I present an argument against the very idea that anthropology can contribute to the study of specialization. But an obvious reply is “Actually anthropologists at home can study specialization.” I provide some details concerning this reply, focusing on incentives to specialize directed at sensitive souls.
Ludwig von Mises’s methodological apriorism is frequently attributed to the broader Austrian School of economics, of which, of course, Mises was a prominent member. However, there is considerable controversy concerning the meaning of Mises’s various attempts to justify his apriorism. There are prima facie inconsistencies within and across Mises’s methodological writings that engender massive confusion in the secondary literature. This confusion is aggravated by the fact that Mises’s apriorism cannot be straightforwardly interpreted as an artifact of his historical milieu. Indeed, (...) the two prevailing families of interpretation both treat Mises’s apriorism as radically anachronistic, albeit in different senses. According to “extreme” interpretations, Mises’s apriorism reflects an epistemology several decades, if not centuries, beyond its expiration date. According to “moderate” interpretations, however, Mises’s apriorism anticipates ideas that would not appear in the epistemological literature for several decades to come. Finally, there is evidence to suggest that Mises’s actual methodological beliefs are not reflected in his writings, that Mises either obfuscated or exaggerated his methodological position, for whatever reasons, making it seem more radical than it was in fact. I conclude that we have no idea what justification Mises actually intended when he asserted the a priori nature of the fundamental propositions of economics. If this is right, then, whatever method(s) they follow, Austrian economists cannot (deliberately) follow Mises’s apriorism. (shrink)
Rival causal and interpretive approaches to explaining social phenomena have important ethical differences. While human actions can be explained as a result of causal mechanisms, as a meaningful choice based on reasons, or as some combination of the two, it is morally important that social scientists respect others by recognizing them as persons. Interpretive explanations directly respect their subjects in this way, while purely causal explanations do not. Yet although causal explanations are not themselves expressions of respect, they can be (...) used in respectful ways if they are incorporated into subjects’ self-directed projects. This can occur when subjects correctly understand and freely adopt researchers’ goals through a process of informed consent. It can also occur when researchers correctly understand and adopt their subject’s goals, using their research to empower those they study. (shrink)
I examine the history of the concept of spontaneity in philosophy and the social sciences, particularly as it relates to monetary phenomena. I then offer an argument for the general significance of spontaneity. The essay concludes that scholars across the humanities and social sciences, whatever their (disciplinary, political, ideological, etc.) persuasion, would be well-served to further develop the theory of spontaneity and its social effects.
Economists associated with the Austrian School of Economics are known to deny the value of macroeconomics as descended from the work of John Maynard Keynes and, especially, his followers. Yet, Austrian economists regularly engage in a related scientific activity: theorizing about the causes and consequences of economic fluctuations, i.e., the business cycle. What explains the Austrians’ willingness to engage in theorizing about the business cycle while denying the scientific import of macroeconomics? The present paper argues that the methodological precepts of (...) the School, which have remained largely in place since Carl Menger first pronounced them at the start of the Methodenstreit, justify the kind of business-cycle theorizing that Austrians do and imply the limited scientific value of macroeconomics as descended from Keynes. (shrink)
The paper considers the significance of F. A. Hayek’s writings on the study of complex phenomena for the study of the very complex phenom- ena of Hayek’s own life and career. It is argued that the methodological principle which Hayek recommended for the investigation of complex phenomena is applicable to explanations of his own intellectual develop- ment. Indeed, it is argued that the extent to which a Hayek scholar re- spects this principle in their attempts to explain Hayek’s life and (...) career is the first criterion by which such attempts should be evaluated. As Hayek himself might have put it, an explanation of some part of his career that neglects its inherent complexity is “probably merely of necessity false” (Hayek,  2014, 263). (shrink)
Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology (RHETM) is a journal/book series dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to a broad range of topics related to the history and methodology of economics. Volumes are divided into four parts: a monothematic section dedicated to research articles focused on a particular issue in the journal’s core fields of interest, a section including research articles of a more general nature, a section of newly-discovered archival materials, and a section of review essays on (...) new works in the history and methodology of economics. Founded by Warren Samuels in 1982, Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology is one of the oldest publication outlets in the fields of economic methodology and the history of economic thought. (shrink)
Whatever F.A. Hayek meant by “knowledge” could not have been the justified true belief conception common in the Western intellectual tradition from at least the time of Plato onward. In this brief note, I aim to uncover and succinctly state Hayek’s unique definition of knowledge.
F.A. Hayek essentially quit economic theory and gave up the phenomena of industrial fluctuations as an explicit object of theoretical investigation following the publication of his last work in technical economics, 1941’s The Pure Theory of Capital. Nonetheless, several of Hayek’s more methodologically-oriented writings bear important implications for economic phenomena, especially those of industrial fluctuations. Decisions (usually, for Hayek, of a political nature) taken on the basis of a “pretence” of knowledge impede the operation of the price system’s belief-coordinating function (...) and thereby contribute to episodes of economic disequilibrium. Moreover, this later account – which I call Hayek’s epistemic theory of industrial fluctuations – implies certain aspects of his earlier theory. The two accounts are connected in virtue of the role that ignorance and the limits of human knowledge play in each. Indeed, it turns out that – substantively, if not methodologically – Hayek’s early theory of the cycle is a special case of the more general epistemic account. (shrink)
F.A. Hayek argued that the sciences of complex phenomena, including (perhaps especially) economics, are limited to incomplete “explanations of the principle” and “pattern predictions.” According to Hayek, these disciplines suffer from (what I call) a data problem, i.e., the hopelessness of populating theoretical models with data adequate to full explanations and precise predictions. In Hayek’s terms, explanations in these fields are always a matter of “degree.” However, Hayek’s methodology implies a distinct theory problem: theoretical models of complex phenomena may be (...) underspecified so that, even were all the data available, a full explanation could not be inferred from the model. Where the sciences of complex phenomena are subject to both the data and theory problems, explanations and predictions will be of even lesser “predictive degree.” The paper also considers how to interpret Hayek’s claim that pattern predictions are falsifiable. (shrink)