Explaining “Sympathize With Intent”


—“Can you please elaborate on this statement: ‘We know the first principles of human cooperation: we can sympathize with intent.’” —Chris Shaeffer

[C]hris – Another good question.

Apes cannot seem to sympathize with intentions to any degree, in the sense that they cannot imagine what we mean by cooperating. The example given is that you can train a monkey to wash dishes but he does not understand the idea of cleaning the plate as an objective, only the experience of playing with water and plate. Dogs however, can understand our intentions. If we point to something they can understand the idea of acting on a subject. We are capable of doing this it appears, from a very young age. And moreover, if we use language to describe a situation another will ‘understand’ our motivations under those conditions. If someone does not understand, we can likewise explore how he or she might not understand and attempt to assist them in forming associations. So we can ‘sympathize’ with other humans. And we are marginally indifferent from one another (at least within our peer groups).

Conversely, we can also subjectively test theories of incentives: whether an actor subjected to certain stimuli would either be able to make a decision, and which decisions are rational. So we can ‘test’ the first principles of human actions: incentives. And we can do so without the assistance of instrumentation (at least in cases of demonstrated preference – otherwise people are notorious for error, bias and deception). We cannot make the same claim of the physical universe. We cannot ‘intuit’ the universe’s first principles. Although Hawking seems to think we are within a century of discovering them. And should we be able to, we may be able to explain the universe with the same degree of explanation we can apply to economic (human) interactions.

Mises attempts to express these phenomenon in axiomatic (logical and informationally complete) rather than scientific (theoretical and informationally incomplete) terms. Which is what got him cast out of the discipline and marginalized – rightfully. Despite his other contributions.

If we see science as the universally accepted language of truthful speech, consisting of a set of warranties we expect each other to provide, rather than as a methodology for determining truth with which to persuade each other, then it is easier to make the argument that it does not matter how one investigates any particular discipline as long as when one publishes it, he does so in the formal language of truthful speech.

This is, in practice, how the world actually functions. Although we still wrap all our disciplinary language in justificationisms.

Curt Doolittle
The Propertarian Institute
L’viv, Ukraine