Factpinions Quote #3: Will Durant on Pessimism

In The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant delivers his (otherwise respectful) criticism of the great pessimistic determinist, Arthur Schopenhauer:

“There is, of course, a large element of egotism in pessimism: the world is not good enough for us, and we turn up our philosophic noses at it. But this is to forget Spinoza’s lesson, that our terms of moral censure and approbation are merely human judgments, mostly irrelevant when applied to the cosmos as a whole. Perhaps our supercilious disgust with existence is a cover for a secret disgust with ourselves: we have botched and bungled our lives, and we cast the blame upon the “environment,” or the “world,” which have no tongues to utter a defense. The mature man accepts the natural limitations of life [..] In truth the world is neither with us or against us; it is but raw material in our hands, and can be heaven or hell according to what we are.”

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Factpinion Quote #2: The Ricardian Vice

James K. Galbraith, American economist, came out with guns a-blazin’ in a series of email exchanges with Paul Krugman from 1996. Early on, he writes the following:

“Paul [Krugman]’s worldview rests on the belief that useful implications for important questions of public policy can be derived, essentially from first principles, with the help of a well-structured logic. [..] I don’t accept that much of use can be learned about policy in this way. When the world deviates from the principles, as it usually does, the simple lessons go astray. This is not a complaint against math. It is a complaint against indiscriminate application of the deductive method, sometimes called the Ricardian vice, to problems of human action. [..] To combat it, I spend my research time wrestling with real-world data, and I spend much of my writing time warring against the policy ideas of aggressive, ahistorical deductivists.”

(It’s worth noting that the originator of the term “Ricardian vice” was the decidedly right-leaning economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950).)

ul’s worldview rests on the belief that useful implications for important questions of public policy can be derived, essentially from first principles, with the help of a well-structured logic. Well-structured deduction from metaphysical first principles is the Krugman forte.

I don’t accept that much of use can be learned about policy in this way. When the world deviates from the principles, as it usually does, the simple lessons go astray. This is not a complaint against math. It is a complaint against indiscriminate application of the deductive method, sometimes called the Ricardian vice, to problems of human action. Mine is an old gripe against much of what professional economists do; not against science but against scientism, against the pretense of science. To combat it, I spend my research time wrestling with real-world data, and I spend much of my writing time warring against the policy ideas of aggressive, ahistorical deductivists.