© 2018, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved.
When the scope of science as the act of systematic discovery of knowledge is confined to the experimental methods appropriate to the study of the physical causality by an underlying ideological commitment to mechanical materialism, positivism, and empiricism, however well intentioned, no room is left for seeking knowledge under the guise of science in the realm of human action with its teleological roots in the form of intentions or plans activated by the desires, motives, and purposes of individual actors.
If it is true that volitional consciousness and its corollaries of free will and human agency are illusions generated causally from non-volitional consciousness, as must therefore also be the concepts we form and develop and utilize in our thinking by means of actions of consciousness, then there is no room for accepting that the social sciences – any systematic pursuit of knowledge pertaining to end-seeking human behavior – are a legitimate realm of scientific inquiry.
If volitional consciousness in humans is a non-veridical natural and phenomenological illusion caused by unconscious human brain activity then all value-driven and value-seeking efforts of systematic discovery, including epistemology as the science of knowledge and validation of concept formation along with all other social sciences, must be rendered useless and superfluous.
What has been argued for in this essay is that human agency, known in popular parlance as free will, is axiomatic or a priori with regards to any human action, including engaging in any act of science. Human consciousness is an active process of discovery, and as such is a mental action sufficient in itself to demonstrate that free will and human agency are real phenomena, irrefutable and beyond doubt or skepticism. A scientific conclusion that purports to deny human agency is self-refuting and therefore necessarily not true.
Volition is real and irrefutable, and can’t just be thrown aside because thinking and methodology rooted in mechanistic materialism and positivism can’t empirically observe and identify the internal human action of control and engagement of some aspects of human consciousness.
Any attempt to prove determinism to be valid is self-refuting because it demonstrates that which it purports to deny. To argue in favor of determinism as a denial of human agency is self-contradictory because to make the claim requires the acceptance of the validity of the axioms and concepts the proclaimed determinist purports to deny.
And as is further evident by direct observation, those who profess to deny human agency as real dispense with their denial in going about living their lives. A human being not capable of making choices in a world of cause and effect – a human being incapable of choosing valid means to achieve desired ends – will quickly become a corpse if they lack the assistance of someone who does possess such capabilities.
To think or not to think is both a choice and an action. To focus one’s thinking or refrain from doing so is both a choice and an action. What this means is that it is determinism with regards to human action that is an illusion, an error. As such, any “proof” put forward that leads to a conclusion that denies free will must necessarily contain errors in its premises.
Instead of rejecting free will and stacking their methodological errors, those thinkers who commit the fallacy of scientistic prejudice by insisting that valid science must follow a single method appropriate to the study of non-teleological phenomena should recognize their errors and check their premises. They should recognize that science as a methodology and discipline of valid discovery and identification of knowledge of the world is an artifact of human action and an identification of reality by the human mind. Recognizing this dissolves the boundaries of scientific monism and reestablishes a healthy intellectual milieu that expands the scope of science to its proper place as mankind’s method in the quest for life-sustaining knowledge, understanding and meaning.
Science is a tool to discover truths about the world in service to the wellbeing of the only known species that can purposefully set out in pursuit of truth and has the need to do so for the sake of its own survival, wellbeing and happiness. This makes science a uniquely human tool. Science in pursuit of itself, as an end in itself – science for the sake of science, removed from its proper context as an instrument of human consciousness to enhance human survival and wellbeing – is, as Hayek noted, a “counter-revolution of science” and an “abuse of reason.” Science is only important because, like every human action, it serves a human-enhancing purpose.
And that is why the likes of Mises, Hayek, Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, Edwin Locke, Jordan Peterson, Stephen Hicks, George Reisman, and many others, continue to warn us that epistemology is in crisis, and that the doors are being opened to unleash the fury of chaos unless we come to our senses and protect the foundational principles of civilization rooted in cooperative human action and valid pursuit of knowledge.
The pursuit of knowledge to guide successful action is at the very foundation of the advancement of human wellbeing and the lifting of human beings from the historic depths of poverty, starvation, and constant warfare of the past to the pursuit and achievement of unprecedented human wealth and welfare emanating from evolved a priori constructs of the human mind, i.e., from man’s nature and relationship to reality.
It was crystal clear in the mind of Mises based on a lifetime of study of economics and a deep understanding of the myriad ways human action makes the phenomenon of economics and material prosperity possible, as well as being a witness to and victim of 20th Century totalitarianism, that human freedom and the unprecedented wealth of Western civilization and welfare of people everywhere depends on personal freedom and individual human action that the prevailing ideology of scientism emanating from materialism and positivism treats as “meaningless nonsense.” “It is the task of epistemology,” wrote Mises, “to unmask the fallacies of positivism and to refute them.” (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, 124).
The epistemological and economic truths embodied in Mises’ many books and years of study are foundational to modern economic science, and are required knowledge for the benefit of mankind, yet are deemed to be of no scientific consequence or legitimacy by modern scientific and intellectual standards. (See Israel M. Kirzner, Forward to The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, vii). Many have since joined to carry this torch and spread Mises’ warning and his light.
Following the Second World War, Mises provided a cautionary warning to Western leaders and intellectuals, and anyone else who would care to listen:
Man cannot have both the advantages derived from peaceful cooperation under the principle of the division of labor within society and the license of embarking upon conduct that is bound to disintegrate society. He must choose between the observance of certain rules that make life within society possible and the poverty and insecurity of the ‘dangerous life’ in a state of perpetual warfare among independent individuals. This is no less rigid a law determining the outcome of all human action than are the laws of physics. (Human Action, 280)
In tribute to the first-class mind and wisdom of Ludwig von Mises, I conclude with Mises’ final words of warning, from the final paragraph of his final publication, written in his typically firm, authoritative, reserved and gentlemanly fashion, but in my head, subtly screaming in Jordan Peterson’s voice that we better wake the hell up, and fast:
As far as the empiricist principle of logical positivism refers to the experimental methods of the natural sciences, it merely asserts what is not questioned by anybody. As far as it rejects the epistemological principles of the sciences of human action, it is not only entirely wrong. It is also knowingly and intentionally undermining the intellectual foundations of Western civilization. (The Foundation of Economic Science, 133)
Ionela Baltatescu, “Economics: Science of Human Action Versus Social Physics,” http://www.upm.ro/gidni3/GIDNI-03/Soc/Soc%2003%2025.pdf.
Jordan Peterson, “Why You Have to Fight Postmodernism”, RealClearPolitics.com, https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2017/06/05/jordan_peterson_why_you_have_to_fight_postmodernism.html
Steven Pinker, “Science Is Not Your Enemy,”The New Republic, August 6, 2013, https://newrepublic.com/article/114127/science-not-enemy-humanities
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.