Hoppe’s Misrepresentation of Empiricism

“This is empiricism’s central claim: Empirical knowledge must be veri?able or falsi?able by experience; and analytical knowledge, which is not so verifiable or falsifiable, thus cannot contain any empirical knowledge. If this is true, then it is fair to ask: What then is the status of this fundamental statement of empiricism? Evidently it must be either analytical or empirical.” ~Hans/Hermann Hoppe

—“Logic is powerful enough to expose weak arguments, wouldn’t you say?”— Bruce Koerber 

—“Curt Doolittle, can you provide a counter to this? At first glance it appears impenetrable.”— Pattern Principle

[N]othing like asking me to answer a very hard problem in philosophy. I can answer it. But whether it is digestible or not is something else

To begin with, It’s a straw man argument; which is why its deceptively simple. No one makes the claim that empirical knowledge is the only kind of knowledge we can possess. No one. Rather, only philosophers do, none still do, and scientists certainly don’t.  

One of the reasons why you are misunderstood is that you tend not to confront the topics you deal with head on.Hoppe is a justificationist and so he mines a particular weakness of justificationist empiricism. One you jettison justification, his “argument collapses”- Ayelam Valentine Agaliba
(Worse, he equates science with empiricism, and empiricism with positivism.)

And economists do not claim to be philosophers, they claim to be scientists. It is one thing to say philosophers (rationalists) say such a thing and another to say scientists, and in particular economic scientists, would say such a thing (they don’t).

Instead, they say that we cannot trust our reason except in the most trivial of cases: those at experiential human scale. And the discipline of economics is by definition one beyond experiential human scale, or we would not need prices with which to coordinate our efforts, or property to provide us with incentives – we could just ‘sense it’. But we can’t.

Instead, we say that, depending upon the domain of inquiry, we require logical(rational), empirical(correspondent), and operational (existentially demonstrable) trials to test our theories, because theories are prone to contain imaginary and erroneous information that must be held separate from causal information. In this sense, we do not create theories justifiably or reasonably, we instead come to theories however we do, and we criticize them by logical, empirical, operational, and falsificational means.

Examples: in mathematics the means of investigation and the means of proof are nearly identical. But some mathematical deductions are not constructible, so intuitionism requires that once a solution is obtained by whatever means, we go back and explain it operationally, demonstrating that it can be actually constructed by means of possible mathematical operations.

In economics, we can make empirical observations, but until we go through and describe them as a series of human actions each of which is sympathetically testable then we do not know that the theory is true even if it always produces correlative results.
in physics we do not know the first principles of the physical world as we do in mathematics (mathematical operations), or in economics (rational human actions in response to stimuli), so we must describe the act of taking the measurements themselves in order to ensure that we are not adding imaginary content to our theories.

The end of rationalism occurred when Einstein demonstrated that we cannot even take the concepts of time and length for granted in our premises. Bridgman demonstrated that the only want to know when we have crossed the limit of arbitrary precision assumed in the premises of our theories is when we operationally construct them – since repetition of the operations in the new context will expose the failure of prior assumptions. Popper’s falsificationism is an incomplete attempt to demonstrate that falsification is necessary to ‘narrow’ more parsimonious (precise) statements, and that criticism is the means of narrowing theories to ever greater degrees of precision.

The only thing particularly interesting about economics is that because all human beings are able to cooperate by sympathy with intent, we can also judge whether incentives are rational (with very imprecise limits). As such we are able to subjectively test economic statements for rationality (decidability is the correct term).

Now once we have stumbled upon a theory, in order to make a truth claim, we must demonstrate that some subset of this set of tests have been satisfied: in other words, we must warranty our statements in order to claim that we speak the truth.

0) Sensible (intuitively possible)
1) Meaningfully Expressible ( as an hypothesis )
2) Internally Consistent (logically consistent – rational)
3) Externally Correspondent, and Falsifiable ( physically testable – correlative)
4) Existentially Possible (operationally construct-able/observable)
5) Voluntarily “Choose-able” (voluntary exchange / rational choice)
6) Market-Survivable (criticism – theory )
7) Market Irrefutable (law)
8) Irrefutable under Original Experience (Perceivable Truth)
9) Ultimately Parsimonious Description (Analytic Truth)
10) Informationally Complete and Tautologically Identical (Platonic Truth – Imaginary)

..yet not all theoretical systems necessitate most of these claims. In economics for example, we must satisfy 5, but in mathematics we solve this same problem by the axiom of choice (adding additional information), and in physics it’s meaningless.

But the net is that if ‘knowledge’ refers to truth claims, and if all non-tautological premises are context dependent – a degree of precision – (they are), and if we cannot know the boundaries of that precision (we can’t), then all premises are theoretical(they are), and if all knowledge is then theoretical (it is) and the means of discovery are irrelevant (they are), and operational construction is instead the test of true statements, not the statements themselves, (it is), and if economic principles must be operationally constructed – praxeologically – (they must), yet not all emergent phenomenon are deducible (they aren’t) and the degree of arbitrary precision available to economic theories is extremely limited (it is), then instrumentation is necessary to measure phenomenon within the limits of arbitrary precision (it is), and minor actions will produce uncertain effects within the boundaries of arbitrary precision (they do), and that we can experiment within those bounds (we can and do). (In fact all human action takes place within the universe’s boundaries – which is why we can act in the first place.)

Now that said, no scientist says that only empirical knowledge is true, we say only that man’s reason is frail and we require instrumentation to test it. It is irrelevant how we come to a theory, and irrelevant if we can justify it if it works, but it is through criticism that we progressively increase the content of a theory until it is the most parsimonious that we can manage for the context we consider, given the logical and physical tools at our disposal.

Now, in Propertarianism I argue that scientists discovered the means of truth telling, and that philosophers(rationalists) did not – instead I argue -which isnt very hard given the twentieth century- most often, that philosophers are usually the best liars. And that the weakness in scientific argument is, that as producers of a luxury good, scientists ignore costs in the description of their theories. Whereas in economics we consider costs. So by adding our understanding of costs back into the scientific method, we discover that it’s the best truth-telling method in general that we have discovered. And that by struggling to speak the truth scientists made dramatic progress in all of their fields. This is why the scientific method is not a method, but a set of moral prescriptions for what we may claim to truthfully say and what not.

Conversely, rationalism has been used systemically to create the most complex and destructive lies and pseudosciences known to man – most of which are moral, legal political and economic. Because it is profitable to create complex lies in those industries just as it is (often, not always) unprofitable to create complex lies in science. It’s just that by the time someone figures it out in economics and politics, the opportunity to correct it has passed, while in science their is no expiration date on the damage that can be done to one’s reputation (capital of scientists).

So it is not just that we can come to knowledge by any means possible and criticize it by all necessary means available to us, but that rationalism has been used to lie and steal and murder more than any other discipline and that it is far more error prone than truth telling, and truth telling is a very hard thing to do.

It is one thing to say ‘this works’ or “i can say this’ and it is another to say that you are speaking it truthfully: meaning scientifically. When you speak scientifically it is possible to be fairly certain your statements are truthful, and when you speak rationally we know only that they may be meaningful, but not necessarily truthful (scientific.)

The world has adopted scientific language as the language of truth speaking in all fields, almost entirely because it is less prone to deception and error than rationalism.

So in my work, I want to take what is useful from Hoppe: the reduction of all moral propositions to property rights – but I feel I must rescue liberty from the language of liars, thieves, mystics, and authoritarianism, and translate it into scientific language: the language of truth-speaking: science.

Because while you may not be aware of it, the central reason for western superiority was our discovery of truth telling. No one else did it. And it is the reason the west separated from the rest.

Truth speaking creates trust, trust reduces transaction costs, reduced transaction costs create economic velocity, economic velocity creates prosperity, prosperity gives us choices, and the greatest variety of choices means the satisfaction of the most subjective values.

Truth is very expensive. It is the most expensive normative commons in the world.

And that is why it is so rare.

All non tautological knowledge is theoretical and contextual, and we determine what we can testify to by criticizing it, not by the means of obtaining it. The means of obtaining it is irrelevant.

Economics, like all disciplines that investigate that which is beyond human scales of perception is a ratio-empirical discipline because we cannot observe phenomenon without instrumentation and measures, and we cannot test internal consistency without reason. The correct interpretation of praxeology is that all observable phenomenon must be open to rational construction by the decisions and actions of human beings. This applies to all disciplines. Without exception. The general hypothesis of Austrians is that distortionary activity is amplified and extended in time. this appears to be true, but at a very imprecise level and the current debate is over the trade-offs, which is why it remains unsettled. But the empirical investigation into economic phenomenon within that degree of precision (which is enormously imprecise) is necessary, and by any and all definitions, scientific. Interference in such an economy is immoral, but it is scientific, and investigation of interstitial phenomenon it is scientific. Not all phenomenon (regular patterns) are deducible from first principles, however, they must be explainable by means of deduction once discovered to be claimed as truthful.

I think i should have done a fair job of criticizing the straw man argument, providing the explanation for the fundamental questions of how science rather than the straw man of ‘empiricism’ operates, demonstrating the importance of it, and why I am working so hard to convert Hoppe’s rationalism into scientific argument – to protect it from irrelevant nonsense arguments and justifiable marginalization. I had only a few hours to work on this on and off, and I can probably improve it. But I promise that I am very good at what I do and if you work with it, you should find it very helpful. If not and I failed you I am sorry but I will keep trying to simplify the arguments further over time.

Curt Doolittle
The Propertarian Institute
Kiev Ukraine