Hans-Hermann Hoppe getting Popper wrong

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is a leading figure in the group of Austrian economists who are based at the Mises Institute in the US. At one stage of his life he was influenced by Popper but he moved on and his major influences became Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, who he follows by adopting the very strong and dogmatic form of apriorism which claims to deduce the whole of economic theory from one basic Axiom of human action.

Being a man of strong views, it is interesting to read some of his interpretations of Popper. These are taken from a paper ‘In defence of extreme rationalism: Thoughts on Donald McCloskey’s The Rhetoric of Economics’.

Hoppe is at war with positivism and empiricism which is ok except that he puts Popper in the same boat because Popper does not accept that there are  “a priori” truths about the world that can be known to be true without investigation. Hoppe does not accept that Popper’s critical rationalism is any advance on crude empiricism or logical positivism.

Note18. Karl R. Popper, in order to distinguish his falsificationism from the verificationism of the early Vienna Circle, prefers to label his philosophy “critical rationalism.” To do so, however, is highly misleading if not deceptive, much like the common U.S. practice of calling socialists or social democrats “liberals.” For in fact, Popper is in complete agreement with the fundamental assumptions of empiricism (see the following discussion in the text) and explicitly rejects the traditional claims of rationalism, i.e. of being able to provide us with a priori true empirical knowledge in general and an objectively founded ethic in particular….

In fact, it is only fair to say that it is Popper who contributed more than anyone else to persuading the scientific community of the modernistic, empiricist-positivist worldview. In particular, it should be emphasized that it was Popper who is responsible for Hayek’s and Robbins’ increasing deviations from their originally much more Misesian methodological position.

In the text he wrote that McCloskey’s attack on the postitivists is well targeted because following the empiricist-falsificationist account of science can only lead to skepticism due to the way that people can deny the outcome of negative tests of  their theory, by denying the recalcitrant observations outright or by ascribing their recalcitrance
to measurement errors, or by postulating some unobserved, intervening variable. He agrees with McCloskey’s comment ” have we not known since Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions that the actual history of natural science does not seem to come anything close to the Popperian illusion of science as a rational enterprise steadily advancing through a never-ending process of successive falsification. ‘Falsification, near enough, has been falsified’. ” 

Count the errors!

He proceeds, “Yet, apart from McCloskey’s own position, his arguments directed against modernism cannot count  as amounting to anything. “So what,” the empiricist could reply. McCloskey has shown that following the modernist precepts leads to a peculiar form of relativism. Admittedly, some empiricists, most notably Popper and his school, have not and still do not recognize this. [reference to note 24]”

Note 24 See Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970). Empiricists such as Blaug (note 19), p. 17ff., argue that Popper actually realized the possibility of “immunizing stratagems” yet “solved” this problem and thus escaped relativism and skepticism. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is correct that Popper has always been aware of the possibility of immunizing one’s hypotheses from falsification. (See his Logik der Forschung, Tubingen: Mohr, 1969, chapter 4, sections 19,20.) His answer to such a threat to his falsificationism, however, can hardly be accepted as a solution. For he actually admits that he cannot show such “conventionalism” to be wrong. He simply proposes to overcome it by adopting the methodological convention of not behaving as conventionalists do. Yet how can such methodolical conventionalism (i.e., a methodology without epistemological foundation) claim to establish science as a rational enterprise and to stimulate scientific progress?

Moving on, he wrote

Popper would have us throw out any theory that is contradicted by any fact, which, if at all possible, would leave us virtually empty-handed, going nowhere. In recognizing the insoluble connection between theoretical knowledge (language) and actions, rationalism would instead deem such falsificationism, even if possible, as completely irrational. There is no situation conceivable in which it would be reasonable to throw away any theory—conceived of as a cognitive instrument of action—that had been successfully applied in a past situation but proves unsuccessful in a new application—unless one already had a more successful theory at hand.

The last point was made by Popper – even when a theory has known defects we continue to use it until it has been replaced by a better theory, and indeed we may still use it after that if it is easier to use for instrumental purposes, like using Newton’s laws to calculate the stopping distance of your car or the rate of descent of a falling object.

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35 Responses to Hans-Hermann Hoppe getting Popper wrong

  1. Lee Kelly says:

    Although Hoppe’s understanding of Popper is littered with errors, the most revealing sentence, in my opinion, is this:

    “His answer to such a threat to his falsificationism, however, can hardly be accepted as a solution.”

    It can be accepted as a solution, but it just doesn’t solve Hoppe’s problem, i.e. to “to establish science” with a “epistemological foundation.” For Popper, methodological rules need to not provide any guarantee of providing true answers, because there is no such rule.

    The construction metaphor of knowledge is antithetical to critical rationalism; demanding an epistemological foundation for science is simply inappropriate. Rationality doesn’t need an infallible foundation upon which knowledge can be built; no framework need entrap us. The building of knowledge is not added to brick by brick by ratiocination.

    Attempting to apply the construction metaphor to how critical rationalists understand knowledge leads to absurdity–entire cities are constructed by a flash of imagination and torn down in sweeping cataclysms of criticism, no foundation is secure from violent tectonic shifts, and frameworks are soft and malleable. In the world of critical rationalism, knowledge emerges from a chaotic interaction of unfounded ideas, big and small, unpredictably colliding with each other, breeding new interpretations and applications, and none infallible.

    In my opinion, Hoppe and many other Austrians suffer from the same “rational constructivism” as progressives–they have adopted a theory of rationality from their opponents. While playing on the progressive’s home turf, Austrians then appear as ideologues, hacks or even fools; their arguments are ignored by sensible academics, and characters like Hoppe remain preaching to the converted. But as Hayek observed, the game of intellectual debate is rigged in favour of the progressives.

    In my opinion, critical rationalism promotes a different intellectual environment; by attacking the underlying assumptions of justificationism, essentialism, etc., a world may be created where classical liberal ideas can flourish. However, those like Objectivists and Austrians, who should be natural allies in this quest, are instead some of criticial rationalisms harshest critics.

  2. Rafe says:

    I sometimes think of Objectivists as speed bumps on the road to serfdom because they will put their bodies on the line to defend freedom but they do not have the capacity to persuade people to change sides which is the only way to ensure long-term success.

    That calls for a change in the intellectual environment, or the metacontext of discussion as Bartley called it. That term has not circulated very far, as indeed the idea of non-justificationism has not gone far either but we can do our best for the future.

  3. Elliot says:

    I don’t see how anyone could read an empiricist like Godwin or Hartley, and read Popper, and come away thinking they are the same.

    For example, Hartley wrote this strong empiricist claim:


    The first volume of the Observations ends with a bold statement: if an organism “could be endued with the most simple kinds of sensation, [it] might also arrive at all that intelligence of which the human mind is possessed” (OM 1, Conclusion).

    Popper’s thinking was nothing like this. He was on a different path entirely.

  4. You know, I run a daily alert-search so that I can defend Hans when he’s misinterpreted (which is often). I think

    And I’ve always been troubled by his perception of Poppers views on many issues.
    And I don’t think his foundations require (or can survive criticism) for reasons that are too complex to go into here, but his insights are brilliant.

    I have asked him at least once, but I believe that regardless of any a priori dependency or not, the real issue is that popper supported experimental intervention and that violates just too many principles for Hans to take.

    I prefer to approach Popper as a good philosopher who simply was bringing his heritage, and his interest in science to the discussion without understanding all that his propositions implied. His insights coordinate well with those of Hayek, and certainly with Hayek’s recommendations in TCoL, but again, Hayek was not an anarchist and Hoppe and Rothbard are. We can argue the proof points but Rothbardians are solving for anarchy and absolute freedom, they are not solving for social and economic optimums, and this is a difference in ‘preference’ is not a difference in ‘truth’. Both solve for logical inconsistencies on one level or another. Each accepts those inconsistencies as costs in order to achieve their ‘solution’.

    I’ll just agree with you that Hans (whom I love and respect, and count as the greatest influence on my work) simply is treating Herr Professor Sir Karl Popper as a finite set, rather than as a man who brought a series of ideas to the table some of which were very, very useful, very insightful, and very helpful to the history of ideas.

  5. cut and past error: – “I think”.

  6. Elliot says:


    There are two possibilities:

    1) There is a true criticism of Popper already published.

    2) There is not.

    If it’s (1) you can just cite it instead of using your excuse about not wanting to write anything hard in comments. Then we’ll be able to learn what you meant and improve.

    If it’s (2) you have the opportunity to be the first person to ever publish a true criticism of Popper. That would be an important and worthwhile achievement, would it not?

    So, which is it?

  7. Stated above:

    “We can argue the proof points but Rothbardians are solving for anarchy and absolute freedom, they are not solving for social and economic optimums, and this is a difference in ‘preference’ is not a difference in ‘truth’. Both solve for logical inconsistencies on one level or another. Each accepts those inconsistencies as costs in order to achieve their ‘solution’.”

    That is a criticism. It is true. So I have already supplied it.
    The criticism is “de gustibus non est disputandum”: they are solving for different problems for different reasons and therefore the conflicts are impossible to resolve.

    ie: The question of the morality of each position is a matter of taste.
    Hoppe bases his apodeictic argument on a lengthy line of reasoning.
    This reasoning succeeds as an a priori argument, however, it is subject to vulnerability on the grounds that people do not indeed make decisions with so few axis (they do not clear such simple preferences). Therefore (at one of the early steps) Hoppe is changing his argument from one of necessity to one of preference. If the chain is followed long enough, this effectively results in the Goedel/Popper argument to logical and closed systems of necessity leaving possibilities unavailable to the system. (You can see this most easily in hoppe’s first paper on the subject, but the name escapes me right now.)

    Popper on the other hand is, it appears, advocating theft in order to fulfill his scientific approach to innovation in society, and which by most any form of reasoning, actually decreases the amount of experimentation going on ( which is the whole moral purpose freedom’s power of economic innovation according to Hayek’s CoL), and which is really bad economics on another, is really good political philosophy on the other, but which most of the Rothbardians would view as immoral on simple MORAL grounds, but other libertarians would view as simple statism and violent appropriation for the purpose of some self aggrandizing, self deluded fool’s experimentation at other people’s expense on other grounds. Therefore I do not believe that Hoppe’s criticism of Popper is necessarily wrong, given his preferences. And I do not think Popper is right (on ethics) given Hoppe’s preferences. So as far as can tell, the arguments being used by both sides are logically inconsistent criticisms of one another, because they are based on different value judgements. This difference is the difference between classical liberalism and anarcho capitalism.

    I am on a laptop and travelling so I cant pull out CAR, OSE, OU, and OK and go through the and pull out the references. And I”m not sure I need to or want to for what appears to be a fairly easy judgement to render.

    BTW: If you want to dance on Popper with me, you better go get Rafe. I was making a casual statement. Not a criticism. Which should be possible to discern from the original comment. So settle down. I was defending your Saint. No sacrifice on the altar needed.


  8. Elliot says:

    > That is a criticism. It is true.

    Not until you explain what it means and what it has to do with Popper. Which you explicitly stated your disinterest in doing.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about regarding Rafe. But you did criticize Popper when you said he was merely a good philosopher who made heritage related mistakes. If you want to come to a CR blog and say Popper wasn’t right about basically everything, then back it up with arguments or cites. If you haven’t got any, then what’s the point of your posting? Basically you walked up and said “you guys are wrong” and didn’t give details. Then when challenged for details said you hadn’t meant to criticize us. umm..

    > Popper on the other hand is, it appears, advocating theft

    Appears where? What are you talking about?

    If you want to say “Popper, like Hayek, Rand, and the rest of the world, was not an anarcho-capitalist and therefore advocated theft” I guess that’s true but it’s not a relevant criticism of what Popper’s philosophy is about — it’s just a side issue he never talked about much. And you *didn’t* say that, you just said *unclear* anti-Popper stuff.

    You also don’t seem to have grasped that we treat criticism as a *good thing* here, it’s only *vague* criticism we don’t like. “You’re wrong but I won’t say why” is just dumb, but criticism with a reason behind it is awesome. If anyone actually comes up with substantial, true criticisms of Popper we’ll love them for it, but you haven’t offered any, just claimed they exist. Do you see the difference?

  9. Isn’t it kind of embarrassing to claim to support an analytical philosopher yet fail to grasp the fundamental principle of tastes rather than truths? Or, cast objectively — logical “relativism’ is the reason that we need the study of ethics?

    “If you want to say “Popper, like Hayek, Rand, and the rest of the world, was not an anarcho-capitalist and therefore advocated theft” I guess that’s true but it’s not a relevant criticism of what Popper’s philosophy is about”

    – In the context of a debate between the anarcho capitalists (subjectivists) and the positivists, and in particular, a criticism by a subjectivist of a positivist, it is relevant, because it is the fundamentally unresolved conflict between the two methodologies.
    – Even if we debate this topic on logical grounds, in practice the austrian and AC criticism is that, positivism->totalitarianism in practice, despite the sensibilities of the positivist philosophers, and it certainly appears that there is both logical and empirical support for that criticism.
    – Hayek was non an anarcho capitalist. He was a minimum-government classical liberal. (He uses the term ‘liberal’, in the european sense.)
    – It is a long standing, well established academic principle that all philosophers bring both their class and their culture to the fray. In the case of Popper: the austrian jews, as a diasporic people, bring middle class sentiments, and upper class ambitions without the sentiments of land holding and the political pragmatism that land holding requires. Popper is less problematic than Mises, for this reason, but he does bring those sentiments. (Sentiments= emotionally associative cognitive biases one relies on out of habit in the act of informational incompleteness and predictive kaleidic uncertainty.)
    – If you don’t know who Rafe Champion is then you should find out if you’re advocating Popper versus the austrians, because he’s the authority on the subject – and he runs the most influential Popper blog.
    -I didn’t say “I wont’ say why”, I said “I didn’t want to spend time on it.” (Because in part, because I thought it was obvious.)

    So it’s ok, you can go back to peeing on your territory. It’s not a consequential bit of ground. 🙂

    Knowledge of one philosopher is not wisdom, it is either patrony, devotion, or religion. Wisdom is knowing all philosophers and seeing the patterns of human insight and error across the entire history of ideas.

  10. (Re: Rafe – My attempt at ironic humor may not have come across above.) 🙂

  11. Elliot says:

    Like me, Popper is a realist — including about ethics — not a relativist. If you think some form of relativist is true, you’ll have to *explain it in some detail* or cite something that does.

    You can’t just say things like anarcho-capitalists are subjectivists without explaining what you’re talking about. The terms are prima facie unrelated. If you see a connection, that doesn’t mean other people know what connection you have in mind.

    As to Hayek not being an anarcho-capitalist … *I said that*. I don’t think you understood my post. Why did you repeat what I had just said as a reply to me?

    I know who Rafe is, but you haven’t explained what you’re trying to say in that regard. (advocating Popper versus austrians? what?) Also your comment about Rafe being an authority is anti-Popperian — Rafe would be the first to tell you that there are no authorities.

    Please stop making nasty comments about peeing and other psychological insults. Omit them.

  12. Popper is a positivist because he advocates the use of government to experiment for social ends. (this is the reason for Hoppes criticism, as I said.) Austrians are subjectivist, which is a methodology for studying individual behavior that places more value on personal freedom and market innovation. Anarcho capitalists employ austrian subjectivism. These philosophies of positivism and subjectivism are in conflict. What is so hard to understand about this mutual exclusivity?

    subjectivism positivism

    What is hard to understand that positivism in politics leads totalitarianism, intentionally or not, through the evolutionary process of incrementalism, and subjectivism leads to freedom (or freedom requires that we use subjectivism)?

    RE: “…you can’t just say anarcho-capitalists are subjectivists without explaining what you’re talking about … ”

    I can if my opponent holds to a pretense of understanding an argument rather than questioning the meaning of terms. Or is it ok if you just use wikipedia?

    Authority is, in the academic vernacular, the term given to scholars who have mastered a domain. It is not equal to an argument to authority, which is a rhetorical error, commonly labelled as a logical fallacy.

    It’s OK if you just say “I don’t understand”, and ask questions about what you don’t understand. That’s just good manners. You assumed that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I assumed you understood, because you engaged in criticism of my statements rather than stating that you didn’t understand the terms, or reasoning. I’ve now repeated the critique of positivism from the austrian perspective three or four times. It’s not going to change.

    You can argue that Popper was advocating a free, competitive and prosperous society and from the Rothbardian perspective that is logically impossible. You could argue that he sought a progressive society, or a liberal democracy — and that by definition is positivist. The core of the austrian-Rothbardian argument is that regardless of your intentions, once people have dissimilar economic interests (beyond the city-state) then the government must engage in oppression, and that bureaucracies are by nature corrupt, and therefore bureaucracies will evolve into oppression – totalitarianism.

    If you want a legitimate criticism of popper, it’s well known. He is too literal in interpreting AUTHORS rather than criticizing READERS of authors, without appreciating that his analytical technology was the product of evolutionary development and he was applying criticism in hindsight. He is giving authors more power when it should be attributed to natural human biases – the criticism of jewish intellectuals and their fascination with word-reality versus the western fascination with technology. I think that is a very common, and well understood criticism. However, I approach Popper as a man who is working hard to discredit historicism, and do not so much see this as an error but a methodology that happens to bring german and jewish cultural baggage that is irrelevant when compared to what can be learned from his criticism. Mythology and historicism are rational in application even if allegorical in expression. It is imprecise technology but it is pedagogically powerful, and intergenertionally durable because of its imprecision. Scientific statements however are more precise, more “TRUE”, but because of that they are less durable and less pedagogically valuable. (Men are not equal enough to all be scientists.) Popper states almost all of this. But he was not skilled in economic reasoning and so did not alter his approach accordingly – I think he would have simply changed his language if he had, given his communications with Hayek.

    If we look at this spectrum we can move from mental states to physical states.

    Words/Philosophy < ---- Popper Mises ---> Economics/Actions

    They were all trying to fight the ongoing problems of the Methodenstreit, and the takeover of middle class government by the proletariat by different means.

    Under the austrian economic methodology, which is SCIENTIFIC, and Aristotelian, in that it requires ACTION (testing in the real world) in order to avoid errors commonly called platonism, (common in philosophy) subjectivism refers to the a) the methodology of studying human actions and incentives, b) the subjective theory of value, and c) self organizing innovation by the market (freedom) versus positivist political, extra-market innovation (totalitarianism).

    There is an increasing divergence in terminology and approach between analytical (anglo-linguistic) philosophy, and continental philosophy, on one hand, and empirical economics (positivism) and behavioral or psychological economics that we label ‘austrian’ on the other. In economics we are coming close to abandoning the equilibrial model’s convenient (but falsely predictive) descriptive power in favor of the fractal model’s possible predictive power, in an what may result in a solution to the problem of induction, and therefore the solution to the social sciences. I suspect that the difficulty with terminology will continue to expand as well as they diverge, since the fundmental problems of validating perceptions through reason and validating the results of perceptions by economic empirical means, are, like macro and micro economics, polar opposite approaches that must meet in the middle at some point.

    That’s all I can do for the moment. That’s already too many ideas for a posting in a comments section. And I have to take everyone to Brunch. 🙂


  13. the “code” html ate my first diagram…. Lets try again:

    subjectivism positivism

  14. Nope. That didn’t work either.. Hmm..

  15. anarchy totalitarianism
    subjectivism positivism

    words/philosophy: popper — hayek — mises : economics/action

  16. Elliot says:

    > Popper is a positivist because he advocates the use of government to experiment for social ends.

    But positivism means “a philosophical system that holds that every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and that therefore rejects metaphysics and theism.”

    The view that Popper is a positivist is a mistake related to his associating with some people from Vienna who were positivists. Popper criticized positivism.

    Meanwhile subjectivism means “the doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.” and I don’t see what that has to do with ancap or austrian econ ideas. I am a realist (the opposite of a subjectivist) and an anarcho-capitalist and don’t see any contradiction.

    Subjectivism and positivism are not obviously related at all.

    It seems to me you are using words not according to their definitions. That makes it very hard to understand you. Hence you need to explain yourself, ok?

    regarding popper dealing with authors incorrectly — do you have an example to clarify what you’re trying to say?

  17. “A distinction must be made between the orthodox neoclassical economics which incorporates the subjective-value or marginal-utility revolution in value theory and the subjectivist economics of the latter-day Austrians, notably Mises and Hayek. ” — Buchannan

    Subjective / Subjectivist / Subjectivism :
    In Philosophy: “The doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.”
    In Economics: “THe doctrine that value is entirely subjective and that there is
    no external objective value.” ie: the subjective theory of value.
    In Economics: “The Methodology of analyzing human exchanges given that value is subjective”

    Hence my prior statement about terminology and different ambitions.

    That Popper criticized the positivists is true. That he still advocated experimental government is also true. Hence this is the source of the conflict.

    As for criticisms of Popper, they’re everywhere. Go to wikipedia, or search the web. Kuhn’s criticism isn’t necessarily false. As for knowledge, the criticism is, that the only reason to know anything for certain, rather than for utility in action, is to use it to oppress people. The purpose of argument can be one of discovery, or one of coercion. Certainty is only important for coercion – to remove another’s choice. As for politics, I’ve stated it already.

    The dispute between the camps (which I think Rafe began but did not finish a paper on – I read a draft and still have it somewhere) is fairly mute, because they have failed to solve the problem of the social sciences. It appears that we are getting closer. I think much closer. But it also appears that the problem is much more complicated that we anticipated.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s important. Popper was highly influential for me, and especially so when I thought that philosophy held answers. Like Durant, I have found that it makes one fit, it assists in avoiding error, but that the answers to meaningful questions are found in history and economics. Therefore the traditional suite of history, philosophy, politics and economics requires one to survey all fields in order to gain the wisdom necessary to act.

  18. Elliot says:

    There are bad or unsubstantive criticisms everywhere. Kuhn is refuted in _The Fabric of Reality_ among other places. If you know a good one, speak up. If you can’t see why one is bad, you could ask.

    OK so you think Popper made a mistake in contradicting the subjective theory of value. Is that right? If so, what did Popper say and where that you’re taking issue with? You haven’t specified.

    Did you understand that the positivism Popper criticized is the philosophical one, and that it has nothing to do with Government?

    I think you should define “positivism” in economics (which you have not done yet) and then say why you think Popper advocated it (which you have not done yet), and offer a criticism of it (which you have not done yet). If you don’t do any of that stuff then I can’t understand and evaluate your point on the topic.

  19. RE: Positivism: (loosely) “All we can know is that which we can test scientifically through experimentation and measurement”.
    RE:Positivist: (In Economics) “a) Some dunderhead that is still using quantitative models to predict the future, when we know that the dynamic stochastic general equilibrium model is not predictive due to innovation and the plasticity of categories of measurement due to the plasticity of utility of objects in time, in relation to changes in scarcity in time, in relation to changes in wants in time. b) a social scientist or politician who uses arguments that rely upon predictive models to convince policy makers to enact laws or spend tax money according to their preferences. Synonyms: Charlatan, Snake Oil Salesmen, Fraud, Politician.”

    While the second definition is stated with humor, it’s true. And I’m aware that the first definition is not popper’s position. HOWEVER: Any use of action by the state regardless of whether we are certain about it, would require that we JUSTIFY such action because we must take from people in order to perform the test. THe only reason to debate within the forum of the state is to establish efficacy and priority of scarce resources (taxes). This is why the greeks developed reason: they had to enfranchise other warriors, which led to debate, to science, to reason, and to what we consider politics.

    Any form of scientific method carries the assumption, separate from the question of knowledge, whether we can or should conduct empirical tests, any of which require theft or appropriation of resources, for others to experiment with often against the will of others. So knowledge questions aside, the very act of testing is simply corrupt on it’s face.

    Furthermore, whenever we act, we alter the previous set of events currently underway by the multitude of people in the society, and the Cost of doing so is not the spend to change it, and measurement of something from *now*, until *then*, but the difference between that spend and the other outcome that would have happened without that action, cumulatively, en-toto, for all time. This world-to-world comparison is by definition unknowable. Therefore no scientific argument (only probabilistic) can occur – more importantly, because we do not know what knowledge would have been created in the original, now alternative world.

    Furthermore, since all values are subjective we cannot QUANTIFY them, and therefore the delta in costs and returns is not measurable. That is, we cannot quantify them unless we use totalitarianism to determine what people SHOULD want at any and all points in time, under all future consequences.

    So ANY application of any experimental method in politics is by definition deception or error. Because the entire purpose of argument (which is another form of calculation) existes solely for the purpose of persuading one person to use the resources of another — and because we cannot apply quantitative analysis to subjective values.

    This goes to hoppe’s underlying argument that if you’re debating you’re acknowledging the existence and necessity of private property. Otherwise there is no reason for debate to exist. If there is no property, then there is no source cause for debate, and humans do not exist as thinking creatures – or would be slaves. Therefore, if we are debating, there must be property, and the use of property involuntarily is theft, and justifying that use of property by government, in experiment, by debate or otherwise, is simply deception unless that money is obtained voluntarily – essentially by private government: ie: business.

    You might notice that I”m not using the a priori argument structure that hoppe, mises and rothbard rely upon. I’m using Hayek’s structure to criticize rothbard and hoppe’s reasoning: which is that facilitating evolutionary innovation by the citizenry is not only moral, but more effective in producing outcomes. This is not the hoppian position, which is effectively a moral one and a prior one. I don’t agree with the a priori argument as he has constructed it because (as I have said already) I do not think we clear preferences as he assumes (and herbner usually lectures on) And I think they make a convenient set of logical jumps in there, (which I’ve already stated.) But whether you agree with the necessity of the a priori argument, or the scientific method, or the evolutionary (chaotic) method, everyone can understand theft. Myself, I consider most methodological constructs either moral, scientific or a priori, inferior to ‘costs’, which are the only ‘real’ physical representation in the social sciences.

    I am pretty sure that’s hard to follow for the uninitiated, because it covers a great deal of ground. But please at least try to understand it. I am willing to keep at it as long as I have time. (I’ve got a cold and can’t work on anything more substantive at the moment.)

    I also understand that most philosophy expressly avoids these topics – which are considered gauche — which I view as the reason philosophy has fallen behind economics in priority (and in attracting IQ points in universities) — in the public discourse, and in political affairs. But philosophy is largely concerned with improving the quality of individual reason and economics is largely concerned with producing collective outcomes.

    RE: “Did you understand that the positivism Popper criticized is the philosophical one, and that it has nothing to do with Government?”

    I am beginning to think that you cannot follow the argument. Or … are trying to redefine it so that your existing definitions are self-determinant? One or the other.

    Why does it matter what popper criticized, if we are debating why hoppe criticized popper, when it was for the application of his theories to politics? (Justifiably or not.) I clearly dont have to educate you on popper’s reasoning, but I do have to educate you on a whole other field of inquiry.

    The argument is instead, why hoppe criticizes popper, and whether that criticism has merit. THe argument, which is well discussed in the literature suggests:

    a) he does not support positivism in the broader sense, and critical realism in the narrower sense, on self-contradictory grounds: for example, Gordon quotes hoppe from The Ethics Of Private Property: “Regarding positivism’s supposedly exhaustive classification of analytic, empirical, and emotive propositions, one must ask: What, then, is the status of this very axiom?” Hoppe has little difficulty in showing that, however the positivist answers, we have no reason to accept the axiom. If, e.g., the positivist claims to be defining meaning, he has doomed himself, since positivists think that definitions are no more than arbitrary conventions. If so, aren’t we free to reject the definition of meaning the positivist offers?”

    b) Poppers ideas were most popular, and most successful, so to some degree it is a rhetorical device – a target of convenience in a political struggle going on at the time.

    c) Popper expressly advocated experimentation by the state on empirical grounds, and suggested using the methodology of the physical sciences in the social sciences. (I don’t have my books here, but I don’t think I need to reference them at this point.) He attempted to provide an alternative.

    It is irrelevant what popper criticized. The question is whether he recommends the use of experimentation by the state, and measurement of state action necessary for an experiment to exist — an act which is by definition, positivist in that it assumes that we can know something by testing, if it is not positivist in the narrower definition of ‘knowing’. This is the source of conflict: “the idea that government should play scientist with economies”. Which in retrospect seems a legitimate concern: government exacerbates booms and extends crashes, and it is ‘theft’ according to the austrian framework. And besides that fact, none of the math we have discovered so far has been predictive, so it appears that our knowledge is not ‘scientific’.

    We only know these methods of political facilitation: history + reason (loosest causal testing) , science (narrowest causal testing) and apriori (the most vulnerable causal reasoning).

    We only know these levers of action: evolutionary (freedom and markets), planned (scientific socialism), monetarism and regulation (reason and prediction).

    So any definition one gives must de fact apply to these schools of method. If one wants to be more granular in labeling, one is still subject to the hierarchy of methods. Or rather, once you’ve made the error of predication and measurement you’re a positivist. It doesn’t matter whether you’re certain about justifying your actions or not.

    Again, that might be a bit to deal with, and you’ll probably go to what you know rather than trying to understand it.

    So, categorically, if popper suggests that we should use experimentation and measurement in the social sciences he is a positivist in the broader sense even if he has softened the concept of justifiability and certainty, and relegated those concepts to the dustbin of intellectual history, and reclassified himself in the narrower sense. It is a technical classification.

    So, despite my belief that the austrians (rothbardians) are wrong in their criticism of popper, because, in my opinion, they are making a value judgement, (which is natural for subjectivists) when popper is trying to pursue ‘true statements’ — at least I understand their criticism. I think popper advanced not only the philosophy of science but human ideas as much or more than anyone in the past hundred years. I am relying on popperian insights for much of my arguments above, and it was through popperian insights that I abandoned a priorism. On the other hand, ALL of the schools of the old german Methodenstreit, as well as the anglo quantitative school, as well as the anglo and german philosophical schools, and their descendants, members of all social classes, from marx to weber, through Hayek, mises, popper, Parsons, rothbard and hoppe, but also the quants, of keynes and knight and their ilk, and the other libertarians like Friedman and the chicago school and their brand of probabilism, have failed to solve the problem of the social sciences: defining institutions that assist us in calculating that in which our reason fails us, as we increase in number and complexity in the division of knowledge and labor.

    Why? Because they think individual reason is sufficient – when collective cooperation using existing institutions exceeds human reason, and even human mathematics.

    Because value is subjective. Debate proves the existence of property. And calculation, because of the limits of human perception, is the fundamental problem of human cooperation.

    We have to remember the time and place, and understand that all of these men were affected by the world wars and the Nazi conquest and disruption of europe, as well as their attempt to find a rational criticism of socialism, as well as a suggested political alternative.

    I think I have covered all the objections. I think that I have tried to keep the argument on track. Although I am not sure that I can simplify the argument any further without opening it to reductio arguments.


    “Subjectivism is to calculus as it’s opposites are to geometry: the loss of a fixed point of reference because of the subjectivity of value. To this relativistic state of affairs we must add the size of the population, the diversity of production, the presence of innovation, the plasticity of objects of utility rendering categorization vulnerable, and changes in scarcity, that make current methods of probabilistic prediction ineffective and therefore false.”

  20. Elliot says:

    OK so you’re defining “positivism” to mean some kind of statism.

    Was Popper a statist? Well, yes and no. If you count Hayek, Rand, Milton Friedman and most of the Austrian school as statists, then yes Popper was one too, since none of those people including Popper advocated fully abolishing all government.

    But if you look at what he wanted, it wasn’t big government controlling people, so he was not a statist in the usual sense.

    > c) Popper expressly advocated experimentation by the state on empirical grounds, and suggested using the methodology of the physical sciences in the social sciences.

    Popper said that Governments are fallible, and often when they try to do something they do not accomplish what they intended. He therefore suggested that they needed more knowledge (“social technology”) to be able to undertake difficult projects effectively. That’s in OSE. I don’t see anything objectionable in that statement. do you?

    If Governments achieved their goals more, instead of just failing at stuff, that’d be an improvement. It’d be like if social security was efficient. Sure it shouldn’t exist, but running it better would be a nice start.

    Popper was a big fan of gradual reform, so he advocated some small steps. That doesn’t make him a statist suggesting some relatively small ways things could get better.

    None of this means Popper wanted Governments to experiment on people and treat society as a playtoy or a subject for risky tests. He did not. If you think otherwise yes you absolutely would need to give some source.

  21. Great quote from Boland’s “Current Views on Economic Positivism”

    (I love ‘Papers’ on the iphone/iPad/mac. Awesome tool.)

    “Economic positivism as it is currently practiced seems to be available in four different flavours. The first and most optimistic version is what I will call Harvard positivism. It is represented by the recent attempts to develop ‘experimental’ economics and has its origins in the early teaching of Edward Chamberlin. At the other extreme is the weak minimalist version which I will call MIT positivism. Its weakness is due to the methodological view that says that to be of interest a theory need only be potentially refutable – there is no additional requirement that says it needs to be supported or tested by empirical evidence. In between these two extremes there are two more modest versions. One is what I will call LSE positivism which does not require controlled experiments but does see economics as a scientific endeavour that emphasizes a necessary role for empirical, quantitative data. The other one is Chicago positivism which includes both the simplistic instrumentalism of Friedman and the more complex confirmationism of Becker and Stigler.”

  22. Elliot says:

    So what you’re mad about is “see economics as a scientific endeavour that emphasizes a necessary role for empirical, quantitative data.”


    Really? You want economics not to use data or what?

  23. We have finally reached a mutual understanding.

    I agree with your statement of popper’s position.

    I think the entire body of his work is an attempt to support classical liberalism and its conservative approach to government. And I agree with his position because I believe that there are certain problems that it is extremely difficult for the market to solve (a new electrical grid for example) and because I believe that no matter how desperately we desire free trade as a means of keeping peace, economic nationalism is the mode of operation for the foreseeable future.

    I just think it’s important to understand that the critique of popper by hoppe and crew is on multiple levels, some of which are debatable, but the fundamental issue that they have is that ANY use of government ‘innovation’ is predicated on an inability for people in government to know ‘what they’re doing’ and that they are doing it without (some) people’s consent.

    (That was fun, actually, thank you. I just didn’t expect to have to work that hard on a casual comment.)

  24. Elliot says:

    I can’t find where Hoppe says anything like this in the quotes in the original post. If he has written a pro-anarchist critique of Popper’s political views, where can I find it?

  25. His perspective on his own development.

    Other references and literature:
    go to mises.org
    search for ‘popper hoppe positivism pdf’

    He also gives a lecture (it’s on audio up on mises.org and itunes) about it. (It annoys me off every time I hear it, even if I do understand the criticism). I don’t have the name of it off the top of my head. It’s part of Mises University.

    It’s in his book Economics and Ethics of Private Property in some detail.
    Sorry I can’t be more specific at the moment.

  26. Elliot says:

    I don’t know which pdf in the search results you were referring to. Can you link the specific one you meant?

    For the link where Hoppe speaks, it says:

    > Consequently, for a while I became somewhat of a skeptic, attracted to the positivist and especially the falsificationist Popperian methodology and to Popper’s program of piecemeal social engineering. Like Popper himself, at this time I was a right-wing Social democrat.

    People who describe Popper as “especially” being a “falsificationist” have not understood Popper. That is a very misleading description of his ideas.

    Do you see how the title of this post was “Hans-Hermann Hoppe getting Popper wrong”?

    Well, he didn’t understand Popper… That doesn’t make for lucid criticism.

  27. OK, well, now we are have come round to a circular argument, which I think is caused by an inability to retain multiple axis of causal relations at once. Having re-read my comments above, they are informationally dense, and could be put in better order, but they fully address the issue multiple times.

    Experimentation = positivism = totalitarianism = decline in evolutionary market innovation = decline in production and competitiveness = decline in relative material wealth = decline in choices = poverty, ignorance and subjugation. Period. End of story. It’s not hard to understand. Really. It’s just not very hard. Justifying experimentation on any grounds is still experimentation. Therefore all political experimentation is not truth but authoritarian theft for personal preference. Furthermore, the idea that we must experiment when human action is definable and testable a-priori is an unresolvable conflict of logic. if it is a-priori, testing is illogical, that is, unless you are making an authoritarian judgement that it is your right to experiment with people’s lives – regardless of the goodness of your intentions, and regardless of fact that forecasting in the social sciences using the current method of mathematics appears to be irrational, unsuccessful, and falsified. I referred you to Boland’s paper and that is perhaps one of the best discussions. So since it is illogical, unknowable, bureaucratically expansive, incompetent, immeasurable, immoral, and theft — positive testing in the social sciences, regardless of your method is still positivism : experimentation. It doesn’t matter which of the three axis we pursue, the argument fails for higher order reasons.

    That is the best that I can do. This should not be hard to understand even if the problem is multi-dimensional.

    If there were some single example that you grasped one concept here – any concept – I would be able to work with you starting with just one point of reference. But I do not see that you can follow the argument or grasp the concepts, or even understand the consequences of the definitions you and I are employing. I do not feel that I can simplify the argument any further. So I suggest that this conversation is now pointless.

    It does not invalidate popper whatsoever. It invalidates his PREFERENCE for experimentation versus the PREFERENCES of others to not be subject to his fanciful VALUE JUDGEMENTS on achieving SOCIAL GOODS through experimentation, given what the opposing side knows about the INCOMPETENCE of experimenters and their means of measurement given the COSTS that they must endure.

    I just don’t see what that’s difficult to understand.

  28. Elliot says:

    Popper as I already said — and you said you agreed with my statement — did not advocating experimenting on society. He was never like, “I wonder what would happen if we made rape legal. Let’s make it legal in 50 cities and find out!”

    So, you’re misrepresenting his position.

    You’re taking the fact that Popper was favorable to one meaning of the word “experimentation” to pretend he meant another meaning that’s equivalent to lots of bad stuff.

    And all of this is an evasion. What we’d agreed on is that Popper was not an anarchist, so an anarchist critique of Popper (and Hayek, etc) could be correct. You claimed Hoppe had made an anarchist critique but none of your cites are actually to Hoppe making such a critique. And when I pointed out none of the cites were what they were supposed to be, what do you do? Change the subject and make a non-anarchist argument against a misrepresentation of Popper’s position.

    None of this has anything to do with me failing to understand stuff. Your policy of assuming other people are at fault when they don’t agree with you is closed minded — it means whenever you are wrong and they are right you will always come away blaming them instead of learning something.

  29. hsearles says:

    “Experimentation = positivism = totalitarianism = decline in evolutionary market innovation = decline in production and competitiveness = decline in relative material wealth = decline in choices = poverty, ignorance and subjugation. Period. End of story. It’s not hard to understand.”

    First of all, is not the market nothing but decentralized experimentation?

    Second of all, experimentation does not equal positivism. That is simply an abuse of terms. What positivism really necessitates is the testability criterion of meaning along with verificationism. One need not be a positivist to advocate experimentation.

    Third of all, it is simply incoherent to suggest, as your equation does, that experimentation=totalitarianism. What totalitarianism necessitates is a single plan being imposed top-down thus preventing experimentation in favor of a single solution. This contradicts the basic mindset of experimentation to not set propositions as being infallible truths, but to instead allow the truth-value of a proposition be determined as experience dictates. Popper’s idea of the open society makes this very clear.

    Fourth of all, experimentation=decline in evolutionary market innovation and experimentation=decline in choices are simply two contradictions.

  30. Kenneth Hopf says:

    It’s too bad that this discussion went so badly off the rails. What I keep hearing is that, with regards to methodology, Hoppe showed that Popper contradicted himself. I’d be interested to know precisely where the alleged contradiction is.

  31. Rafe says:

    Welcome back Kenneth! I must have been travelling when that great debate raged.

    Too many issues all at once maybe?

    There is an introduction to praxeology in a lecture by Hoppe on line somewhere saying that he was impressed by Popper early on and then spent the rest of his career forgetting all of of that Popperian stuff.

    My rejoinder draws on Barry Smith and Popperism re-read as “conjectural apriorism”. http://www.the-rathouse.com/WritingsonMises/FallibleApriorism.html

  32. Pete says:

    Lee Kelly @ February 17, 2010 at 3:40 pm.

    You wrote:

    “It can be accepted as a solution, but it just doesn’t solve Hoppe’s problem, i.e. to “to establish science” with a “epistemological foundation.” For Popper, methodological rules need to not provide any guarantee of providing true answers, because there is no such rule.”

    That very statement is self-contradictory. By saying THERE ARE NO SUCH RULES that can enable us to know true answers, you are making a claim to a true statement regarding Popper’s epistemology.

    It presupposes the existence of a true epistemological foundation for Popper’s scientific method, namely, the (allegedly) true proposition that there are no rules that can provide us with true answers.

  33. Lee Kelly says:


    It’s not self-contradictory. I make a claim, yes, but I don’t pretend that it has been confirmed by some rule guaranteeing truth. Indeed, I could be wrong: my claim that no methods exist that guarantee truth is, itself, open to criticism. However, I do not think I’m wrong, and I have yet to encounter anything resembling a refutation.

    It should be stressed that I am not denying the existence of true statements or the possibility of believing in true statements. In fact, that’s a requisite. Rather, I believe there are no methods of guaranteeing only true beliefs because I conjecture that is the case. I do not believe I have some infallible method which guarantees my conjecture is true, and so there is no self-contradiction in the statement itself nor performative contradiction in my claim that it is true.

    In a nutshell, a statement must actually imply its falsity, not just the possibility that it is false, for it to be a self-contradiction.

  34. Andrew Crawshaw says:

    Great discussion.

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