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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Empiricism Versus Rationalism

Daniel Kuehn claims that "a priorism is a bad way of understanding the world."

Well, that is true to the same extent that empiricism is a bad way of understanding the world. For instance, it is a well-known finding in the philosophy of science that, given an empirically adequate theory of some phenomenon which theory we accept, it is trivial to generate an infinite number of other equally empirically adequate theories. (For instance, just keep adding more variables that exactly balance each other out in getting the observed result.) Certainly we cannot have empirical grounds for rejecting such theories: they are, after all, created to be empirically equivalent to the theory we accept. Therefore, our grounds must be "a priori." (I'm not sure that is the best way to put that, but it will do for this debate.) Or consider, for instance, how Einstein decided that one cannot catch up with a light beam: it certainly was not because he kept experimenting with ways to do so and found they all failed!

Good scientific method requires a delicate balance of empirical and rational judgment. How do you get that balance right? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall.

2 comments:

  1. That's exactly right - I should have said "exclusive a priorism", and honestly I don't think like a philosopher when I talk about this stuff I think more methodologically, so I'm more meaning something like the scientific method when I say "empiricism". I'm not aware of many strict philosophical empiricists in the way you refer to here. But we do have a handful of strict a priorists.

    The most ironic thing about that whole post by Bertram was Bob actually is good about grappling with the empirical evidence.

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  2. Regarding empiricism/inductivism you make good points, and matters have long since moved beyond the classical inductivism held by older philosophers and logical positivists.

    A Popperian method for economics would explicitly rely on empirical and deductive methods, in the falsificationism by hypothetico-deductive method:

    http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.com/2010/12/risk-and-uncertainty-in-post-keynesian.html

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