Transactional economics: John Dewey's ways of knowing and the radical subjectivism of the austrian school
Education and Culture 22 (2):61-82 (2006)
The subjectivism of the Austrian school of economics is a special case of Dewey's transactional philosophy, also known as pragmatism or pragmatic epistemology. The Austrian economists Carl Friedrich Menger (1840-1921) and Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) adopted an Aristotelian deductive approach to economic issues such as social behavior and exchange. Like Menger and Mises, Friedrich A. Hayek (1899-1992) viewed scientific knowledge, even in the social sciences, as asserting and aiming for objective certainty. Hayek was particularly critical of attempts to apply the empiricism of the natural sciences in the social sciences. Though Hayek was not a positivist in the sense ascribed to Milton Friedman (1912-), because he accepted the possibility of final, objective certainty, Hayek's view of scientific knowledge was closer to that of the logical positivists of the Vienna circle than to Dewey's pragmatism. Mises' a priorism, asserting and aiming for apodictic certainty, represented a more extreme form of objectivism even than Hayek's. Mises was similar in this regard to non-Austrian axiomatists such as Gerard Debreau (1921-2005), though he joined Hayek in eschewing mathematical formalism. In Dewey's contrasting view, the scientist commends new, alternative ways of knowing to the scientific community, offering more profound insight or more efficacious practical applications. Alternative ways of knowing which do not offer practical or intellectual benefits are to be rejected. Both the radical subjectivism of the Austrian school and Dewey's transactional strategy justify rejection of the mirage of social justice. Dewey's knowledge as ways of knowing suggests a broader and more fundamental critique of the socialist position in the calculation debate. The arguments presented by the Austrian school can be reformulated in terms of Dewey's pragmatic philosophy.
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