Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Everyone needs to understand the basic conceptions of a liberal order

[There is, of course, something extremely wrong with education in engineering, something that Friedrich Hayek first pointed out in a little book called The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason. Here, Hayek traces the history of "positivism" in the social sciences to the Paris-based Ecole Polytechnique, and the sociologists Saint-Simon and August Comte. This exploration into the "history of ideas" is instructive as well as absorbing.
Later, he also elaborates on how this "science" perverted the social sciences, and our understanding of society, thereby becoming an enemy of Liberty.
It is in this book that Hayek deplores the tendency of what he calls the "engineering mindset", to support "social engineering" by the State (ideas like central economic planning) because to the engineer, the plan is quite like his "blueprint". Engineers therefore have a tendency to support totalitarian governments (not terrorism).
In India, I do believe that this book by Hayek (dated 1955) was itself "abused" by his enemies, the ruling socialists of the academia. From their inception in the 60s right up to this day, all the government-funded elite institutes of management (IIMs) have shown a marked preference for admitting engineers. It is not that engineers make better managers. Rather, engineers make better supporters of social engineering. The IIT-IIM type "misunderstands" society and economy. This misunderstanding, I allege, is deliberate on the part of the czars of Indian (government) education.
The truth, then, is that the "liberal humanities" are not taught anywhere in India, and in very few places in the world. Not only engineers and scientists - everyone needs to understand the basic conceptions of a liberal order. Unfortunately, there are very few who know this subject...
Shashi Tharoor says Engineers are Terrorists! from ANTIDOTE by Sauvik]

[Why are the social sciences backward? from Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen
In a study of Gordon Tullock's
The Organization of Inquiry (the full Tullock symposium is here)... Tullock is responding to Mises and Hayek, who both thought that the social sciences were different because matters of human affairs are more complex and because of the subjective dimension of human choice and expectation (NB: the views of Mises and Hayek are not exactly the same and Hayek himself changed his position over time, laying greater stress on complexity rather than subjectivity).
I would note, by the way, that while economics lags behind physics, we understand the economy better than we understand the human brain or for that matter
the deep ocean. I see complexity of the topic and accessibility to information as determining the progress of a science; I am not so far from Hayek's view, although he underestimated how much progress quantitative and experimental economics could make.
It seems there were even
ancient computers, not to mention advanced philosophy. So the point remains: the absence of a developed economics until the mid-18th century remains a startling anomaly in the history of ideas. Why was that? Addendum: Arnold Kling comments.]

[But any reader of Thomas Kuhn knows that failed paradigms do not go away. They persist until they can be replaced by something else. On the other hand, readers in the history of psychology know that Kuhn was an optimist. There have been many paradigms in the history of psychology, but they have all run into rocks. Instead of being replaced by a new, better paradigm, the earlier, chaotic condition returns. Thus, despite the fact that psychology is about the same age as evolutionary biology, it has made nowhere near the same progress. The philosopher John Searle argues that psychology keeps running into the same rock: the mind/body puzzle. In every case a new paradigm attempts to explain some set of psychological phenomena in non-mentalistic terms, but is eventually wrecked when it becomes clear that seemingly mentalistic phenomena can no longer be shoved aside... babels_dawn in evolang 2008 10:07 AM]

Their ontological horizon - rudimentary as it is – notwithstanding, that economists too ponder over complexity or subjectivity is something heartening. It will be really liberating for them the day they ascertain the right worth of The Life Divine. [TNM]

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