catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

In the country of the blind…

with 6 comments

“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”.  The point of this story is that people have been rendered blind to the value of Popper’s contribution in the philosophy of science by misleading and invalid criticisms supposedly launched by Kuhn and Lakatos in the 1960s (probably before most of the current students were born, which means too long ago to be of any real interest).

John Quiggin and I have been discussing this topic because he claims to find Lakatos  helpful, or perhaps Lakatos as interpreted by Mark Blaug and he encourages his students to do some reading in that direction. He has not found Larry Boland very helpful in his capacity as a Popperian critical rationalist although Larry is a fully trained mathematical economist with a strong record of publication over four decades. I will be guest blogging somewhere with a small series of posts to explain some of Larry’s achievements (more on that when it happens).

There were several unfortunate outcomes from the premature expulsion of Popper from the main game.

1. It opened the door for the POMO people to attract people who were bored by the mainstream of analytical philosophy. Many professional philosophers kept on the path of logical positivism/logical empiricism, like the Bayesians of various kinds, trying to find some numerical value for the probability of explanatory theories. This is a boring and technical line of work that has zero appeal for young people who are looking for ideas that have a bit of zing and sparkle about them, some hint of excitement, novelty and a touch of iconoclasm, like logical positivism itself in its early days, as expounded by the likes of Alfred Ayer.

2. Kuhn and Lakatos inspired two great industries of academic research and publication, applying paradigm theory and the methodology of scientific research programs to everything under the sun. “For the man with a hammer, everything is a nail…”. But little of lasting value has emerged, especially in economics, despite major efforts by many scholars over three decades.

Taking up the last exchange between John and myself.

“To be boringly clear, Rafe, I haven’t “foreclosed” on the Lakatos/Popper debate. I observe that my interpretation is supported by professionals in the field (notably including both Lakatos and Popper) and I therefore don’t feel the need to defend it against criticisms from you that I frankly can’t follow.”

John I can see that you don’t follow the arguments, that was my conjecture from the very start of the discussion. I thought that your interpretation of the situation was that Lakatos (and others such as Kuhn) identified shortcomings with Popper’s views on falsification which (a) he could not correct and (b) Lakatos improved upon.

To support this view you quoted a passage from a paper by a professional. The passage that you drew upon was (a) incoherent and (b) contradicted hy other passages in the paper.

This is the post where that is explained.

Now you say that your interpretation is supported by Popper. Are you serious?

The reason why I am persisting with this investigation is that I think there has been a massive waste of resources in the philosophy of science following invalid criticisms of Popper by Kuhn and Lakatos in the 1960s and 1970s. That has impacted on economics by encouraging the (so far unhelpful) efforts of Blaug, Latsis and many others to try to make something out of the ideas of Lakatos. This has distracted efforts from the more helpful work that has been done by Larry Boland and from pursuing the implications of Popper’s views on situational analysis in other social sciences.

I am trying to work out why people think that it was ok to sideline Popper on account of the criticisms from Kuhn and Lakatos.


Written by Admin

December 5, 2006 at 11:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses

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  1. So the problem with Bayseanism is that you find it technical and boring? Surely not a very convincing argument against it.

    Steve Edney

    December 5, 2006 at 1:58 pm

  2. That is on top of failing to achieve its purpose.

    Rafe Champion

    December 5, 2006 at 8:12 pm

  3. “Now you say that your interpretation is supported by Popper. Are you serious?”

    You yourself have said that Popper emphasised falsification, reinforcing my (and everyone else’s) central concern that there can be no decisive falsification of a scientific research program.

    And you yourself have used this Lakatosian terminology, and found it helpful

    So I’ll repeat that Popper supported my interpretation and add that, at least on one occasion, so did Champion

    John Quiggin

    December 5, 2006 at 9:42 pm

  4. John, I understood that you thought that Lakatos identified a problem with Popper’s position that Popper himself was unable to fix. Lakatos attempted to improve on Popper’s position with his own methodology of scientific research programs MSRP). Under the leadership of Latsis and Blaug that line of approach became a growth area in the methodology of economics for two or three decades. You indicated that you tell your students to read Blaug on the understanding that Lakatos has got more to offer than Popper.

    I would like to know if you still think that is the case.

    I have used Lakatosian terminology sometimes to show that I am familiar with the work, but I don’t think his terminology or his MSRP adds value.

    Rafe Champion

    December 5, 2006 at 9:51 pm

  5. On the topic of Mark Blaug, it is strange that he was so enthsiastic about the quest for falsification (his message was that economists needed to try harder to practice falsification) because he did not get this idea direct from Popper. It seems that he drew his ideas on methods from Lakatos.

    This despite the fact that he was so excited by Popper’s “The Open Society and its Enemies” that he read it right through in a weekend that he spent in Paris! Imagine that, go to Paris for two days and spend the whole time reading a book. But it is that kind of book. A pity that it was too long for Andrew Norton to read right to the end. Perhaps Andrew should have read it in Paris?

    The OSE contains a preliminary statement about “situational analysis” which is the more useful part of Popper’s work for social scientists.

    Rafe Champion

    December 6, 2006 at 7:23 am

  6. John, while you are visiting this site you might like to respond to some other questions that I asked recenty.

    1. To name some ‘neoliberals” who espouse neoliberalism out of personal self interest.

    2. To clear up your views on post-1983 deregulation and economic rationalism – are you critical of the program in principle or just with some elements, or the way it was done? Gruen Snr found some fault with your published views on these things and I wonder if you have taken his thoughts on board or rejected them.

    3. To clarify whether you have read enough of the Austrians at George Mason Uni to provide a more cogent criticism than merely to mock them for being a second tier academy.

    Rafe Champion

    December 6, 2006 at 7:28 am

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