July 13, 2013

Vaguely right could simply be vaguely wrong

Comment on Fred Zaman on 'Rethinking Keynes’ non-Euclidian theory of the economy'


(a) It is not the question of what I prefer or like, it is the question of what is a scientific proposition.

(b) It is important to distinguish between method and actual application. Spinoza used the axiomatic method to prove the existence of God. This, obviously, is a misapplication. This misapplication is no argument against the method. By defending the method I do not defend the neoclassical axioms. That is a shortcut of your own making.

(c) If you prefer the vaguely right you must already know what is right. However, there is no criterion to discriminate between vaguely right and vaguely wrong. Finally, if you already know what is right why are you content with vaguely right? The argument is silly because it presupposes what it tries to prove.

(d) The first rule of science is that there is no such thing as a pure and simple fact.

(e) You can look out of the window and say the sun rises. That's not science, that is common sense. As J. S. Mill put it: “People fancied they saw the sun rise and set, the stars revolve in circles round the pole. We now know that they saw no such thing; what they really saw was a set of appearances, equally reconcileable with the theory they held and with a totally different one. It seems strange that such an instance as this, ... , should not have opened the eyes of the bigots of common sense, and inspired them with a more modest distrust of the competency of mere ignorance to judge the conclusions of cultivated thought.” (Mill, 2006, p. 783). It certainly did not open the eyes of Paul Schächterle.

(f) If Malthus refreshes you that's ok. Unfortunately, you are in the wrong movie. Science is not about wellness but about knowledge.

(g) Neither Malthus, nor Keynes, nor you, nor anybody else can grasp the essence of real economic movements and relations by looking out of the window: “Since, therefore, it is vain to hope that truth can be arrived at, either in Political Economy or in any other department of the social science, while we look at the facts in the concrete, clothed in all the complexity with which nature has surrounded them, and endeavour to elicit a general law by a process of induction from a comparison of details; there remains no other method than the à priori one, or that of ‘abstract speculation.’” (Mill, 2004, p. 113-114)

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Mill, J. S. (2004). Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy, chapter On the Definition of Political Economy; and the Method of Investigation Proper to It., pages 93–125. Electronic Classic Series PA 18202: Pennsylvania State University. URL
Mill, J. S. (2006). A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive. Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation, volume 8 of Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.