Home > Uncategorized > The problem of postmodernism in American economics: an historian’s perspective

The problem of postmodernism in American economics: an historian’s perspective

from Robert R Locke

Like Marx, postmodernists stand Enlightenment rhetoric on its head in order the better to attack it.  Whereas Marx talked about how the bourgeoisie created a superstructure of thought and moral teachings to protect its interest, the postmodernists  discuss how dominant groups construct authoritative meta-narratives that ignore the live experience of the disadvantaged – women, slaves, minorities, nonwhite, and generally the poor – and leave the fact of their exploitation hidden until the rhetoric of the dominant dialogue is deconstructed.

Since orthodox economics is modernism par excellence, the rhetoric it employs is a prime example of what postmodernists are talking about.  When the neo-classical economist states that “demand for labor varies inversely to wages,” he uses a neutral “scientific” language, a principle of economics.  When he adds another principle, that “labor is mostly effectively utilized when workers compete for jobs in a free job market,” he uses a meta-narrative of the dominant capitalist class, which obscures the fact that these principles send actual working people on a race to the bottom in their competition with each other.  If the scientists add a mathematical model of general equilibrium or rational choice theory in order to attain prescriptive rigor, they continue the meta-narrative of  dominance under the guise of neutral mathematical functions.

The problem is that postmodernist analysis can easily be applied to discipline in the humanities, and that has primarily been the case.  The postmodernist critique actually originated in philosophy and linguistics; it is and has always been preoccupied with language, with deconstruction of texts, not with mathematics, natural science, or engineering.  It has mounted a determined attack primarily in the humanities – in history, in philosophy, in literary criticism, in religious studies and in other disciplines, which have been deeply affected by the force of the critic.  But the modernists, whose conquest of economics was complete after World War II, were not shaken by the postmodernist movement.  Postmodernism, despite David Ruccio and Jack Amariglio’s Post Modern Moment in Modern Economics, has been all but ignored in economic science. As postmodernism wrested control over disciplines in the humanities and “soft” social sciences, the number of university student majoring in them declined, while those in the management science and economics skyrocketed.

Although it undoubtedly ended the authoritative narrative (Lyotard) in the humanities when it introduced new voices into the dialogue, postmodernism also, inadvertently perhaps, weakened the humanities within the university.  It has been, it critics in the humanities say, a negative if not destructive force because it has torn down the Enlightenment project, without putting any ethical norms in its place.  It has constituted “an unjustified betrayal of the modernist project of building an ever better world.” (Peter Beyer, “Postmodernism and Religion, Catholic issues, p. 2, on internet http://home.adelphi.edu)

Consequently, none of the people who opposed modernism in management teaching, not the Post-Autistic Economists, not those in a humanities with diminished stature and funding, have been able effectively to challenge the amoral educational juggernaut of MBA business education and neoclassical economics in the American university.  The business schools, schools of industrial administration, and departments of economics, educate students who are technically ready to engage in the creation of material wealth, but ill-prepared to foster a normative moral order that is necessary to solving the biggest problem mankind now faces – its proper distribution.  Without this moral creativeness, the American university, whatever its cognitive glories, and they are many, can no longer give the world the leadership it needs.

  1. louisperetzperetz
    February 24, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    The “General theory of employment, interest and money” is the book of J.M.Keynes that every economics professor should teach. That means that inequality inside people can be the less possible if leaders want to. The other theory about macroeconomics, is the”Adam Smith’s” one when he said that “leaders are quite fool if they believe, that a modern State, can be managed in a family way”.

    • blocke
      February 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Maybe the modern state cannot be managed in a family way, but a civil society can be if the conflicting interests involved in decision making have a voice at the table, especially when economic “science” is involved, because this science is not a neutral analytical category but one that sides with the people who control that power structure. Every interest must bring its own scientists to the roundtable not just management.

  2. February 24, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    How to creatively destruct Orthodoxy
    Comment on ‘The problem of postmodernism in American economics: an historian’s perspective’

    1. Avoid all political distraction

    Political issues are about good/bad or like/dislike, that is, they invite moralizing, guesswork, and the parading of opinions. Now, science is about knowledge and not about opinion. Opinion embraces all issues that have not yet been decided by objective means or cannot in principle be decided. Therefore, the defining characteristic of genuine scientists is to first of all put aside all issues that cannot be decided by objective means. Non-scientists, to the contrary, are irresistibly attracted by issues that have no clear-cut true/false answer but can be waffled about inconclusively until the end of days. All Human-Nature issues belong to this category.

    All questions that cannot be answered by scientific means fall into the realm of politics in the widest possible sense and are answered by storytelling. Each culture consists to the greater part of incoherent narratives which are reinforced by subjective emotions and to the smaller part of objective scientific knowledge which is established by proof (logical and empirical). Most of what people experience as reality in their lifetime is a contingent social construct.

    So, basically, politics (= opinion, belief, faith, philosophy, common sense, delusion) and science are the great antagonists. As Aristotle put it: “There cannot be both opinion and knowledge of the same thing at the same time.” (Posterior Analytics, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posterior_Analytics)

    Scientific knowledge does not and, as a matter of principle, cannot come from political debate. Here is how science is done: “Research is in fact a continuous discussion of the consistency of theories: formal consistency insofar as the discussion relates to the logical cohesion of what is asserted in joint theories; material consistency insofar as the agreement of observations with theories is concerned.” (Klant, 1994, p. 31)

    2. Spot the fatal disconnect

    The first thing to notice is that economics has started as Political Economy and never really got out of it. As a result, economics has not produced much of real scientific value since Adam Smith.

    This has never been a disadvantage because the general public is satisfied with narratives and opinions and can neither realize nor establish whether the assertion of an economist about the economy is well-founded or not.

    Because economists have failed to develop the true theory their economic policy advice has, as a rule, no sound scientific foundation. This applies to Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxism, and Austrianism.

    The situation, then, is this: whether economic advice or an economic argument is derived from interpreting a model or from reading tea leaves makes no real difference. Because of the vacuousness of the model the scientific content is zero in both cases.

    “In order to tell the politicians and practitioners something about causes and best means, the economist needs the true theory or else he has not much more to offer than educated common sense or his personal opinion.” (Stigum, 1991, p. 30)

    Because economists do not have the true theory all their political arguments are hanging in the air. Neither the arguments for nor against the market economy have a scientific foundation. What instead has been produced is storytelling and political blather.

    Orthodox economics is provably false and heterodox economics has not developed a superior alternative. After more than 200 years economics is a failed science. Economists know many isolated practical details but have no idea of how the economic system works. They are like astronomers before the concept of gravity was understood and written down in a neat formula.

    3. Go to the roots

    Theories have an architectonic structure. A well-formulated theory is built upon a small set of premises, a.k.a. axioms. In most cases it is here where errors and mistakes reside: “In fact, the history of every science, including that of economics, teaches us that the elementary is the hotbed of the errors that count most. (Georgescu-Roegen, 1970, p. 9)

    What, then, are the premises of orthodox economics? “The program is organized around the following hard core propositions:
    HC1. There exist economic agents.
    HC2. Agents have preferences over outcomes.
    HC3. Agents independently optimize subject to constraints.
    HC4. Choices are made in interrelated markets.
    HC5. Agents have full relevant knowledge.
    HC6. Observable economic outcomes are coordinated, so they must be discussed with reference to equilibrium states.” (Weintraub, 1985, p. 109)

    Except for HC6, all hard core propositions, a.k.a. axioms, are behavioral assumptions. From these the so-called law of supply and demand is derived and so on. The whole of marginalism depends on HC3. Now the iron methodological rule says: garbage in, garbage out. Because HC3 and HC5 are patently false no such thing as a behavioral law of supply and demand exists. Equilibrium, too, is an inadmissible premise. Therefore, the whole theoretical superstructure of orthodox economics falls apart.

    The crucial methodological mistake is to fancy that economics is a science of behavior. It is NOT (Hudík, 2011). Human behavior is the subject matter of psychology and sociology. Economics is a system science, it does not belong at all to the so-called social sciences.

    Because of this, the green cheese assumptions HC1 to HC6 have to be fully replaced by something rock-solid. This is called a paradigm shift and this is the proper task of Constructive Heterodoxy.*

    4. Declaration of Incompetence

    Boiled down to the essentials, Orthodoxy’s methodological position is “most of what I and many others do is sorta-kinda neoclassical because it takes the maximization-and-equilibrium world as a starting point.” (Krugman)

    These premises are provably false. Because of this, the whole theoretical superstructure from Jevons/Walras/Menger to DSGE is false. Not to realize the axiomatic falsehood of standard economics is the ultimate scientific incompetence of proponents and opponents alike. It should be obvious that there is no place for the scientific incompetent in academia, neither in post-modern America nor elsewhere.

    Economists owe the general public the information that they cannot be taken seriously until further notice.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    References
    Georgescu-Roegen, N. (1970). The Economics of Production. American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, 60(2): 1–9. URL http://www.jstor.org/stable/1815777.
    Hudík, M. (2011). Why Economics is Not a Science of Behaviour. Journal of Economic Methodology, 18(2): 147–162.
    Klant, J. J. (1994). The Nature of Economic Thought. Aldershot, Brookfield, VT: Edward Elgar.
    Stigum, B. P. (1991). Toward a Formal Science of Economics: The Axiomatic Method in Economics and Econometrics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    Weintraub, E. R. (1985). General Equilibrium Analysis. Cambridge, London, New York, NY, etc.: Cambridge University Press.

    * For an overview see cross-references
    http://axecorg.blogspot.de/2015/02/essentials-cross-references.html

    • February 24, 2016 at 11:32 pm

      “Go to the roots……Theories have an architectonic structure. A well-formulated theory is built upon a small set of premises, a.k.a. axioms. In most cases it is here where errors and mistakes reside: “In fact, the history of every science, including that of economics, teaches us that the elementary is the hotbed of the errors that count most. (Georgescu-Roegen, 1970, p. 9)
      Please, tell me ..”where errors and mistakes reside….
      **Excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Soddy
      “In four books written from 1921 to 1934, Soddy carried on a “quixotic campaign for a radical restructuring of global monetary relationships”[this quote needs a citation], offering a perspective on economics rooted in physics—the laws of thermodynamics, in particular—and was “roundly dismissed as a crank”[this quote needs a citation]. While most of his proposals – “to abandon the gold standard, let international exchange rates float, use federal surpluses and deficits as macroeconomic policy tools that could counter cyclical trends, and establish bureaus of economic statistics (including a consumer price index) in order to facilitate this effort” – are now conventional practice, his critique of fractional-reserve banking still “remains outside the bounds of conventional wisdom”[this quote needs a citation]. Soddy wrote that financial debts grew exponentially at compound interest…”
      http://archive.org/stream/roleofmoney032861mbp/roleofmoney032861mbp_djvu.txt

      “where errors and mistakes reside…..
      “… It is concerned less with the details of particular schemes of monetary reform that have been advocated than with the general principles to which, in the author’s opinion, every monetary system must at long last conform, if it is to fulfil its proper role as the distributive mechanism of society. To allow it to become a source of revenue to private issuers is to create, first, a secret and illicit arm of the government and, last, a rival power strong enough ultimately to overthrow all other forms of government. ”

      Please, your profound reply to expose “where errors and mistakes reside….. “

    • blocke
      February 25, 2016 at 12:44 am

      You have such a naïve belief in science, and I emphasize the word belief, that I think you are pulling my leg with your comments. What do you do with the postmodernist critique of the meta-narrative of economics, or have you managed to ignore it. You can’t get away with ignoring what was the major development in higher education in the last three decades of the 20th century.

    • blocke
      February 25, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      “Therefore, the defining characteristic of genuine scientists is to first of all put aside all issues that cannot be decided by objective means.”

      This is an outmoded 19th century definition of science.

      According to Fritjof Capra, in The Turning Point: “ Human consciousness in quantum physics plays a crucial role in the process of observation. My conscious decision about how to observe, say, an electron will determine the electron’s properties to some extent. If I ask a particle question it will give me a particle answer. The electron does not have properties independent of my mind. (p. 87).”

      This discovery overthrew the Newtonian epistemology, because it meant that the patterns scientists find in nature connect intimately with the patterns of their minds; with their ‘concepts, thoughts, and values.” (Capra, p. 93). I discuss this briefly in my book: The Collapse of the American Management Mystique, OUP, 1996, Section on “The Crumbling Epistemological Foundations of American Managerialism,” pp. 175-191.

  3. Paul Schächterle
    February 24, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    I don’t know about american “leadership” but the analysis of Economics as an ideology rather untouched by post-modernism is spot-on.

    There is a trick that more or less protects Neoclassical economics from post-modern critiques. It consists of two elements:

    1 – Neoclassical claims (assumptions) are so patently absurd that in any rational discourse they would not be taken seriously. Try to explain them in simple words to normal people and they will not believe you that this is a real thing or they will think that they or you missed something important.

    2 – Those claims are wrapped in a totally boring and exhausting catechism of mathematical “models”, that are so incomplete, inconsistent and factually irrelevant that basically no mathematician or scientist of other disciplines of any caliber cares to examine and critique this stuff.

    I think there have been made pretty good critiques from time to time. From the point of the non-economist they have settled the argument in the sense that Neoclassical theory has been proved unscientific and wrong. But economists simply don’t care and continue to invent even more stupid nonsense.

    The thus created set of pseudo-scientific mathematically disguised non-sensic zombie theory scraps is so bad that it can hardly be criticized precisely because it is so bad.

    It nevertheless serves as a point of reference. If a decision in favour of the rich or some interested economic group has to be promoted in the public or in politics, then PR-slogans and narratives are created and disseminated by “experts” or through “studies” and are — rather vaguely — linked to “economic theory”.

  4. February 25, 2016 at 5:18 am

    Science is one thing that is done. One sort of work among many. It is not superior or somehow above other forms of life. Postmodern, modern are not essential categories. They were invented. Made up. Once we recognize that we can recognize how they were made up and what the impacts of those inventions has been. I will use Latour’s word to describe our situation. We best think of ourselves as none of these categories. We are not premodern, postmodern, or modern. Instead we want to look at these categories and their creation as things we need to investigate. “Suddenly, we look at our sciences, our technologies, our societies, and they are at a par with what anthropology has taught us of the other cultures.” Our ways of life all were created with the same processes and tools. Now what does that tell us about professional economics? Society and nature are separated. Then we see us and them. And these are mere representations of the basic subject/object dichotomy. And of course this includes one of the things economists argue most about – the individual vs. the collective. Lives and societies are built around these dichotomies. For example, the so called modern world separated nature from society. Giving the former over to science and leaving the latter for humanistic examination. And then quantification (numbers) are attached to the object and nature, but not attached to society. This is the so called “modern world.” Postmodernism pointed out what it considered the misuse of such categories. But it never recognized that the categories themselves were also created and not inherent (essential) elements of the “real” world. Thus it could not investigate how these non-essentials were made into essentials. This is what we need to do if we want to understand the rules, methods, laws, and certainties that inhabit our world today. To bring this down to where the rubber meets the road — how did professional economics, of any form become essential? A reality that could be studied and was necessary for life to go on? Or to get a bit more specific how did neoclassical economics go from words on a page or ideas in someone’s head to an essential category for life of all sorts? These are not accidental. If we look we can see at least some of the relationships by which our world has been created. There are lots of “rules of thumb” that make all this investigation easier. But we can go over those another time.

  5. David Chester
    February 25, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    The trouble with the use of “science” in what was an humanities subject is that it requires a return to more basic thinking in logical terms. Most experts fail to see the need to be logical, and somehow are too lazy to begin to see its value from a serious argument viewpoint. Instead they make unclear assumptions with which they presume everyone else agrees. The resulting words have little meaning to anyone not inside the same frame of reference. What we need is a theory so simple that it is obviously right, yet sufficiently comprehensive that it covers the whole shebang!

  6. February 25, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    This comment began as a response to Egmont’s on “Capitalism’s Growth Problem”, https://rwer.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/capitalisms-growth-problem/, but still seems appropriate here.

    Egmont, you write as if all the people on this site were Heterodox professional economists, which is manifestly not the case: Geoff and I in particular keep saying we are scientists, Bob Locke that he is a historian etc; and we are here not trying to put down Orthodox economists but – as concerned, intelligent and reasonably well informed citizens -looking at the state of the world and basically agreeing with you on economics: “Time to scrap the lot and start again”. So having “scrapped the lot” mentally (which is the only way open to individuals to do so), we’re trying to “start again”, and wondering why you keep heckling rather than joining in with us?

    I don’t believe even most heterodox professional economists abhor your method; they may, however, abhor your use of the mathematician’s word ‘axiom’ in place of the scientists’s word ‘hypothesis’. What I personally think nearer the mark is your being in the continental tradition originating with the mathematician Descartes, whereas most anglophiles have been brought up in the empirical tradition originating in Bacon’s “taking things to bits to see how they work” and Locke’s beginning to apply that to people and states. This was warped by Hume’s self-defeating scepticism about knowing anything we can’t [yet or now] independently see, which reduced the empirical method to agreement about visible records without conscience, history or the causal agent we now call [God’s] energy. I’ve personally suggested this conflict is circular: that the throws of an unseen dice may suggest it has six sides, or we may hypothesise from its symmetry and six sides that the invisible chance of throwing any particular number will be one sixth. But why the interest? My own experience is that a problem or a puzzle comes first and it doesn’t really matter which method of resolving it (Cartesian or Baconian) comes first provided the results are tested independently by the other method, and if necessary corrected.

    So let’s move on to your comments on the word ‘abduction’, i.e. complete abstraction from content as against arbtitrary generalisation.

    As a matter of fact, I have done precisely what you suggest, and have come up with and briefly presented the concrete results you ask for, though you don’t appear to have noticed either them or their newness. But the abduction only took me to a choice of starting points: what Hume could see in his 1740 universe, or a Big Bang first detected in 2016, containing no ‘thing’ – not yet even time – but just [God’s] energy and what we have learned of its conservation and dispersion in our own time. Inferred from that have been Hubble’s spherical Bubble (thus the possibility of measurements based on orthogonal symmetry, i.e. Longitude and Latitude), and the formation of wave fronts and spray at asymmetries like beaches.

    Already one can see four areas enclosed by Cartesian co-ordinates, four orthogonal points on a sine wave logically quantified by none, one, some or all being passed through in unit time (as in rotation of a clock hand), and four types of stable particle generated by end-point tensions in cosmic turbulence (none [waves], one[electron], some [proton] and all [neutron]) and so on deductively through atoms periodic table), molecules (inert/linear/branching/ring structures), DNA (encoding in four proteins), life (cellular/plant/animal/human life-forms, the family life group structure which economics is about, the human brain’s four-function communication structures, linguistic encoding (adjectives, nouns, adverbs and verbs), four-level transmission of oral etc language (electric telephone, radio, frequency-sharing analogue broadband, timesharing digitised broadband), the possibilities of error and PID error correction, hence control of economic errors by monetary information feedbacks, applied in capitalism to control of management aims, which in full-blown chrematism reduces to achieving financial aims via fraudulent derivatives rather than honest information.

    This is a theory of everything, but also a theory of nothing: a “framework” theory proposing “macro” conventions (see Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art if Motorcycle Maintenance” ch.24 on Poincaré) which, like those of world mapping, enable one to locate and put on record what one sees or deduces in a way which enables others to know where to look. The form here is algorithmic, like an Arabic number. There are only a few digits but their significance depends on where you are in the sequence.

    As a theory of economics we have an “invisible hand” in the form of a PID control servo; the issue is whether it is enabling individuals to avoid or correct errors in coordinating business to family aims, or enabling management to conform individuals to its aims – which reduce to financial aims when management is controlled by financiers. This is like driving down a three-lane highway without conventions on which of family, business and financial uses takes priority. A digital version might be a crowd leaving an event via a city street, which needs to give way to individuals (especially children, women and the elderly!) when they want to go home down side streets.

    There are conventions which work and ones which don’t. In economics, the conventions of quantitative algebra you seem to take for granted, Egmont, don’t work, but so far as I can see the relational, flow, historic and audit trail ones used in information system analysis, followed by systematic redesign of data and processes in the four-level structured (algorithmic), typed programming language I have used, account very well indeed for both what people now do and what they could do. To see why they don’t one has to understand their capabilities and motivation, at which level understanding is rooted in our four-function, programmable and developing physiology and four level, misunderstandable and not always honest language. Not in Humean (quantitive) traditions of empty-headed psychology and sociology; rather more in the Machiavellian tradition of rhetoric which is economical with the truth.

    So, I agree with you, Egmont: economics is a system theory. But the system is a real one, not a mathematical construct, and it is an information system as well as a physical system: specifically an interactive PID servo as well as a steering mechanism. You among others have claimed to be seeking paradigm change. Well, this is the one introduced by C E Shannon: a combination of discovering physical switching circuits were performing logic, choosing these as a measure of information capacity (i.e. one bit = one circuit), measuring information capacity on the basis of “a difference which makes a difference” ( i.e. which is “news”, or not “redundant”, so high frequency unpredictable broadband has highest capacity) and studying not the meaning of information (which is unpredictable), but what is possible: the information capacity necessary to say something efficiently and (given the problem of distorted signal) the use of spare capacity for recognising and eliminating the distortion. Which is precisely the paradigm economic theorising stands in need of right now.

    As Steve Keen says (https://rwer.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/our-dysfunctional-monetary-system-3-graphs/, “the great tragedy is our dysfunctional monetary system”. The answer is to replace it with a credit card system, which we are already familiar with but don’t generally realise implies a Copernican revolution in our valuation of money: from something owned by bankers as valuable as what we can buy with it, to a mere token of credit-worthiness by means of which we ourselves own debts of negative value insofar as we spend it and don’t regenerate our credit-worthiness by earning our keep. In this schema, so-called interest payments function as penalties rather than dues if we [culpably] don’t complete repayment within the agreed period.

    This is not the place to pursue agreement on the details of such a system. Lucky’s Soddy quote evaluates my practical issue as well as may be: “… It is concerned less with the details of particular schemes of monetary reform that have been advocated than with the general principles to which, in the author’s opinion, every monetary system must at long last conform, if it is to fulfil its proper role as the distributive mechanism of society. To allow it to become a source of revenue to private issuers is to create, first, a secret and illicit arm of the government and, last, a rival power strong enough ultimately to overthrow all other forms of government. ”

    Egmont’s Georgescu-Roegen quote is very much to the point: “In fact, the history of every science, including that of economics, teaches us that the elementary is the hotbed of the errors that count most”. Touché. Think of what Copernicus did, not of erroneous equations.

  7. February 26, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Postmodernism — the philosophy of scientific write-offs
    Comment on Robert R Locke on ‘The problem of postmodernism in American economics: an historian’s perspective’

    Science is about true/false and it is decisive to determine the one or the other with the highest possible certainty. Vague propositions/theories are, to begin with, scientifically worthless: “Another thing I must point out is that you cannot prove a vague theory wrong.” (Feynman, 1992, p. 158)

    And exactly this is the reason why vague theories are so popular among non-scientists in general and economists in particular. As the Keynesians say: “it is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong!” (Davidson, 1984, p. 574)

    Economists know very well that economics is still at the level of storytelling and that it does not satisfy well-defined scientific criteria: “Economics is a strange sort of discipline. The booby traps I mentioned often make it sound as it is all just a matter of opinion. That is not so. Economics is not a Science with a capital S. It lacks the experimental method as a way of testing hypotheses. . . . There are always differences of opinion at the cutting edge of a science, . . . . But they last longer in economics . . . and there are reasons for that. As already mentioned, rival theories cannot be put to an experimental test. All there is to observe is history, and history does not conduct experiments: too many things are always happening at once. The inferences that can be made from history are always uncertain, always disputable, . . . You can’t even count on a long and undisturbed run of history, because the ‘laws’ of behavior change and evolve. Excuses, excuses. But the point is not to provide excuses.” (Solow, 1998, pp. x-xi)

    What holds for economics, holds for the so-called social sciences a fortiori. It is therefore no surprise that postmodernism thrives yonder. The natural habitat of all scientific write-offs is the pluralistic no-man’s land between true and false where “nothing is clear and everything is possible.” (Keynes, 1973, p. 292)

    In this no-man’s land nobody can be refuted and this is quite fine for all who have nothing to offer but scientific garbage yet claim to have an explanation for everything: “By having a vague theory it is possible to get either result. … It is usually said when this is pointed out, ‘When you are dealing with psychological matters things can’t be defined so precisely’. Yes, but then you cannot claim to know anything about it.” (Feynman, 1992, p. 159)

    For all who know nothing but feel the urge to say something, postmodernism is the philosophical outfit of choice.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    References
    Davidson, P. (1984). Reviving Keynes’s Revolution. Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, 6(4): 561–575. URL http://www.jstor.org/stable/4537848.
    Feynman, R. P. (1992). The Character of Physical Law. London: Penguin.
    Keynes, J. M. (1973). The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money. The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes Vol. VII. London, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
    Solow, R. M. (1998). Foreword, volume William Breit and Roger L. Ranson: The Academic Scribblers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 3rd edition.

    • February 27, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      A very specific theory that has been tested many times, “the gravitation between two bodies is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.” Problem being physicists and astronomers keep finding anomalies and discrepancies that can’t be explained by the theory. So far they’ve come up with explanations for these that include “dark matter,” “dark energy,” “the relationship doesn’t hold at greater distances,” and “extra dimensional space.” So the theory is indeed “vague” in the sense you suggest. But scientists believe (emphasize believe) they are making it less so by the fixes they’ve proposed. Secondly, hold off on the true/false language. Science is about observing first. Then theorizing (if useful) can set up testing of what we think we have observed. But the point is to figure out as best we can if our observations over time and with vary instruments/tools and perspectives agree with one another. Theorizing can be fun, but like one of those simulation computer models it’s useless if it’s a theory that’s out of sync with observations. That’s the best we can do. If you choose to call these temporary stops to check things out truth, I’m okay with that. But I don’t think this is the standard use of the term today. Check out the history of truth, facts, and false. I think you’ll agree with me.

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