Navigation – Plan du site
Varia

On the Method Appropriate to Hayek Studies

Sur la méthode appropriée aux études hayekiennes
Scott Scheall
p. 29-35

Résumés

L’article examine l’importance des écrits de F. A. Hayek sur l’étude de phénomènes complexes pour l’étude des phénomènes très complexes de la vie et de la carrière de Hayek. Il y est soutenu que le principe méthodologique recommandé par Hayek pour la recherche sur les phénomènes complexes s’applique aux explications de son propre développement intellectuel. En effet, nous défendons le fait que les chercheurs doivent respecter ce principe dans leurs tentatives d’expliquer la vie et la carrière de Hayek. En cela il s’agit du principe premier d’évaluation de tout travail sur ce sujet. Comme Hayek lui-même aurait pu le dire, l’explication d’une partie de sa carrière qui néglige sa complexité inhérente est « probablement et simplement forcément fausse » (Hayek, [1964] 2014, 263).

Haut de page

Notes de l’auteur

The research contained in this paper was supported by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Texte intégral

1Few social scientists have done as much as F. A. Hayek to emphasize the explanatory and predictive limitations of the social sciences. Indeed, according to Hayek, the social sciences are examples of a broader class of disciplines in which, in the current state of knowledge, full explanations and precise predictions of particular events are not possible. In addition to the social sciences, these disciplines include theoretical psychology (Hayek, [1952] 2017), linguistics, evolutionary biology, geology, certain branches of astrophysics (Hayek, [1967] 2014), cybernetics, the theory of machines, and general systems theory (Hayek, [1955] 2014).

  • 1 On the distinction between the data and theory problems, see Scheall (2015a). “Theory problem” and (...)
  • 2 This implies, as it should given Hayek’s fallibilism and evolutionary epistemology, that some pheno (...)

2There are two kinds of knowledge on Hayek’s ([1945] 2014, 95) epistemology, namely, knowledge of general rules, and knowledge of particular circumstances of time and place. In order to fully explain or make precise predictions of some phenomena, we require an adequate combination of general and particular knowledge. The sciences of complex phenomena are those in which this requirement is not met. That is, in the sciences of complex phenomena, we confront a “data problem,” a deficiency in our knowledge of relevant circumstances of time and place, and / or a “theory problem,” the inadequacy of our theoretical model.1 A full explanation or a precise prediction of particular events in these sciences requires a complex model encompassing many variables, their (possibly quite intricate) interrelations, and their various relations with environmental factors, plus all of the relevant empirical data (Scheall, 2015a). In the sciences of complex phenomena, we simply lack some of this knowledge.2

3In these fields, we are limited to explanations and predictions that, although they might state the principle or mechanism that determines the manifestation of the relevant phenomena, leave out of the picture many details required of a complete explanation (Hayek, [1955] 2014, [1964] 2014). The economists’ treatment of price adjustments in response to changes in the relevant data in terms of the well-known mechanisms of supply and demand is an example of just such an explanation that, despite its obvious scientific significance, is never adequate to account for the prices of particular goods at specific times and places (Hayek, [1964] 2014, 270-271).

4Thus, the first principle of Hayekian social science enjoins the Hayekian scholar to respect the complexity of the phenomena under investigation. Simple explanations of complex phenomena—explanations that claim to do more than account for the principle of the otherwise variable manifestations of the phenomena or, what is much the same thing, which infer conclusions beyond the available combination of theoretical and empirical knowledge—are, as Hayek ([1964] 2014, 263) noted, “probably merely of necessity false.” Some combinations of theory and data are adequate only to explain the principle and predict the pattern of the relevant phenomena. To pretend otherwise and attempt more by way of explanation or prediction than the extant theoretical and empirical knowledge allow is to abrogate the first principle of Hayekian social science.

5The first principle of Hayekian social science does not mean that the scientist should not simplify. Some degree of simplification is always necessary in science. Rather, the Hayekian social scientist should resist the temptation to oversimplify, where this means inferring from the available knowledge more than it in fact supports. If anything, the Hayekian should emphasize the complexity of the phenomena and understate the significance of his results accordingly. The Hayekian social scientist should not claim that his explanation does more than account for the principle that determines the otherwise diverse manifestations of the relevant phenomena.

6The first principle of Hayekian social science is reflexive in the sense that it applies to our inquiries concerning the significant events and phases of Hayek’s own career. This is a straightforward implication of Hayek’s methodology of sciences of complex phenomena (Scheall, 2015b). According to Hayek, both mental and social phenomena are kinds of complex phenomena—their full explanation requires a model encompassing many variables, etc. The phenomena of Hayek’s career emerge from the interaction of (perhaps inter alia) his own individual mental phenomena with those of his various social contexts. Thus, by Hayek’s own lights, any aspect of his career that we might wish to explain is a complex phenomenon. (Of course, by parity of reasoning, should we wish to fully explain this aspect of Hayek’s career, we would need a complex model). Thus, insofar as we accept his methodology of sciences of complex phenomena, scholars of Hayek’s own career are enjoined by the first principle of Hayekian social science. If it is true that simple explanations of complex phenomena are probably always false, then it is true whether we are trying to explain, say, the business cycle or, since it is a complex phenomenon too, the evolution of Hayek’s thought about the business cycle.

7Hayek can be observed in the process of applying this principle, albeit implicitly, to considerations relevant to the history of economics. The complex phenomena that concerned Hayek in his John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Friendship and Subsequent Marriage ([1951] 2015) was the nature and extent of Taylor’s influence on Mill’s attitudes with respect to the subjugation of women and, especially (given Hayek’s own interests), socialism. In large part because it was implied by the image that Mill presented in his Autobiography ([1873] 2008), the prevailing view when Hayek wrote—that is, the principle that was meant to explain Taylor’s influence on Mill—was that she made her eventual husband more of a sentimentalist than he would have been otherwise (Hayek, [1951] 2015, 12-14). Against this, Hayek’s ([1951] 2015, 14, italics added) competing explanation of the principle was that, “[f]ar from it having been the sentimental it was the rationalist element in Mill’s thought which was mainly strengthened by her influence.” In Hayek’s view, Harriet Taylor influenced John Stuart Mill, one of history’s most strident empiricists (Mill, [1843] 2002), to soften his epistemology. More relevant to Hayek’s own concerns, she stimulated the direct descendant (literally and figuratively) of the Scottish Enlightenment tradition of spontaneous social order and gradual social evolution to seriously contemplate the possibility of rationally redesigning society.

8The content of Hayek’s explanation of the principle of this part of Mill’s intellectual evolution is less relevant for our purposes than the modest way in which Hayek put it forward. Leaving readers to decide for themselves, Hayek ([1951] 2015) presented the correspondence between Mill and Taylor with little editorial comment (on this method, see Peart, 2015, xxix and xxxvi). This is perhaps surprising, given the explicit thesis about Taylor’s influence on Mill that he wished to defend and, presumably, convince others to accept. Yet, Hayek made no effort to claim for this principle a more comprehensive account of Mill and Taylor’s very complex relationship. It was meant to account for no more than a pattern observable in their relationship—Mill’s shift from classical liberalism to a stance of some sympathy with socialism—a pattern that, as Hayek ([1951] 2015, 15) made clear, could be (partially) explained in other ways.

To some readers this volume will therefore appear as the material for a book rather than the finished product. The justification for presenting the documents in this fashion [i.e., the relevant correspondence with minimal editorial commentary] is that they could provide the material for several different books which might be written around them; thus any attempt at interpretation would almost inevitably have interfered with the impartial presentation of the documents. Not all the fragments which accident has preserved can be made to fit into one coherent story which at the same time they are sufficient to justify. Yet any selection guided by an interpretation would have been likely to omit documents which from a different point of view might prove significant.

  • 3 With respect to Hayek’s appreciation of the complexity of other aspects of Mill’s biography, see Pe (...)

9Hayek’s work on the Mill-Taylor correspondence illustrates the Hayekian complexity of intellectual history on multiple levels. On one level, there is the complex phenomena of the Mill-Taylor relationship that Hayek sought to explain.3 On another level, there is the fact that Hayek’s work on the Mill-Taylor correspondence was itself a complex phenomenon which emerged unintentionally from other interests and projects, and could not have been predicted by him, or anyone else, in advance:

The present book is the outcome of work originally undertaken without any such design. It grew unexpectedly out of an effort to bring together Mill’s correspondence during the earlier part of his life, which had never been systematically collected… In the course of this work the material now presented has come to light and it soon became clear that it would not fit into the contemplated edition of Mill’s professional correspondence (Hayek, 1951 [2015], 14; also see Peart, 2015, xxii fn. 18).

10The first principle of Hayekian social science has not always been respected in the secondary literature on Hayek. There is an unfortunate tendency in certain parts of this literature to leap beyond the available knowledge, from an acknowledged fact about Hayek to some more general conclusion regarding his career that is not supported by the premises adduced in favor of the aforesaid fact. I have argued (Scheall, 2015b, 44) that such leaps beyond the extant knowledge are especially prominent in the literature on Hayek’s so-called “epistemic turn” or “transformation,” where one often finds the move from some particular example of (dis)continuity in Hayek’s thought to an unsupported conclusion that the episode in question illustrates some more general inclination toward (dis)continuity in Hayek’s intellectual development:

There is a tendency, in attempts to explain (some aspect or other of) Hayek’s career, to try to go beyond the sort of limited explanations of the principle that Hayek himself thought were possible in the sciences of complex phenomena. That is, there is a tendency to pretend to a full explanation of (some aspect or other of) Hayek’s career, where only a limited explanation of the principle may be possible.

  • 4 Caldwell (1992) argues that Hayek was never much of a Popperian falsificationist with respect to th (...)

11Perhaps most ignominiously (examples could be iterated, but I will pick on the dead, who cannot correct me), Terence Hutchison (1981) leapt from the premise that Hayek traded a youthful commitment to Ludwig von Mises’s apriorism for a mature commitment to Karl Popper’s falsificationism to the conclusion that there were in fact multiple Hayeks, the Misesian “Hayek I” and the Popperian “Hayek II.” Yet, the fact—if it is a fact4—that Hayek traded Misesianism for Popperianism does not support the implication too easily drawn from Hutchison’s argument that this change was more fundamental and comprehensive than it was, affecting his thinking beyond methodology.

  • 5 The literature on Hayek’s epistemic turn is more extensively reviewed in Scheall (2015b, 41-45).

12This is not to question whether Hayek’s thinking transformed in various ways over the course of his career; rather, my point is precisely the need to respect as far as possible the many splendors and facets of each of these transformations, and the interconnections between them. What I reject is the notion, implicit in many arguments in the secondary literature, but never explicated and defended, that some proper subset of these various transformations explains some broader scope, perhaps even the entire scope, of his career.5 Our business as Hayekian Hayek scholars is to account as far as the available knowledge will allow for the various respects in which his scholarly interests and his attitude toward each of these topics changed—or did not—over course of his career. It is not to explain some such change(s) and declare the relevant explanatory principle the skeleton key to unlocking the mysteries of further aspects of Hayek’s career. This career is fully explained by accounting for the entire spectrum of events, their intricate interrelations, and their relations with the wider environment, that constitute his career; it cannot be fully explained by an account of any particular proper subset of these events. This is true, moreover, for each of the individual events that, arranged in temporal order, constitute Hayek’s career. Given that it is a consequence of interactions between mental and social phenomena, we are limited to an explanation of the principle in accounting for, say, the relation between Hayek’s two most famous papers, separated by nearly a decade, “Economics and Knowledge” ([1937] 2014) and “The Use of Knowledge in Society” ([1945] 2014), just as we are limited to an explanation of the principle(s) of the development of Hayek’s entire career.

13Insofar as we are Hayekians—that is, to the extent we accept Hayek’s guidance concerning the investigation of complex phenomena and insofar as we believe the phenomena of intellectual history to emerge from the interaction of mental and social phenomena (and so long as these remain complex phenomena with the further advance of knowledge), we are enjoined by the first principle of Hayekian social science. It should be obvious that this is true regardless of whose intellectual history we wish to tell, Hayek’s, Mises’, Keynes’, or Marx’s, but it is especially egregious to neglect or repudiate the principle when the object of our inquiry is some complex aspect of Hayek’s own very complex career.

The author would like to acknowledge the helpful suggestions of Œconomia’s referees.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Hayek, F. A. [1937] 2014. Economics and Knowledge. In Bruce Caldwell (ed.), The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XV: The Market and Other Orders. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 57-77.

Hayek, F. A. [1945] 2014. The Use of Knowledge in Society. In Bruce Caldwell (ed.), The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XV: The Market and Other Orders. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 93-104.

Hayek, F. A. [1951] 2015. John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Friendship and Subsequent Marriage. In Sandra Peart (ed.), The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XVI: Hayek on Mill: The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1-259.

Hayek, F. A. [1952] 2017. The Sensory Order: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology. In Viktor Vanberg (ed.), The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XIV: The Sensory Order and Other Writings on the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 113-316.

Hayek, F. A. [1955] 2014. Degrees of Explanation. In Bruce Caldwell (ed.), The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XV: The Market and Other Orders. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 195-212.

Hayek, F. A. [1964] 2014. The Theory of Complex Phenomena. In Bruce Caldwell (ed.), The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XV: The Market and Other Orders. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 257-277.

Hayek, F. A. [1967] 2014. Notes on the Evolution of Systems of Rules of Conduct: The Interplay between Rules of Individual Conduct and the Social Order of Actions. In Bruce Caldwell (ed.), The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XV: The Market and Other Orders. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 278-292.

Hutchison, Terence W. 1981. The Politics and Philosophy of Economics: Marxians, Keynesians, and Austrians. New York: New York University Press.

Mill, John Stuart. [1843] 2002. A System of Logic. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.

Mill, John Stuart. [1873] 2008. The Autobiography of John Stuart Mill. Rockville, MD: Arc Manor.

Peart, Sandra. 2015. Editor’s Introduction. In Sandra Peart (ed.), The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XVI: Hayek on Mill: The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, xix-1.

Scheall, Scott. 2015a. Lesser Degrees of Explanation: Further Implications of F. A. Hayek’s Methodology of Sciences of Complex Phenomena. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 8(1): 42-60.

Scheall, Scott. 2015b. A Hayekian Explanation of Hayek’s ‘Epistemic Turn’. Economic Thought, 4(2): 32-47.

Scheall, Scott. 2015c. Hayek the Apriorist? Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 37(1): 87-110.

Haut de page

Notes

1 On the distinction between the data and theory problems, see Scheall (2015a). “Theory problem” and “data problem” are my own terms, not Hayek’s. Hayek explicated the data problem at length, but left the theory problem largely implicit (Scheall, 2015a).

2 This implies, as it should given Hayek’s fallibilism and evolutionary epistemology, that some phenomena now considered complex might become simple with the advance of knowledge; indeed, in principle, the converse is possible, should knowledge degenerate.

3 With respect to Hayek’s appreciation of the complexity of other aspects of Mill’s biography, see Peart (2015, xx): “For those who know the complexity of Mill’s life and work, it is perhaps unsurprising that Hayek did not provide a once-and-for-all resolution to the challenge of locating Mill with respect to nineteenth- or twentieth-century debates … There is also evidence that Hayek’s views on Mill changed over time and that, even at roughly the same time, Hayek emphasized different threads of Mill’s writings.”

4 Caldwell (1992) argues that Hayek was never much of a Popperian falsificationist with respect to the method of economics. I have argued (Scheall, 2015c) that Hayek was never much of a Misesian apriorist. If either of these arguments is sound, then the premise upon which Hutchison drew his conclusion of multiple Hayeks is undercut.

5 The literature on Hayek’s epistemic turn is more extensively reviewed in Scheall (2015b, 41-45).

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Scott Scheall, « On the Method Appropriate to Hayek Studies », Œconomia, 9-1 | 2019, 29-35.

Référence électronique

Scott Scheall, « On the Method Appropriate to Hayek Studies », Œconomia [En ligne], 9-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2019, consulté le 26 juin 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/oeconomia/4599 ; DOI : 10.4000/oeconomia.4599

Haut de page

Auteur

Scott Scheall

Arizona State University, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Faculty of Social Science, scott.scheall@asu.edu

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus d’Œconomia sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Association Œconomia
  • Logo CNRS
  • OpenEdition Journals