Source link: http://archive.mises.org/2420/apriorism-and-positivism-in-the-social-sciences-lecture-32-of-32/
Apriorism and Positivism in the Social Sciences (lecture 32 of 32)
These notes are from the lecture Apriorism and Positivism in the Social Sciences, given at the Mises University. Any errors are mine, feel free to point them out so that I can correct them. This lecture was given by Prof Long.
Positivists and Semi-Positivists
- Auguste Comte
- Logical Positivists (Vienna Circle)
- Karl Popper
- Milton Friedman — Methodology of Positivist Economics.
- Got their good ideas from Wittgenstein:
- Unless you can apply/recognize ideas in practice, you don’t understand them.
- Positivists altered this to the verification theory of meaning — you need to verify it; they think that the only meaning in a sentence is its predictive power, otherwise you haven’t said anything at all.
- To say that god exists or doesn’t exist is meaningless; you have just expressed a “feeling”, but nothing else. It is no different than saying “ooh” or “ahh” or “blah blah blah”.
- Statements have to be falsifiable, because you can never prove something. Later, he changed this to criticisable.
- Popper allowed for the existence of the a priori, but just thought that it wasn’t scientific.
- Popper adopted the rationality principle, that people seem to choose the means best for their ends:
- Not a priori true.
- A posteriori false — sometimes people don’t. Yet, Popper still thought that this was generally/normally true.
- Methodology of Positivist Economics.
- Hayek said he regretted not criticizing this piece.
- Devoted to the dispute between the Austrian and Neoclassical economics on the necessity of realistic assumptions.
- Austrians say that he assumes away explaining factors.
- Friedman says a realistic model is impossible, because it is impossible to use all of the details.
- Friedman also said that the point of the model is to give us predictions that work: whether or not the model is approximately true doesn’t matter, because prediction is all that matters.
- Friedman says that if we have a dispute about a priori principles, we have no way to resolve it, “without resorting to blows”. Positivists, however, can resort to facts.
Austrian Response to Friedman
- Positivists are ignoring something important — themselves. The fact that action exists is something we know a priori, because denying such is an action.
- We know that action exists, and that it applies to the real world.
- We don’t have to do empirical tests to know that you act and know that you exist.
- The idea that we can’t resolve disputes about a priori truths (e.g., axioms) without violence is absurd. You don’t see Austrians bashing eachother’s brains in.
- Friedan is confusing the issue. He refers to axiomatic truths as if they are internal revelations.
- Psychologism — the idea that when talking about logic, we are really talking about the psychological.
- The realm of logic is more public than the possibility of observation.
- Types of abstraction: We need to distinguish between failing to specify something vs. specifying its absence:
- Precisive abstraction — specify the absense of something, “idealize”.
- Non-precisive abstraction — fail to specify something.
- Austrians object to the neoclassical specification of things that are flatly flase: e.g., perfect information.
- Friedman’s mistake is that he sees all abstraction as an idealization; however, this is wrong.
- If you don’t see the difference between the logical and the psychological, you may think that if the idea in your head is incomplete, so is the thing that you’re describing.
- Mises criticizes the idea that economics has to deal with ideal types; early Austrians made that mistake too.
- Mises rejects ideal types: the laws of reality apply to reality just as they are; this also applies to the laws of physics — you need non-precivise abstraction.
- Economic laws are counter-factual in nature, as are the laws of physics.
“A counterfactual law relates an observable fact to a counterfactual alternative, it is immaterial which other facts exist besides the one under consideration, how these other facts are modified throughout time, and how they influence the course of events.” — Huelsmann.