February 16, 2016

Economics, too, has been almost ruined by the bigots of common sense

Comment on Lars Syll on ‘”Observation is theory-laden” — fashionable philosophical rubbish’


It is helpful to distinguish first between naive empiricism/spontaneous perception and observation. Ultimately, naive empiricists are the worst nuisance in science. To recall, Galileo argued that the earth moves at high speed. Now, this was big fun for the half-witted empiricists and they told Galileo that they could feel nothing of motion and asked him mockingly why their hats did not fly away.

Of course, Galileo could explain the optical illusion of the empiricists with the theory of relative motion but this was complicated/anti-intuitive, and spontaneous experience was brain-dead simple. So, Galileo was unconvincing in the court of public opinion. Naive empiricism plays always in the hands of the stupid majority or the bigots of common sense as J. S. Mill called them.

“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.” (2006, p. 783)

Naive empiricism relies on the five senses. But the phenomenon of optical illusion shows that perception does not yield a one-to-one correspondence with reality. We know that the railway track never converges but we can clearly see it.

Theory can, therefore, be taken as a kind of third eye which helps to see the ‘real’ reality. Observation, then, is theory-laden perception which overrides spontaneous perception.

“I shall never be able to express strongly enough my admiration for the greatness of mind of these men who conceived this [heliocentric] hypothesis and held it to be true. In violent opposition to the evidence of their own senses and by sheer force of intellect, they preferred what reason told them to that which sense experience plainly showed them ... I repeat, there is no limit to my astonishment when I reflect how Aristarchus and Copernicus were able to let conquer sense, and in defiance of sense make reason the mistress of their belief.” (Galileo, quoted in Popper, 1994, p. 84)

Just because science is anti-intuitive the main problem is how to prove propositions that are directly against the personal experience of any dull bigot of common sense. Theory is a product of imagination and NOT of the five senses.

“If then it is the case that the axiomatic basis of theoretical physics cannot be an inference from experience, but must be free invention, have we any right to hope that we shall find the correct way?” (Einstein, 1934, p. 167)

We find the correct way by continuous theory-laden observation. Alan Musgrave, of course, has never found anything of scientific value because he is fully occupied with spreading methodological rubbish.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Einstein, A. (1934). On the Method of Theoretical Physics. Philosophy of Science, 1(2): 163–169. 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.
Popper, K. R. (1994). The Myth of the Framework. In Defence of Science and Rationality., chapter Science: Problems, Aims, Responsibilities, pages 82–111. London, New York, NY: Routledge.


REPLY  comment on Lars Syll on Feb 16

You say “I do not understand what you are heading at.” I think this is pretty obvious.

Economics is a failed science. Part of the problem is that economists violate well-defined scientific standards on a daily basis: “If one takes seriously what Popper says about falsifiability and the critical attitude, then the methodological practice of economics is not only mistaken, it is stupid and intellectually reprehensible.” (Hausman, 1992, p. 275)

The incompetence of economists is only surpassed by the incompetence of economic methodologists. A methodologist who does not immediately see that equilibrium is a petitio principii and that microeconomics is one big Fallacy of Composition and therefore methodologically forever unacceptable is either blind, stupid, or gutless.

Instinctively, in order to secure their ecological niche, economic methodologists have pulled out their own teeth, watered down methodological standards, advocated eclecticism/ pluralism, and applauded to ‘tennis with the net down’ (Blaug): “The current state of mainstream economic methodology in general, therefore, reflects a polarisation of positions on the role of methodology: the ‘old guard’ traditionalists continue to see methodology’s role as being prescriptive of good scientific practice; the ‘new guard’ deny that role and concentrate on using the methodological perspective as a means of describing the methodology implicit in economic theorising.” (Dow, 1997, p. 80)

Instead of enforcing the well-defined rules of logical and empirical consistency methodologists turned to description and storytelling: “Much of the work in methodology over the last ten years has thus consisted of methodological analysis of what economists do and how they argue.” (Dow, 1997, p. 78)

This is how the policemen of science evaded the hard part of their job and made a peep-show of methodology. The ‘new guard’ of methodologists deserves only contempt for bringing down methodology to senseless wish-wash about induction, deduction, and abduction. Alan Musgrave’s piece is substandard in the already substandard discipline of economic methodology.

What I am heading at is that heterodox economists get the ‘new guard’ of methodologists off their back.

Dow, S. C. (1997). Mainstream Economic Methodology. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 21: pp. 73–93.
Hausman, D. M. (1992). The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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