October 27, 2016

Economics pedagogy: a un- and anti-scientific exercise

Comment on Asad Zaman on ‘Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge’


One can certainly agree with Asad Zaman: “We cannot understand the world around us without a sophisticated understanding of the complex but intimate relationship between knowledge and power.”

When the ancient Greeks invented science more than 2000 years ago they made the distinction between doxa (= opinion) and episteme (= knowledge). Opinion, storytelling and rhetoric belong to the political realm, knowledge and proof belong to the scientific realm. Knowledge is established by research: “Research is in fact a continuous discussion of the consistency of theories: formal consistency insofar as the discussion relates to the logical cohesion of what is asserted in joint theories; material consistency insofar as the agreement of observations with theories is concerned.” (Klant, 1994).

Scientific knowledge is what satisfies the conditions of material and formal consistency. Needless to emphasize that politics always tried to interfere with science and that science had often a hard time to keep up the strict separation of both spheres. The fact of the matter is that (i) power cannot establish scientific knowledge, (ii) power is based on belief and therefore denies the existence of objective scientific truth: “As some one has said, it would seem that even the theorems of Euclid would be challenged and doubted if they should be appealed to by one political party as against another. (Fisher, 1911, PF. 6)

Philosophers are not scientists. Foucault, “One of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century” (Zaman), has not produced a single piece of scientific knowledge. Like all philosophers, he was a storyteller and political agenda pusher.

Foucault’s and Zaman’s assertion that there is no objective truth is, firstly, logically self-contradictory (see Epimenides Paradox). It is, secondly, practically self-contradictory. When challenged with the choice to board an aircraft that has been designed/constructed by influential philosophers/powerful politicians and one that has been designed/constructed by scientists/engineers can there be any doubt about the outcome?

The founding fathers called themselves Political Economists. Now, take Smith and Newton as reference points. How much knowledge did science produce and how much did political economics produce in roughly 200 years? The plain fact is (i) that neither orthodox nor heterodox political economists have produced anything of scientific value, and (ii), that the scientific content of both the orthodox and the WEA curriculum is zero.*

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

* See also ‘The Cambridge crap curriculum

Related 'Economics: a science without scientists' and 'Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy: the squabbling of quacks'