Sunday, July 8, 2012

Roundtable: Kant, Aron, McCloskey, Silverman

In “Politics and History,” historian Raymond Aron discusses Immanuel Kant. Science, Kant points out, is not reality but the mind’s representation of it. Aron suggests the extension of this idea to the field of history. We just represent it in some suitable way. We have to be serious about which representation we decide to employ. We have a way of assuming things to be normal, or normative. Our own personal representation of reality starts by being pretty close to reality. What happens when we try to represent it, though, creating sciences like "history," or "economics." How do we reconcile out versions of reality with what makes reality real? Is it even possible to discuss it?

    This is reality. And here, you see, is a part of reality that I am going to call the economy. And, this is my fairy godmother! Where exactly did I depart from reality? Of those three things, which ones aren’t real? The last one? Not very likely, but, how do we know?

    Supposedly there is a race for money. There is some kind of race or competition. That’s a perfectly feasible idea and one that feels true or that has a feeling of reality. Out of this, some people create (the field or the science of) economics. What kinds of mistakes can be made when we do that? That creation of ideas or theories in the subject field of economics is not the race for money. It is only the creation of a pile of theories about the race for money. What is the best way to represent the race for money in a science of economics? Is it by performing the operation of putting the amounts of money on one axis of a graph and putting the quantities of items produced by some factory on the other? That's where standard economics begins but how do we actually know that is the right place to begin?

    The two are distinct. McCloskey denies that there is any such distinction, but in fact it is as good a distinction as any. There is an actual thing we are seeing as a kind of human competition or a race after money and there are the things economists say about it. But it is not the case that these two are identical. We need to actually verify that the things persons say about it have some kind of valid connection to the reality itself. There are all kinds of questions to be asked about whether the methods of economics are valid or not.

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