Saturday, July 17, 2004

Well, Fuck. I take it back.
Brian Leiter
Addendum [to a long, and very good, post on the topic du jour, the relation of science to economics] (July 16, 2004): It does seem to me in retrospect that too much is made to turn in this analysis on whether economics is a “science”; I was prompted originally to write on the topic after hearing lawyer/economist colleagues state, in all seriousness, that they viewed economics as on a par with physics, not quite as successful yet, of course, but still…. Making clear why this was utterly silly seemed worthwhile. But having done that, it would be a mistake to conclude that we should not try to bring scientific techniques, methods, and styles of explanation to bear on unruly human phenomena. Qualitative and generic predictions can be worth quite a lot, especially if it’s all we have! And holding our theorizing about human affairs to epistemically robust standards like those we see exemplified in the hard sciences seems good for intellectual hygiene, even if the results are never going to be as powerful. How well, of course, economics fares by even these more relaxed criteria is an open question; as Hausman and Rosenberg document, the record is mixed. (And, conversely, the record of much maligned explanatory paradigms, like Freud’s, are actually rather good—but more on that on another day.)
He took the words, some of them anyway, right out of my mouth; the Freud reference is spot on. Leiter's response is much more interesting to me than what I read at Crooked Timber.

Leiter still wants it both ways, in a way I enjoy. His arrogance gets its start in the association of the intellect with a scientific ideal, but he refuses to vulgarize his interests and he slams anyone who does so as quickly and as harshly as he slams the Texas Taliban. He reminds me of a specific sort of Modernist, one who walks a line between opposing forces. He lives a sophistication that he's unable to describe. It's not dishonest; it's conflicted, and complex.
[I gave him too much credit]

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