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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Don Lavoie's research and teaching should be remembered

Brian, Lachmann's argument was that the first task of praxeology was to render social phenomena intelligible in terms of purposive human action, and the second task was to trace out the unintended consequences of those human choices. I think that is what drove Lavoie as well.
As for Geertz --- one has to understand that Lavoie did not just fix on Gadamer, but instead had us reading Geertz ("The Natives Point of View"), Ricouer ("On Narrative"), Taylor, etc. Lavoie was just persuaded that Gadamer's Truth and Method laid out the philosophical issues at stake better than alternatives. I, on the other hand, while persuaded by Lavoie about Gadamer's relevance, learned more from reading synthesis works like Bernstein's two books --- Beyond Objectivism and Realtivism, and Restructuring Social and Political Theory.
So my Lavoie inspired turn led me to read sociologists like Peter Berger, and then also the economic sociologists like Swedberg, and to think about ethnography and political economy. I think Swedberg's Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology combines the main insights for the questions I am interested in at this stage of my career.
So in the end, I learn more from social scientists than I do from pure philosophers --- so Geertz rather than Derrida.
But now for a twist on all of that, the social scientist who really excited me after I left Lavoie immediate influence was Jon Elster and his work on "A Plea for Mechanism" was very influential on me in terms of what we had to accomplish even as we made the interpretative turn. So it is that intellectual/philosophical discourse that is what I have been trying to engage in and encourage my students to engage (thus witness Leeson's emphasis on mechanisms in his work).
Someday I plan to write the book, Economics as a Philosophic Science, which will lay out the position clearly --- but in the meantime I am still trying to figure it all out through application and "testing" of it through application.
Pete
Posted by: Peter Boettke October 04, 2007 at 12:20 PM
Rafe: Are/Were you stating that Lavoie (1985) was off the mark in paraphrasing Popper (1972) that the interpretation of facts are theory-laden; hence, they must be placed into a conceptual framework to be rendered meaningful? If so, Why?
Dr. Boettke: I too enjoy the work of Swedberg (sans his call for rational choice theory unifying theory and empirical research in sociology!). And I particularly enjoyed reading the work that you referenced. But what is most interesting about the Swedberg(s), Lavoie(s), Schumpeter(s), and yourself is that you all believe(d) that one should always strive to establish a symbiotic relationship between theory and empirical research, where each contributes to the development of the other.
Posted by: Brian Pitt October 04, 2007 at 01:41 PM
So, according to Pete, Don Lavoie and Richard Ebeling--both of whose publications indeed show an excellent grasp of Mises's thought--have a better "understanding" of Mises than Rothbard or Hayek or even Guido Huelsmann, who is trained in philosophy and spent the last 5 or 6 years of his life writng a 1,000 page intellectual biography of Mises. Couldn't a case at least be made that the latter were equal or superior in their grasp of Mises's thought to Don or Richard? And what are Pete's criteria and evidence for making such a sweeping statement? Moreover what special competence or private source of knowledge does Pete himself possess in distinguishing between and ranking scholars on such a complex matter as their cognition of another scholar's mind and work? How much thought and study has Pete devoted to this issue? Without cogent and convincing answers to these questions, I am afraid Pete is once again engaging in ill-considered and unscholarly pontification a la his characterization of Austrian economics in the Doherty book.
Posted by: Joe Salerno October 04, 2007 at 02:48 PM
As far as I know none of the guys you mention has had any formal philosophical training. The one outstanding contemporary philosopher who got it right on Mises is Barry Smith. Mises´s methodological self-awareness is confused. He refers to Husserl but also to Hilbert. There seems to be some "mathematics envy" in Mises. He says "We can develop praxeology as a purely deductive science like logic and mathematics" but he offers nothing of the sort. One could claim that for this reason alone Human Action is a failure. Now if you look at what he actually did, it is more like Husserl than Hilbert so yes Peter Boettke has a point.
Posted by: Ludwig van den Hauwe October 04, 2007 at 06:37 PM

A few responses:
Ludwig --- I majored in economics and philosophy in undergraduate school and also studied philosophy (at least sat in some classes) in graduate school. But yes you are right that I am no philosopher, and you are right that Barry Smith is a very good philosopher.
Brian --- I hold the strict Misesian line that theories are never defeated by empirics, but instead that theories are proven to be applicable or inapplicable to given situations. We learn from engaging in that act of historical interpretation, but it does not prove theories to be right or wrong --- that is a matter of logic. So I apologize if in some writings I communicate the wrong message ... no doubt I am not as clear as I should be in some writings. Also I am mostly arguing what I consider to be a very poor interpretation of the great contributions of Ludwig von Mises that have been allowed to circulate.
Joe --- we really shouldn't be engaged in our own version of "fight club". As a scholar I am asked to make judgments, as are you. It is my considered judgment that you are challenging. You are entitled, though I am not sure you are justified in your characterization of my statements. You are the editor of the QJAE, I am the editor of the RAE, I have been teaching Mises and Austrian economics for close to 20 years at the PhD level, you have been studied Mises and the Austrian school for 30 years or more. I respect (though disagree) with your positions, you obviously neither respect nor agree with mine.
But you know all those journal articles and book chapters you complained about for being methodological, they were mostly about Mises and his position on methodology and method, including the essay on Mises for the Handbook of Economic Methodology (edited by John Davis, Wade Hands and Uskali Maki) and an even more recent essay "Was Mises Right?" published in the Review of Social Economy. These pieces were not self-published, they met the critical test of referees, etc. If they are so wildly off the mark, write up a comment straigthen me and the economics community out and increase the line on your CV. It is the way science progresses. BTW, I also just edited The Legacy of Ludwig von Mises, 2 volumes. But that is all just bean counting, but you did raise the issue and I just want to point out that while I may be wrong or right from your perspective it is not accurate for you to say that my opinion is unscholarly, though (like yours) it is a strongly held opinion. I am not offering just a mere opinion, but one based on close to 20 years of study of Mises and Misesian scholarship, and conversations with those who studied with Mises (of course mostly with Sennholz and Kirzner, but others as well including Lachmann and Rothbard and Bettina and Percy).
Do you deny what Mises wrote in Epistemological Problems, or in Theory and History? Or that Rothbard himself recognized the phenomenological aspects of Mises's thought, etc.? I mean you don't deny that he had paper in that Nathanson book do you? I know Murray said that the good parts of phenomenology were already in praxeology and that the modern phenomenological philosophers didn't have much to add, but still the historical point is clear.
On Huelsmann's biography of Mises, I am just reading it now (it arrived from Amazon 2 days ago). I have very high expectations for the work and look forward to reading it carefully. I think Huelsmann possessess a very good mind and he is seriously committed to the subject so I am excited to read it to see if he found anything new.
I will say this, however, I was disappointed that it was published by the Mises Institute and not a major university press --- Princeton, Harvard, Chicago, Michigan, Stanford, etc. I think this will ultimately limit the impact of the work unfairly. That is too bad. But I am hoping that the book is awesome and that it will have a huge impact on the profession of economists and intellectual historians. Robert Leonard's major work on Red Vienna (Cambridge) will be coming out and Mises is not as important a player in his story as I would like to see, so Huelsmann's book could be important if it accomplishes what I hope it does.
The motivation for writing what I wrote was that people were saying that Lavoie's agenda proved to be a dead-end and that it was some sort of deviation. I wanted to counter that --- Don was not a deviationist, but a Misesian, and Don's project did not end in a dead-end, it suffered the fate of many projects when it becomes identified with a person and that person passes. There were no doubt major problems with the way Don set up the project that need to be worked out, but Don has been so influential on a variety of research directions in modern Austrian economics --- from work on non-positivistic and non-formalistic social science, to the analysis of socialism and interventionism, to the examination of the mechanisms of anarcho-capitalism.
Don Lavoie's research and teaching should be remembered in our circle and that is all I was trying to defend against what I considered to be false claims.
Posted by: Peter Boettke October 04, 2007 at 09:27 PM
It seems difficult to believe that Levoie understood Mises better than Rothbard, who Mises personally commended.
But, on a more critical note, I think Rothbard had excellent criticism of hermenetics, which to my understanding seems like a philosophical justification for moral relativism. There was some consulting company that came to Simon to do a conference on leadership (I forget their name). But they were affiliated with Mike Jensen, and had hermenetical philosophical background. In any event, while they had some useful things to say, the philosophical underpinnings was BS. They talk about "stories", w/c of course implies things such as rapist and rape-victim, just "his story" and "her story". And all that stuff about meaning being unknowable.
PS: The company was Landmark Education Business Development.
Posted by: David J. Heinrich October 05, 2007 at 12:29 AM

1 comment:

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