In Defense of Herbert Spencer

by Mario Rizzo This my letter as it appears in today's Financial Times (July 10, 2013): Sir, John Kay (“Darwin’s  humbling lesson for business”, July 3) makes good points about evolutionary  theory and the social sciences. But he is wrong about Herbert Spencer, the noted  English philosopher and evolutionist. Spencer was not a Darwinist of … Continue reading In Defense of Herbert Spencer

The Great Ideas of the Social Sciences

by Gene Callahan Let's take social science broadly, in the sense of German wissenschaft, so that The Republic and Politics and The Social Contract are social science. (I would contend that they are, in fact, often much more scientific than the latest regression study of how detergent use correlates with the suicide rate.) So what, … Continue reading The Great Ideas of the Social Sciences

The Limits of Bayesian Inference

by Gene Callahan Dan Klein's Knowledge and Coordination has something interesting to say about Bayesian inference, although he never explicitly addresses that topic. Consider the following: Here, we have the distinction between responding to the realization of events within a framework of recognized variables and relationships and the discovery of a fresh opportunity to embrace a new … Continue reading The Limits of Bayesian Inference

“Rationality” isn’t always Rational

by Mario Rizzo Over the past two years I have been reading more than I ever dreamed about rationality in economics, especially in the standard neoclassical theory of choice. I have done this because I want to get at the root of the controversies concerning whether people’s behavior is, in particular contexts, rational or not.  Claims about … Continue reading “Rationality” isn’t always Rational

Risky Behavior at Wittenberg

by Chidem Kurdas Watching Wittenberg at the Pearl Theater in New York took a group of us back to our graduate school days. This is a surprisingly entertaining comedy, creating merriment out of a mash of classical characters, modern themes and serious philosophy. The year is 1517.  Two academics at Wittenberg University, Martin Luther and … Continue reading Risky Behavior at Wittenberg

Further Thoughts on The Sensory Order

by Roger Koppl Over at Austrian Addiction, Dan D'Amico responds to my recent post on The Sensory Order.  Dan wants to know "what Hayek's theory of neuorscience is really adding here that a more basic understanding of subjective preferences does not already imply?"  Dan is not the only one with this question.  I think enthusiasts … Continue reading Further Thoughts on The Sensory Order

The Method of History

by Gene Callahan I’m currently reading Bryan Sykes excellent book, The Seven Daughters of Eve. Well, excellently written, and, I have to assume, excellent on the genetics. But there are a couple of fundamental misunderstandings of history present in the book, that I think are worth noting, because of the frequency with which people believe … Continue reading The Method of History

Just the “Basic Facts,” Mam

by Gene Callahan I was recently in a conversation with a very bright economist who declared "We are in agreement about the basic historical facts here; we are just interpreting them differently." This is a common but very damaging misunderstanding of historical knowledge: that there are a set of "basic facts" that historians are "given" … Continue reading Just the “Basic Facts,” Mam

The Amazing Brad DeLong

by Mario Rizzo   I don’t know where Brad DeLong acquired his philosophy of economics. DeLong responded to an article by Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, on “austerity.” The following is part of what the Financial Times edited out of the published version. DeLong posted it on his blog. He says there are two types … Continue reading The Amazing Brad DeLong

On Bentham and Utilitarianism

by Mario Rizzo An interesting discussion has begun at Marginal Revolution on "Benthamite utilitarianism." It started with a small comment I made on Tyler Cowen's remark regarding the discussion of Robert Frank's position goods idea. Then Tyler responded in a post. And then I made a comment. It is all here. Discussions of this subject can be interminable. So … Continue reading On Bentham and Utilitarianism

The Abstract and the Concrete

by Gene Callahan Abstraction can be an entertaining and useful activity. But every abstraction falsifies reality simply because it is an abstraction – it is a one-sided emphasis on certain aspects of the real at the expense of neglecting or even denying others. That is not necessarily harmful as long as we remember what we … Continue reading The Abstract and the Concrete

Methodological Individualism Reconsidered

by Gene Callahan Many Austrian economists embrace the doctrine of ‘methodological individualism,’ as I myself did, for instance, in my book Economics for Real People. But subsequent study on my part, most significantly of the work of Tony Lawson in his philosophy of economics project he calls ‘Critical Realism,’ as well as my readings of … Continue reading Methodological Individualism Reconsidered

How Mathematical Economists Overreach

by Mario Rizzo In recent months there has been a discussion both in the traditional media and in the blogosphere about why orthodox macroeconomics failed to predict or explain the financial crisis and the subsequent Great Recession. Some of that discussion focused around Paul Krugman’s criticism that economics mistook  (mathematical) beauty for truth. Subsequently, there … Continue reading How Mathematical Economists Overreach

The Limits of Bayesian Reasoning

by Gene Callahan In a seminar I’ve been attending at NYU this semester, David Chalmers contended that “resetting priors” is irrational in a Bayesian framework. (If you’re not familiar with Bayesian inference, the Wikipedia article just linked to does a good job of introducing the topic, so I will refer you to that, rather than … Continue reading The Limits of Bayesian Reasoning

Economics as a Philosophical Science

by Gene Callahan I happened to be reading R. G. Collingwood's famous essay (at least famous in my circles!) with the above title. While similar in some ways to Mises's philosophical analysis of the concept of action, there are some quite significant differences present as well, and I thought that Think Markets readers might enjoy … Continue reading Economics as a Philosophical Science

What is Science?

by Jerry O’Driscoll   Some recent controversies move me to take up the topic within the limitations of a blog post.  Many years ago (1956), Fritz Machlup ably addressed the issue in an essay titled “The Inferiority Complex of the Social Sciences.”  He rejected limiting the term science to particular subject matters or methods.  He concluded … Continue reading What is Science?

Against Magical Thinking

by Roger Koppl The term “magical thinking” has different meanings, most of them involving something like extrasensory perception or the efficacy of spells.  Here I define it as an argument, one of whose steps requires something impossible.  (Larry White helped me with this definition, but gets no blame for it or anything I say here.) … Continue reading Against Magical Thinking

Evolutionary Psychology

by Gene Callahan I've just been re-reading John Dupre's wonderful take-down of evolutionary psychology, Human Nature and the Limits of Science. Now, Dupre never disputes the obvious truism that, say, human ethics or religion evolved. But he notes that this is remarkably uninformative, since everything humans do so evolved, including their ability to write papers … Continue reading Evolutionary Psychology

Mises Was A Scientist

by Roger Koppl Over at Division of Labor, Noel Campbell picks a fight with Austrian fans of Mises.  “I always conceived of Mises’ efforts as attempting to build a logically correct and (therefore) irrefutable description of human behavior. As such, I always viewed Human Action as a work of philosophy, not science.”   Noel hints that … Continue reading Mises Was A Scientist