Feynman on (Quantitative Empirical) Social Science

15 September 2008 at 11:07 am 3 comments

| Peter Klein |

Thanks to Teppo for the pointer. Naturally I will accuse Feynmann of confusing science and scientism. As Rothbard put it:

In our proper condemnation of scientism in the study of man, we should not make the mistake of dismissing science as well. For if we do so, we credit scientism too highly and accept at face value its claim to be the one and only scientific method. . . . Science, after all, means scientia, correct knowledge; it is older and wiser than the positivist-pragmatist attempt to monopolize the term.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

Organizational Economics and International Trade Klein Bottle

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rafe Champion  |  15 September 2008 at 5:20 pm

    It is a pity that Feynman was not aware of praxeology where laws have been discovered. He might have rejected dogmatic a priorism but he should have accepted the idea of well tested laws that explain things and stand up to tests, after all his main crit of the social sciences as he saw them was lack of laws and lack of rigor in testing their theories.
    “Maybe Feynman is too hard on the social sciences. It is helpful to remember that physicists restrict their predictions to model systems, otherwise they settle for explanations in principle. We can explain in principle the trajectory of leaves that fall off a tree but nobody would be expected to predict which ones will end up in the street and which will fly up on to the roof and block your gutter. Similarly in some areas of the social sciences (those that are not pure ideology and verbalism) we can predict tendencies, such as increased prices due to import restrictions, without being able to predict the size of the increase due to the many other factors that are involved in setting prices”. (from this review http://www.amazon.com/review/R8AWEOKSD2JPM/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm).
    Feynman had contempt for philosphers as well as social scientists and it seems that was a natural crtical rationalist, or Popperian.The scientism that Hayek subjected to criticism is a false philosophy of the natural sciences, so the critique is in a way a sustained non sequitur. It is a criticism of false ideas but not of the hypothetico-deductive approach which is equally applicable (at a meta level) to the natural and the human sciences , using the term science in the original sense of organised knowledge or systematic learning, with no mystique and misunderstanding borrowed from misperceptions about the success of physics.

  • 2. Snooty Physicists « Mad Man or Slave  |  16 September 2008 at 8:29 pm

    […] See also Peter Klein and comment for a more thought-out reply. […]

  • 3. libertarian  |  18 May 2009 at 8:03 pm

    I guess the problem with current Austrian theory is that it doesn’t connect well with the natural sciences, especially physics. The arguments seem to be valid, well though-out but still – it is not science if you are unable to predict anything specific. I personally hope that one day Austrian economics will unite with the natural sciences and diverge from the rest of social junk science. However, a quantum neuroscience of economy might well be out of the reach of the capacities of the human mind. We will have to wait for the damn robots to resolve this one… :-)

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