Hoppe vs Popper again

From Hoppe’s commentary on a paper by Radnitzky in Values and the Social Order: Vol 1 Values and Society Eds Radnitzky and Bouillon, Averbury 1995.

Unfortunately, in line with his Popperian – falsificationist – methodology, Radnitzky weakens, or even defeats, his own case for a free society when he states, ‘There is no way of ultimately justifying any moral precept;…moral arguments can never be “compelling”;…there is no way of ultimately justifying truth claims with respect to concrete statements.’We are unconvinced. First, what about these very statements?  If they are categorically true, we are faced with a blatant contradiction. If they are merely hypothetical, falsifiable propositions, it will be sufficient to present a single counter-example to refute them – and there are many such examples. for instance, ‘a ball cannot be red and non-red at the same time’, or ‘everything that is coloured is also extended’ are empirical propositions, stating something about the structure of reality – and yet non-falsifiable.

In reply:

1. Popper’s methodology is  better described as critical rationalism or the critical method, not falsificationism. In the 1982 Introduction to Realism and the Aim of Science he wrote “It so  happens the real linchpin of my thought about  human knowledge is fallibilism and the critical approach” ( p xxxv).

2. Falsificationism is the application of the critical  method to the testing of universal (causal) laws. It is a sub-section of Popper’s thinking in the philosophy of science and cannot be usefully employed as a label for the whole, especially when we are talking morals rather than science.

3. This particular argument is about the justification of moral precepts which raises the is/ought problem, that is the logical problem of deriving moral precepts from facts. Radnitzky’s statement raised this problem and also the issue of justifying the truth of concrete statements (in one breath, so to speak). Hoppe apparently decided to run with the justification of concrete statements, which means that he needs to convince us that statements of fact can be justified and also that moral precepts can be derived from such statements, or indeed can be such statements.

As an aside, the structure of the problem of induction and the is/ought problem are the same. In each case the problem is to obtain or to justify general principles (scientific theories in the case of  induction, moral principles in the case of morals) on the basis of individual statements of fact.

This is an exasperating kind of argument for several reasons.

1. If we want to achieve social reform along the lines of classical liberalism we need to get some left liberals to join us at least on some common causes. We will not achieve this by arguments which claim to justify some libertarian principle or other, instead we need to show  how the common goods of peace, freedom and prosperity can be advanced by our kind fo policies.

2. Up to date these arguments (with Hoppe et al) have not resulted in the kind of agreement that enables one side or the other to concede that we can now move on to some other issues. In other words they look like a waste of time. Why is this so?

3. Assuming that we could agree that some core principles are justified, to any degree of strength that you might want, in concrete situations there will still have to be trade-offs and compromises. Your freedom stops where my nose starts, unlimited tolerance cannot be allowed, all kinds of suffering cannot be addressed at the same time with finite resources (so there have to be priorities and persisting areas of need) etc.

4. I think that the Hoppe’s of the world have not got over the problem of infinite regress if you are seriously pressed to justify any concrete statement that is informative. I don’t see his statements about the colour of balls and the like as informative, they are tautologies.

5. People who want to adopt a strong line 0n the justification of moral principles (conventions) need to overcome the arguments that Popper advanced in chapter 5 of OSE on nature and convention.

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3 Responses to Hoppe vs Popper again

  1. Elliot says:

    Popper’s best writing about morality is in _The World of Parmenides_, IMO.

  2. Rafe says:

    Thanks Elliot, I have the book but don’t have time to read much of it at present, which part do you suggest re morality?

  3. Elliot says:

    Addendum 2 to Essay 2. pp 62-65

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