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The Morphology of Liberalism

Here’s a book review in The Economist looking at the morphology in meaning attached to (neo)liberalism. Here is the publisher’s blurb.

But the line between Smith and Friedman is not a straight one, as Mr Stedman Jones points out. Smith thought one of the state’s jobs should be to build public works and forge institutions that would otherwise fail under market pressure. Here he sounds more like Franklin Roosevelt. Smith believed the state should fund schools, bridges and roads. Friedman said that was the job of the private sector.

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Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: Michael Oakeshott on Education

Having trailed the chapters comprising section II of the Companion I now present my co-editor’s piece.

Michael Oakeshott’s writings on education form one of the most attractive aspects of his philosophy and have duly garnered considerable attention. They evoke an ideal of liberal learning for its own sake, freed from the narrowing necessities of practical life and social purpose. This ideal is summed up in Oakeshott’s famous image of the university as a “conversation” between the various modes of understanding that make up our civilization, a conversation that has no predetermined course or destination, an “unrehearsed intellectual adventure” (VLL 39). Of this ideal, Noel Annan wrote: “It was the finest evocation of “the idea of the university’ since Newman; and more subtle and persuasive.” As I hope to show, however, Oakeshott’s philosophy of education is not without its difficulties, and these difficulties largely mirror the ones that run through his philosophy as a whole. In its formalism, conceptual compartmentalization, and rigid separation of theory and practice, Oakeshott’s philosophy of education does not adequately address the problems of specialization, intellectual fragmentation, and cultural isolation that currently afflict education, especially higher education, today.

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Discount on Oakeshott Companion

In anticipation of the publication date (October) Penn State University Press are offering a 20% discount off the cover price of A Companion to Michael Oakeshott – download form here.

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Antifoundationalist in spite of himself?

Here’s a review of Aryeh Botwinick’s recent book Michael Oakeshott’s Skepticism by my co-editor Paul Franco. Here is the opening salvo:

This is a strange book. From the title, one might expect that it would take up Oakeshott’s complicated understanding and deployment of skepticism throughout his philosophical career; perhaps also his relationship to such favorite skeptical authors as Montaigne, Hobbes, Pascal, Hume, and F. H. Bradley. But Aryeh Botwinick has something else in mind in his book; something both more ambitious and less satisfying. Instead of providing a detailed analysis of Oakeshott’s own views on and uses of skepticism, Botwinick uses Oakeshott to illustrate a larger thesis about how skepticism—which he construes largely in terms of a radical antifoundationalism—issues in a profoundly religious or mystical view of the world. This is not an uninteresting thesis, but whether it captures what is most important and distinctive about Oakeshott’s skepticism or his philosophy in general is doubtful.

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The Spatial Market Process

My chum David Emanuel Andersson has just had this edited collection published. Here is an excerpt from his intro:

In what is perhaps the best-known article in the history of the Austrian school, Friedrich Hayek (1945) asserts that market prices distill and thus reflect the unique local knowledge of a multitude of individuals, each of whom resides and works in a particular place. Because only an autonomously acting individual can take advantage of her unique creativity, skills, and personal connections to others, centralization of economic decisionmaking guarantees that much useful local knowledge is irretrievably lost. It is impossible to communicate the totality of all local entrepreneurial ideas and tacit knowledge to a small group of top-down planners; their cognitive limitations guarantee substandard economic performance (Hayek, 1952). We should therefore not be surprised that it is valuable to possess ‘‘knowledge of people, of local conditions, and special circumstances’’ (Hayek, 1945, p. 522). Given the great number of citations to Hayek (1945) in the general economics literature, it would require no great stretch of the imagination to imagine that Hayek – and by extension the Austrian school – had set in motion a way of theorizing about economic phenomena that later gave rise to theories about knowledge spillovers, urbanization economies, and local social networks. But this was not to be. There are virtually no references to Hayek or any other Austrian economist in the spatial economics literature prior to the year 2000. The lack of interest in Austrian economics among spatial economists was reciprocated by a similar lack of interest in spatial economics among self-professed Austrians. To my knowledge, Pierre Desrochers (1998) wrote the first explicitly Austrian contribution that deals exclusively with spatial economic phenomena. In spite of this historical disconnect, Austrian ideas have entered the spatial economics, economic geography, and urban planning literatures because of the close parallels between the influential ideas of the urbanist Jane Jacobs and Austrian market process theory. While Jacobs (1961) does not refer to Hayek or any other Austrian, her Death and Life of Great American Cities at times reads like an Austrian theory of urban planning: [N]obody, including the planning commission, is capable of comprehending places within the city other than in either generalized or fragmented fashion. They do not even have the means of gathering and comprehending the intimate, many-sided information required, partly because of their own unsuitable structural inadequacies in other departments. Here is an interesting thing about coordination both of information and of action in cities, and it is the crux of the matter: The principal coordination needed comes down to coordination among different services within localized places. This is at once the most difficult kind of coordination, and the most necessary. (Jacobs, 1961, quoted in Ikeda, 2006, p. 22) With her emphases on (implicit) methodological individualism, the importance of local knowledge, and complex evolving orders, Jacobs provides a rich source of insights for those who wish to combine Austrian economic theory with a dynamic approach to agglomeration economies. Such a dynamic approach focuses on entrepreneurial processes rather than on idealized equilibrium states. Unsurprisingly, both Hayek and Jacobs figure prominently in this volume. But they are far from the only influences. This book is a collection of 13 essays that address spatial aspects of the market process from refreshingly diverse approaches. They range from the extension of Austrian theory to spatial phenomena over hybrid combinations of ideas from distinct traditions to state-of-the-art spatial models that integrate Austrian concepts such as ‘‘roundaboutness’’ or entrepreneurial innovation.

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Oakeshott in French

Adrien Guillemin tells me that that the French translation of Michael Oakeshott’s “On Being Conservative” has been released by Les Editions du Félin in Paris with a Preface and a biographical epilogue. He continues: “The book has already been welcomed by a nice editorial in Le Monde and one on the cultural channel of Radio France.” Congratulations to Adrien for this enterprising effort and for seeing it through to fruition some two years after he first made contact regarding copyright.

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Morals and markets

Sandel plugging his latest. The journalist’s quote below has much resonance to me.

Even to a toddler’s mind, the logic of the transaction was evidently clear – if he had to be bribed, then the potty couldn’t be a good idea – and within a week he had grown so suspicious and upset that we had to abandon the whole enterprise.

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Originally posted on :

The second paper co-authored with Dave Hardwick has now been published in Studies in Emergent Order:

Abstract: In a recent paper (Hardwick & Marsh, in press) we examine the recent tensions between the two broadly successful spontaneous orders, namely the Market and Science. We argued for an epistemic pluralism, the view that freedom and liberty (indeed the very concept of liberalism and civil society) exists at the nexus of a manifold of spontaneous forces, and that no single epistemic system should dominate. We also briefly introduced the concept of “iterative” knowledge to characterize the essentially dynamic nature of scientific knowledge. Herein lies a tension. The Market (and perhaps the prevailing culture at large) sees scientific knowledge in cumulative terms, that is, progressing to a conclusion in a linear fashion. This relatively static understanding of medical science as it relates to pharmaceutical studies can have a corrosive effect on the…

View original 142 more words

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Science, the Market and Iterative Knowledge

The second paper co-authored with Dave Hardwick has now been published in Studies in Emergent Order:

Abstract: In a recent paper (Hardwick & Marsh, in press) we examine the recent tensions between the two broadly successful spontaneous orders, namely the Market and Science. We argued for an epistemic pluralism, the view that freedom and liberty (indeed the very concept of liberalism and civil society) exists at the nexus of a manifold of spontaneous forces, and that no single epistemic system should dominate. We also briefly introduced the concept of “iterative” knowledge to characterize the essentially dynamic nature of scientific knowledge. Herein lies a tension. The Market (and perhaps the prevailing culture at large) sees scientific knowledge in cumulative terms, that is, progressing to a conclusion in a linear fashion. This relatively static understanding of medical science as it relates to pharmaceutical studies can have a corrosive effect on the practice of medicine and ultimately, we believe, on the proper functioning of the market itself. In this paper we examine this tension in much closer detail by focusing upon the demands of the market, specifically the pharmaceutical industry, and the science upon which it is based. In other words, we expound upon a clash of epistemic value – one (science) that sees knowledge as essentially iterative (dynamic yet tentative) and the other (the Market) that harvests conclusive scientific knowledge (ostensibly as a fixed and firm commodity) functional to its own interests. Clinical Trials that are sharply focused with precisely determined deliverables often manifest this tension in the sharpest of relief. As a means of recovering drug development and testing costs, conclusive assessment is required to avoid creating serious financial problems for the companies themselves not to mention issues in the public interest.

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A liberal arts education

This Oakeshott reference from Colorado College’s website, notable because many so-called “liberal” arts colleges are only nominally “liberal” in the Oakeshottian sense. Check out Oakeshott’s essay “A Place of Learning” and other essays of his from The Voice of Liberal Learning. Paul Franco has written an essay for the “Companion” entitled “Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: Michael Oakeshott on Education“.

Endless conversation

It’s not just talk. It’s “an endless unrehearsed intellectual adventure,” the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott told a crowd at the college in 1975 during a week-long visit that left him delighted and impressed by the faculty, the students, and the magnificent setting.

It’s a conversation, Oakeshott said, “in which, in imagination, we enter into a variety of modes of understanding the world and ourselves.” Here, he saw unlimited opportunities to learn and to reflect on learning. This is the tradition you’ll draw upon as you navigate this place of learning, block by block.

Spend an intense three and a half weeks reading Shakespeare, then another pondering the social value of video games, then perhaps another examining RNA with a professor who shares the joy of a science-glimpse into what makes us human. You’ll write, you’ll read, you’ll paint or sing or calculate or contemplate. You’ll take a deep breath and at some point it will all make sense. You’re learning to understand, and you know it’s a lifelong conversation.