20 August 2011

Kant and the Austrian Economists II

Yesterday, I discussed the "Austrian" school of economics, and how it distinguishes itself from the "Chicago" school, although in the minds of the general public they are all alike free marketeers.

I ended with the observation that there is a Kantian edge to Austrian method, it treats the significance of incentives and other premises in much the way that Kant treated his synthetic a priori principles.  I am not learned enough to know whether this is a matter of direct influence, coincidence, or something else.

But the Austrian arguments I quoted yesterday do make another bell go off in my mind: Ayn Rand.

Rand, as my readers may know, was the Russian-born screenwriter-turned-novelist who became the center of an "Objectivist" movement of pop philosophy in the 1960s, an influence upon such young minds as Nathaniel Branden and Alan Greenspan, etc.  Her aphorisms are still quoted today by many free market advocates, including apparently tea partiers.

I have never been one of her admirers.  Certainly my goal in this blog, the goal of refreshing pragmatism, is not one that appeals to Objectivists.

But one fact that stands out in my own mind from the reading I've done in O-ist literature is how vituperative they are toward the memory of Immanuel Kant, and anything that they think smacks of his influence.  It is enough to say, "X sounds like Kant" to thoroughly and foundationally condemn X amongst them.

Why this vituperation?  I'm not clear.  It isn't justified by the reasons they give.  Indeed, if you read Kant's essay, "What is Enlightenment?," you'll find that much of it has an O-ist feel to it, beginning with the Latin motto, Sapare Aude, "Dare to Know," that Kant there takes as his own.  Dare to think for yourself! he was saying, which is exactly the daring that Objectivists generally believe their own central virtue.

Perhaps the reason for the vituperation, though, is precisely that Rand had to carve out her own space in the world of ideas in order to be seen -- in order even to see herself -- as an original thinker.  She couldn't do that by being yet another popularizer of the free-market ideas of the Austrian school.  But perhaps (a) I'm right that the Austrians were Kantians, and (b) she knew or sensed the same thing.  She might well have decided to carve out some space for herself by being the anti-Kantian Austrian!

Puzzle solved.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.