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Issue 91 of real-world economics review

real-world economics review

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issue no. 91
16 March 2020
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Complexity, the evolution of macroeconomic thought, and micro foundations
David Colander


Models and reality: How did models divorced from reality become epistemologically acceptable?
Asad Zaman


ECONOMICS 101 (editors invite more papers on Economics 101)

The value of “thinking like an economist”
Bernard C. Beaudreau


An essay on the putative knowledge of textbook economics
Lukas Bäuerle


World population: the elephant in the living room
Theodore P. Lianos


The carbon economy – rebuilding the building blocks of economics and science
John E. Coulter


Breaking the golden handcuffs: recreating markets for tenured faculty
M. Shahid Alam


Reinforcing the Euro with national units of account
Gerald Holtham


Neoliberalism vs. China as model for the developing world
Ali Kadri


Classifying “globally integrated” production firms from a worker/citizen perspective
John B. Benedetto


Tony Lawson, economics and the theory of social positioning
Jamie Morgan


Ecological and feminist economics: an interview with Julie A. Nelson
Julie A. Nelson and Jamie Morgan


Board of Editors, past contributors, submissions, etc.


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  1. March 21, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    Asad Zaman’s paper, though well motivated and pertinent, is spoiled by his seeing Bacon and Kant’s arguments through his own economist’s eyes, tainted with anachronistic reflections from the Logical Positivist residual he rightly attacks. Kant was anticipating what only became clear during the development of the Algol68 scientific programming language. Bacon may be allowed to speak for himself in refuting Asad’s claim he was inducing laws from mass data:

    “But the truth is, they be not the highest instances that give the securest information; as may well be expressed in the tale so common of the philosopher, that while he looked upwards to the starts, fell into the water; for if he had looked down he might have seen the stars in the water, but looking aloft he could not see the water in the stars. So it cometh often to pass, that mean and small things discover great, better than great can discover small: and therefore Aristotle noteth well, ‘That the nature of everything is best seen in his smallest portions’. And for that cause he inquireth the nature of a commonwealth, first in a family, and the simple conjugations of man and wife, parent and child, master and servant, which are in every cottage. Even so likewise the nature of this great city of the world, and the policy thereof, must be first sought in mean concordances and small portions. So we see how that secret of nature, of the turning of iron touched with the lodestone towards the north, was found out in needles of iron, not in bars of iron”. [The Advancement of Learning, 1604, Second Book, I.5].

    Bacon was no armchair theorist, he was the Lord Chancellor of England, offering his advice to a new king about the post-Reformation slump. As I have summarily read him, the method he is recommending here is to “take things to bits to see how they work”. In a noble earlier passage [First Book, V.11] he says:

    “But the greatest error of all the rest is the mistaking or misplacing of the last or furtherest end of knowledge. For men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation; and sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction; and most times for lucre and profession; and seldom to give a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit and use of men: as if there were sought in knowledge a couch whereupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect; or a tower of state for a proud mind to raise itself upon; or a fort commanding ground for strife and contention; or a shop for profit or sale; and not a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s estate. But this is that which will indeed dignify and exalt knowledge, if contemplation and action may be more nearly and straitly conjoined than they have been; … Howbeit, I do not mean, when I speak of use and action, that end before-mentioned of the applying of knowledge to lucre and profession; for I am not ignorant how much that diverteth and interrupteth the prosecution and advancement of knowledge. … Neither is my meaning, as was spoken by Socrates, to call philosophy down from heaven to converse upon the earth; that is, to leave natural philosophy aside, and to apply knowledge only to manners and policy. But as both heaven and earth do conspire and contribute to the use and benefit of man, so the end ought to be, from both philosophies to separate and reject vain speculations and whatsoever is empty and void, and to preserve whatsoever is solid and fruitful; that knowledge may not be as a courtesan for pleasure and vanity only, or as a bond-woman, to acquire and gain to her master’s use; but as a spouse, for generation, fruit and comfort”.

    Kant’s method will be better discussed separately, in continuation of this.

  2. March 21, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    In discussing Kant, Asad draws on the Encyclopedia Brittanica in attributing to Kant what came from Hume, and was precisely what Kant was not so much arguing against as trying to circumvent:

    “Though the noumenal holds the contents of the intelligible world, Kant claimed that man’s speculative reason can only know phenomena and can never penetrate to the noumenon”.

    The key word here is “speculative”; the second part of “The Critique of Pure Reason” introduces the idea of a “transcendental” logic. As for the Encyclopaedia: this from section IV in the Everyman Edition, 1935, translated and introduced by J M D Meicklejohn [d.1902], who wrote “A previous translation of the Kritik exists, which, had it been satisfactory, would have dispensed with the present. But the translator had, evidently, no very extensive acquaintance with the German language, and still less with his subject. … Indeed, Kant’s fate in this country has been a very hard one. Misunderstood by the ablest philosophers of the time, illustrated, explained or translated by the most incompetent – it has been his lot to be either unappreciated, misapprehended, or entirely neglected. [And a page-full more!]”
    So let a decently translated Kant now speak for himself.

    “General logic, as we have seen, makes abstraction of all content of cognition … and regards only the logical form in the relation of cognitions to each other. But as we have both pure and empirical intuitions … a distinction might be drawn between pure and empirical thoughts (of objects). In this case, there would exist a kind of logic, in which we should not make abstraction of all content of cognition; for that logic which should comprise merely the laws of pure thought (of an object), would of course exclude all those cognitions which were of empirical content. … [Thus] In transcendental logic we isolate the understanding and select from our cognition merely that part of thought which has its origin in the understanding alone. … That part of transcendental logic, then, which treats of the elements of pure cognition of the understanding, and of the principles without which no object at all can be thought, is transcendental analytic, and at the same time a logic of truth. For no cognition can contradict it, without losing at the same time all content, that is, losing all reference to an object, and therefore all truth”.

    This contra to the assertion of Asad: “This idea of Kant, that we can and should abandon looking for truth …”. That idea is Hume’s. Kant’s is that truth lies in a reference to both a categorically correct interpretation and an object, i.e. the combination of the reference to an object and the process of interpreting it.

    The key words here, ‘object’ and [the linguistic process of] interpretation, don’t appear in Asad’s diagrams. Put simply, interpreting a complex reality (an object with diverse attributes) requires complex observations (i.e. an observational process categorically pre-programmed [e.g. by prior familiarity] to be able to recognise the attributes). More easily done than said: see how in http://web.eah-jena.de/~kleine/history/languages/Algol68R-UserGuide.pdf.

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