October 10, 2015

Passionate belief is no substitute for knowledge

Comment on Asad Zaman on ‘The rise and fall of logical positivism’


With regard to econometrics I agree with you that Orthodoxy messed the whole thing up.* This is bad enough, however, it is only a secondary effect. The root cause is that Orthodoxy as a whole is unacceptable as scientific theory because it is based on nonentities. Roughly speaking, if one starts with utility, constrained optimization, equilibrium, etc. and then goes on to test for the equilibrium price one is bound to fail — not because the statistical methods are defective but because the hypothesis to be tested has no real world content.

Empirical verification/falsification plays a decisive role for demarcation which in turn is the central issue of science since the ancient Greeks introduced the distinction between opinion and knowledge.

“There are always many different opinions and conventions concerning any one problem or subject-matter (such as the gods). This shows that they are not all true. For if they conflict, then at best only one of them can be true. Thus it appears that Parmenides ... was the first to distinguish clearly between truth or reality on the one hand, and convention or conventional opinion (hearsay, plausible myth) on the other ...” (Popper, 1994, pp. 39-40)

Since more than 2000 years it is known that science is about knowledge and that religion is about belief. Obviously, you cannot get your head around this fundamental point: “These debates often get clouded by strong emotional attachments to science or religion — both sides having passionate believers.” (your post of 10 October)

There is, to begin with, no place for passionate believers in science. All great scientists pleaded for the utmost degree of objectivity and that meant to keep belief,** passion, and other human-all-too-human failings out of the discourse. Science is about true/false and that is that. “Like Planck, Einstein viewed the human element of any physical theory as essentially arbitrary, something that should be purged on realization of the final true theory.” (Mirowski, 2004, p. 159)

Heterodoxy has a choice: it either drowns in beliefs, opinions, emotions, wish-wash, ad hominem argument, and anything goes (=political economics) or it eventually establishes material and formal consistency (=theoretical economics).***

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Mirowski, P. (2004). The Effortless Economy of Science? Durnham, London: Duke University Press.
Popper, K. R. (1994). The Myth of the Framework. In Defence of Science and Rationality. London, New York, NY: Routledge.

* See also ‘Redefining economics
** “The animistic fallacy is the informal fallacy of arguing that an event or situation necessarily arose because someone intentionally acted to cause it. While it could be that someone set out to effect a specific goal, the fallacy appears in an argument that states this must be the case. The name of the fallacy comes from the animistic belief that changes in the physical world are the work of conscious spirits.” (Wikipedia)
*** For a start see cross-references New curriculum

Preceding post 'Demarcation works, but it takes longer in economics'