Comments on the “convergence” paper.

The paper on the “convergence” of Talcott Parsons, Ludwig von Mises and Karl Popper during the 1930s has got the thumbs down from two out of three referees with a local history of ideas in economics journal.

Comments on the objections.

1.1 It is “rather schematic in form” and makes a case for similarity, not convergence. Point taken on similarity rather than convergence. On being schematic, there is a word limit and only the most essential points could be treated.

1.2 “A key intermediary figure is Lionel Robbins…especially Nature and Significance of economics…influenced by the Austrian school…criticised by Hutchison…on Popperian grounds”. Parsons discussed von Mises (by implication, by discussing Robbins). “Nowhere does the author discuss Parsons’s critique of the means-ends relationship in economics”.

Actually I read the early essay of Parsons on Robbins but did not see it as a critique of the larger framework of praxeology (the term that Mises used instead of “sociology” after 1930). It will help to make that point clearly in the paper because this make the case for similarity stronger. 

1.3 “Parsons is not a methodological individualist” and did not move to a systems approach.

Yes he talked about systems from the start but that does not by itself violate MI. He wrote that by the time his first book was printed he had become disatisfied with the degree of individualism in it, which he felt did not handle some of aspects of society. Sadly when I wrote down that quote I did not record the source and now I can’t find it, but it means that Parons’ view of his shift coincides with my perception (except that I deplore the move from MI to the holism and collectivism of his later systems theory).

The referee picks out several quotes about systems to demonstrate that Parons did not accept MI but they do not prove the point and cites can be found to demonstrate MI, especially his insistence on the need for subjectivism, Vestehen, taking acount of the subjective perceptions and point of view of the actor.

1.4 ‘I also disagree that Popper and Parsons are methodological monists”.  They both drew a distinction beteen historical sciences (which use general laws to explain particular events) and generalising sciences which seek for general laws. They both regarded sociology as a generalizing science, in search of true explanatory theories. Popper (in the Poverty) stated that both the natural and social sciences used the hyothetico-deductive method, and Parsons, in his discussion of Weber’s approach, deplored the way that Weber gave up on laws in sociology because he decided it was a historical science (von Mises made the same criticism of Weber).

1.5 Schutz and his critique of Parsonian subjctivism. I will have to get the book which is not in the Sydney Uni library, but from commentaries and his collected essays it seems that Schutz was so immersed in phenomenology that he wanted something like an account of the stream of consciusness of the actors, not just conjectures about their perceptions and plans.

1.6 Parsons was a historicist, especially in his later writings.

There are several forms of historicism, and Parsons (like von Mises) was a trenchant critic of two of them which he (and Mises) regarded as the twin errors of “idealism’, that is the Continental tradition that represented social forms and regularities as an expression (emanation) of the spirit of the age or as a reflection of the totality of the unique conditions at the time. In each case they precluded the quest for the universal laws that Parsons wanted to find, however these were not laws of historical development (the “historicism” that Popper attacked).  

1.7 Convergence argument undermined by divergence.

My argument was that they came to a very similar position in the 1930s and then diverged.

The second referee recommended publication, with some editorial improvements which he helpfully indentified. Actually I picked up several of them but decided not to send a revised ms because they could be fixed up along with any more substantial changes that might be required.

“interesting and stimulating article that might lead to further work by scholars in the field”

Who could argue with that?

3.1  Not much history of economic thought.

No but the  history of economic thought could have been different if the three schools of thought had pulled together on their common features and discussed their differences.

3.2 Too many isms.

OK, more explanation required.

3.3 Hard to accept Parsons as an MI.

Certainly not in his later work, but that is part of the story of divergence from similarity. I have read the magisterial book by Lars Udehn on MI and find his treatment of Parsons unhelpful due to failure to distinguish beteen earlier and later Parsons.

Contemplating emergent properties doesa not undermine MI.

2.1 Minor point, it was The Poverty that provided most of the input to this paper.


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