Liberty Links

Published on:
Author: Matt Zwolinski
  • Hi Matt,

    I liked your piece on constructivist rationailsm. I would like to add a comment. You say:

    “For the [constructivist] rationalist, we can arrive at the Truth about social orders just by locking ourselves away in our closet and thinking about it hard enough. We should read books, yes, and think about what other people have said and arguments they have given. But at the end of the day, we ought to have full confidence in the beliefs at which we arrive through the use of our reason. And, if others disagree – even if most others disagree – then so much the worse for those benighted masses. The discovery of truth, for the rationalist, is an individual process of thinking, not a social process of testing.”

    I agree that that is, or may be, one aspect of it. But, it seems to me, a deeper problem with constructivist rationalism is that it overlooks or denies the fact that that our individual thinking can only take place because we have minds to do the thinking with; and those minds are the products of our social relationships and, in particular, of the inherited culture that we imbibe from the people around us. In response to Locke’s claim that ‘there is nothing in the intellect that did not get there from the senses,’ Leibniz responded: ‘except the intellect itself.’ Hayek is making a similar response to the constructivist rationalist. The constructivist rationalist’s ‘axioms’ are products of social evolution.

    This point is deeper than the one you make because, even if a bunch of constructivist rationalists get together and test their ideas against each other, they do so against a background of shared theories and ‘intuitions’ which they have inherited from their culture. It is impossible for them to shed all that baggage; and even if it were possible it would leave them without the tools and materials needed for reflection.

    Although Hayek (anim)adverts to Cartesian rationalism, it should be clear that the two traditions of rationalism that Hayek is attempting to demarcate does not coincide with the distinction between rationalism and empiricism. Some forms of empiricism, especially positivism, are forms of constructivist rationalism.

  • ThaomasH

    never got around to discussing the negative externality imposed by the coal
    burning shirt plant in the example is not a market failure of the shirt market. The failure in his example lies in the absence
    of a market in CO2 absorption services that the shirt maker would have had to
    buy from or the inability of the users of these services to organize class
    action suits against the CO2 emitting shirt maker. His ideas on the relative merits of tort law
    or tax/regulation to deal with anthropomorphic climate change would have been interesting.

  • RL

    I had the good fortune to be at Roy’s talk back in 1979. Sadly, updated the title would have to change to “Tyranny Has Been Around A Long, Long Time, and Anything But Submission Is A Crime…”

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