Science, Human Action, The Search for “Truth”, and Consequences | Part 14: The Marginalization and Destruction of Epistemology

Thinking on the Potential Dangers of Science Myopia (Photo: Joao Silas,

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

Dr. Edwin Locke notes in The Illusion of Determinism: Why Free Will is Real and Causal that to construct an experimental method while at the same time acting consistently with the belief that human beings lack free will and that volitional consciousness and human agency is always and everywhere an illusion, a scientist would not be able to know what procedures to follow, choose the proper procedures to follow, or know what determined their actions, for doing so would be regulated by uncontrollable causes governed by the natural laws controlling the physical world.

The advocates of determinism want to claim knowledge, notes Locke,

but this requires them to make the choices needed to gain knowledge – yet determinism asserts that they cannot make actual choices. Determinists have to assume that they themselves are outside the deterministic nexus when reaching any conclusion; that they were free to make choices and reach conclusions based on their thinking rather than simply being pre-programmed. (80. Italics in original.)

The crux of the matter, notes Locke, is that the conclusions determinist-embracing scientists derive through their research cannot be derived by means of reason as they purport and desire to proclaim.The concept of reason for them is a concept stolen from the realm of volitional consciousness.“ Reason,” Locke reminds us, “is a process of conceptual abstraction and integration, not a process of mechanical causation” (80). Reason is an action of the human mind.

Further, notes Locke,

Determinists repeatedly claim that free will is an illusion. But how would they be able to tell the difference between reality and illusion if they had no choice as to what to believe? (81)

The key point of note here is not just that humans have free will and that determinism as it pertains to human action is a self-contradictory assertion that negates any such claims in defense of a purely mechanical materialistic world by scientists or others. The point to note is that what is referred to as determinism (which Gazziniga defined as “the philosophical belief that all current and future events, actions, including human cognition, decisions, and behavior are causally necessitated by preceding events combined with the laws of nature”), as it pertains to the realm of human consciousness, man’s capacity to reason, and human agency, if valid, would have to negate purposeful human action, defense of a valid scientific method, and any and all claims to knowledge derived therefrom. This must also apply to the claims of validity put forth by determinists in defense of their position.

What becomes obvious is that determinism is self-refuting in the realm of human beings. Consciousness cannot by applied to refute consciousness without abandoning logic altogether. Consciousness that guides human thinking and human action is axiomatic in all human endeavors, including any attempt to use the faculty of volitional consciousness to construct a scientific refutation of consciousness and purposeful human action.

This is not a mere academic dispute but one of immense importance and consequence in mankind’s quest for knowledge and pursuit of humanistic goals, as substantiated by Edwin Locke’s keen observation and warning:

The fundamental problem, then, is this: determinism destroys the entire field of epistemology; the field which establishes the means and criteria for conceptual knowledge. This means it destroys the possibility of all conceptual knowledge, including philosophy and science – which includes neuroscience. (81. Italics in original.)

In other words, where the fallacy of scientistic prejudice with its roots in mechanical materialism and positivism is prejudicially embraced, any consideration of a science of the means to be applied towards the attainment of ends chosen – a science of the choosing of ends, of discovery and guidance illuminating how we as individuals must act if we want to attain definite ends sought, such as a science of economics, wealth creation, and general human welfare (physical and psychological) – is to be denied validity and legitimacy.

Those scientists who advocate that there is a single universally valid experimental method to be used in mankind’s quest for knowledge and truth in the vastness of the material universe, believe that the only proper means to study human action is to apply the same methods and mathematic models required to study the purely materialistic non-teleological world.

To hold to this mistaken counter-factual position identified by Hayek and others, as a mere assertion in the face of logic and established epistemological arguments, without any attempt at refutation of the arguments put forward in defense of scientific dualism, is to hold to science as an ideology rather than a quest for objective and applied knowledge.

To hold fast to a purely mechanically deterministic view of the world is to accept that no special consideration or change in methodology is required to study the unique phenomena of self-awareness and self-motivated goal-directed action that distinguishes entities possessing volitional consciousness from those that don’t. It is to accept that those who study the impact of ideas and the practical consequences of the actions of others should grant no unique consideration to the conscious, purposeful, individualistic nature that differentiates themselves and other humans from the likes of rocks, molecules, wind, acorns, or crustaceans.

NEXT: Part 15. Ah, You Don’t Believe We’re on the Eve of Destruction?

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 and has been published in the Ivey Business Journal and Rotman Magazine. Twitter @BizPhilosopher.

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