Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some Notes on Popper and Mises

Karl Popper is the father of "falsificationism," the idea that a hypothesis must be falsifiable if it is to be scientific. Scientific theories are tentative and speculative "conjectures" that, through careful testing, are "refuted" as we systematically learn from our mistakes. Science progresses by trial and error. This process continues indefinitely. Therefore, no theory can ever really be "true;" it can only mean that a theory is currently superior to its predecessors in the sense that it can withstand the tests that "falisified" those predecessors.

That is Karl Popper's theory of falsificationism. How does this relate to Mises? I will show you. For Karl Popper, if a theory is to be scientific (and have informative content), it must be falfisifiable, ---i.e., it must be capable of refutation. Karl Popper gave several examples of theories that were posing as "scientific" ---- Marx's theory of history, Freudian psychanalysis, and Adlerian psychology. It is impossible to refute any of these theories. For example, a Marxist can open the newspaper and read everything as a confirmation of his theory of history.

In other words, in their concern to explain everything, the Marxists really explain nothing. A theory must be capable of refutation. Now to this list I would add the work of Mises. Mises started from the a priori (infallible) dictum of human action: "Human action is purposeful behavior." This for Mises was irrefutable. And from this it followed that the entire corpus of economic theory could be deduced. Very well; but how scientific is this theory? According to Popper, it is not scientific at all. It is a poser, like the theories of Marx and Freud. For a theory to be scientific, it must be falsifiable; but Mises' approach precludes even the consideration of this requirement. We do not have to find a flaw in the logic in order to challenge Mises' system of praxeology. We need only show that a theory that is not falsifiable is not scientific.

Is it possible to reformulate Mises' system of praxeology to make it consistent with Popper's concept of falsificationism, or is it rather Popper's theory that is incorrect? As it stands, I don't think Mises' system holds. How is it any different from Freudian psychology or Adlerian psychology?

No comments:

Post a Comment