Saturday, October 06, 2007

Don Lavoie understood that Mises's revolutionary idea was to establish economics as a philosophic science

Rush to Philosophic Judgment?
In recent debates on this blog several commentators have made reference to the dead-end of the hermeneutic turn in the Austrian school from the 1980s. But truth is not determined by raising hands. It is not a function of popularity.
Don Lavoie was a brilliant and deeply committed scholar. He didn't just randomly pick Gadamer as a philosophic figure to study. He understood Mises better than all but two other Austrian economists (Israel Kirzner and Richard Ebeling). Lavoie sought to explore the philosophical foundations of Mises's system and so he was led to the continential philosophy of Mises's youth. The neo-Kantians and early phenomenologists. He read Mises's student Alfred Schutz and followed up with Husserl. Trace out from Husserl and the development of phenomenology and you get to Gadamer. That takes care of Mises, but Lavoie was also deeply read in Hayek and he took that philosophical journey as well --- through Popper, through Polanyi, and into evolutionary rationalism.
All of this philosophic study, Lavoie wanted to marshall to offer a radical challenge to the dominant formalist and positivist paradigm in economics. Unfortunately, an untimely death prevented this brilliant and caring scholar/teacher from completing his philosophical journey.
But to claim that Don failed is in my opinion a "rush to judgment" that must be resisted at every step. His journey was not started out of ignorance of a tradition, but because he knew it better than his critics. It was not started out of laziness with respect to doing economics, but out of a profound sense that unless the philosophic battle was won Austrians couldn't get a fair hearing. And, he was not defeated by superior intellectual arguments, but instead by the realities of academic administration which consumed his time in the 1990s, and ultimately by cancer that kept him from finishing his philosophical journey. Lets not just assume because of the sad reality that Don is no longer with us, that those still standing defeated him on scholarly grounds. I am not saying that Don's philosophical program was perfect, nor that modification (perhaps fundamental modifications) to it would be required to make it be workable in the social sciences. But to call it a dead-end is wrong.
Don understood that Mises's revolutionary idea was to establish economics as a philosophic science --- a science of human action that respected meaning and intentionality. And in order to achieve that revolution the phenomenological philosophic turn must be made. But this philosophic turn doesn't treat the existing state of the doctrine as fixed and complete. It is an on-going enterprise --- Husserl to Schutz to Gadamer to Taylor to Ricouer, etc. And since the application happens to be in realm of economics (which is decidely an underdeveloped branch of interpretative social science due to the stronghold that formailism and positivism has had over the discipline), this philosophic conversation has to be joined with an economic one to forge a modern synthesis. In many ways, Alfred Schutz is the last statement which we have to work from before Lavoie's incomplete writings. So we have to build from the fragments that Don left us because he never did get to write the book he spent a decade contemplating after his brilliant contributions to economics, the Austrian school of economics, and classical liberal political economy Rivalry and Central Planning and National Economic Planning: What is Left? (both published in 1985). But that task is best left to philosophically sophisticated economists and social scientists, and philosophers of science who understand the task of the human sciences (as opposed to the philosophy of the natural sciences).
Lavoie, as Mises taught, took seriously methodological dualism --- as should we. But that has implications for the way we do our economics, and the way we defend what we do. Mises understood that, and Lavoie was simply trying advance the Misesian agenda as best as he saw fit given the philosohical developments that took place since Mises came to his methodological position in the 1920s and 1930s. Lavoie's was not a hermeneutical turn, but a Misesian turn that looked to developments in modern phenomenological hermeneutics to provide philosophical justification for methodological dualism, subjectivism, and process theory.
A very solid treatment of the philosophical issues can be found in a recent paper by Gabriel Zanotti in the Journal of Markets & Morality, published by the Acton Institute. Download zanotti1.pdf Posted by Peter Boettke on October 04, 2007 at 09:28 AM

1 comment:

  1. Austria has a lot to answer for. It has given us all sorts of deluded monsters.

    These two related references sum up the inevitable outcome of such delusionary thinking.

    Namely the reducing of all authentic cultural expressions to rubble.

    One dimensional consumer ego-man now rules, with his/her bottomless pit of unfulfilled desires.