Friday, December 28, 2012

Knowledge vs. Understanding

Max Weber, Mises, and Hayek all believed that the social sciences were sciences of understanding (verstehen), not sciences of knowledge. This fits my recategorization of the social sciences into the wisdom tradition (wisdom is understanding, not knowledge).

In this light, consider this from Frederick Turner's brilliant new book Epic:

Scientific method, excellent in many respects, is in some ways inferior to the storytelling system, as its reductive, deductive, and analytical procedure virtually dictates that a single cause with a single effect can be identified as the answer. (152)

Does this not sum up all the problems with mainstream economics? Anyone who proposes a single cause with a single effect as the answer to anything in economics ought to be laughed right out of the room. Any yet, how many economists do just that?

Rather, the social sciences should be closer to storytelling and philosophy, with their emergentist, inductive, and synthetic procedures, as these are what create verstehen. The scientific method does not. All it creates is knowledge. And knowledge is not understanding. Indeed, the knowledge we do have in the social sciences create such a wide variety of "understandings" that it's pretty clear that very little is being understood at all.
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