Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 28 September 2014

Reply on Aristotelianism and the Austrian School

This is a reply to a comment to our piece on "Science and Scientificity in the Negatives Denken". It is quite gratifying that our Dan below has referred to Barry Smith's important work relating to the "metaphysics" - not so much of "economics", as Smith seems to indicate, but rather of the Austrian School (there is a huge difference between "economics" and "the Austrian School" - the two are far from identical!). On the metaphysics of capitalism proper, I may refer our friends to the pieces recently posted here (just use the search facility in the top corner)). Many lustres ago I wrote a piece on "The Pure Logic of Choice" (Hayek's phrase for "praxeology") in which I discuss Mises, Hayek and Barry Smith as well as Roderick Long's interpretation of Wittgenstein's relevance to these all-important questions. As soon as I am able, I will post this piece.
  1. Dan26 September 2014 21:17

The connections you make between philosophy and economic thought seem very apt for the most part. But what do you make of the Austrian School's claim to an Aristotelian influence? Take for example this paper by Barry Smith:

It seems that Smith is putting Austrians into the essentialist ("reflectionist"), Galileo-Newtonian camp and trying to distance them from the "impositionism" of Kant and Mach.



Hi Dan, and thanks for the interesting comment. I am propense to agree with Barry Smith's thesis of an early "Aristotelian" influence on Menger and the Austrian School generally through the prominent influence of Franz Brentano's "psychologism" (as Frege and Wittgenstein labelled it, pejoratively, with Weber's eager concurrence). But this influence certainly waned into the early twentieth century, through Mises and Hayek first, and then Schumpeter who later lost his status as an "Austrian" (not least in the view of Hayek). From Bohm-Bawerk onwards the Austrian School loses much of its original Aristotelian influence and moves more securely into the neo-Kantian and Machian fold.


Yet this is not to say that it was ever "essentialist". As Smith himself points out, the term essentialism applies more to Platonism than to Aristotelianism - though I think you are correct in saying that what I have called the Galileo-Newtonian view is more "reflectionist" and therefore also Aristotelian. If you read Smith closely, you will find that at one stage he criticizes the "impositionist" neo-Kantian perspective on the ground that it makes scientific laws "arbitrary" - that is, idealist and subjective in the tradition of Berkeley and Mach to the degree that they argue that, if the Kantian "thing in itself" is unknowable, there can be no scientific certainty. Mach is in a special category here because for him "certainty" refers to the certainty of positivism - a purely "empirical" basis, whereas for Kant it could be only ontological - which is why he claimed that only by curtailing the claims of the human intellect or understanding he had been able to preserve "faith" - the "noumenon" beyond the "phenomenon".


It is this emphasis on “certainty” as "praxis" rather than “truth” on the part of the Austrian School that leads to its concern with neo-Kantian "praxeology" (Mises, the early Hayek) and with "evolution" (Schumpeter, the later Hayek who never relinquished the more "sensualist" or "reflectionist" penchant from the time of "The Sensory Order"). But, I insist, all these positions on the part of the later Austrians are far closer to neo-Kantian and Machist positivism - the elimination of the thing in itself altogether - than to Aristotelianism which instead presents the thing in itself as "immediately knowable" (Brentano). Max Weber, for his part, fully eschewed Aristotelian psychologism of the Brentano-Menger variety for the simple neo-Kantian reason that if we are to study "economic phenomena" at all, we can do so if and only if we are able to categorise(with Kant) some phenomena as "economic" as against, say, “legal" or "psychological" or indeed "physical"! Menger’s na├»ve “reflectionist” assumption that we can immediately identify some phenomena as being “economic” is trashed by Weber in his “Roscher and Knies” and, for the Brentano side, in his methodological essay on Stammler.


This is where Barry Smith's work is open to attack, in the sense that he does not acknowledge the antinomic (Lukacs) nature of both the impositionist and reflectionist views: - because both views rely ultimately on the dyadic opposition of Subject and Object - much in the Cartesian tradition (demolished by Nietzsche and Heidegger) of the "opposition" (Gegensatz) of res cogitans and res extensa.


(Incidentally, Roderick T. Long has wistfully and genially introduced Wittgenstein in this debate or trilogue with Barry Smith - please "google" this for Long's difficult but provocative study: Wittgenstein had little time for Brentano's psychologism and Long champions his approach against Barry Smith's.)


One last thing: Smith neglects the role of "conflict" in the determination of "scientific" reality and interpretation. This neglect of the Nietzschean aspect of the Austrian School as one of the most prominent instances of the negatives Denken is something that I have been exploring on this Blog. - Which is perhaps also partly the reason why he misrepresents Marx: there is a "subjective" or "historicist" and political side to Marx, although his interpretation of "value" and economic reality is diametrically opposed to the “methodological individualism” of the Austrian School. Schumpeter went some way toward seeking to incorporate Marx's insights in his own work, as I have tried to prove here.


My apologies for the lengthy reply. Kindest regards and renewed thanks from me!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the extensive reply! I had been thinking that this might be an area of division within the Austrian School, but my knowledge of Menger and Schumpeter is a bit limited. I do agree that there is a neo-Kantian presence in the thought of Mises and Hayek--Smith's argument here wasn't very compelling. I will look forward to your piece on Smith and Long.