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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.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 27th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
an alphabet of strictly universal structural parts
Thank you for bringing Barry Smith to my attention. I look forward to studying his work.

In your summarizing list items 2 and 7 look particularly interesting. The proposal of strict universality goes a long way toward characterizing the most impressive results of the sciences. I'd like to think through whether this contrasts with the sort of ideas on universality that we find in ancient philosophies and their successors. Is Smith suggesting that this (item two) is new to him, new as of the genesis of the scientific worldview, or at least as old as ancient Greece?

Item seven suggests that these universal patterns, once formulated, facilitate the composition of more advanced explanations. This is an exciting idea, and I will put some thought toward what may count as examples. (Does Smith himself provide examples in his writings?)

To push back at item 2 with a possible criticism, I find myself wondering whether Barry Smith would categorize neo-Darwinian selectionism as a candidate for something that is strictly universal. I'm certainly inclined to take a mathematically-refined core of it as a first-class explanatory concept, and I'd propose that it is universal in the relevant sense. But evolution appears to apply only to dynamic systems with population-qualities. It would be natural to see this as a limitation, i.e. a scope of applicability. If so, does this not put it *in contrast to* the universality Smith is talking about?

(Stuart Kauffman has elaborated this sort of thing as a universal quality of existence, and I'm personally very much in agreement with him, but it does seem that Kauffman's idea constitutes an exception, not a generally recognized feature of this part of systems science.)

Tracy Harms
Eugene, Oregon
Aug. 28th, 2008 11:37 am (UTC)
Essences and the alphabet of structural parts
Thanks Tracy, yes, items 2 and 7 are the keys (at least in the basic seven propositions). He says a bit more in the text of the article but not enough to answer your question.

I have a very uneasy feeling that responding to your question will lead to the question of the nature of the laws of nature, the regularities, propensities or whatever terminology is used, especially in biology and the life sciences, beyond physics and chemistry. That will lead to some more questions and a lot of literature that I have consigned to the "pending" basket in order to press on with this project. But there will be a day of reckoning!
Sep. 1st, 2008 03:27 am (UTC)
Re: Essences and the alphabet of structural parts
Fair enough, Rafe; it's not my intention to draw you off-track. The aspect of item 2 that I think you will need to elaborate, insofar as you draw on these ideas for this particular project, is Smith's invocation of "essence". For the moment I'm willing to presume that this is not in conflict with Popper's rejection of essentialism, but how that is so will need to be detailed pretty clearly if you will be saying that Smith's philosophy fits well with Popper's.

I'd also like to mention that I find myself wondering why Smith laid out the first item as he did. He wanted to stake out that he is a realist, obviously, and such a stance is no surprise. Was he here hinting at something he had written on earlier? Is there a problem situation in play here that is clear to him, but not yet to me?

Personally, I'm fairly uncomfortable with item number one. I think it overcommits, and pointlessly. It does not mesh comfortably with what I get from (e.g.) Kauffman, Munz, and Prigogine. Admittedly, here I'm drawing attention away from the sort of details that your Austrian reconciliation topic must dwell on. Yet, it may have enough relevance to pay some attention to, as I think it reflects the broad "flavor" difference between the schools you're trying to bridge. The Mises-dominated school is one where classical forms and an assumption of pure academic detachment have been comfortable. The group who has drawn more on Popper has taken a fairly sharp departure from that orthodoxy.

Sep. 1st, 2008 05:54 am (UTC)
Re: Essences and the alphabet of structural parts
Very interesting points here. First of all I would like to be more clear about the track I am following. It is quite likely that something which looks like a diversion or a distraction could turn out to be the main road or the clue to cracking a problem. Time may tell!

Memo 1. Put up a new post describing the track, for the short term, getting clear about the convergence of von Mises, Talcott Parsons and Popper.

Second, whether the essences that Smith propounds (point 2) run into trouble from Popper's critique of essentialism. I think Smith is in the clear becasue the essentialism that Popper criticised was the methodological view that something of fundamental value can be achieved by clarifying concepts and definitions, as an end in itself. Popper was as willing as anyone to clarify a term to get to grips with the problem but that is a different thing.

Check his critique of instrumentalism in three views of knowledge (essentialism, instrumentalism and conjectural realism) http://www.the-rathouse.com/CRThreetheories3.html
I think he could see the merit of essentialism in going beneath the surface to look for deep explanations but he did not accept that they could be ultimate explanations. From the conclusion to that paper "I do not think that a language without universals could ever work; and the use of universals commits us to asserting, and thus (at least) to conjecturing, the reality of dispositions - though not of ultimate and inexplicable ones, that is, of essences..."

So conjectural realism could be described as (heavily) modified essentialism, in the same way that Smith's "fallible apriorism" is a very heavily modified form of apiriorism (you could call it Popperian apriorism!).

I think that Smith's essences are pretty much the same as Popper's propensies - that is, they are metaphysical theories, not methodological principles

The next point concerns Smith's realism in his point 1. I am surprised that this is regarded as problematic in Popperian circles.

It is strange that Smith made no reference to Popper, he trained in mainstream philosophy in Britain during the 1970s and it seems that Popper had no presence. I have sent him an email to indicate the parallels but some weeks on there is no reply.

On the "flavour" of the two schools, there is a massive difference between the justificaionism of the hard core Miseans and the non-justifictionism of the critical rationalists. That can only be addressed if the Miseans are prepared to bone up on Bartley but some of them are worried about his "hijack" of The Fatal Conceit!

Another take on this is to sidestep the metaphysics and ask the pragmatic question, what difference does it make: to the questions that we ask, the answers that we demand, the policies that we advocate, the fieldwork that we do, the journals and blogs that we read, etc

Edited at 2008-09-01 05:59 am (UTC)
Sep. 4th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Essences and the alphabet of structural parts
You wrote: "The next point concerns Smith's realism in his point 1. I am surprised that this is regarded as problematic in Popperian circles."

Point one is this: "The world exists, independently of our thinking and reasoning activities."

Peter Munz made explicit, in _Philosophical Darwinism_, that all knowledge is introspective. Knowledge only occurs as reality reflects upon itself. My impression is that this idea contradicts Barry Smith's assertion, so that a critical preference for one precludes critical preference for the other. If so, my preference falls on Munz's claim.

If these are not ultimately contradictory claims, it still seems that Munz provided the more important idea, as Smith's claim complicates study of knowledge whereas Munz's claim simplifies.

Sep. 10th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Essences and the alphabet of structural parts

Point one is this: "The world exists, independently of our thinking and reasoning activities."

This can be interpreted two ways, Tracy. It looks to me like you saw it as meaning that the world exists and is completely independent from our thoughts, that the two are separate. (I may not have put that well, but I think it's clear enough.)

But it could also mean that the world is real, that it exists whether we are here to see it or not. I think that the comma, if Rafe's quote is verbatim, lends credence to the second interpretation.

A quick search found this:

"I shall presuppose as undefended background to what follows a position of scientific realism, a doctrine to the effect (i) that the world exists and (ii) that through the working out of ever more sophisticated theories our scientific picture of reality will approximate ever more closely to the world as it really is." (http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/articles/ROTHBARD.htm).

I also found this, which, while it includes the comma, also elaborates on the ideas. (In this case he attributes them to the Austrian school, but my impression, on cursory reading, is that he also believes them.)

"(i) The world exists, independently of our thinking and reasoning activities. This world embraces both material and mental aspects, and while we might shape the world and contribute to it through our thoughts and actions, detached and objective theorizing about the world in all its aspects is nonetheless possible." (http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/book/austrian_philosophy/CH10.pdf)

The reason I bring this up (and possibly belabor it) is that I think you bring a valuable idea to the table, and one that is easily overlooked. I think it's worth refining the criticisms you offer here, because the assumption of disunity you want to point out is real, and is problematic.

I think it's worth learning to differentiate realism from what seems more akin to mind-body dualism or something, and I think they tend to get squished together.


Sep. 11th, 2008 11:07 am (UTC)
The existence of the world
Like Angela, I am inclined to go with independence of the world, at least the world of material things and biological things (world 1?), which existed before the appearance of mind, consciousness and human beings. I am not committed to Smith's views on this but I took it to be the "naive realism" which I also take to be Popper's view (not that this is a justification for it!).

When we interact with the world then it is no longer independent of our activities.

Our knowledge of the world is a more complex matter because it is possible to make a distinction between subjective knowledge (in world 2) and the objective contents of thought (world 3).
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NATO takes over command of military operations in Libya
[b]NATO is taking over command of military operations in Libya from coalition forces, world media reported Sunday.[/b]

The UN Security Council imposed the no-fly zone over Libya on March 17, along with ordering "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's attacks on rebel-held towns.

The 28 NATO ambassadors met on Sunday to decide on further military plans in Libya.

The United States transfers command for a no-fly zone over Libya to NATO, while coalition forces will continue to protect civilian population from attacks by Gaddafi forces.

The military operation in Libya, codenamed Odyssey Dawn, has been conducted so far jointly by 13 states, including the United States, Britain and France.

NATO members decided on Thursday to assume responsibility for the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya, but could not agree on taking full command of all military operations in the country.

Meanwhile, leaders of the 27 European Union states on Thursday issued a statement saying the EU stood ready to assist in building a new Libya "in cooperation with the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and others."

MOSCOW, March 27 (RIA Novosti)

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