of cells moving in a quickly-changing environment, we simplify our analysis by relying on the intentional stance, a theory of mind. I do believe such thinking can target real patterns, but I consider the physical stance to be more conclusive and exacting.

And this more fundamental level would be helpful to economic theory… how? I’m not saying cognitive science isn’t worth understanding, but economics has hard enough problems. Why do you want to make them even harder for the sake of being “more scientific?”

Amanojack August 6, 2010 at 7:47 am

Although he often phrases things in such a way, I don’t know if Mises’s point is really that the foundational assumptions are self-evident to all, but that they are well-enough “self-evident” to most people. He seems to say, in effect,

“If you believe X, you logically also much believe Y. (But the overwhelming preponderance of people believe X; it’s fundamental to the model through which most people view the world and on which most people seem to base all their beliefs. So for explanatory purposes we may as well call it a priori.)”

Inquisitor August 6, 2010 at 10:23 am

No, it’s based on whether the postulate is upon intellectual reflection “self-evident”. If denying it results in a contradiction, it’s a very good sign it is a priori. THe number of people who believe it, whether it’s intuitive etc. are of no import. It’s how the principle is intellectually justified.

Amanojack August 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Denying “I act” may result in a contradiction, but denying “Everyone acts” doesn’t, yet Mises’s theory requires that all people act.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Amanojack, bingo!

Although, I still contend that denying “I act” isn’t a contradiction. What if, instead, I say, “I am a determined machine made out of meat, capable of information-processing and ‘conscious’ states, but, ultimately, all of my behavior is causally fixed, merely accompanied by illusory beliefs of free will and action.”

Ryan August 7, 2010 at 7:00 am

Not really. Mises’ theory just doesn’t apply to those who don’t act. Mises goes out of his way to point out that praxeology has nothing to say about those who do not act.

Ryan August 6, 2010 at 9:31 am

I don’t understand what’s “theoretical” about concluding that hunger propels a man to seek food. It is not contingent on any theory of the mind, it is a simple fact that men must eat if they intend to survive.

The way you put it calls into question the existence of an “intention” to survive, i.e. that regardless of whether we choose to survive or choose to starve, what is actually going on is a complex series of chemical reactions that merely create the illusion of any thought on the matter.

Rand exposed this ruse easily, by posing a simple question to those fond of making it: “How do you know that YOU exist?”

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Ryan states, “I don’t understand what’s ‘theoretical’ about concluding that hunger propels a man to seek food. It is not contingent on any theory of the mind, it is a simple fact that men must eat if they intend to survive.”

It’s this: what you are perceiving can be conceived as an autopoietic open system of energy that is consuming energy from its environment in order to sustains its pattern integrity.

That is, you can interpret that very same scene from the vantage point of non-equilibrium thermodynamics. Your contending theory (that “man” “desires” energy because of “hunger”) may be more useful for prediction of behavior, but in no way it is independent of theory!

Ryan August 7, 2010 at 6:34 am

No, I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that so long as thoughts do not exist, Austrian thought is contingent on a theory of the mind.

i.e., Praxeology is independent of theory as we have defined “theory” and dependent on theory as you have defined “theory.” You want Austrians to admit that you’re right according to your views, regardless of whether they are right according to theirs.

It is completely predictable that this debate would end in polylogism. Mises pointed out repeatedly that polylogism is impossible. There is no set of logic that is correct for one group and incorrect for another group.

So your task should be pretty simple: Refute a praxeological analysis according to your logic, and you will have proven your point.

Inquisitor August 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

“But I do believe the Austrian movement unfairly denies that their foundations are theoretical–not irrefutable, “self-evident” truth.”

What is wrong with it being “theoretical”? The foundations are irrefutable indeed. I don’t care if you dislike this. Denying them results in flat out contradictions. It is not “unfair” as if that term has any real significance. Get over it.

Hayekian February 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm

neoclassist, you are right all the time. i have read the discussion and i have also trouble convincing friends of the same ideas you (and a vast majority of educated scientists) propose. keep it up. austrian method is a valid mehtod but it is not the only, objective , self-evident truth

Othyem August 5, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Neoclassical: “I consider the physical stance to be more conclusive and exacting”

More exacting and precise in terms of physical minutia perhaps. But more conclusive? Not a chance. In what way does predicting the behavior of neurons explain or engender more *understanding* of the social world? All we have is under condition X, we see pattern Z. This, I believe, is fruitful and should be pursued. But it’s not the end of the story–or the beginning. Please explain to me what “money” is in purely physicalist terms.

Neoclassical: “I want to stress that I don’t believe that “methodological dualism” and the logico-deductive consequences arising from “action” are categorically mistaken, wrongheaded, or untrue. But I do believe the Austrian movement unfairly denies that their foundations are theoretical–not irrefutable, “self-evident” truth.”

Well, it seems you’re trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. If your only problem with praxeology is that many of its proponents adhere to “apodictic certain” axioms, rather than just an epistemic warrant, then we’re not as far away as it appears.

Amanojack August 6, 2010 at 7:53 am

“If your only problem with praxeology is that many of its proponents adhere to “apodictic certain” axioms, rather than just an epistemic warrant, then we’re not as far away as it appears.”

Indeed, I think Neoclassical is making a very careful and subtle point, to Austrians’ great benefit if they can grasp it. It’s a point that will help them understand their theories more clearly, not one that will invalidate them.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Yeah, that sums up my point nicely.

Thanks for understanding; I was getting exasperated!

Othyem August 5, 2010 at 8:53 pm

And no, reliance on methodological dualism does not commit one to instrumentalism. One could say the same thing about your position: rather than relying on the theory of mind (presumably for prediction), we simplify our analysis by attempting to predict the behavior of trillions of cells moving in a quickly-changing environment.

It borders on being scientistic to presume the proper aim of science is prediction, and prediction alone.

Amanojack August 6, 2010 at 7:56 am

“It borders on being scientistic to presume the proper aim of science is prediction, and prediction alone.”

If not prediction – in the end – then what’s the point? I think you may mean, it borders on scientistic to presume that science at the deepest level of analysis (quantum mechanics) is the most useful predictive model for all levels of analysis.

Seattle August 6, 2010 at 8:27 am

I think a better way to describe the sciences than prediction is they tell us what cannot be. The only way an idea can be knowledge is if it changes our understanding of something. By this criteron, is praxeology science? Of course.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Seattle, has science provided us an exhaustive list of what cannot be?

That’s a very silly notion of science; I’ve never heard of an investigator saying, “I wonder what I can’t do with this molecule!” No such boundaries on possibility could ever be firmly established.

To test a hypothesis, you must examine if your predictions conform to experimental observation; that’s it.

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Sure, a SCIENTIST may not say these things, but science may more or less progress by ruling out the impossible, something like critical rationalism at work. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to think of a scientist never having made a novel discovery, yet still managing to carry out a productive career, simply because he ruled out all the UNproductive avenues of research.

Seattle August 7, 2010 at 5:52 am

You misunderstand: A theory being able to explain what is impossible is what makes it falsifiable (if I let go of my pen, it won’t fly up into outer space). Take the explanation, for example, “God Did It.” You can slap it onto absolutely everything with no consequence. It doesn’t rule out any possibilities, even partially, so nothing can be evidence either for or against it. Knowledge can’t make the future certain, it can only eliminate the number of directions the world could head. (That is, it gives us greater certainty by refining our brain’s search algorithm.)

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I’m not arguing against prediction, per se. But there is certainly a sense in which we can know everything about a phenomenon for predictive purposes, yet still be incapable of explaining it, and thus fail to understand it. Like I said, it’s the view that prediction alone that I feel is wrong. Obviously if I know all there is about an object, I should be able to predict its behavior as well.

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 10:11 am

Admittedly not having read the full debate in these forums I think I understand where Neoclassical is coming from now. Essentially, I take it, he’s saying while the deductions of praxeology can be sound and true, the axioms themselves, that is, the foundation, cannot be considered apodicticly certain. I think this is why Rothbard departed from Mises’ Neo-Kantian outlook and instead considered the axioms to simply be self-evident empirical truths; however he (reluctantly?) stuck with the same terminology in calling them a priori. In my opinion, I prefer Rothbard’s approach.

Inquisitor August 6, 2010 at 10:21 am

No, he literally denies the truth of a priori postulates (including that of induction and the constancy principle, without which empiricism is a load of hogwash.) He’s not a neo-Aristotelian like Rothbard epistemologically. If he were, there’d be no cause for dispute.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Inquisitor, I believe I use a conceptual scheme to interpret, explain, and predict observations.

Of course, I don’t believe these are “a priori,” nor am I clear as to what “a priori knowledge” could ever possibly be (I wholly accept Quine’s arguments against “a priori” knowledge).

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm

“I think this is why Rothbard departed from Mises’ Neo-Kantian outlook and instead considered the axioms to simply be self-evident empirical truths; however he (reluctantly?) stuck with the same terminology in calling them a priori. In my opinion, I prefer Rothbard’s approach.”

Yes, that’s correct. Rothbard’s maneuver exposes the problem more clearly: he first claims the foundations of Austrian economics are empirical, but then he implies that his interpretation is not theory-laden, even though all observations are theory-laden (http://www.galilean-library.org/site/index.php?/page/index.html/_/essays/philosophyofscience/theory-ladenness-r72).

As I attempted to state elsewhere, what Rothbard alleges is “self-evident” and empirical is actually tainted by folk psychology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folk_psychology); that’s okay with me, but one must understand such thinking is laced with theory.

So, when an Austrian economist like Jonathan M. Finegold Catalan states, “the fundamental axioms and premises of economics are absolutely true,” then that is simply not correct.

Rothbard makes the same mistake as the geocentric model of the universe: “Of course the sun moves around the earth, it’s obvious, and most of us agree!”

Furthermore, Mises himself contended that methodological dualism might have to be abandoned as science advanced.

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Clearly your arguments are more against particular Austrians rather than their method as such. You’ve already admitted its validity yourself. Sure, praxeology needs a more rigorous reformulation, in my opinion, but it’s essentially correct.

Also, we must have differing ideas of what methodological dualism is. You’re the one who’s using it in an instrumentalistic sense, convinced that that which is more efficacious for prediction is the only appropriate method. But prediction is only but one of science’s goals. Go ahead, reduce the world to aggregates of electrons, atoms, and molecules and see how far it gets you in *understanding* social reality. It is precisely in this latter sense that I think there will ALWAYS be a need for two (or whatever) methodological approaches. Physically, yes we can all be subsumed under the rubric of one method; but mentally, this will do little good.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 5:41 pm

As far as I’m concerned, Mises hints at his own instrumentalism by using “methodological” dualism: he is using an approach (a methodology, not a metaphysic) he isn’t even sure is true for the sake of explanatory value.

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Well I’m not so concerned with what Mises thought in every aspect so that I may orient my thinking to the “Gospel of Mises.” Mises was a great thinker–one of the best–but not even he had a monopoly on truth. I’m willing to depart from Mises as far and as often as possible insofar it leads me closer to the graspable truth. Fortunately one needn’t stray far because he is essentially correct in much of what he wrote. Praxeology needs to be reformulated on firmer ground, I’ll admit, but even in its imperfect form it’s still superior to a positivistic philosophy of science.

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Neoclassical, you seem well-read enough that you should know Quine’s attack on the a priori has been totally discredited. I have up to this point been willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but denying the validity of a priori knowledge is senseless.

Russ the Apostate August 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Are you talking about a priori knowledge, period, or synthetic a priori ideas?

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm

I’m talking strictly about a priori knowledge, the kind Quine allegedly “did in” with his paper The Two Dogmas of Empiricism, because Neoclassical said “nor am I clear as to what “a priori knowledge” could ever possibly be (I wholly accept Quine’s arguments against “a priori” knowledge).”

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Othyem, that’s like saying “Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been discredited and you lose all my respect if you still believe it.”

You need to rationally discredit it in this debate, or at least point me to a source that will.

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Well, this debate is about methodological dualism, not about the a priori. I try to keep my posts mostly germane to the topic. Secondly, why is it silly for me not to respect someone intellectually if they choose to believe in silly things? So yes, I would lose some (intellectual) respect for you–certainly not all–if you said you believed in the Flying Spaghetti Monster and his Nine Pillars, for instance. Natural selection was a bad example.

You want sources, sure, try Reason and Analysis by Blandshard, and In Defense of Pure Reason by Bonjour.

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Neoclassical, touching on a point you said earlier, you write, “I am attempting to dismantle some of our central dreams: that selves exist, that motion can be willed indeterminately, that “a priori” knowledge is wholly detached from an empirical process.”

I don’t know many who would seriously argue that a priori knowledge is “wholly detached from an empirical process.” Although, it’s possible that some have this very narrow conception of the a priori, most proponents, that I know of, wouldn’t make such an argument–mostly because it’s silly. If this is your gripe with a priori knowledge then you’re attacking lumps of straw. A priori knowledge comes after we experience the world, when we apprehend the necessity inherent in certain things. If I’m deaf and blind with no supervision, there is truthfully little I can KNOW. Mathematical truths come only after we become familiar with the concept of number. I don’t need to observe a thousand triangles to be able to confidently say they all have three sides.

Othyem August 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm

As far as I’m concerned Neoclassical, your failure to counter Inquisitor’s, et al, arguments on the a priori shows, like Inquisitor himself said, that you’re just beginning to wrestle with these ideas. I have no desire to continue a debate about the a priori when the latter’s cogent arguments haven’t been met with an equally as cogent reply.

Neoclassical August 6, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Failed to counter it? I already said I rely on Quine’s “mathematical empiricism”! Have you even looked into Putnam’s quasi-empiricism or any variant?

I also have Bonjour’s book and several others; the fact is, no one here even has defined what “a priori” means. That would have been a nice starting point.

Either way, I’m done with the debate. I’ve learned that Austrians ’round here just say, “You haven’t looked into our philosophy” instead of defending it rationally. But, always, I can easily tell none of you have dealt with even the most fundamental thinkers of the last century (e.g., How does Wittgenstein’s later philosophy impact your beliefs?).

Othyem August 7, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Simply put, this debate never was about the a priori. It was about there being more than one methodological approach. Respectfully, Neoclassical, you’ve only side-stepped Inquisitor’s remarks above. But if you’ve actually read Bonjour’s books and don’t feel persuaded then there’s nothing more constructive that can be said.

JB McMunn August 7, 2010 at 4:46 am

I just happened to stumble in here and I am appalled that you guys haven’t been able to resolve the free will vs determinism debate and figure out the mind-body connection after several days of heated debate. ;-)

Actually I see no conflict between a physical-biological explanation for behavior and Mise’s core thesis that human minds are – for want of a better term – dissatisfaction reduction machines. Biological systems are basically anti-entropy machines at the biochemical level, using energy to maintain their orderly structure. All the layers above that are macro mechanisms for achieving that goal. If Mises wants to call the manifestation of this marvelous mix of physicochemical interplay “improvement of satisfaction”he’s just using different terms for the same process.

The ability to simultaneously believe two totally contradictory ideas maintained in separate compartments is one of the true marvels of the human mind, whatever it is. Therefore I am unashamed to admit that although I think the mind is an illusion created by a very complex and miraculous biological system governed by physical laws, if you steal my car I’ll still have you arrested as if you had free will. As Walt Whitman said,

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Russ the Apostate August 7, 2010 at 9:35 am

I am a materialist, and yet I believe that the mind is not an illusion. Does that mean that I am also being contradictory? I don’t believe so. I simply believe that the mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain. No illusion required.

JB McMunn, M.D. August 7, 2010 at 12:25 pm

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. — Arthur C. Clarke

I think epiphenomenalism arises from two phenomena, both the result of inherent weaknesses in the mind itself:

1. The process by which the mind arises from physicochemical principles is so incredibly complex that it looks like magic – or an epiphenomenon.

2. The mind is trying to analyze itself and innately abhors the idea of being nothing more special than the result of zillions of atomic billiard balls knocking around. Hence, refusal to believe in a deterministic world is a psychological phenomenon where the analytic machine innately refuses to believe something unpleasant about itself.

Even if minds are completely absent of any prejudice one way of the other, epiphenomenalism still has a huge problem: connecting the intangible mind to the tangible body.

Russ the Apostate August 7, 2010 at 3:43 pm

JB McMunn, M.D. wrote:

“1. The process by which the mind arises from physicochemical principles is so incredibly complex that it looks like magic – or an epiphenomenon.”

I don’t think that an epiphenomenon need appear like magic. Software can be thought of as an epiphenomenon of computers, but there is no need to think of it as magic. Granted, the brain is much more complicated than a computer…

“2. The mind is trying to analyze itself and innately abhors the idea of being nothing more special than the result of zillions of atomic billiard balls knocking around.”

I’m not trying to say that while the cells of the brain are physical, the mind somehow manages to transcend this physicality. Far from it.

“Hence, refusal to believe in a deterministic world is a psychological phenomenon where the analytic machine innately refuses to believe something unpleasant about itself.”

My use of the concept of “epiphenomenon” is not an attempt to dodge materialistic reductionism. I do believe that the mind is, when it comes right down to it, a function of a conglomeration of neurons. I am invoking “epiphenomenon” merely as a way of explaining how one can be a materialist and still believe that minds, in a very real sense, exist.

“Even if minds are completely absent of any prejudice one way of the other, epiphenomenalism still has a huge problem: connecting the intangible mind to the tangible body.”

Well, of course, a lot of work has been done studying pathologies of the brain and their effect on thinking, on stimulating the brain with electrical impulses to trigger memories, etc. But I suppose one could be an extreme skeptic about these, if one wanted to. Even then, a dualist has huge problems too, in proving that the mind is exists in some non-material fashion.

Russ the Apostate August 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm

“I am invoking “epiphenomenon” merely as a way of explaining how one can be a materialist and still believe that minds, in a very real sense, exist.”

In other words, I am rejecting the stance that there is no such thing as the mind; there is only a conglomerate of neurons. The mind is a function of the conglomerate of neurons. You can have your cake and eat it, too.

Dantiumpro August 9, 2010 at 9:51 am

Having read through and greatly enjoyed all the posts above, I’m still puzzled why Dualism is so difficult to apprehend. It’s all around us and if we could join the dots between our study of it in various fields, all fields of human endeavour would be enhanced. Maybe it’s because our Sciences are divided, then subdivided, then sub-dvided again (for good measure) – a universal phenomenon whether it’s Economics or Physics. But anyway…

I think JB McMunn and Russ highlight the issue in their discussion of epiphenomenalism, physicochemical principles and software; I believe that, rather than being “epiphenomena” – mental events caused by physical events that have no effect upon any physical events – chemical or computer “software” is a particular kind of information that can be “executed” such that it gves rise to other effects, both physical and informational.

We generally have no problem with the dualistic nature of information – that it is embedded within a medium but can be expressed in other media; that structure and arrangement as information can determine function (both static as in a tripod or dynamic as in a windmill); that it can be encoded, transmitted and decoded; that it can be interpreted as a set of instructions and through interpretation can either be used to modify itself (e.g. genetic algorithms) or external entities (e.g. a cooking recipe). As such, information is different from the material in which it subsists but has no problem interacting with it. More than that, it often dictates how the material in which it subsists behaves and how it responds to external and internal stimuli.

If the mind is software, this special kind of information that stores both properties and functions, it needn’t subsist only in the “zillions of atomic billiard balls knocking around” we call the brain. The brain under normal operation emits electromagnetic waves and these aren’t limited to the confines of the skull. Anything that is transmitted can be received with an appropriately resonant device. Now I’m not asserting that these waves definitely contain mind-like information, but it should be a testable hypothesis. Given that we construct such wireless networks with computers I don’t think it would be unreasonable to suspect that other informational systems exhibit this behaviour. Messages may be encrypted with more than a 128-bit key cipher though(!)

There would be choice as to what degree the brain is attuned to be resonant with external stimuli or otherwise; first though, the mind must be aware that there is such a conscious choice or the default would prevail – how the current programming is set to respond absent deliberate self-programming. Good old nature or nurture.

How does this relate to economic theory? Well, if the mind is essentially of this informational nature – that is, programmable – and that this can occur due to both self-generated and external stimuli then the set of assumptions we can make about a person’s (or a society’s) behaviour is bounded by our knowledge of their current beliefs and those that they are exposed to, and to how resonant they may be to each other. It would validate praxeology in that human behaviour is an ever-changing, self-modifying and dynamic thing rather than something that can be assumed to follow a set of immutable laws. It would validate psychosociological study in that a culture or trend may not just be something that is in evidence, it may actually be an information “virus” – a transmissible idea that becomes interwoven throughout the functional programming of many minds. Have I just described modern marketing methods?!! Well…

The point is, a conception of the mind as information / program is both dualistic and non-trivial; to say the mind is ‘just’ a function of the brain is like saying this web page is just a function of the web server it resides on. Information is more than just its medium, even if that medium is necessary (rather than sufficient) for its expression. If we look at the information rather than the medium we learn more, we grasp the inherent abstraction. A wall is more than all of its bricks – it is all of its bricks arranged in a particular way. A market is more than the individuals in it – it has structure, formal and informal rules, it responds to external events etc. As Bruce Lee said “It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory”.

Jon Leckie August 7, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Fantastic quote, Doc, one of my favourites. Great contributions!

PS. Russ, I struggle with Dennett, who was mentioned above, who’s a bit over my amateur head (his book on Darwinism is great, when he talks about Consciousness Explained, I struggle), but I understand that he allows you to have your cake and eat it too. Determinism only goes so far, and there’s a hell of a lot wriggle room. Maybe it’s an illusion, but if I shoot a man tomorrow, I will end up in jail, and if I don’t, I will not. That’s good enough for me, and Meursault.

Russ the Apostate August 9, 2010 at 10:03 am

I tried to read “Consciousness Explained” several years ago, and wasn’t impressed at all. I kept wondering how a professor of philosophy could get away with what seemed to me to be blatant logical fallacies. I just can’t see how free will can be derived from deterministic, or even probabilistic, physical theories. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe free will is an epiphenomenon of the brain as well. I don’t know.

Anyway, my main point was, and remains, that I think that methodological dualism is necessary in economics even if we don’t have free will.

Neoclassical August 7, 2010 at 9:24 am

JB McMunn, excellent contribution!

Yair August 7, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Neoclassical, I just wanted to add a couple of things:

a. Your claim that the concept of free will has been disproved in any way by the findings in current neuroscience is a bit of a stretch to say the least. It is true that it is tempting to draw such a conclusion from the knowledge accumulated in this field, but it is a speculation and nothing more. Unless you have a substantial bibliography of studies in cognitive psychology and neuroscience (which I would very much like to see as I am studying cognitive science), all you have is a theory speculated from data.

Many prominent philosophers (David Chalmers to name one) deny your claim.

Furthermore, we still lack a fundamental understanding of many cognitive phenomena in terms of neuroscientific models (meta-memory and consciousness for example).

b. You seem to be a very “hard” materialistic reductionist, believing that everything can be reduced to physics (please correct me if I’m wrong). Ironically, this is neither an empirical claim of any sort, but an axiom, nor is it substantiated in any way by actual evidence. If you look closely at the state of science today, you will that it is more akin to batches of knowledge describing phenomena at different levels of complexity with huge gaps between them.

If anything, the evidence would suggest that this view of the world is outright wrong. The only real reduction, in this sense, we have in science today is the reduction of thermodynamics to mechanical statistics (that’s why everyone quotes it, it’s the only one). we have no complete reduction of consciousness, economics, psychology, biology or chemistry into physics. We don’t even have reduction within physics! We have no reduction of astrophysics into quantum mechanics, for example (string theory is one candidate, but is at the moment non-scientific as it can make no new testable claims).

But why do you and almost all of the scientific community continue to postulate this reducibility? For the same reason Mises and ‘Austrians’ adhere to methodological dualism – it is the only way they know how to perform meaningful research in their field of knowledge.

JB McMunn, M.D. August 7, 2010 at 12:45 pm

It’s hard to “disprove” something. Perhaps impossible. Try to prove there are no unicorns.

I work in a field (pain) where I have to deal with mind-body interactions every working day and I also have an extensive background in neuroscience in order to do so, but I’d never say the argument is scientifically settled. Too many unknowns.

Damned interesting though. For example, in the past they tried doing lobotomies for pain. Postop the patients still reported pain, but they didn’t care. It didn’t bother them. That’s because what we call pain has both a cognitive and an emotional component. There are also connections between pain and depression, although harder to demonstrate. So if you had trouble with the concept of the relationship between pain and the mind before, now it’s even harder.

Yair August 7, 2010 at 3:25 pm

JB McMunn, I completely agree with what you are saying. I didn’t mean ‘disprove’ in the strict mathematical/logical sense, rather more along the line of general scientific consensus (I apologize for any confusion caused), but Neoclassical states as if it were a matter of fact that the debate about free will has been decided by neuroscience. Well, I’m sorry but to the best of my understanding the science simply does not support this claim.

There are on the other hand things in science which are considered ‘settled’ like: germs cause disease, Maxwell’s equations, and the speed of light. On the other hand, some theories are considered to have been disproved like: the phlogiston theory, the vitalist theory and the geocentric model of astronomy.

It is true that you cannot disprove a negative, nor can you affirm positives, but you should conceivably be capable of disproving a positive claim, all you need is a single counter-example, theoretically. If I claim to have a free will, we can perform the following test: You will calculate everything I do or think for 24 hours and if after that span of times your predictions are correct, than I think that constitutes as disproving my ‘free will’ (at least in the broad sense).

Pain is actually an excellent example (and a rather classic one too) for the problems of ‘hard’ materialistic reductionism, because ‘pain’ is essentially qualia, and not any of the specific biological components involved in the process (C fibers, etc…), hence pain has not been successfully reduced to biology let alone physics to this day (please correct me if I’m mistaken, I know the discussion only from the philosophical viewpoint.).

Coury Ditch August 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm

What a fantastic discussion. One of the reasons I find the Austrian school so fascinating is their emphasis on epistemology.

Neoclassical, Lilburne, Inquisitor, Russ the Apostate, Othyem, et al., Thank you! Your posts have not been in vain.

Neoclassical August 7, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Lots of fair points. It boils down to this: Austrians need to stop claiming their foundations are absolutely certain!

J. Grayson Lilburne August 7, 2010 at 3:50 pm

The foundation of Austrian economics is the notion of choice. You are asking people to choose to doubt choice. That is an absurdity.

Russ the Apostate August 7, 2010 at 3:57 pm

“Choice” in Austrian economics is fundamental in the sense that when a person reveals a preference, say by buying something, he has revealed his “choice”. I don’t think that free will is really necessary, though. A behaviorist could still consistently be an Austrian, I think, by viewing “choice” or “preference” as something that is somehow determined, but with the causes of that “choice” or “preference” as being too difficult to understand. But that doesn’t matter; for economic purposes the causes of the “choice” are irrelevant, and can be used as data.

Russ the Apostate August 7, 2010 at 4:14 pm

“…for economic purposes the causes of the “choice” are irrelevant, and can be used as data.”

I meant to type “…for economic purposes the causes of the “choice” are irrelevant, and the choice can be used as data.”

BTW, thanks, Coury. I’m not sure exactly how pithy they are, though. Just the random brain-droppings of somebody with nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Coury Ditch August 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Notice how debate tends to refine one’s ideas.

You have just encapsulated thousands of words and hundreds of paragraphs into two pithy posts.

Jay Lakner August 9, 2010 at 9:55 am

J. Grayson Lilburne wrote:
“The foundation of Austrian economics is the notion of choice. You are asking people to choose to doubt choice. That is an absurdity.”

It certainly is not an absurdity. Free will is the absurdity. Free will is a contradiction in of itself.
We are all apsects of the universe and subject to the immutable laws that govern the universe.

We make decisions with the intent to reach some end result. The only way that this end result can be reached is if causality applies. That is, every cause has a definite pre-determined effect. If causality did not apply, then the entire concept of intent is meaningless.

But to say that causality applies to some things but not to others is ludicrous. Human beings are made up out of the exact same stuff that inanimate objects are. Furthermore, human beings are subject to the exact same laws that inanimate objects are. Causality must apply to both. Therefore, whether an event occurs as a result of human action or not is irrelevant. The event was inevitable.

Human action is simply action causally related to a complex thought process (which we call intent) occurring in a human brain. There is nothing “causality-breaking” about the human brain. It must obey the laws of gravity, electromagnetism, etc. If I drop you off a cliff, do you not plumet to your death? No amount of willpower will allow you to freely float around ignoring the gravity well of the Earth.

We make choices, but we ultimately have no control over what choice we make. Einstein summed it up nicely: “Man is free to do as he wills, but he is not free to will what he wills”.

Ryan August 8, 2010 at 2:39 pm

…because the mind may not actually exist?

One more time for the back row: Austrians will become less certain the moment you successfully refute one of their analyses according to the notions you have laid out above. Barring that, you are essentially saying, “I can’t prove you wrong, but you have to admit that you’re not certain.” What kind of weak point is that?

Jeremy February 11, 2011 at 4:02 am

And mathematicians as well? No empirical observation could count as falsifying a mathematical truth. Likewise, no empirical observation could count as falsifying a praxeological truth – that is, those truths which are necessarily embodied in the very nature of action. If it doesn’t have means-end structure, it ain’t an action, just as an equation that doesn’t embody correct mathematical reasoning ain’t math or a formal argument that does not embody logic ain’t a proof. In this sense, praxeology IS certain, and Austrians who fail to admit it have grossly misunderstood what Mises has undertaken. The positivist method is burdened by all kinds of uncertainty (problem of induction, for example), but the conceptual truths of action, like those of mathematics, are fully free from any such doubt. Those who truly understand the Misesian project must realize that to give up the certainty of praxeology is to admit polylogism.

EternalMind October 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I’m a late comer here, and I’ve just read the debate. Enlightening, to say the least.

I still don’t get why one would think neuro-science changes teleological notions. I still don’t get what the hell free will and determinism have anything to do with the debate. Teleological notions can be determined by something in our brain – but they are still teleological. Methodological dualism still stands even with the most complex molecules being shown to do this and that and this and that and that causes us to want this and that.If the physiological notions of something shows how we become teleological – it doesn’t rule out the teleological notion within our lives. It just shows how in the physical world things occur. All these things Neoclassical seems to be saying in terms of all various types of philosophies is a convoluted, irrelevant mess and a misinterpretation of methodological dualism.

Neoclassical, your position is filled with lack of explanation, and you seemed to have gone around in circles. Even if everything can – physiologically speaking, go back to physics in terms of neurons doing this and that, how does that disprove us having purposeful wants? You seem to assume both without clearly bridging the two.

Jeremy February 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Another late-comer here, but I couldn’t help but weigh in, since it appears the no one has mentioned what I take to be some of the best defenses of praxeology (specifically the logic-bound truths of action itself) and the Misesian project more broadly. Roderick Long has a paper called “Wittgenstein, Praxeology, and Frege’s Three Realms” that should be read by every student of the Austrian school, IMHO. I did not see any reference to it here, which is unfortunate since Neoclassical is convinced that Austrians are ignorant of such works. The fact is that Wittgenstein’s later work, as well as that of Anscombe and other followers, and Long shows how it is those defenders Friedman’s positivism who are ignorant of recent developments in analytic thought. Long writes in response to Friedman’s call for “unrealistic assumptions”:

If one fails to distinguish between mental acts (“presentations,” inner-realm items) on the one hand from their contents (“components of a thought,” third-realm items) and on the other from their objects (“the things themselves,” outer-realm items), one may fall into the error of supposing that any presentation of a cat that fails to include its colour or posture must thereby have as its object or content a colourless, postureless cat. That is the mistake that Frege is diagnosing in the above passage, and Friedman’s is like unto it: he seems to assume that if an economic account fails to include a presentation of the wheat-trader’s eye-colour or ancestry, it must have as its object or content an eye-colour-less, ancestry-less wheat-trader – and so must be “unrealistic.” But once we follow Frege in distinguishing among the three realms, Friedman’s psychologistic assumption dissolves.

That said, I will only add that empiricism, in so far as its ultimate grounding is in the tradition of Locke, Hume, etc., is ultimately as self-defeating as Cartesian Rationalism and Kantian Idealism. Both are rooted in an idea that all knowledge is constructed; that is, both the rationalist tradition and the empiricist tradition of Modernity begin not by taking the world as it appears to us but by first doubting everything except that which can be upheld by Reason alone (i.e., “I think therefore I am”). This notion of True Knowledge as the product of pure Reason is embedded deep into the scientific method, which must always design experiments in such a way as to produce a definite answer to a definite question. This method is necessary to understand how nature might be manipulated to better serve our ends, but this is something entirely different from the totality of all knowledge as the empiricists believes it is. It should be obvious now that this approach is wholly inadequate to address human behavior.

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