Popper and the Austrians (again)

Prompted by Ken’s post on CR and the Austrians, here is the abstract of a paper being prepared for publication or perhaps delivery at a conference in Texas  in November on the theme “Austrian Thought and its Legacy”.

This paper advances three theses. The first is that the Austrians are on the mainline of economics (as distinct from the mainstream) due to Menger’s  situational analysis and a distinctive philosophical or metaphysical framework that was identified by Barry Smith. Many of the basic tenets of the Austrians, but not the framework, were taken up by the mainstream. Significant differences emerged between the Austrians and others in the 1930s with the socialist calculation debate, the rise of Keynes and the advance of mathematical formalism. The differences have been intractable because the rise of positivism created difficulties in considering the all-important framework presuppositions that make the difference between the Austrians and other research programs.  Popper’s theory of metaphysical research programs can be used to address this situation and the contents of his program match Menger’s framework almost  point for point.

The second thesis is that Smith’s “fallibilistic apriorism” and Popper’s theory of conjectural knowledge provide a robust alternative to the strong form of apriorism that is a major obstacle for acceptance of Austrian economics in the mainstream.

The third thesis is that Austrian economics will be easier to teach and the mainstream of economics will move more easily towards the mainline when students approach economics with a good understanding of Popper’s ideas.

These theses are presented with the help of five concepts (1) Situational Analysis,(2) Popper’s theory of metaphysical research programs, (3) the Aristotelian or “Austrian realism” framework of ideas, (4) fallibilistic apriorism which is Smith’s term for a robust form of aprioirsm contra the ‘foundationalist apriorism” of Rothbard and Hoppe and (5) the four “turns” that Popper introduced in addition to his signature idea of falsificationism.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Popper and the Austrians (again)

  1. Ryan Murphy says:

    Isn’t Barry Smith explicitly an essentialist, which sorta tarnishes whatever else interesting he may have going on? c.f. “Aristotelianism, Apriorism, Essentialism,” in The Elgar Companion to Austrian Economics, Peter Boettke, ed. (Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 1994), pp. 33–37

  2. Lee Kelly says:

    What conference?

  3. Rafe says:

    This is the conference Lee. Uni of Texas at Arlington,Nov 1-3

    Ryan, the essentialism that Barry Smith found in Menger is not conceptual analysis which Menger himself explicitly deplored, it is more like Popper’s propensities, tendencies of the world to behave in certain lawlike ways. The translation is defective, something better than essences should have been used to translate the original term in Menger’s text to make the sense clear.

  4. Ryan Murphy says:

    I have read multiple sources which refer to Menger’s methodology as old fashioned (even for the time) Aristotelian essentialism – and this is why he was taken less seriously than Jevons/Marshall/Walras. To me, there always seemed to be a pretty fair continuity between this aspect of Menger, the use of Weberian ideal types, and the introduction of hermeneutics in Austrian economics. All of them have failed. Maybe the connection between the three is just in my mind.

    I’d rather see all over them remained buried.

  5. Lee Kelly says:


    Well, that’s actually quite far away from me. If you feel like swinging by Alabama or Georgia, drop me a message and we’ll meet up somewhere.

    I’ve still yet to meet another critical rationalist in the flesh–I’m beginning to think none of you really exist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

please answer (required): * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.