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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6707/economics-and-the-revolt-against-reason/

Economics and the Revolt Against Reason

June 1, 2007 by

  1. The Revolt Against Reason
  2. The Logical Aspect of Polylogism
  3. The Praxeological Aspect of Polylogism
  1. Racial Polylogism
  2. Polylogism and Understanding
  3. The Case for Reason

Ludwig von Mises wrote: The revolt against reason, the characteristic mental attitude of our age, was not caused by a lack of modesty, caution, and self-examination on the part of the philosophers. Neither was it due to failures in the evolution of modern natural science. The amazing achievements of technology and therapeutics speak a language which nobody can ignore. It is hopeless to attack modern science, whether from the angle of intuitionism and mysticism, or from any other point of view. The revolt against reason was directed against another target. It did not aim at the natural sciences, but at economics. The attack against the natural sciences was only the logically necessary outcome of the attack against economics. It was impermissible to dethrone reason in one field only and not to question it in other branches of knowledge also. FULL ARTICLE


Brainpolice June 1, 2007 at 9:37 pm

Polylogism is one of my pet peeve topics. I enjoy Mises’s analysis of the irrationality of economic, racial and national polylogism.

Alex MacMillan June 2, 2007 at 10:27 am

Some of my most annoying moments in teaching have come from presenting a logical argument with which the entire class agrees, yet significant numbers refuse to accept the conclusion. This is always the case, for example, with discussions surrounding international trade.

Probably none of you have stooped so low as to watch Judge Judy. But I have. She is a most logical and bright woman, who refuses to allow plaintiffs or defendants to sidetrack from the main issues of each case. She presents her reasoning, which is usually obvious to everyone in the TV court room and to the plaintiff and defendant. But in spite of her airtight logic, which neither plaintiff nor defendant can dispute, frequently the defendant or the plaintiff argue that her conclusion is wrong.

My theory is as follows, and I guess it’s pretty obvious: To deny undesirable implications or conclusions that follow from rational argument has a cost to most people. They feel badly about it. But to accept undesirable consequences of a rational argument also has a cost. If the cost of accepting the consequences of a rational argument are greater than the cost of intellectual dishonesty, then the rational argument will be rejected. Of course to each individual, the consequences of a particular rational argument will have a different cost (and they will imply benefits to some). Also, the internal cost of intellectual dishonesty varies greatly by individual.

Björn Lundahl June 2, 2007 at 1:10 pm


I think your theory is correct and it is also in accordance with Mises ideas that a human action is intended to improve a person’s satisfaction.

Björn Lundahl

RogerM June 2, 2007 at 1:15 pm

Alex: “If the cost of accepting the consequences of a rational argument are greater than the cost of intellectual dishonesty, then the rational argument will be rejected.”

You made some very good points. Before I got into economics, I was in public relations and I think PR research can help a lot in this issue of irrational behavior. PR research shows that people don’t make decisions based on logic/reason, but on emotions. People choose as “truth” what they want to be true based upon their emotional response to an issue. Only after making that choice do they turn to look for a rationale for their decision. By changing definitions and assumptions, they can easily find a rationale for their choice.

To find the truth, people have to put themselves in a state in which they don’t care about the consequences of the results of their investigation; in other words, a person has to be emotionally neutral about the truth he discovers, which is very difficult for most people.

Why, then, do free market capitalists exist? I would suspect, that either they have achieved that emotional neutrality, or that intellectual honesty is far more important to them than their emotions.

Another issue that PR research sheds light on is that some people can examine issues and decide for themselves, while others (typically socialists) defer to authority. That’s why you see socialist/environmentalists appealing constantly to peer-reviewed literature. They can’t think for themselves.

To persuade more Americans of the truth of free market capitalism, we’re going to have to learn to appeal to their emotions first and foremost, which we don’t do well. We’re way to geeky. Motion pictures, TV, plays and novels all appeal to the emotions, which is why most people in those industries are socialists. What do Austrians do? We use print and logic, both void of emotion. Mises was probably the most emotional of all great economists and he was pretty flat by the standards of most Americans. P.J. O’Roark and Penn and Teller have done the best job of appealing to emotions, but they’re often too vulgar. Austrians are great economists, but need to become much, much better communicators.

Alex MacMillan June 3, 2007 at 9:51 am


Yes, Roger, the PR research results you spoke of seem to fit with my casual observations. To like or dislike a result has to do with happiness or the reduction of it. Happiness is an emotional state. With most people, if the result of an argument makes them less happy, they will look around for a better argument (i.e., one whose conclusions make them happier, or at least less uncomfortable). This is why the IPCC’s climate stuff, especially as hyped by Al Gore, has so much appeal to the left. No longer do those on the left have to feel embarassed about their failed socialist arguments when facing off against proponents of free markets. They now have a rationale which fits what they always new what a correct conclusion: that free market capitalism is evil. It’s destroying the human race for heaven’s sake.

Bruce Koerber June 10, 2007 at 5:36 pm

In my most recent book, ETHICS of the Divine Economy, I explored the history of ethics and the history of the divine economy theory and what I found was that reason was left behind when the the conditions in the western civilization were right, that is, a combination of the printing press, paper making technologies, the Protestant Reformation movement, and the emergence of the State (since it could now undermine its primary adversary – the Catholic Church). The scientific method that was accepted from that point on did not look for cause and effect. It wasn’t until the mid-1880′s that reason returned as the basis of analysis, thanks to Carl Menger!

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