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A paper in two parts, making comparisons and contrasts between the work of von Mises and Popper.

Part 1  https://www.ufm.edu/uploaduser/nomoi_03.pdf

Part 2   https://www.ufm.edu/uploaduser/nomoi_n4.pdf

This is the draft of the paper on Mises, Parsons and Popper which was forshadowed in the previous post. Since that time progress has been slow and so I have decided to post the draft without further delay.

It may help to see this paper in the context of the research program sketched in the first post of this series.

Going on about Talcott Parsons a bit more, one of the strange things about his achievement was the way he reinvented the Austrian wheel without reference to Menger apart from a footnote referring to the methodenstreit. Weber was his main man but he managed to avoid mention of Mises and all the other Austrians.

For more about what went wrong after The Structure of Social Action.

For an account of the trajectory of his most energetic and ambitious follower, Jeffrey C Alexander, ending up with "the strong cultural program".

Focus and Context

There is a need to get more focus into the project, to pick up the pathway and assign priorities to the different elements.
1. One component is the Mises, Parsons and Popper project which in turn has three parts  (1) to describe the way their programs looked like converging to a very similar position circa 1937 (the date of Parsons' book The Structure of Social Action), (2) to spell out a position based on the best parts of their programs, that is, the point they should have reached and (3)  to desribe how their paths diverged and did not meet in a helpfull manner.
Just to anticipate a small part of the story, by the time The Structure of Social Action was in print, Parsons had decided that methodological individualism could not cope with the evolution or description of social structures and he went off into the holism of general systems theory (with the idea that sociology should try to emulate the closed system of classical mechanics as the paradigm of science).
This is the abstract of a paper that is supposed to emerge from the Mises/Parsons/Popper comparison.
During the 1930s three lines of thought converged on a common model of explanation in economics and the human sciences. Working in Europe, Ludwig von Mises of the Austrian school developed what he called "praxeology" to explore the sciences of human action. In the United States, Talcott Parsons, under the influence of Marshall, Pareto, Durkheim and Weber, offered the "action frame of reference" and in Australasia (in exile from Austria) Karl Popper elaborated "situational analysis". Common features of the three models are methodological individualism, the search for universal laws and the use of a rationality principle to link the ends and means of action. General acceptance of the common features of these models would have significantly altered the criteria for theory development and appraisal in economics and the other social sciences. In the event, the three lines of thought did not merge and they did not impact significantly on the scientific community at large. Their potential synergy has yet to be explored and there is scope for a synthesis with some modifications to each of the models, especially to correct the views of Mises and Parsons on the methods that are effective in the natural sciences. A strange feature of the situation is that the three principals and their followers have, up to date, almost completely refrained from serious discussion of the contribution of the other two parties in their published works.

2. Another component is to demonstrate how the theory of metaphysical research programs will help to identify the real bones of contention between rival schools of thought (Kuhn's paradigms and the research programs of Lakatos). The theses here are (1) positivism drove the discussion of metaphysics out of science and (2) various factors subverted the critical discussion of metaphysics in the non-science lines of thought - phenomenology, Critical Theory etc. These factors include failure to engage with science and with practical problems, defective economic theories and obsession with conceptual analysis and the definition of terms (what Popper called essentialism).
The Mises/Popper project is a part of a larger project to unpack the consequences of a set of theories (in method, metaphysics, theory of rationality and epistimology) mostly articulated by Popper, with a lot of important input from Bartley on "justificationism", rationality and the limits of criticism.
Popper depicted his metaphysical program in terms of realism vs instrumentalism, objectivism vs subjectivism and indeterminism vs determinism.
To that can be added non-justificationism vs justificationism and his critique of essentialism which is overwhelmingly important in the human sciences.
As noted elseqhere, an "old program" can be spelled out in terms of justificationism, subjectivism, essentialism, determinism and reductionism.
Justificationism. A valid principle of knowledge or value must be derived from some authoritative source, which provides conclusive justification for it.

Subjectivism. Knowledge consists of subjective beliefs or concepts. There is no such thing as a structure or fabric of objective knowledge outside the minds of individual people.

Essentialism. Knowledge either results from penetration into the hidden essence of a phenomenon, or is improved by analysis of the concepts used to describe the phenomenon.

Determinism. Every event is pre-determined, so the future is laid down like the sequence of frames in a reel of film passing through a projector.

Reductionism. Complex things are to be explained by reducing them to their simplest constituents. For example, events in society should he examined in terms of biology and eventually reduced to the laws of physics.

An alternative program can be articulated as follows:
In place of justified beliefs, Popper and Bartley opt for conjectural objective knowledge.
In place of conceptual analysis and debate about the meaning of terms we should argue about the truth or falsity of theories, or, in the realm of action, the desirability of alternative policies.
In place of determinism we need to realise that the future to some extent depends on decisions that we make, and these decisions can be influenced by arguments and ideas which cannot be reduced to the laws of physics, nor to biological instincts nor to immutable social or historical forces.
The idea is to unpack the implications of the revised program in all the potential areas of application. For economics, see Larry Boland on the four-point Popper/Hayek program that he described in his 1982 book (reprinted recently) on the foundations of economic method

Slow Progress

Not much has been done to advance the project recently due to various distractions including the passing of Minnie, our much loved Boston Terrier, thirteen and a half years old, a good age for the breed. 

Several people around the world have been invited to join an email list to be advised of progress on the project and to contribute comments. Some have replied with enthusiasm!

Tracy Harms signed up, he is a colleague from the old Critical Cafe, an email discussion group to discuss Karl Popper's ideas. The Cafe has fallen on hard times in recent years, being dominated by people who detest Popper's ideas. It was never quite the same after a hiatus when the list suddenly closed, for reasons never explained, apparently related to a violent flame war involving actionable statements.

One of the papers in progress is about the "failure of convergence" of Ludwig von Mises, Talcott Parsons and Karl Popper. This paper was going well a few weeks ago but has languished due to problems in handling the changes in Popper's thinking from the time around 1940 which was the high tide of convergence of  the three parties. 
This is to track the progress of the Even More Austrian project to explore the synergies between some lines of though that can be traced through Austria, or at least the greater Austria of the Austro Hungarian empire.

The primary strand is the Austrian school of economics and social thought that can be traced from Carl Menger, through Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek to the more recent leadership of Ludwig Lachmann and Israel Kirzner and their contemporary followers. 

The second strand is the contribution of Karl Popper who was Austrian by birth but had little connection with the economists apart from his friendship with Hayek.

The third strand can be traced to Franz Brentano and Alexis Meinong. It developed in different directions, as it was taken up by Russell and Moore in Cambridge, by Roderick Chisholm in the US, by Husserl (to Heidegger) and it also appeared in the form of Popper's "third world" of objective knowledge.


The project began with an Agricultural Science degree, with a view to working with the FAO to address the problem of World Hunger. By the time the degree was finished it turned out that the root of the problem was not growing the food but a complex of social and political factors. Before I left Agriculture my thesis supervisor lent me The Poverty of Historicism and The Open Society and its Enemies which kicked off a lasting interest in most of Popper's work (leaving out quantum physics and probability theory).


The project shifted to Sociology which turned out to be a false move (as von Mises would have warned).  Something of value (not fully realised at the time) was heavy reading of Talcott Parsons, although nobody in the school was interested in his ideas. Later on it became apparent that up to 1937 (his first book) Parsons was converging on the same point where Mises and Popper were heading but that meeting of minds never happened due to the war and other factors

POPPER AND THE AUSTRIANS - the More Austrian Program

The project did not progres very much further until the early 1980s when two happy accidents events came about. The first was the appearance of the three volumes of Popper's Postscript to The Logic of  Scientific Discovery which revitalised my interest in his philosophy, fortified by the theory of metaphysical research programs, Like the best wine, he kept that for the end of the party - the Metaphysical Epilogue to the third volume of the Postscript. Second, the Austrian school of economics came into view and economics made sense for the first time. 

It soon became apparent that the work of the Austrian economists would be better understood as a metaphysical research program, moreover a program that fits like a glove with Popper's metaphysics, his methodology, his epistemology and his non-socialist liberalism. This is not music to the ears of most Popperians who are not at home with the Austrian economists (or minimum state liberalism) nor to most of the Austrians, especially the hard core Miseans.  

Some important figures to mention in connection with the More Austrian Program are Larry Boland and Jack Birner. Boland in a 1982 contribution suggested four agenda items for a “Popper-Hayek” program of  individualistic explanation of dynamic processes. 1, Anti-justificationism. 2, Anti-psychologism. 3, Rational decision-making, according to the “logic of the situation”. 4, Situational dynamics - behavior can change as a result of learning as well as from changes in the situation. 

Jack Birner is also outstanding in his exegesis of Popper and Menger

Another recent player in this game is Ivo A Sarjanovic who has a paper Popper y los Austriacos: atando cabos in press in Argentina.

The AUSTRIAN PHILOSOPHERS  - The Even More Austrian Program

Enter Brentano and friends. This strand is the lesser-known Austrian school of philosophy which near the turn of the twentieth century  became is the precursor of several developments, some of which appear to be at odds with each other. The relationship of this strand to the economists was not apparent until quite recently because the best-known school of philosophy from Austria was the Logical Positivism of the Vienna Circle (which became logical empiricism in the US) and this school of thought was anathema to the Austrian economists. 

Barry Smith made a significant contribution to the exegesis of Austrian philosophy and the Aristotelian foundations of Austrian economics before he moved on to explore aspects of ontology applied to a wide range of medical and biological problems and issues, especially information storage and retrieval. 

He contributed a paper on "Aristotle, Menger, Mises: and essay in the metaphysics of economics" to a collection edited by Bruce Caldwell called "Carl Menger and his legacy in economics" published as a supplement to "History of Political Economy" in 1990.

The "Austrian Aristotelianism" that Smith spells out in this paper is almost identical to the program that emerged many years later from Popper's critique of positivism, and especially from his critique of determinism, subjectivism and instrumentalism in quantum physics. Smith sums up the Aristotelian program with seven general points and some extra points applied especially to the social sciences. 

1. The world exists, independently of our thinking and reasoning activities.

2. There are in the world certain simple `essences' or `natures' or `elements', as well as laws, structures or connections governing these, all of which are strictly universal.

3. Our experience of this world involves in every case both an individual and a general aspect.
4. The general aspect of experience need be in no sense infallible (it reflects no special source of special knowledge), and may indeed be subject to just the same sorts of errors as is our knowledge of what is individual.

5. We can know, albeit under the conditions set out in 4., what the world is like, at least in its broad outlines, both via common sense and via scientific method. ,

6. We can know what this world is like, at least in principle, from the detached perspective of an ideal scientific observer.

7. The simple essences or natures pertaining to the various different segments or levels of reality constitute an alphabet of structural parts.

8. The theory of value is to be built up exclusively on `subjective' foundations, which is to say exclusively on the basis of the corresponding mental acts and states of human subjects.

9. There are no `social wholes' or `social organisms'. 

10. There are no (graspable) laws of historical development. 

A later book explored in depth the ramifications of some Araistotelian/Austrian ideas into various strands of philosophy, literary theory, psycholgy (especially the gestalt movement) and Austrian economics. He advance the important concept of "fallible apriorism" which treats apriorism as a methodology and not a method of proof or justification.