Practical knowledge
To what end Heterodoxy? (Hayek Seminar at LSE)

I’m privileged to participate in a seminar (with far more distinguished scholars than I) with diverse views and research agendas but joined by a common skepticism about the mainstream model for decision making under uncertainty.  After the first session presented by John Kay (based on a chapter with his book with Mervyn King) I posted the following reaction on the seminar’s bulletin board:

“(A). The question of alternatives to the standard model came up a few times. Gert brought it up explicitly, I think. To me, this raises the issue of to what end — how does it matter? To use William James’s possibly crass pragmatic formulation, what is the “cash value” of alternatives that we are looking for?

For my two cents/pennies worth, I’d make a distinction between alternatives for making ‘abductive’ assessments to inform specific decisions where something meaningful is at stake versus alternatives for deriving and defending propositions about recurring, universal phenomena. (The latter to include general propositions about abductive assessments and choices.)

This takes me (it would, wouldn’t it!) to the distinction between engineering and science and their respective methodologies). And this is not at all intended as a put down: the overall orientation of the group seems towards general (albeit) heterodox propositions that are ‘better” than what the mainstream has to offer.

(B). On the issue of “correctness” — the individual forecasts of the probability of rain that can never be wrong. This is a problem both in the scientific and practical domain since counterfactuals are often difficult to come by and abduction is almost inevitably a just so story telling process.

I would propose replacing the sharp falsifiability standard of science to a variant of Dewey’s (again pragmatic) formulation of truth as a “warrantable assertion.” This would lead me to the following tests:

  1. Is the inverse plausible? In business management at least one encounters lots of vacuous propositions whose inverses cannot be defined or that are pima facie implausible.

and (assuming the first test in met)

  1. How strong are the warrants for the claim (and its competing inverses) in this particular situation?

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