Part 17: Science, Human Action, The Search for “Truth”, and Consequences

Thinking on the Potential Dangers of Science Myopia (Photo: Joao Silas, Unsplash.com)

Mindless Survival is an Invitation to Chaos (17/20)

© 2018, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved.

An outright attack on the efficacy of the human mind, not just as the allegorical locus of human agency, but on the very existence of agency, is an outright attack on humanity, society, economy, and human survival itself.

When that attack it is done in the name of, and with the full backing of our institutions of science and their leading public voices, there is a legitimate worry that science will become a propaganda tool to serve anti-mind, anti-reason, anti-freedom interests. Even if leading scientists themselves are unlikely to have and value such explicit and consciously derived proclivities, they still bear responsibility for their conclusions and the foreseeable implications of the policy initiatives they advocate.

Without human volition, without personal choice, without human agency, there can be no freedom and responsibility. Mises writes,

Only within the frame of a social system can a meaning be attached to the term freedom. As a praxeological term, freedom refers to the sphere within which an acting individual is in a position to choose between alternative modes of action. A man is free in so far as he is permitted to choose ends and the means to be used for the attainment of those ends. A man’s freedom is most rigidly restricted by the laws of nature as well as the laws of praxeology. He cannot attain ends which are incompatible with one another. (Human Action, 279)

Business philosopher Peter Drucker also commented on freedom, noting that it requires human choice and entails responsibility:

Freedom…is a responsible choice. Freedom is not so much a right as a duty. Real freedom is not freedom from something; that would be license. It is freedom to choose between doing or not doing something; to act one way or another, to hold one belief or the opposite. It is not “fun” but the heaviest burden laid on man: to decide his own individual conduct as well as the conduct of society and to be responsible for both decisions. (Drucker, “The Freedom of Industrial Man,” quoted in The Daily Drucker, 49).

Where all thoughts and actions begin and end in a black box of causal necessity and inevitability, there is no possibility of responsible choice; there is no freedom. The concept of freedom could never arise. (The concept freedom as it pertains to thought is an axiomatic corollary of consciousness and is evident without proof. To provide a proof of man’s freedom in the form of thought would itself require and thereby demonstrate the freedom of thought of the person attempting to provide such proof. To present an argument in support of the denial of freedom of thought would also necessarily entail and be an ostensive demonstration of what it purports to deny.)

Neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga, in his book Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain (2011), reminds us that “Responsibility and freedom are found…in the space between brains, in the interaction between people” (137). In other words, responsibility and freedom are not concepts that positivistic scientists – those committing the fallacy of scientistic prejudice –would recognize as concepts that can be demonstrated by positivist science to exist and have any standing in reality.

And yet the validity and use of these axiomatic and a priori concepts and their corollaries are incredibly important, in spite of the emphatic denial from defenders of the scientistic presumption that such concepts are real, valid, or necessary because they are not subject to valid scientific proof, which they hold as the only means to establish valid knowledge and truth.

Mises recognizes the immense contributions of the natural sciences to human well-being, but is critical of this delimited scientistic view of science that excludes the search for and discovery of knowledge that pertains to human action emerging from individual human minds. Mises proposes that the experimental natural sciences are not the primary cause of the improved situation of mankind, as important as they are; that it is not the experimental natural sciences “that enabled man to elevate his species above the level of the beasts and the horrors of biological competition,” but rather “the discovery of the principle of the higher productivity of cooperation under a system of the division of labor, that great cosmic principle of becoming.” Mises continues:

Modern industrialization, the practical employment of the discoveries of the natural sciences, is intellectually conditioned by the operation of a market economy in which prices, in terms of money, for the factors of production are established and thus the opportunity is given to the engineer to contrast the costs and the proceeds to be expected from alternative projects. The quantification of physics and chemistry would be useless for technological planning if there were no economic calculation.  (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, 126-127)

After abandoning the social sciences in which freedom and responsibility are central to seeking knowledge and applying of human thought and in which both individual thought and action by means of social cooperation is required for the betterment of the human condition, what’s left of science limited only to the purely mechanically-causal positivistic “natural” realm can easily become a tool of totalitarian temptation.

Humanity has been down this road before, and when freedom and responsibility are marginalized, trivialized, or ridiculed – as all dictatorial and autocratic aspirants want to do – things don’t turn out well.

Leonard Peikoff in The Ominous Parallels (New American Library, 1982), his study of the history of ideas that fueled the rise of National Socialism in Nazi Germany, wrote:

“Freedom” [in the context of political freedom] means the power to act without coercion by others. It means an individual’s power to act according to his own judgment, while respecting the same right in others. In a free society, men renounce a lethal method of dealing with disagreements: the initiation of the use of force.

Force is the antonym and negation of thought. Understanding is not produced by a punch in the face; intellectual clarity does not flow from the muzzle of a gun; the weighing of evidence is not mediated by spasms of terror. The mind is a cognitive faculty; it cannot achieve knowledge or conviction apart from or against its perception of reality; it cannot be forced. (309)

When thought is negated by the ideology of determinism inherent in the misapplication of the methodology of the natural sciences to marginalize the sciences of human action, when reason is proposed to be a non-scientific assertion of an extant cognitive illusion, one cannot but expect those who are convinced by the authority of “science” to abandon reason, even when that authority is false and detrimental to the stated purpose of science. To the extent that people do so, the only mode of social interaction left with the imagined power of utility, as the default means to replace peaceful cooperation, is the abolition of freedom through the application of physical force.

Further, if determinism in human affairs gains traction as an established truth, what good can one hope to gain through the peaceful discussion of ideas when people are said to have no choice other than to believe what they believe and to behave as they are causally necessitated to behave. Hoping to change people’s minds through an exchange of ideas would seem futile if people have no control over the content of their ideas and no control over their choice of actions.

Positivists who are engaged in the scientistic ideology provide no room for individual rights and thus no room to justify a political system based on the recognition of the principle of universal, reciprocal rights. The possibility of dealing with others as sovereign traders based on individual judgment and voluntary consent is removed. What civilized human beings would recognize today as criminal behavior because of the infringement of individual rights would be usurped by the normalization of criminal behavior. Production and wealth creation that Mises and others defend and that has lifted humanity out of miserable poverty to unprecedented levels of wealth and welfare across the globe by historical standards, gets wiped out.

Where the truth that human beings possess free will is suppressed and denied by claims of scientific proof that human agency is an illusion and where epistemology is thereby abandoned, the choice between reason and non-reason can only end badly.

Mises observed in The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science:

In stressing the fact that the natural sciences owe all their achievements to experience, positivism merely repeated a truism since the demise of Naturphilosophie nobody any longer disputed. In disparaging the methods of the sciences of human action, it paved the way for the forces that are sapping the foundations of Western civilization. (128)

NEXT: Part 18. Machine Messiahs

Mises: The A Priori Nature of Human Action (pdf)

Barry Linetsky has learned a considerable amount from the writings of Mises and Hayek. Barry makes his living specializing in value-driven strategic management, and is the author of the acclaimed business biography The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press, 2017) and Free Will: Sam Harris Has It (Wrong), both available from amazon. He frequently blogs at www.BarryLinetsky.com and has been published in the Ivey Business Journal and Rotman Magazine. Twitter @BizPhilosopher.

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