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Hayek’s Post-Positivist Empiricism: Experience Beyond Sensation

The intro from Jan Willem Lindemans’ paper:

The philosophical foundations of Hayek’s works are not beyond dispute (Gray, 1984, Kukathas, 1989, Caldwell, 1992, Hutchison, 1992): was Hayek a rationalist or an empiricist; did he follow Kant or Hume, Mises or Popper? Difficulties arise because these questions touch upon social theory, political philosophy, methodology and epistemology. Moreover, on different occasions, Hayek (intentionally) gave different definitions and evaluations of already complicated views such as ‘rationalism’ and ‘empiricism’. In this paper, I try to shed some light on the rationalism/empiricism issue by focusing on epistemology, where this issue really belongs. The debate there is mainly about the sources of knowledge (e.g., Markie, 2008). Empiricists argue that experience is the source of all our knowledge. This view was held by John Locke (1632-1704) and David Hume (1711-1776) but its roots go back to Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and even further to the ancient Greek Empiricist school in medicine (founded in the third century B.C. by Philinos of Kos or Serapion of Alexandria) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). In contrast with his teacher Plato, Aristotle believed in the ‘induction’ (epagōgē) of general knowledge from particular observations. I will not have the space here to relate Hayek’s ideas to this long history of empiricism. But I will try to refer to David Hume now and then, because Hayek was a great admirer of Hume’s social and political philosophy and Hayek’s ‘Humeanism’ is extensively discussed. I will also get back to the less well known Empiricist school in medicine, because it has a very special conception of ‘experience’ which I believe to be useful to the discussion. In contrast with empiricism, rationalism or ‘apriorism’ is the idea that some knowledge is independent of experience or ‘a priori’. Traditionally, this meant that knowledge is based on rational intuition, or embedded in our rational nature or the structure of the mind. If knowledge is embedded in our mind or nature, it is ‘innate’, which is why philosophers speak of ‘innatism’ or ‘nativism’. Since this was Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) view, it is often called ‘Kantianism’. I will also use the term ‘Kantianism’ rather than ‘rationalism’ because Hayek most often defines the latter as the false view that social phenomena are rationally designed, which is a completely different issue. Kantianism goes back to the ‘innate ideas’ of René Descartes (1596-1650) and the anamnesis of ideas in Plato’s philosophy (429-347 B.C.). Many scholars have tried to position Hayek in the Kantianism/empiricism debate. Most scholars would probably agree with Connin (1990, p. 301) that “Hayek’s theory of knowledge is undoubtedly Kantian” (see also Feser, 2006, p. 300). However, many also understand that there is more to it (Caldwell, 2004, p. 273). Since ‘experience’ is undeniably a basic concept in Hayek’s epistemology, some believe that his epistemology is a kind of synthesis between Kantianism and Humean empiricism (Horwitz, 2000, p. 25). De Vecchi (2003, p. 152) is less optimistic and says that “there is an unresolved tension between empiricism and anti-empiricism within the theory of the process of the formation of knowledge set out in The Sensory Order”. Moreover, some have made the link with ‘evolutionary epistemology’ (Bartley, 1987, p. 21; Gray, 1984; Kukathas, 1989; Dempsey, 1996; Vanberg, 2002). However, scholars have rarely wondered how Kantianism, empiricism and evolutionism can be reconciled, and, more importantly, what ‘empiricism’ and ‘experience’ mean in such a context. Just as there are as many ‘rationalisms’ as there are interpretations of the term ‘reason’, there are as many ‘empiricisms’ as there are interpretations of the term ‘experience’. In this paper, I will reconstruct Hayek’s epistemology based on a careful reading of The Sensory Order and some related writings. I will argue that Hayek’s epistemology is best characterized as a type of ‘post-positivist empiricism’. In the first paragraph, I review Hayek’s neurophysiological explanation of the mind in The Sensory Order. Hayek shows how the nervous system can perform the acts of classification characteristic of the working of the mind. Because the synaptic connections embody a kind of knowledge independent of ‘sense experience’, Hayek is not a ‘sensationalist empiricist’. The second paragraph discusses Hayek’s theory of the formation of synaptic connections. Connections are formed on the basis of what I will call ‘Hayek’s learning rule’, which boils down to the familiar idea that neurons that fire together wire together. Since this means that the knowledge embodied in the synaptic connections is in a sense the result of ‘experience’, be it ‘pre-sensory experience’ rather than ‘sense experience’, Hayek is an empiricist after all, but one of the ‘post-positivist’ kind. In the third paragraph, I analyze Hayek’s views on the evolution of the nervous system and the behavior it generates. There appear to be two kinds of ‘experience’ at the basis of the synaptic connections: ‘experience of the individual’ and ‘experience of the race’. Because Hayek denies that all knowledge is due to ‘experience of the individual’, he is not an ‘individualist empiricist’. However, since ‘experience of the race’ is also ‘experience’, he is again an empiricist in the wider sense. What Hayek failed to notice is that experience of the race is ‘post-sensory’ rather than ‘pre-sensory’ and also in other aspects very different from individual experience. I will call it a kind of ‘selective experience’, which I contrast with ‘inductive experience’. Some links with Donald Campbell’s ‘evolutionary epistemology’ are explored. In the last paragraph, I consider Campbell’s idea that all increases in knowledge are due to selection and make some suggestions for future research.

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Hayek, Popper, and the Causal Theory of the Mind

Here is the introduction to Ed Feser’s paper from Hayek in Mind.

In late 1952, F. A. Hayek sent his friend Karl Popper a copy of his recently published book The Sensory Order: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology. In a letter dated December 2, 1952, Popper acknowledged receipt of the book and responded as follows to what he had read in it:

I am not sure whether one could describe your theory as a causal theory of the sensory order. I think, indeed, that one can. But then, it would be also the sketch of a causal theory of the mind. But I think I can show that a causal theory of the mind cannot be true (although I cannot show this of the sensory order; more precisely, I think I can show the impossibility of a causal theory of the human language (although I cannot show the impossibility of a causal theory of perception). I am writing a paper on the impossibility of a causal theory of the human language, and its bearing upon the body-mind problem, which must be finished in ten days. I shall send you a copy as soon as it is & typed.

In a later letter dated January 19, 1953, Popper added, As to my comments on your book, they are, as far as criticism is concerned, implicit in my paper. I think you have made a splendid effort towards a theory of the sub-linguistic (¼ sub-human ((¼descriptive)) language) level of mind; but I believe that no physiological approach (although most important) can be sufficient to explain the descriptive and argumentative functions of language. Or in other words, there can be no causal or physiological theory of reason. The paper Popper was referring to is his short article ‘‘Language and the body-mind problem.’’ Hayek began a draft of a paper entitled ‘‘Within systems and about systems: A statement of some problems of a theory of communication,’’ which, as Jack Birner has suggested, appears to have been intended at least in part as a response to Popper’s criticisms. But it was never completed, and Hayek never addressed Popper’s arguments in any of his published work. The Sensory Order has, however unjustly, largely been forgotten outside the circles of Hayek specialists. Popper’s brief paper is perhaps even less well known. Neither Popper’s letters to Hayek nor Hayek’s unfinished draft have yet been published. So, this episode might seem rather insignificant in the history of thought and indeed of little significance even to our understanding of either Hayek’s thought or Popper’s. But, as I hope to show in what follows, nothing could be further from the truth. With respect both to its general themes and to some of the specific philosophical moves made by each side, the brief, private dispute between Hayek and Popper foreshadowed a more prominent debate within twentieth-century analytic philosophy that began in the 1970s and continues to this day. Moreover, both the dispute between Hayek and Popper and the later debate reflect a deep tension that has lain at the heart of Western thought since the time of the scientific revolution. On the one hand, there is the ‘‘mechanical world picture’’5 according to which all natural phenomena can be explained entirely in terms of the mathematically describable behavior of matter in motion. On the other hand, there are rational human thought processes, including the philosophical and scientific theorizing that led to the mechanical world picture itself. It is far from obvious that the latter can be fitted comfortably into the former – that human rationality can be explained in terms of purely material processes – and from the time of Descartes until relatively recently, the dominant view was that it could not be. Hayek and Popper were writing at a time when this view began to give way to a new materialist orthodoxy. Hayek, though arguably more sensitive to the tension in question than most contemporary materialists, nevertheless thought it could be resolved in a way favorable to a broadly materialist or ‘‘naturalistic’’ understanding of the mind. Popper disagreed and believed the older, dualistic conception of the mind to be essentially correct, and as we will see, his reasons for doing so have in more recent years been regarded even by some non-dualist philosophers as posing a serious difficulty for materialism. In the next section, I will set the stage for the discussion of Hayek and Popper with a brief account of the nature and origins of the mind-body problem (or ‘‘body-mind problem,’’ as Popper preferred to call it). We will see that there are really at least three mind-body problems, and that while Hayek and most contemporary philosophers focus on the first of these, Popper was more concerned with the other two and believed that they pose a more serious difficulty for materialism than the former does. The third section will explain what a ‘‘causal theory of the mind’’ is and the respects in which Hayek’s account can be regarded as a causal theory. The fourth section will examine Popper’s main criticism of causal theories, which will be elucidated by comparison with the views of contemporary philosopher Hilary Putnam, who (apparently independently) developed a line of argument that parallels and extends the one presented by Popper. Finally, in the fifth section, I will consider the possible response to Popper suggested both by Hayek’s unpublished draft and by things Hayek had to say in some of his published work, relating it to the responses contemporary philosophers have given to arguments like those presented by Popper and Putnam. I will argue that none of these replies succeeds and that the Popperian critique remains a powerful and as yet unanswered challenge not only to dogmatic materialism but even to the more modest and critical form of materialism or naturalism defended by Hayek.

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Trailing Hayek in Mind

Here is the table of contents for my forthcoming (in press) edited volume focusing on The Sensory Order – this is the first salvo of shameless promotion.

CONTENTS

“SOCIALIZING” THE MIND AND “COGNITIVIZING” SOCIALITY

Leslie Marsh

“MARGINAL MEN”: WEIMER ON HAYEK

Walter Weimer

PART I: NEUROSCIENCE

HAYEK IN TODAY’S COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE

Joaquín Fuster

THE NON-CARTESIAN VIEW AND THE BRAIN

Erol Başar

PART II: PHILOSOPHY OF MIND

HAYEK’S QUESTION: HOW CAN PARTS OF THE WORLD COME TO MODEL THE REST OF THE WORLD

Joshua Rust

HAYEK’S SPECULATIVE PSYCHOLOGY, THE NEUROSCIENCE OF VALUE ESTIMATION AND THE BASIS OF NORMATIVE INDIVIDUALISM

Don Ross

HAYEK, POPPER AND THE CAUSAL THEORY OF THE MIND

Edward Feser

PEIRCE AND HAYEK ON THE ABSTRACT NATURE OF COGNITION AND SENSATION

James Wible

HAYEK’S POST-POSITIVIST EMPIRICISM: EXPERIENCE BEYOND SENSATION

Jan Willem Lindemans

A NOTE ON THE INFLUENCE OF MACH’S PSYCHOLOGY IN HAYEK’S PSYCHOLOGY

Giandomenica Becchio

PART III: MIND AND SOCIALITY

THE EMERGENCE OF THE MIND: HAYEK’S ACCOUNT OF MENTAL PHENOMENA AS A PRODUCT OF SPONTANEOUS PHYSICAL AND SOCIAL ORDERS

Gloria Zúñiga y Postigo

HAYEK’S SELF-ORGANIZING MENTAL ORDER AND FOLK-PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF THE MIND

Chiara Chelini

BEYOND COMPLEXITY: CAN THE SENSORY ORDER DEFEND THE LIBERAL SELF?

Chor-yung Cheung

COGNITIVE OPENING AND CLOSING: TOWARDS AN EXPLORATION OF THE MENTAL WORLD OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Thierry Aimar

GETTING TO THE HAYEKIAN NETWORK

 Troy Camplin

Oakeshott, Libertarianism and Judaism

Here’s a nice rendering by Mary Campbell of a photo of Oakeshott given to me by his son Simon (the photo was taken at Caius circa 1933). Speaking of Oakeshott, the following must rate as the most bizarre invocation of Oakeshott I’ve come across (Jewish Political Studies Review 19:1-2, Spring 2007).

Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) was a leading British social and political theorist, often credited as a father of libertarian thought.

Even on the most generous of interpretations “father of libertarian thought” is so off-beam. We know Oakeshott took issue with libertarianism in no uncertain terms. Who conceives of Oakeshott in these terms? I’d like to know. And again:

As to openings, Oakeshott, unlike many other philosophical defenders of the free society, has a generous appreciation for the category of tradition. Although his political thought is often associated-no doubt simplistically-with libertarianism, he afforded traditional ways of life considerable scope in the conduct of a humane society.

A traditionalist (assuming Oakeshott to be one) cannot accept the spontaneous unforseen consequences of an absolutely free-market. It would be corrosive of tradition!! This is not to say that the free-market doesn’t have an important role to play  for Oakeshott – or that tradition itself is not a spontaneous phenomenon – but to so brazenly claim that Oakeshott is associated with libertarianism is absurd. I know of no theorist who makes that claim.

Although somewhat overshadowed in life by his more famous contemporaries Isaiah Berlin, Friedrich Hayek, and Karl Popper, Oakeshott, not least on account of his profound and astonishingly elegant prose, bids fair to displace them in death.

That’s quite an optimistic claim – at best Oakeshott might take his place next to these titans – but displace them? This is hagiography.

Last,

Oakeshott’s thought, however, has hardly been taken up by Jewish philosophers. Although political theorists who are Jews, such as Josiah Lee Auspitz or Efraim Podoksik of the Hebrew University, have worked on Oakeshott, there have been no diligent attempts to mine Oakeshott for the purposes of Jewish thought. Nor have Jewish thinkers engaged him in philosophical conversation. This is regrettable, for Oakeshott offers a number of promising openings and provocations for contemporary Jewish thought.

Though a significant chunk of those who have written on Oakeshott are Jewish, this fact has no salience at all. Can only “Jewish” scholars plausibly claim expertise in Jewish philosophy? Ridiculous.

A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

Here is the collection of newly commissioned essays edited by Paul Franco and Leslie Marsh forthcoming from Penn State University Press.

1. Editorial Introduction (Paul Franco & Leslie Marsh)

The editors give an overview of the importance of Oakeshott to 20th Century philosophy and account for the abiding interest in Oakeshott’s work.

2. The Pursuit of Intimacy, or Rationalism in Love (Robert Grant)

An account of Oakeshott’s life and times designed to introduce readers to the flesh and blood man.

3. The Victim of Thought: The Idealist Inheritance (David Boucher)

A discussion of Oakeshott’s idealist theory of knowledge and metaphysics in relation to Hegel and British Idealism.

4. Philosophy and its Moods: Oakeshott on the Practice of Philosophy (Kenneth McIntyre)

Oakeshott on philosophical method.

5. Michael Oakeshott’s Philosophy of History (Geoffrey Thomas)

A critical exposition of Oakeshott’s philosophy of history, one of the most important aspects of Oakeshott’s philosophy and often considered to be one of the most profound treatments of historical knowledge in the 20th century.

6. Radical Temporality and the Modern Moral Imagination: Two Themes in the Thought of Michael Oakeshott (Timothy Fuller)

An analysis of Oakeshott’s concept of philosophy as it developed over the course of his career and especially as it relates to political philosophy.

7. The Religious Sensibility of Michael Oakeshott (Elizabeth Corey)

Oakeshott wrote extensively on religion and theology from the 1920s right through to the 1970s. Only now is this aspect of Oakeshott attracting attention.

8. Whatever It Turns Out To Be: Oakeshott on Aesthetic Experience (Corey Abel)

A discussion of Oakeshott’s philosophy of art, especially in connection with his important essay “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind”.

9. Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: Michael Oakeshott on Education (Paul Franco)

Oakeshott’s philosophy of education is gaining more and more prominence as a classic defence of a liberal arts education while simultaneously being a critique of instrumentalist education.

10. Michael Oakeshott on the History of Political Thought (Martyn Thompson)

Oakeshott’s legendary lectures on the history of political thought, delivered at the LSE in the 1950s and ‘60s, have recently been published. The question of how to write the history of political thought was an abiding concern of Oakeshott’s and links him to other contemporaries such as Leo Strauss, J.G.A. Pocock, and Quentin Skinner.

11. Oakeshott and Hobbes (Noël Malcolm)

Oakeshott’s interpretation of Hobbes as the preeminent philosopher of the political theory of individuality is generally regarded as one of the most important contributions to Hobbes scholarship in the 20th century.

12. The Fate of Rationalism in Oakeshott’s Thought  (Kenneth Minogue)

A critical analysis of this best-known aspect of Oakeshott’s political philosophy, which bears comparison with other postwar critiques of central planning and utopian thinking by Berlin, Hayek, Popper, and Polanyi.

13. Oakeshott and Hayek: Situating the Mind (Leslie Marsh)

Oakeshott and Hayek contemporaneously presented the two major and most sustained critiques of rationalism. Conceived as social epistemologists, a contrastive and critical picture is drawn.

14. Oakeshott as Conservative (Robert Devigne)

Oakeshott is generally regarded as one of the most important conservative thinkers of the second half of the 20th century. This essay presents a critical analysis of his distinctive and skeptical brand of conservatism with comparisons to other 20th-century conservatisms.

15. Oakeshott on Civil Association (Noël O’Sullivan)

Civil association, defined in opposition to purposive or enterprise association, is the central concept of Oakeshott’s most highly developed statement of his political philosophy set out in his magnum opus On Human Conduct.

16. Oakeshott on Law (Steven Gerencser)

This is one of the most neglected aspects of Oakeshott. The rule of law is a vital to Oakeshott’s conception of the liberal (civil) state.