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Hayek's ChallengeAn Intellectual Biography of F.A. Hayek$

Bruce Caldwell

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780226091914

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226091921.001.0001

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(p.423) Appendix D The “Scientism” Essay as Rorschach Test

(p.423) Appendix D The “Scientism” Essay as Rorschach Test

Hayek's Challenge
University of Chicago Press

One reason that I am particularly sensitive to matters of interpretation when it comes to the “Scientism” essay (Hayek [1942–44] 1979e) is that I have studied it on at least three separate occasions, each time seeing things that I had not noticed before. I first came to the paper in the context of my debate with T. W. Hutchison (see appendix C). Recall that Hutchison had argued that Hayek underwent a methodological U-turn in the 1930s, moving away from the apriorism of Mises and toward the falsificationist philosophy of Karl Popper. Given that “Scientism and the Study of Society” was published in the early 1940s, I felt that, if what Hutchison said was true, it was reasonable to expect that one might discern some evidence of Popper's influence in it. My goal, then, was to find that evidence—if it existed. It turned out that it did not. The narrowness of my focus, however, led me to an equally narrow reading of the essay. Not only did I miss much that was there, but I was also led to at least one conclusion that I now think is just plain wrong. I said: “The ‘Scientism’ essay is Hayek's most important methodological work…. [V]irtually all of Hayek's later writings on methodology simply extend themes found in this essay; little of importance was added in the intervening years” (Caldwell [1988] 1989, 79).1

I still think that the “Scientism” essay is an important methodological piece and that Hayek would retain in later work many of the conclusions reached in it, in particular those having to do with limits on our ability to predict. But, in later work, those limitations would apply when one was dealing with complex phenomena. The distinction between natural and social phenomena that played a central role in the “Scientism” essay was dropped. I think that that is a significant enough emendation of his ideas to warrant a retraction of my statement that “little of importance was added in the intervening years.”

The next time I worked with the “Scientism” essay was when I was preparing an essay on Hayek for The Handbook of Economic Methodology (Caldwell 1998a). There, I tended to emphasize the significance of Hayek's methodological (p.424) individualism, which (again) I still think is an important part of the essay. However, my views about how best to read Hayek's position on methodological individualism have since undergone modification.

I returned to the “Scientism” essay for a third time on a family trip to Disney World, but, perhaps more important, I had read The Sensory Order (Hayek [1952] 1967h) not long before. That time, it seemed that the essay was just filled with ideas that would later be spelled out in more detail. That experience influenced how I wrote the first draft of chapter 11. The chapter was discussed in a seminar at the London School of Economics by a group of people who had just read the “Scientism” essay but who had not yet read The Sensory Order, and they found my reading, shall we say, idiosyncratic in its emphases, something that they were quick to point out to me. So, when I say that the “Scientism” essay would serve well as a Rorschach test, I know of what I speak.

With that as background, I will review a few other interpretations.

The “Scientism” Essay as Conspiracy Theory

Thomas Uebel (2000) examines the “Scientism” essay together with Karl Popper's The Poverty of Historicism (see Popper [1944–45] 1960). Noting that arguments against scientism like those offered by Hayek and Popper typically carry “a moral-political sub-text,” Uebel adds that sometimes “such arguments carry an additional sub-text of another type” (Uebel 2000, 151). His goal is to help the modern reader uncover the various subtexts, then to assess the adequacy of the arguments against their “‘hidden’ opposition” (151).

Uebel makes three key points. His first is that Hayek and Popper had ulterior motives in attacking historicism and scientism. Although their essays appear to be about methodology, they are really about politics. Thus, in Hayek's case: “Though Hayek did not name it so, his enemy was scientific socialism—the view that a scientifically guided socialist transformation of capitalist economies and class-structured societies is possible…. Here emerges the deep agenda of Hayek's polemic. His concern lay with the normative political debate about the principles along which society should be organized. Hayek sought to show that his political opponents are operating with a deeply flawed conception of scientific knowledge: the topic of social science methodology was but means, not end” (Uebel 2000, 154). The chief evidence of Popper's collusion in this dark plot against socialism is that, although he criticized Hayek's natural science–social science split using the same sorts of (p.425) arguments as would be employed by the logical empiricist philosopher Ernest Nagel, Popper's criticisms were muted. In seeking to explain Popper's gentleness (Popper the critical rationalist was not, after all, known for holding back when it came to criticism), Uebel speculates: “One wonders whether Popper muted his criticism at least in part because he shared Hayek's latent agenda” (154).

Next, because “the positions correctly attacked by Hayek and Popper are so extreme as to count as virtual straw-men for all but the crudest of anticommunist crusades” (Uebel 2000, 159), Uebel hypothesizes that they must have had another, “real” target. Of all the contemporaries mentioned by Hayek in the “Scientism” essay, only Otto Neurath and Bertrand Russell favored full-scale central economic planning. After pointing out Neurath's previous connections with the Austrian school economists, Uebel draws the obvious conclusion: “We do well to remember here what Hayek does not note explicitly, that Neurath was the central villain of Hayek's in his introduction to his edition of essays Collectivist [Economic] Planning [(1935) 1975] and even still before that of von Mises in his original paper on the calculation problem of 1920 [Mises (1935) 1975] and his book-length refutation of socialism [Mises (1936) 1981b] built thereon…. Neurath apparently is the one twentieth-century theorist upon whom Hayek can with at least prima facie plausibility pin the joint sins of scientism and comprehensive planning theory” (Uebel 2000, 160–61). Adding that Neurath's adherence to a “conventionalist-pragmatist conception of the empirical basis of science” made him “a central figure of opposition” for Popper in the 1930s, Uebel then allows that the attack was not so much directed against Neurath personally as it was directed against his ideas: “It is the philosophy of social science propounded by logical empiricism that was placed in the dock” (161).

Uebel's final claim is that Hayek's argument against Neurath does not work, or, more positively, that “politicized logical empiricist philosophy of social science does not fall foul of reasonable strictures on objective social science” (Uebel 2000, 165). A related claim here is that Hayek and Popper misconstrued the content of Neurath's physicalism, that, in particular, “Neurath's naturalist methodology did not preclude reference to intentional phenomena” (166). This reading is supported by a quotation in which Neurath acknowledged that it was possible “while avoiding metaphysical trappings” to obtain predictions of human action based on what people plan and intend, although Neurath added that behaviorism allows one to reach far better predictions (see Uebel 2000, 166).

(p.426) Thomas Uebel is a leading authority on Neurath and has played no small role in both the “dehomogenization” of the Vienna Circle and the rehabilitation of Neurath among philosophers. He knows the historical context intimately. So I must admit that parts of his article mystify me.

I am baffled first of all by all the talk of dark conspiracy, which permeates the article: of Neurath as the “‘hidden’ opposition,” of the “deep agenda of Hayek's polemic,” of his “latent” versus “manifest” agendas, of Neurath as “the true whipping-boy of two of the most distinguished polemics,” of their “clearly political animadversion,” of how their “rhetoric of disembodiment and decontextualization worked its ruse brilliantly” (Uebel 2000, 151, 154, 158, 162, 163). What is strange in the first instance is Uebel's pose that he is shocked that there might be “political” elements in all this. Of course there were political elements! The whole point of Hayek's Abuse of Reason project was to show how, when transferred into the social realm, certain ideas about science and its possibilities lead to disastrous consequences. In particular, Hayek believed that the scientistic worldview made it seem possible, maybe even easy, rationally to reconstruct social institutions as socialists of all stripes wanted to do. He lays this all out in the final three sections of the essay; in contrast to Uebel's claim, he manifestly did “name it so.” It might be added that this was not at all a paranoid delusion of Hayek's, nor was he guilty of attacking straw men. The views that he was criticizing palpably existed, as the first section of chapter 11 above amply demonstrates, and, indeed, they retained their popularity long after Hayek and Popper wrote their essays.2

(p.427) For his part, Neurath was actually far more politically involved than Hayek ever was, as Uebel well knows. As is fully documented in a book that Uebel coauthored, Neurath was tried for high treason for his participation—as the head of the Central Economic Administration—in the short-lived first and second Bavarian Soviet Republics, which formed in April 1919. He was convicted of assisting high treason and sentenced to a year and a half in prison, although he ended up serving less time (Cartwright et al. 1996, 49–56). Neurath was also someone who was quite willing to accuse those whose views differed from his of being politically motivated.3 But the point is: Why does the fact that all the principals had strong political views during this trying time count as evidence of some sort of dark, hidden agenda?4

(p.428) Perhaps Uebel takes this approach because it makes it easier to support his second thesis, that Otto Neurath was the real target of Hayek's and Popper's essays. I cannot speak for Popper.5 But, in Hayek's case, it seems evident that Uebel misunderstands the purpose of Hayek's larger Abuse of Reason project.

To be sure, Neurath was one of Hayek's opponents. In the “Scientism” essay, Hayek was fighting in part against behaviorism. And Neurath's eliminative physicalism, a doctrine that called for the elimination from science of all claims that make reference to unobservable states, provided a philosophical justification for the behaviorist insistence that any reference to intentional states was just “metaphysics.” So it was certainly one of Hayek's goals to offer arguments against physicalism. But, as was argued in the text, this was only one part of a much larger project, one that surveyed a wide array of arguments as they developed through time. Hayek really was trying to argue against supporters of scientism both past and present. His extended treatment of people whom Uebel considers to be “straw men” was not just some ruse to camouflage his criticism of Neurath.

Uebel's passing comment that Neurath was the “chief villain” of Hayek's Collectivist Economic Planning (see Hayek [1935] 1975) is also strange. It just was not so. Neurath was mentioned in the book, of course, because, as was noted earlier, it was his proposal concerning in natura calculation that “provoked” Mises to write his 1920 essay on socialist calculation, and that essay is translated in the collection (see Mises [1935] 1975). Recall that Mises found Neurath's proposals incredible, as did, it turns out, nearly everyone else, including (p.429) many prominent Marxists (Chaloupek 1990, 662–70). When Mises went on to write his book against socialism (see Mises [1936] 1981b), he (like the later Hayek) had many opponents in mind and many arguments to offer, as even a quick perusal of the book's table of contents demonstrates. Neurath was an impetus, but, once he had been criticized, Mises moved on to more serious opponents.

Neurath was still propounding his ideas about in natura calculation, first developed prior to the First World War, in the 1940s. That would be sufficient reason to mention this aspect of his thought in passing in the “Scientism” essay. But, as was the case with Mises, it is hard to imagine that Hayek took this part of Neurath's program very seriously; people like Mannheim or various market socialists were much more formidable opponents.6 So it is hard to credit Uebel's charge that Neurath was really Hayek's hidden political opponent. To the extent that Neurath was a target, it was due to his perceived support of physicalism and, more broadly, of positivism, the latter a doctrine that generations of Austrian school economists had opposed.

Uebel's final claim—that Hayek and Popper misread Neurath's philosophical position—is to me the most intriguing portion of his paper. Hayek clearly believed Neurath to be an advocate of physicalism. His belief was based on the following sorts of statements, taken from Neurath's “Empirical Sociology,” where Neurath spells out the doctrine in some detail:

Physicalism encompasses psychology as much as history and economics; for it there are only gestures, words, behavior, but no “motives,” no “ego,” no “personality” beyond what can be formulated spatio-temporally. (Neurath 1973, 325)

To one who holds the scientific attitude, statements are only means to predictions; all statements lie in one single plane and they can be combined, like all parts from a workshop that supplies machine parts. Physicalism knows no “depth,” everything is on the “surface.” (326)

The problem of “matter” or “mind” is solved by the disappearance of the theory of the “mind”, leaving nothing but the theory of “matter”: only physics remains. All genuine science can only be physics. (360)

(p.430) Sociology on a materialist basis deals therefore only with relations of men with men or with their environment. It knows only of such behavior of men that one can observe and “photograph” scientifically…. [S]ociology treats men in the same way as other empirical sciences treat animals, plants and stones. It is a doctrine of “behavior” in the widest sense; it is “social behaviorism.” … Sociology on a materialist foundation knows no effective structures which are not spatial and not temporal. (361)

Uebel is the expert on the thought of Neurath. If he thinks that these sort of statements do not accurately represent Neurath's true beliefs or can be made to cohere with his own portrayal of Neurath's views, then more from Uebel on the matter would be welcome.7

The “Scientism” Essay as Hermeneutics: Foundationalist, Realist, Postmodernist, or Austrian?

A more prominent reading of the “Scientism” essay is that it represents an “interpretive turn,” or a turn toward hermeneutics, for Hayek. An influential early proponent of this view was G. B. Madison, who claimed that “Hayek's critique of scientism in the human sciences is a call to his readers to make the interpretive turn” that “is evidenced by his maintaining that human affairs can properly be understood only in light of the category of meaning, a category which is, quite understandably, absent from the physical sciences” (Madison 1989, 172). Madison reproduces a variety of statements—for example, “the human sciences deal with the interactions between humans and things or between humans and humans”; “[the human sciences] must start from what men think and mean to do”; “so far as human actions are concerned the things are what the acting people think they are” (Hayek [1942–44] 1979e, 41, 57, 44)—statements that he weaves together to support his contention.

A number of other scholars also accept the presence of hermeneutical elements in the “Scientism” essay, among them Burczak (1994), Fleetwood (1995), Lawson (1997), Oakley (1999), and Runde (2001). Their readings, however, differ considerably. Tony Lawson is an advocate of critical realism, of (p.431) bringing social ontology into economics as a remedy for what he sees as the defects of generations of “positivist” influence there.8 Although praising Hayek for his early foray against positivism, Lawson claims that Hayek ended up defending what is, from his own critical realist perspective, a “suspect and cumbersome hermeneuticism” (Lawson 1997, 145). Thus, Hayek's claim that the data of the social sciences are the opinions, beliefs, and attitudes of individual agents is viewed as too restrictive. For Lawson, it is evidence that Hayek's theory lacks an adequate social ontology, which requires recognition that intransitive and layered social structures condition human behavior: “Hayek's social scientific ontology is not restricted to phenomena given in direct experience, but also includes the opinions, beliefs and attitudes of others. However, it does not extend to structures at once both social yet irreducible to individual conceptions” (140). Indeed, such statements by Hayek that “things are what people think they are” provide further evidence that individual conceptions are about all there are for Hayek. That Hayek insists that the opinions of individual agents must not be further analyzed is taken by Lawson to show that his “position is indeed a foundationalism of an atomistic, individualist, sort” (148). And that Hayek describes agents' opinions as “facts” is taken as further evidence that the Austrian had not fully escaped the positivist worldview that he criticized, with its emphasis on objective facts.

Fleetwood (1995) provides a similar reading, like Lawson from the perspective of how well Hayek's ideas might be fitted into a critical realist framework. Other scholars, however, even some who broadly support the critical realist program, challenge Lawson's interpretation. Jochen Runde (2001, 5) argues, “contrary to Lawson's reading, that Hayek's social structures (1) do have an existence over and above the conceptions of the individual actor and (2) serve as a precondition for human action on the lines proposed by critical realism.” Runde defends his first thesis by showing that Hayek indeed refers to the existence of such social structures in his essay and that Hayek's (p.432) discussions of the similarity of agents' classifications and of the possibility of intersubjective communication both point toward his acceptance of an intransitive social reality. He defends his second thesis by demonstrating that, in Hayek's discussions of “persistent structures and relationships” and “social wholes,” such entities “serve as an (often unacknowledged) precondition for action and the further development of society” (14).

While Runde focuses explicitly on the narrow question of the veracity of Lawson's interpretation of the “Scientism” essay, Allen Oakley (1997, 1999) pursues the broader project of using parts of the Austrian tradition to reconstruct a more fully subjectivist economics. Oakley thinks that Lawson's critical realism “is the most fundamental starting point for subjectivists in search of a methodology,” but he criticizes Lawson's suspicion that, when hermeneutics is combined with subjectivism, all reference to a structured social reality existing beyond the conceptions of agents is surrendered: “My alternative is to envisage critical realism and hermeneutics as consistent, compatible and complementary methodological strategies required to maintain a subjectivist ontology. Hermeneutics is to be envisaged as the means of inquiry that will enable economics to achieve the ‘deep’ analytical insights that are the hallmark of critical realism” (Oakley 1999, 16). Oakley challenges Lawson's reading of the “Scientism” essay, arguing:

Very early in his researches Hayek had formed a vision of agents contending with an existentially independent and intransitive world of reality…. For Hayek, agents must be depicted as necessarily having a concept-dependent vision of their external world. In forming this vision, they may well fail to represent the given reality completely or correctly because they rely on the mediation of an ultimately subjectivist mind. The result is that agents potentially exhibit a contingent remainder in their individual conduct that cannot be reliably or fully tied back to their situational conditions. This is not because they have a purely relativist vision, but because their interpretations and reasoning are fallible. (142 n. 1)

Oakley offers his own interpretation of key passages in the “Scientism” essay and argues that in contemporaneous work—for example, “The Facts of the Social Sciences” ([1943] 1948b)—Hayek made statements indicating that he adhered to a “realist vision of the existential independence of the world confronted by acting agents” (Oakley 1999, 133). Oakley further demonstrates that, when more fully developed in Hayek's The Sensory Order ([1952] 1967h), (p.433) the ideas regarding social phenomena found in the “Scientism” essay support a realist reading.9

Other treatments of Hayek's work also stress the hermeneutical elements to be found there. One of the more provocative is Ted Burczak's claim that Hayek's “discussion of subjectivism and the constituents of perception combined with his emphasis that people are rule-following as well as purposeful creatures produces a theory of human agency which, I believe, is aptly characterized as nonessentialist, or postmodernist” (Burczak 1994, 46–47). That such a reading is at odds with Lawson's claim that Hayek was unable to eradicate the positivism from his hermeneutical framework and with Oakley's claim that Hayek's work on perception is wholly consistent with a realist reconstruction of subjectivist economics is likely evident.

It should perhaps be mentioned that some within the Austrian camp have also stressed the general compatibility of the Austrian approach with a hermeneutical one. One of the most vocal of these was Ludwig Lachmann; I know because he tried to recruit me. I quote here from his letter to me of 11 March 1987:

To take your main point first: Why am I anxious that we establish our eligibility for membership of the Hermeneutics Club? What matters to me is our access to a broad reservoir of ideas that, at this moment, look interesting; our ability to meet in the club lounge (and not by appointment), informally, a number of interesting people and exchange thoughts with them.

What use we are going to make of our club membership, how often we visit it, are quite different matters. I am anxious that we establish our eligibility. Perhaps the cuisine is not to our liking or more likely, has its ups and downs. Perhaps they serve at the bar a vodka that is bad for our health. If so we shall have to take obvious precautions. What matters is our ability to participate in the commerce of ideas.

(p.434) Let me briefly give you three examples of harm we have suffered in the past when we had no such broad reservoir to fall back on. The 1930's were a decade of calamity anyway. When in 1938 Hutchison hit out at Austrian methodology, Robbins gave in. He had no reservoir of GENERAL ideas to fall back on. Knight, by contrast, had one, but its texts were mostly in German and thus, in 1940, not much good in the Anglo-Saxon world. Thus in his 1940 paper he had to improvise, to write as Max Weber would have written had he confronted Hutchison. Finally, who could doubt that Shackle would have had much less difficulty establishing himself as an authoritative thinker on human action if he had been able to draw on a broad body of thought, of general ideas. (As a matter of fact he did not even draw on Bergson!)

As you say, there are of course “dangers of association.” There is the possibility that the more radical deconstructionists take over the Hermeneutic movement. Seems to me that our chance to stave off such an event will be greater to the extent to which we have established an accredited place within the Club. (Caldwell 1991b, 143)

Lachmann chastised Hayek for his failure to explore hermeneutics and teasingly referred to him as a “positivist” (Caldwell 1994c, 310).10

Returning to Hayek: We have seen that the claim that Hayek embraced a hermeneutical approach in the “Scientism” essay seems to be both ubiquitous and uncontroversial. But it also creates some interpretive problems of its own, for there is much less evidence of a commitment to hermeneutics in Hayek's later work. A fundamental claim of the hermeneutics approach is that interpretation is unavoidable in the human sciences, specifically because (p.435) their subject matter differs from that of the natural sciences. Whereas the natural sciences study inanimate objects, both the “objects of study” in the human sciences and the researchers who study them are interpretive beings. When in subsequent work Hayek proclaimed that the natural science–social science split is less important than that between simple and complex phenomena, he was downplaying, perhaps even dismissing, the hermeneutical insistence that different methods of study are necessary in the social sciences. Those who read the “Scientism” essay as providing evidence of Hayek's interpretive turn must deal with this fact.

For people like Tony Lawson and Steve Fleetwood, of course, it's all's well that ends well. They take the later writings about rule-following behavior and spontaneous orders as showing that Hayek moved beyond his early (and, in their opinion, unfortunate) flirtation with hermeneutics to a view that appreciates that the actions of human agents are conditioned by their encounters with a structured reality.11 For someone like Oakley, for whom hermeneutical elements are an essential aspect of an envisioned new realist theory, it is little short of a disaster. Here is Oakley's response to Hayek's change in methodological focus: “Hayek began his critique and research in these directions with much promise, focusing on the problem as one of human ontological veracity as the crucial precondition for methodological design…. [F]or reasons that remain less than fully clear, he was induced to retreat from a position of defending a subjectivist ontology as the irreducible conditioning factor in economic theory construction. The emergent and inherently confusing alternative was one of compromise that made the object distinction in economics merely a matter of greater complexity…. That Hayek reached a point where he seemed unaware of this is mystifying” (Oakley 1999, 127–28). Madison, too, is saddened by Hayek's “retreat,” which he blames in part on the nefarious influence of Karl Popper. That some of Hayek's later writings indicate that he did not wholly accept Popper's views is taken as a faint ray of hope.

(p.436) If one focuses on the hermeneutical elements in the “Scientism” essay, a number of questions naturally arise. What was going on in Hayek's head when he wrote the essay? Was he self-consciously propounding a hermeneutical approach? Did he actually take, or at least start to take, an “interpretive turn”? If so, why did he seem to back away from it in his later writings? And, if not, why did he sound so much like an advocate of hermeneutics in the essay?

These are extremely hard issues to decide, not the least because the evidence points in so many different directions. My own reading is that Hayek never really took the interpretive turn. He did, however, supply scientific grounds to support the methodological dictum that reference to intentional states will always be necessary in explaining and interpreting human behavior. So, although he was not a hermeneuticist, his scientific research supported the idea of the practical necessity of a “verstehende” psychology.

Hayek sounded like a hermeneuticist in the “Scientism” essay when he insisted that “opinions” (or beliefs, desires, and intentions) are the fundamental data of the social sciences and that one can understand human actions only by interpreting them as being based on the opinions of the acting agents. His criticisms of various scientistic doctrines would also appeal to hermeneuticists. He shared their disdain for behavioral psychology, an objectivist program that denied the legitimacy of explaining behavior by reference to intentions. He attacked collectivists for failing to realize that acting human agents, not putative social aggregates like society or the state, are the appropriate focus of attention in the social sciences. And he scolded historicists for their emphasis on supposed laws of history, laws that ignored human agency. In all these arguments, Hayek sounded like a hermeneuticist.

On the other hand, in making his arguments, Hayek never invoked the key idea that explanation in the social sciences is different from explanation in the physical sciences precisely because both researcher and subject are interpreting agents. For Hayek, the necessity of interpretation was not limited to the social sciences. He included examples drawn from the social sciences, of course—the recognition of a “friendly face” or a “threatening gesture” come to mind. But these were side by side with examples from the physical sciences (the levers and pendulums example) as well as everyday life (the hammer example). For Hayek, perception itself was an act of interpretation. That we classify some of our stimuli as friendly faces and others as hammers did not for him signal a significant difference in kind; both were interpretations. Hayek made this point explicitly in his subsequent work in psychology. But he also (p.437) insisted that, as a practical matter, we will always have to refer to beliefs, desires, and intentions (what he calls mental terms) when we interpret human actions: “In some ultimate sense mental phenomena are ‘nothing but’ physical processes; this, however, does not alter the fact that in discussing mental processes we will never be able to dispense with the use of mental terms, and that we shall have permanently to be content with a practical dualism, a dualism based not on any assertion of an objective difference between the two classes of events, but on the demonstrable limitations of the powers of our own mind fully to comprehend the unitary order to which they belong” (Hayek [1952] 1967h, 191).

I believe that Hayek's hesitancy to take the “interpretive turn” was based on his commitment to a scientific worldview. His opponents were people who thought of themselves as true scientists but whom Hayek considered to be pretenders to the mantle of science. His was to be a scientific rebuttal of scientism. Hermeneutics, with its origins in the exegesis of sacred texts, was too literary in orientation, too extrascientific, to serve his purposes. His opponents were the same as those of the hermeneuticists, but his tactics were very different. Or, at least, that is the interpretation that I favor. Further support for this reading is offered in chapter 12.

I will close with a final comment on the various interpretive projects mentioned above. Some of them appear to share my goal of explicating what Hayek was up to when he wrote the “Scientism” essay. This is certainly the case for Uebel, and it seems to be the case for Madison, who says that the “Scientism” essay is Hayek's “call to his readers to make the interpretive turn” (1989, 172). In such cases, my alternative reading competes with theirs.

Some of the other projects are quite different, however. Oakley (1997, 1999) clearly wants to use relevant bits and pieces of Hayek's work in constructing a new approach to the methodology of the social sciences. His frustration with Hayek's apparent “reversal” is real, not surprising given his desire to incorporate hermeneutics into a realist framework. For his part, Tony Lawson already has a fairly well developed realist framework on offer. When he reads earlier writers like Hayek, his goal seems to be to see how much of Hayek's work coheres with his own preferred position.

These projects are similar to those within the Austrian tradition that attempt a synthesis of the work of Mises, Hayek, and others in constructing a modern Austrian economics. While I certainly have no objection to this sort of project, two things should be made clear. First, they are not trying to explicate what Hayek himself was up to when he wrote what he wrote, so their (p.438) accounts do not directly compete with mine or with those of any historian (like Uebel) who tells a different story from mine. Second, when they assess the value or the consistency of Hayek's contribution, they do so from within the framework of their own larger story. This should not count as criticism of Hayek's position. Thus, for example, if Hayek himself was not trying to develop a realist ontology, it is hardly fair to criticize him for falling short of providing one. In such cases, his only sin, if sin it be, was a failure to anticipate the preferred frameworks of later writers.


(1.) The quotation comes from the original English version of an article published in French, to which the citation refers.

(2.) Let me provide but one example. in the last chapter of his widely read and influential Rede Lecture, The Two Cultures (1965), C. P. Snow wrote about the growing gap between the industrialized countries (among which he included the Soviet Union) and the nonindustrialized. Snow felt that the gap could and must be closed, possibly by the coordinated efforts of the United States and the Soviet Union. His remarks about the process are a study in the scientistic worldview, the engineering mentality writ large, all of it ironic enough given his putative mission of bridging “the two cultures.”

Snow begins with the assertion that there are no real technical obstacles to closing the gap: “It is simply that the technology is rather easy.” He continues: “For the task of totally industrializing a major country, as in China today, it only takes will to train enough scientists and engineers and technicians. Will, and quite a small number of years.” If either the United States or the Soviet Union tried to do it alone, it would be a task comparable to war mobilization, but, if both worked together, “it wouldn't mean that order of sacrifice—though in my view it's optimistic to think, as some wise men do, that it would mean no sacrifice at all.” It requires “trained scientists and engineers adaptable enough to devote themselves to a foreign country's industrialization for at least ten years out of their lives”: “Here … the Russians have a clear edge. This is where their educational policy has already paid big dividends. They have such men to spare” (Snow 1965, 44–47).

Revisiting the lecture four years later, Snow offered the following emendation: “I made judgments which were totally unlike those of my critics. Some of mine were wrong: in the Rede Lecture, I much overestimated the speed of Chinese industrialization. But the more significant ones, now that time has passed and we can check some of our guesses, I see no reason to change” (1965, 98).

Snow of course was not the only one in the West to misjudge the Soviet Union or China during this period; indeed, such errors were common. (One wonders, however, who the “wise men” were who thought that it would involve “no sacrifice at all” to industrialize China totally in ten years.) His faith that technology alone (and the will to use it) is all that is necessary to end world poverty, with no discussion of the myriad social and economic institutions that must also be in place for development and reform to be successful, is the part of his message that best represents the scientistic worldview.

(3.) Neurath (1973, 356) contrasted the motivations of those who did and those who did not attach themselves to the scientific worldview as follows: “On the whole the representatives of metaphysically directed sociology are at the same time representatives of the ruling order. Most governments and other centres of power favor metaphysically inclined scholars, even theologising ones, whereas they are mostly suspicious of anti-metaphysically inclined scholars…. Conversely, the revolutionary masses of workers and the groups attached to them become more vigorous through anti-metaphysical physicalist sociology, and above all the fight against metaphysics and theology means the destruction of bourgeois ideology.”

(4.) In Cartwright et al. (1996, 49–56), Neurath is portrayed (and, indeed, this was a key to his trial defense) as “not political” (in the sense that he had no interest in securing a position of political power within any particular party structure), as simply a forceful bureaucrat whose only motivation was to get his socialization scheme put into place. Within the context of the Hayek-Neurath discussion, however, his commitment to full socialization would still allow us to describe him as harboring “political” convictions.

(5.) Hacohen (2000) does not address the question directly, and his text offers evidence that could be used to support either reading. On the one hand, Hacohen notes: “Historicism's identity and the political concerns that gave rise to [The Poverty of Historicism] have remained obscure” (358). On the other, Neurath's “arguments on sociological prediction and historical laws were precisely those Popper later labeled historicist” (361), and “no view of science aroused Popper's indignation as much as Neurath's” (362). Hacohen's final statement on the Popper-Neurath relationship is worth extended citation: “Neurath embodied the politico-methodological syndrome of historicism. He was the single thinker who combined the naturalist and antinaturalist doctrines of historicism, synthesizing positivism, Marxism, and Historismus. Still, Neurath was not the issue; the syndrome was. Popper underestimated him, as the circle members did. He thought of him as a politician, not a thinker. His name did not come up in discussions of [The Poverty of Historicism] with Simkin. He was part of the background, but Popper would not waste his time arguing against him when he could argue against Marx and Mill” (373).

(6.) I suspect that Hayek shared Popper's opinion of Neurath, as summarized in Hacohen's lengthy description (see n. 5 above). Neurath's continued enthusiasm for in natura calculation would have provided Hayek with ample reason to dismiss him.

(7.) Hacohen (2000, 261–75) expresses skepticism about the historical veracity of some of the recent scholarship that aims at rehabilitating the Vienna Circle, referring to the reinterpretations as “ingenious but strained” (262). Agassi (1998) is even less impressed with recent work, especially the effort to portray the circle critic Karl Popper as a foundationalist.

(8.) I put scare quotes around the word positivist to indicate that Lawson and I differ in our use of the term positivism. In Beyond Positivism ([1982] 1994a, chaps. 2–3), I identified various forms of positivist thought, among them logical positivism, operationalism, and logical empiricism. I also argued that, although the rhetoric of positivism suffused the methodological writings of economists, few practiced it because it could not be put into practice. For Lawson, mainstream economic practice exemplifies positivism. His definition includes a Humean concern with a search for strict empirical regularities and the use of deductive methods.

(9.) It seems to me that Runde and Oakley have established that a realist reading of the early Hayek is both possible and plausible. In further support of their reading, let me point out that the problematics explored by Hayek in both “Economics and Knowledge” ([1937] 1948a) and “The Use of Knowledge in Society” ([1945] 1948g) presuppose the notion of an independently existing reality, one that is constituted in part by the beliefs and intentions of other agents but includes other social and natural phenomena, from prices to production processes.

(10.) Lachmann had followers of his own, as the volumes edited by Kirzner (1986), Lavoie (1990b), and Koppl and Mongiovi (1998) attest. In addition to his formidable mind, Lachmann's kindly manner and his possession, like Keynes, of a bewitching voice made him especially popular among some of the younger Austrians. Lachmann's major economic contributions were in the theories of capital and expectations. His praise of G. L. S. Shackle for extending subjectivism to an analysis of expectations (the Lachmann problem, as Koppl [1998b] calls it) made his work a bridge between certain Austrians and post-Keynesians. For others, however, it was evidence of his “radical subjectivism.” Lachmann also emphasized the market as a process and argued for replacing Max Weber's notion of an ideal type with the praxeological notion of “the plan.” Some representative citations are Lachmann (1956, 1970, 1976). For some Austrian hermeneuticist writings, see Ebeling (1986, 1990) and Lachmann (1990).

(11.) Lawson (1997, 200) acknowledges that the “hermeneutic moment is fundamental for any social science.” His doubts about the hermeneutical approach seem most evident when hermeneutics is linked with individualism. Antagonism toward individualism is evident in the work of some other critical realists, as well: note Lawson's (1999, 56) blunt statement that “the conception of a structured ontology sits uneasily with any form of individualist position.” Neither Runde nor Oakley appears to share this antipathy toward individualism, however.