Dialectics, Rothbard, Etc.

Sam Pawlett rsp at SPAMuniserve.com
Thu Sep 2 18:29:08 MDT 1999

Chris Matthew Sciabarra wrote:
> Chris:  Ok, let me try to be brief, because these issues hark back to
> debates that are as old as philosophy itself.  A "synoptic" whole is one
> seen as if from the vantage point of omniscience.

  Ok, but you are defining it that way.One cannot have a God's eye
viewpoint (what Thomas Nagel called the
View From Nowhere) but a God's eye viewpoint is not necessary for
planning an economy as a whole. All that is needed is knowledge of
preferences(inputs) so a group can decide what and how much is to be
produced. Preferences need not be revealed throught the market because
one knows what one prefers before one goes to market. I prefer apples to
oranges, I prefer Fischer's Schubert to Brendel's etc. I know this
before I purchase these items.
  If your objection is that a planning body could not deal with the
sheer quantity of information, I fail to see how a plan could be more
complex than the world wide airline reservation system.
  A fairly common Marxian definition of ideology is understanding the
logic of the whole in terms of the logic of the part, cf Jon Elster
*Sour Grapes* p145ff. The gist of holism is that the parts cannot be
understood independantly of the whole and of each other. As an example,
Quine has argued that a word can only be understood in the context of a
sentence, a sentence within the totality of a language and a theoretical
sentence in terms of the whole theory. He says;

"It is only the theory as a whole, and not any one of its hypotheses,
that admits of evidence or counter-evidence in observation and
experiment." Philosophy of Logic p5

"Evidence against the system is not evidence against any one sentence
rather than another, but can be acted on rather by any various
adjustments." Ibid.

"Theoretical sentences have their evidence not as single sentences but
only as blocks of theory" Ontological Relativity p80-1.

This is because the Carnap-positivist project of translating all
sentences into observation sentences failed (because of Quine--"Two

  As a footnote, the cubist painters tried to paint what it would be
like to have a God's eye viewpoint i.e. viewing an object from all
angles simultaneously. But economics is not an art (or a science).

 We delude ourselves into believing that it is possible to know
> all things, and we delude ourselves further if we believe that such
> presumed knowledge can become the basis for controlling all things.

  There is no clear demarcation line between what we know and what we
don't or what we can know and what we can't. Our knowledge is fallible
and contains ommissions and commissions but we don't know exactly where.
We cannot know how much knowledge is yet to be discovered. We cannot now
predict what changes science will undergo in the future, so we cannot
maintain that some questions are raisable and unanswerable.(cf. Nicholas
Rescher *The Limits of Scientific Knowledge*)
To repeat, if something exists it must be in principle possible to know
it since existence presupposes physical presence and physical presence
is in principle observable.

> Chris:  There is a whole literature on this subject that includes Gilbert
> Ryle, Michael Polanyi, F. A. Hayek, and many others.

I know Ryle fairly well, Polanyi and Hayek much less so.

  It is the distinction
> between "knowing what" and "knowing how."

Ryle accepts this distinction and that both senses of "know" are in fact
knowledge because he is an ordinary language philosopher. I don't know
how many people would accept "doing" as "knowing".

 I may know how to play a piano,
> but I may not know all of the physiological elements that go into actually
> moving my fingers in order to play.  I may know how to speak a language,
> but I may not know all of the rules of grammar that govern that language.

  Yes, but knowing the rules of grammar will make you a better speaker
and knowing the rules of music and the physiology that goes into making
music will make you a better musician. People do things which they can't
articulate like ride a bicycle or recognize a face. I have a hard time
thinking these cognitive abilities are knowledge. Knowledge must have a
higher criterion of justification. There must be a criterion that
seperates knowledge from belief. Sea Slugs do things that enhance their
evolutionary fitness but do they know what they are doing?
   Even if we do know all the rules
this does not mean we can predict the outcome e.g. I may know all the
rules of chess but I cannot predict the outcome of a chess match. I may
know the "rules" of evolution but I cannot predict how the process will
turn out. I'm not sure if that is your point.

> People who are entrepreneurial, who are creative, who do creative things
> with given resources may just "have a hunch," or "have a gut instinct" --
> while never being able to tell you exactly how they formed a judgment or
> acted on an evaluation.

  OK, but "hunches" and "instincts" are not knowledge. Knowledge is
defined as justified true belief. Nearly all epistemologists agree that
justified true belief is a necessary though not sufficient (because of
Gettier examples) condition for knowledge.  Hunches and instincts may be
but they have no justification to show that they are true. That is why
they are called "hunches" and not "knowledge".
   Forming judgements or "putting your thoughts into words" is a
pre-propositional cognitive process which raises the question of how it
can be knowledge.

  These are individualities of a particular time and
> place that get lost when a central planning agency seeks to usurp that process.

But how important are these individualities to the overall working of
the system and to the satisfaction of the individual?

> The amazing thing about a market system is this:  Each individual on the
> market gets to relate price signals to her own individual context of
> knowledge, to her own purposes and goals, much of which is not visible to
> others.  When the price system is transcended by a central planning
> mechanism, planners substitute quantitative information about inputs and
> outputs, but they cannot relate these quantities to the qualitative goals
> of individuals.

  If individuals reveal their goals and desires to a planning body then
it would be possible to plan for them or take them into account.(there
is the question of whether someone wants to do so). Goals and desires
expressed through language and
language makes thought possible. If something cannot be put into
language i.e. if
something has no referent in language then there is a question of
whether it exists at all. As Wittgenstein said in the last line of the
Tractatus "Whereof we cannot speak
thereof we must be silent."
  I think and have always thought that the Hayekian/Misesian critique of
planning is false because it rests on a bogus epistemology and such an
epistemology is necessary for the critique. H/M seem to think there is
a kind of knowledge that cannot be put into language that only the
market can reveal and organize properly. A kind of knowledge that is not
"knowable". This seems contradictory to me. I was trained in analytical
philosophy so I have a great preference for the tangible.
Sam Pawlett

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