Quote of the Day: What Logical Principles are for

Quoth Sidney Hook (Quoted in turn by Corey Robin)

The extraordinary virtues Miss Rand finds in the law that A is A suggests that she is unaware that logical principles by themselves can test only consistency. They cannot establish truth….

This is something that needs to be drilled in the minds of all right-libertarians who insist that they can describe reality without requiring any empiricism at all. From the “A is A” Randroids to the “Human Action” Misoids.

21 thoughts on “Quote of the Day: What Logical Principles are for

  1. “Human Action” Misoids. I'm not sure I understand.

    There is certainly empiricism in the Austrian School. Mises was a consequencialist and besides the fundamental action axiom everything else is empirical.
    http://mises.org/rothbard/extreme.pdf

    It would seem that since many Austrians study history they must have interest in empirical evidence.

    1. Von Mises himself declared that when reality contradicts the results expected from their economics, it is not the economics that need to be reconsidered.

  2. Could you provide a source?

    It sounds to me a misunderstanding of his separation of human sciences and natural sciences. There are certain facts about the universe that are accepted. The action axiom. All others are derived from that from logic and empirical analysis as Rothbard points out. The point made is that reality is not omnisciently and objectively observable. Empirical data is open to interpretation and one can't have a control. If you have certain a priori derived facts… they can't be reconsidered unless the logic is wrong. That people act and the logically derived facts are no more reconsiderable than that a triangle has 3 sides. It's a different kind of knowledge. Note the last couple paragraphs.

    From chapter 2 of Human Action:

    The subject matter of all historical sciences is the past. They cannot teach us anything which would be valid for all human actions, that is, for the future too. The study of history makes a man wise and judicious. But it does not by itself provide any knowledge and skill which could be utilized for handling concrete tasks.

    The natural sciences too deal with past events. Every experience is an experience of something passed away; there is no experience of future happenings. But the experience to which the natural sciences owe all their success is the experience of the experiment in which the individual elements of change can be observed in isolation. The facts amassed in this way can be used for induction, a peculiar procedure of inference which has given pragmatic evidence of its expediency, although its satisfactory epistemological characterization is still an unsolved problem.

    The experience with which the sciences of human action have to deal is always an experience of complex phenomena. No laboratory experiments can be performed with regard to human action. We are never in a position to observe the change in one element only, all other conditions of the event remaining unchanged. Historical experience as an experience of complex
    phenomena does not provide us with facts in the sense in which the natural sciences employ this term to signify isolated events tested in experiments.

    The information conveyed by historical experience cannot be used as building material for the construction of theories and the prediction of future events. Every historical experience is open to various interpretations, and is in fact interpreted in different ways.

    The postulates of positivism and kindred schools of metaphysics are therefore illusory. It is impossible to reform the sciences of human action according to the pattern of physics and the other natural sciences. There is no means to establish an a posteriori theory of human conduct and social events. History can neither prove nor disprove any general statement in the manner in which the natural sciences accept or reject a hypothesis on the ground of laboratory experiments. Neither experimental verification nor
    experimental falsification of a general proposition is possible in its field.

    Complex phenomena in the production of which various causal chains are interlaced cannot test any theory. Such phenomena, on the contrary, become intelligible only through an interpretation in terms of theories previously developed from other sources. In the case of natural phenomena the interpretation of an event must not be at variance with the theories satisfactorily verified by experiments. In the case of historical events there is no such restriction. Commentators would be free to resort to quite arbitrary explanations. Where there is something to explain, the human mind has never been at a loss to invent ad hoc some imaginary theories, lacking any logical justification.

    In the field of human history a limitation similar to that which the experimentally tested theories enjoin upon the attempts to interpret and elucidate individual physical, chemical, and physiological events is provided by praxeology. Praxeology is a theoretical and systematic, not a historical, science. Its scope is human action as such, irrespective of all environmental, accidental, and individual circumstances of the concrete acts. Its cognition is purely formal and general without reference to the material content and the particular features of the actual case. It aims at knowledge valid for all instances in which the conditions exactly correspond to those implied in its assumptions and inferences. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts. They are both logically and temporally antecedent to any comprehension of historical facts.

    They are a necessary requirement of any intellectual grasp of historical events. Without them we should not be able to see in the course of events anything else than kaleidoscopic change and chaotic muddle.

    1. I do not have a source available at this moment and I can't be bothered to go looking for it.

      There are certain facts about the universe that are accepted. The action axiom. All others are derived from that from logic and empirical analysis as Rothbard points out

      The flaw that Austians make is that they attempt to sneak descriptive facts into this "Action Axiom", by itself, this axiom: "Humans Act" is worthless.

      1. 1. What is the "Action Axiom"?
        2. What descriptive facts to "Human Action" misoids attempt to slip into the "Action Axiom"?

          1. I'd agree that humans act, I wouldn't necessarily agree that they do so to fulfill their strongest desires first.

    2. Empirical data is open to interpretation and one can't have a control. If you have certain a priori derived facts… they can't be reconsidered unless the logic is wrong.

      No. Empricial data is NOT open to interpretation. This is why we have the scientific method. Furthermore, if you have a priori derived facts, they can be immediately be dismissed unless thay have been put through empirical testing. This is because human logic is not perfect.

      That people act and the logically derived facts are no more reconsiderable than that a triangle has 3 sides. It's a different kind of knowledge. Note the last couple paragraphs.

      That people act, that triangles have three sides and that A is A are all true and all equally irrelevant in discovering truth. This is what the quote above points out.

      1. The scientific method is not about finding truth but, assuming there are static rules over time, what is not true (not consistent) relative to some prior theory. Empirical data and the scientific method don't provide truth. They provide, under the assumptions they hold, a way of presenting the probability that something is true or not. The very concept of empiricism precludes real, timeless truth from being discovered.

        "That happens because, in order to turn an axiomatic edifice into a prescription, the ideologue needs to assume a fact, a descriptive concept for reality, and sneak that in as an immutable axiom as well. However, any assumptions that are not based in empirical testing cannot under any circumstances be considered true or unchallengeable."

        Is a static set of rules in the universe not an assumption? Was it an assumption that has now been tested into truth? Do the worth of axioms to provide truth need to be tested?

        1. Science is the closest thing we've got to finding objective truth. It's doesn't matter that it can never be 100% accurate as long as it gives us a very high confidence given the same variables. Science is not about finding some ideological "timeless truth" but about having practical certainty in our lives so that we can plan and organize better for the future. This is why economics based on logical edifices are usueless except as theoretical exercises of the mind.

        2. Is a static set of rules in the universe not an assumption? Was it an assumption that has now been tested into truth? Do the worth of axioms to provide truth need to be tested?

          Of course the assumption has been tested into truth. The continued success of scientific discoveries to correctly predict what they claim they can is the proof of their success.

          Do the worth of axioms to provide truth need to be tested?

          If you want them to be accepted, you'd better be able to prove their worth.

          1. "I repeat: This is why we have the scientific method. Falsification and all that jazz… "

            No, it's why scientific method is not what you're saing it is. Falsification rests on convetion – researcher must conventionaly choose his base statements, propositions that are used to falsificate theories.

          2. That is irrelevant and it doesn't change the fact that you don't interpret data differently. You only create different theories based on it. The Data remains the same no matter what.

          3. "That is irrelevant and it doesn't change the fact that you don't interpret data differently. You only create different theories based on it. The Data remains the same no matter what."

            Untrue. Withouth theories datas are useless. Try to give some empitical data without mentioning space and time of it occurence. If you can't say where and when something happens, you can't do science. And you can't say where and when something happend, if you won't give the time, and the place. Time and place are not untheorethicals entities.

          4. Data without theory is not useless. Their usefulness is in confirming of falsifying theories. So it's the other way around. Theories without data are useless.

            The space and time of the occurence of any event is part of the data.

          5. But you need to use theories (very primitive) about world to express empirical data. The time and space are not entities you can describe without unleast very primitive physics (some general conceptions about how temporal and spatial ting behave, for example – that we can measure them). You can't start describing world from theoretical zero level because there is no zero level – or show it to me (the Vienna Circle tried and they failed). Or: how you avoid question about what is time and space? Of course you can show me where in time something was, but can you show me time or space?

          6. You do not need to have the question of what is time and space as long as people can agree that it exists. And most people intuitively understand the existence of time and space because it's practical for their daily life.

            Yes, you do need to use logic and language to express data but that's why logic is only useful to test consistensy and not estabilish truth, which is something that you can only do when you take into account empirical data.

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