Resolving the Riddle: A Second Simple Note in Ontology & Epistemology (Or, There is No Necessary Theist vs Atheist Conflict)

From Facebook:

A few days ago, I said:

“For myself, I have come to a belief that the Universe was never created and will never be destroyed (though of course changes all the time). But true-false, right-wrong, good-evil, good-bad etc exist, and exist objectively in the sense that they would apply to mankind’s deeds even after the extinction of homo sapiens…”

Hune’s question: “Did God say “thou shall not kill” because it is evil, or it is evil because God said “thou shall not kill”? Are ethical values in your view independent entities existing in nature much in the sense of physical objects?”

My answer: “Not really, nothing so complicated. I am much more simple-minded I am afraid. I only mean this: imagine a world in which homo sapiens is extinct (not hard to do really given the extinction of other species). Would it still be true in that world that 2+1=3 in normal arithmetic or that Adolf Hitler caused evil things? My answer is yes.”

Viz., “A simple note in ontology and epistemology”.

What I mean by saying the Universe was never created and will never be destroyed is merely that matter (the elements of the Periodic Table, Hydrogen etc) has always existed and will never not exist.

It is not impossible to imagine an integral defined between negative infinity and infinity of

x (matter)

and

dx (change in matter)

and if someone wished to define that integral

-∞ x dx

as Brahma, YHWH, God, Allah,

the Riddle may have come to be resolved.

[I do not use f(x) because I do not really wish to be mathematical but if you do please set f(x) = x].

We may then sail safely between the dogmatic and sceptical positions of Kaufmann and Freud that I contrasted in  “An example each of dogmatism and scepticism in theology“:

Kaufmann is right to say there is existence but is wishful in assuming benevolence; Freud is right to deny the benevolence but cuts too thickly and denies existence.

I call my position “Non-Theistic” to contrast it with both the Theist and the Atheist — repeating once more that true-false, right-wrong, good-evil, good-bad etc exist, and exist objectively in the sense that they do not require the presence of homo sapiens.

Subroto Roy
November 7 2009, my father’s 94th Birthday.

 

An example each of dogmatism and scepticism in theology

An example each of dogmatism and scepticism in theology

“The only God worth keeping is a God that cannot be kept. The only God worth talking about is a God that cannot be talked about. God is no object of discourse, knowledge, or even experience. He cannot be spoken of, but he can be spoken to; he cannot be seen, but he can be listened to. The only possible relationship with God is to address him and to be addressed by him, here and now… HE IS PRESENT… He is here.”

— Walter Kaufmann, “I and You”,  prologue to Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”.

“It seems not to be true that there is a power in the universe, which watches over the well-being of every individual with parental care and brings all his concerns to a happy ending. On the contrary the destinies of men are incompatible with a universal principle of benevolence or with — what is to some degree contradictory — a universal principle of justice. Earthquakes, floods and fires do not differentiate between the good and devout man, and the sinner and unbeliever. And, even if we leave inanimate nature out of account and consider the destinies of individual men in so far as they depend on their relations with others of their own kind, it is by no means the rule that virtue is rewarded and wickedness punished, but it happens often enough that the violent, the crafty and the unprincipled seize the desirable goods of the earth, while the pious go empty away. Dark, unfeeling and unloving powers determine human destiny; the system of rewards and punishments, which, according to religion, governs the world, seems to have no existence. This is another occasion for abandoning a portion of the animism which has found refuge in religion.”

— Sigmund Freud, “A Philosophy of Life”, in “New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis”, 1933.

first published as a Facebook note…

On the general theory of expertise in democracy: reflections on what emerges from the American “torture memos” today

Twenty years ago, I wrote in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, London & New York, 1989) quoting from Solzhenitsyn’s experience:

“….the received theory of economic policy… must be silent about the appropriate role of the expert not only under conditions of tyranny (Solzhenitsyn: “The prison doctor was the interrogator’s and executioner’s right-hand man. The beaten prisoner would come to on the floor only to hear the doctor’s voice: ‘You can continue, the pulse is normal’” ); but also where the duly elected government of an open and democratic society proceeded to do things patently wrong or tyrannical (the imprisonment of the Japanese Americans). Hence Popper’s “paradox of democracy” and “tyranny of the majority”..… A theory of economic policy which both assumes a free and open society and bases itself upon a moral scepticism cannot have anything to say ultimately about the objective reasons why a free and open society may be preferred to an unfree or closed society, or about the good or bad outcomes that may be produced by the working of democratic processes…”

Today’s Washington Post reports:

“When the CIA began what it called an “increased pressure phase” with captured terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida in the summer of 2002, its first step was to limit the detainee’s human contact to just two people. One was the CIA interrogator, the other a psychologist. During the extraordinary weeks that followed, it was the psychologist who apparently played the more critical role. According to newly released Justice Department documents, the psychologist provided ideas, practical advice and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear — all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so. “No severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted,” a Justice Department lawyer said in a 2002 memo explaining why waterboarding, or simulated drowning, should not be considered torture. The role of health professionals as described in the documents has prompted a renewed outcry from ethicists who say the conduct of psychologists and supervising physicians violated basic standards of their professions. Their names are among the few details censored in the long-concealed Bush administration memos released Thursday, but the documents show a steady stream of psychologists, physicians and other health officials who both kept detainees alive and actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA, according to intelligence officials familiar with the program. “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology,” said Frank Donaghue, chief executive of Physicians for Human Rights, an international advocacy group made up of physicians opposed to torture. “All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” The CIA declined to comment yesterday on the role played by health professionals in the agency’s self-described “enhanced interrogation program,” which operated from 2002 to 2006 in various secret prisons overseas. “The fact remains that CIA’s detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said Thursday in a statement to employees. The Obama administration and its top intelligence leaders have banned harsh interrogations while also strongly opposing investigations or penalties for employees who were following their government’s orders. The CIA dispatched personnel from its office of medical services to each secret prison and evaluated medical professionals involved in interrogations “to make sure they could stand up, psychologically handle it,” according to a former CIA official. The alleged actions of medical professionals in the secret prisons are viewed as particularly troubling by an array of groups, including the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross. AMA policies state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened.” The guidelines allow doctors to treat detainees only “if doing so is in their [detainees’] best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” The American Psychological Association has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization faulted it for failing to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The ICRC, which conducted the first independent interviews of CIA detainees in 2006, said the prisoners were told they would not be killed during interrogations, though one was warned that he would be brought to “the verge of death and back again,” according to a confidential ICRC report leaked to the New York Review of Books last month. “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics,” the ICRC report concluded….” (emphasis added)

Twenty-five years ago, the draft-manuscript that became the book Philosophy of Economics got me into much trouble in American academia. As I have said elsewhere, a gang of “inert game theorists”, similar to many (often unemployable ex-mathematicians) who had come to and still dominate what passes for academic economics in many American and European universities, did not like at all what I was saying. A handful of eminent senior economists – Frank Hahn, T W Schultz, Milton Friedman, James M Buchanan, Sidney Alexander – defended my work and but for their support over the decade 1979-1989, my book would not have seen light of day.  Eventually, I have had to battle over years in the US federal courts over it – only to find myself having to battle bribery of court officers and the suborning of perjury by government legal officers  too! (And speaking of government-paid psychologists, I was even required at one point by my corrupt opponent to undergo tests for having had the temerity of being in court at all! Fortunately for me that particular psychologist declined to participate in the nefariousness of his employer!).

I find all this poignant today as Philosophy of Economics may have, among other things, described the general theoretical problem that has been brought to light today.  I was delighted to hear from a friend in 1993 that my book had been prescribed for a course at Yale Law School and was strewn all over an alley in the bookshop.

Separately, I am also delighted to find that a person pioneering the current work is a daughter of our present PM. I have been sharply critical of Dr Singh’s economics and politics, but I have also said I have had high personal regard for him ever since 1973 when he, as a friend of my father’s, visited our then-home in Paris to advise me before I embarked on my study of economics. My salute to the ACLU’s work in this – may it be an example in defeating cases of State-tyranny in India too.

Subroto Roy,

Alfred Lyall on Christians, Muslims, India, China, Etc, 1908

“THE STATE IN ITS RELATION TO EASTERN AND WESTERN RELIGIONS”

By Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall (1835-1911)

Delivered as President of the Congress for the History of Religions, September 1908.—Fortnightly Review, November 1908.

“In considering the subject of my address, I have been confronted by this difficulty—that in the sections which regulate the order of our proceedings, we have a list of papers that range over all the principal religions, ancient and modern, that have existed and still exist in the world. They are to be treated and discussed by experts whose scholarship, particular studies, and close research entitle them all to address you authoritatively. I have no such special qualifications; and in any case it would be most presumptuous in me to trespass upon their ground. All that I can venture to do, therefore, in the remarks which I propose to address to you to-day, is to attempt a brief general survey of the history of religions from a standpoint which may possibly not fall within the scope of these separate papers.

The four great religions now prevailing in the world, which are historical in the sense that they have been long known to history, I take to be—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Having regard to their origin and derivation, to their history and character, I may be permitted, for my present purpose only, to class the two former as the Religions of the West, and the two latter as the Religions of the East. These are the faiths which still maintain a mighty influence over the minds of mankind. And my object is to compare the political relations, the attitude, maintained toward them, from time to time, by the States and rulers of the people over which these religions have established their spiritual dominion.

The religion of the Jews is not included, though its influence has been incalculable, because it has been caught up, so to speak, into Christianity and Islam, and cannot therefore be counted among those which have made a partition of the religious world. For this reason, perhaps, it has retained to this day its ancient denomination, derived from the tribe or country of its origin; whereas the others are named from a Faith or a Founder. The word Nazarene, denoting the birthplace of Christianity, which is said to be still used in that region, was, as we know, very speedily superseded by its wider title, as the Creed broke out of local limits and was proclaimed universal. There has evidently been a foretime, though it is prehistorical, when, so far as we know, mankind was universally polytheistic; when innumerable rites and worships prevailed without restraint, springing up and contending with each other like the trees in a primeval forest, reflecting a primitive and precarious condition of human society.

I take polytheism to have been, in this earliest stage, the wild growth of superstitious imagination, varied indefinitely by the pressure of circumstance, by accident, by popular caprice, or by the good or evil fortunes of the community. In this stage it can now be seen among barbarous tribes—as, for instance, in Central Africa. And some traces of it still survive, under different pretexts and disguises, in the lowest strata of civilised nations, where it may be said to represent the natural reluctance of the vagrant human fancy to be satisfied with higher forms and purer conceptions that are always imperfectly assimilated by the multitude. Among primitive societies the spheres of human and divine affairs were intermixed and identical; they could not be disentangled. But with the growth of political institutions came gradual separation, or at any rate the subordination of religion to the practical necessities of orderly government and public morals.

That polytheism can exist and flourish in the midst of a highly intellectual and civilised society, we know from the history of Greece and Rome. But in ancient Greece its direct influence upon political affairs seems to have been slight; though it touched at some points upon morality. The function of the State, according to Greek ideas, was to legislate for all the departments of human life and to uphold the moral standard. The law prohibited sacrilege and profanity; it punished open impiety that might bring down divine wrath upon the people at large. The philosophers taught rational ethics; they regarded the popular superstitions with indulgent contempt; but they inculcated the duty of honouring the gods, and the observance of public ceremonial. Beyond these limits the practice of local and customary worship was, I think, free and unrestrained; though I need hardly add that toleration, as understood by the States of antiquity, was a very different thing from the modern principle of religious neutrality. Under the Roman government the connection between the State and religion was much closer, as the dominion of Rome expanded and its power became centralised. The Roman State maintained a strict control and superintendence over the official rituals and worships, which were regulated as a department of the administration, to bind the people together by established rites and worships, in order to cement political and social unity. It is true that the usages of the tribes and principalities that were conquered and annexed were left undisturbed; for the Roman policy, like that of the English in India, was to avoid giving offence to religion; and undoubtedly this policy, in both instances, materially facilitated the rapid building up of a wide dominion. Nevertheless, there was a tendency to draw in the worship toward a common centre. The deities of the conquered provinces were respected and conciliated; the Roman generals even appealed to them for protection and favour, yet they became absorbed and assimilated under Roman names; they were often identified with the gods of the Roman pantheon, and were frequently superseded by the victorious divinities of the new rulers—the strange deities, in fact, were Romanised as well as the foreign tribes and cities. After this manner the Roman empire combined the tolerance of great religious diversity with the supremacy of a centralised government. Political amalgamation brought about a fusion of divine attributes; and latterly the emperor was adored as the symbol of manifest power, ruler and pontiff; he was the visible image of supreme authority. This régime was easily accepted by the simple unsophisticated paganism of Europe. The Romans, with all their statecraft, had as yet no experience of a high religious temperature, of enthusiastic devotion and divine mysteries. But as their conquest and commerce spread eastward, the invasion of Asia let in upon Europe a flood of Oriental divinities, and thus Rome came into contact with much stronger and deeper spiritual forces. The European polytheism might be utilised and administered, the Asiatic deities could not be domesticated and subjected to regulation; the Oriental orgies and strange rites broke in upon the organised State worship; the new ideas and practices came backed by a profound and fervid spiritualism. Nevertheless the Roman policy of bringing religion under authoritative control was more or less successful even in the Asiatic provinces of the empire; the privileges of the temples were restricted; the priesthoods were placed under the general superintendence of the proconsular officials; and Roman divinities gradually found their way into the Asiatic pantheon. But we all know that the religion of the Roman empire was falling into multitudinous confusion when Christianity arose—an austere exclusive faith, with its army of saints, ascetics, and unflinching martyrs, proclaiming worship to be due to one God only, and sternly refusing to acknowledge the divinity of the emperor. Against such a faith an incoherent disorderly polytheism could make no better stand than tribal levies against a disciplined army. The new religion struck directly at the sacrifices that symbolised imperial unity; the passive resistance of Christians was necessarily treated as rebellion, the State made implacable war upon them. Yet the spiritual and moral forces won the victory, and Christianity established itself throughout the empire. Universal religion, following upon universal civil dominion, completed the levelling of local and national distinctions. The Churches rapidly grew into authority superior to the State within their own jurisdiction; they called in the temporal government to enforce theological decisions and to put down heresies; they founded a powerful hierarchy. The earlier Roman constitution had made religion an instrument of administration. When one religion became universal, the churches enlisted the civil ruler into the service of orthodoxy; they converted the State into an instrument for enforcing religion. The pagan empire had issued edicts against Christianity and had suppressed Christian assemblies as tainted with disaffection; the Christian emperors enacted laws against the rites and worships of paganism, and closed temples. It was by the supreme authority of Constantine that, for the first time in the religious history of the world, uniformity of belief was defined by a creed, and sanctioned by the ruler’s assent.

Then came, in Western Europe, the time when the empire at Rome was rent asunder by the inrush of barbarians; but upon its ruins was erected the great Catholic Church of the Papacy, which preserved in the ecclesiastical domain the autocratic imperial tradition. The primacy of the Roman Church, according to Harnack, is essentially the transference to her of Rome’s central position in the religions of the heathen world; the Church united the western races, disunited politically, under the common denomination of Christianity. Yet Christianity had not long established itself throughout all the lands, in Europe and Asia, which had once been under the Roman sovereignty, when the violent irruptions of Islam upset not only the temporal but also the spiritual dominion throughout Western Asia, and along the southern shores of the Mediterranean. The Eastern empire at Constantinople had been weakened by bitter theological dissensions and heresies among the Christians; the votaries of the new, simple, unswerving faith of Mohammed were ardent and unanimous.

In Egypt and Syria the Mohammedans were speedily victorious; the Latin Church and even the Latin language were swept out of North Africa. In Persia the Sassanian dynasty was overthrown, and although there was no immediate and total conversion of the people, Mohammedanism gradually superseded the ancient Zoroastrian cultus as the religion of the Persian State. It was not long before the armies of Islam had triumphed from the Atlantic coast to the Jaxartes river in Central Asia; and conversion followed, speedily or slowly, as the direct result of conquest. Moreover, the Mohammedans invaded Europe. In the south-west they subdued almost all Spain; and in the south-east they destroyed, some centuries later, the Greek empire, though not the Greek Church, and consolidated a mighty rulership at Constantinople. With this prolonged conflict between Islam and Christianity along the borderlands of Europe and Asia began the era of those religious wars that have darkened the history of the Western nations, and have perpetuated the inveterate antipathy between Asiatic and European races, which the spread of Christianity into both continents had softened and might have healed. In the end Christianity has fixed itself permanently in Europe, while Islam is strongly established throughout half Asia. But the sharp collision between the two faiths, the clash of armies bearing the cross and the crescent, generated fierce fanaticism on both sides. The Crusades kindled a fiery militant and missionary spirit previously unknown to religions, whereby religious propagation became the mainspring and declared object of conquest and colonisation.

Finally, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the great secession from the Roman Church divided the nations of Western Europe into hostile camps, and throughout the long wars of that period political jealousies and ambitions were inflamed by religious animosities. In Eastern Europe the Greek Church fell under almost complete subordination to the State. The history of Europe and Western Asia records, therefore, a close connection and community of interests between the States and the orthodox faiths; a combination which has had a very potent influence, during many centuries, upon the course of civil affairs, upon the fortunes, or misfortunes, of nations.

Up to the sixteenth century, at least, it was universally held, by Christianity and by Islam, that the State was bound to enforce orthodoxy; conversion and the suppression or expulsion of heretics were public duties. Unity of creed was thought necessary for national unity—a government could not undertake to maintain authority, or preserve the allegiance of its subjects, in a realm divided and distracted by sectarian controversies. On these principles Christianity and Islam were consolidated, in union with the States or in close alliance with them; and the geographical boundaries of these two faiths, and of their internal divisions respectively, have not materially changed up to the present day.

Let me now turn to the history of religion in those countries of further Asia, which were never reached by Greek or Roman conquest or civilisation, where the ancient forms of worship and conceptions of divinity, which existed before Christianity and Islam, still flourish. And here I shall only deal with the relations of the State to religion in India and China and their dependencies, because these vast and populous empires contain the two great religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, of purely Asiatic origin and character, which have assimilated to a large extent, and in a certain degree elevated, the indigenous polytheism, and which still exercise a mighty influence over the spiritual and moral condition of many millions. We know what a tremendous power religion has been in the wars and politics of the West. I submit that in Eastern Asia, beyond the pale of Islam, the history of religion has been very different. Religious wars—I mean wars caused by the conflict of militant faiths contending for superiority—were, I believe, unknown on any great scale to the ancient civilisations. It seems to me that until Islam invaded India the great religious movements and changes in that region had seldom or never been the consequence of, nor had been materially affected by, wars, conquests, or political revolutions. Throughout Europe and Mohammedan Asia the indigenous deities and their temples have disappeared centuries ago; they have been swept away by the forces of Church and State combined to exterminate them; they have all yielded to the lofty overruling ideal of monotheism.

But the tide of Mohammedanism reached its limit in India; the people, though conquered, were but partly converted, and eastward of India there have been no important Mohammedan rulerships. On this side of Asia, therefore, two great religions, Buddhism and Brahmanism, have held their ground from times far anterior to Christianity; they have retained the elastic comprehensive character of polytheism, purified and elevated by higher conceptions, developed by the persistent competition of diverse ideas and forms among the people, unrestrained by attempts of superior organised faiths to obliterate the lower and weaker species. In that region political despotism has prevailed immemorially; religious despotism, in the sense of the legal establishment of one faith or worship to the exclusion of all others, of uniformity imposed by coercion, of proselytism by persecution, is unknown to history: the governments have been absolute and personal; the religions have been popular and democratic. They have never been identified so closely with the ruling power as to share its fortunes, or to be used for the consolidation of successful conquest. Nor, on the other hand, has a ruler ever found it necessary, for the security of his throne, to conform to the religion of his subjects, and to abjure all others. The political maxim, that the sovereign and his subjects should be of one and the same religion, ‘Cujus regio ejus religio’, has never prevailed in this part of the world.

And although in India, the land of their common origin, Buddhism widely displaced and overlaid Brahmanism, while it was in its turn, after several centuries, overcome and ejected by a Brahmanic revival, yet I believe that history records no violent contests or collisions between them; nor do we know that the armed force of the State played any decisive part in these spiritual revolutions. I do not maintain that Buddhism has owed nothing to State influence. It represents certain doctrines of the ancient Indian theosophy, incarnate, as one might say, in the figure of a spiritual Master, the Indian prince, Sakya Gautama, who was the type and example of ascetic quietism; it embodies the idea of salvation, or emancipation attainable by man’s own efforts, without aid from priests or divinities. Buddhism is the earliest, by many centuries, of the faiths that claim descent from a personal founder. It emerges into authentic history with the empire of Asoka, who ruled over the greater part of India some 250 years before Christ, and its propagation over his realm and the countries adjacent is undoubtedly due to the influence, example, and authority of that devout monarch.

According to Mr. Vincent Smith, from whose valuable work on the Early History of India I take the description of Asoka’s religious policy, the king, renouncing after one necessary war all further military conquest, made it the business of his life to employ his autocratic power in directing the preaching and teaching of the Law of Piety, which he had learnt from his Buddhist priesthood. All his high officers were commanded to instruct the people in the way of salvation; he sent missions to foreign countries; he issued edicts promulgating ethical doctrines, and the rules of a devout life; he made pilgrimages to the sacred places; and finally he assumed the yellow robe of a Buddhist monk.

Asoka elevated, so Mr. Smith has said, a sect of Hinduism to the rank of a world-religion. Nevertheless, I think it may be affirmed that the emperor consistently refrained from the forcible conversion of his subjects, and indeed the use of compulsion would have apparently been a breach of his own edicts, which insist on the principle of toleration, and declare the propagation of the Law of Piety to be his sole object. Asoka made no attempt to persecute Brahmanism; and it seems clear that the extraordinary success of Buddhism in India cannot be attributed to war or to conquest. To imperial influence and example much must be ascribed, yet I think Buddhism owed much more to its spiritual potency, to its superior faculty of transmuting and assimilating, instead of abolishing, the elementary instincts and worships, endowing them with a higher significance, attracting and stimulating devotion by impressive rites and ceremonies, impressing upon the people the dogma of the soul’s transmigration and its escape from the miseries of sentient existence by the operation of merits. And of all great religions it is the least political, for the practice of asceticism and quietism, of monastic seclusion from the working world, is necessarily adverse to any active connection with mundane affairs.

I do not know that the mysterious disappearance of Buddhism from India can be accounted for by any great political revolution, like that which brought Islam into India. It seems to have vanished before the Mohammedans had gained any footing in the country.

Meanwhile Buddhism is said to have penetrated into the Chinese empire by the first century of the Christian era. Before that time the doctrines of Confucius and Laotze were the dominant philosophies; rather moral than religious, though ancestral worship and the propitiation of spirits were not disallowed, and were to a certain extent enjoined. Laotze, the apostle of Taoism, appears to have preached a kind of Stoicism—the observance of the order of Nature in searching for the right way of salvation, the abhorrence of vicious sensuality—and the cultivation of humility, self-sacrifice, and simplicity of life. He condemned altogether the use of force in the sphere of religion or morality; though he admitted that it might be necessary for the purposes of civil government. The system of Confucius inculcated justice, benevolence, self-control, obedience and loyalty to the sovereign—all the civic virtues; it was a moral code without a metaphysical background; the popular worships were tolerated, reverence for ancestors conduced to edification; the gods were to be honoured, though it was well to keep aloof from them; he disliked religious fervour, and of things beyond experience he had nothing to say.

Buddhism, with its contempt for temporal affairs, treating life as a mere burden, and the soul’s liberation from existence as the end and object of meditative devotion, must have imported a new and disturbing element into the utilitarian philosophies of ancient China. For many centuries Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are said to have contended for the patronage and recognition of the Chinese emperors. Buddhism was alternately persecuted and protected, expelled and restored by imperial decree. Priesthoods and monastic orders are institutions of which governments are naturally jealous; the monasteries were destroyed or rebuilt, sacerdotal orders and celibacy suppressed or encouraged by imperial decrees, according to the views and prepossessions of successive dynasties or emperors. Nevertheless the general policy of Chinese rulers and ministers seems not to have varied essentially. Their administrative principle was that religion must be prevented from interfering with affairs of State, that abuses and superstitious extravagances are not so much offences against orthodoxy as matters for the police, and as such must be put down by the secular arm. Upon this policy successive dynasties appear to have acted continuously up to the present day in China, where the relations of the State to religions are, I think, without parallel elsewhere in the modern world. One may find some resemblance to the attitude of the Roman emperors towards rites and worships among the population, in the Chinese emperor’s reverent observance and regulation of the rites and ceremonies performed by him as the religious chief and representative before Heaven of the great national interests. The deification of deceased emperors is a solemn rite ordained by proclamation. As the Ius sacrum, the body of rights and duties in the matter of religion, was regarded in Rome as a department of the Ius publicum, belonging to the fundamental constitution of the State, so in China the ritual code was incorporated into the statute books, and promulgated with imperial sanction. Now we know that in Rome the established ritual was legally prescribed, though otherwise strange deities and their worships were admitted indiscriminately. But the Chinese Government goes much further. It appears to regard all novel superstitions, and especially foreign worships, as the hotbed of sedition and disloyalty. Unlicensed deities and sects are put down by the police; magicians and sorcerers are arrested; and the peculiar Chinese practice of canonising deceased officials and paying sacrificial honours to local celebrities after death is strictly reserved by the Board of Ceremonies for imperial consideration and approval. The Censor, to whom any proposal of this kind must be entrusted, is admonished that he must satisfy himself by inquiry of its validity. An official who performs sacred rites in honour of a spirit or holy personage not recognised by the Ritual Code, was liable, under laws that may be still in force, to corporal punishment; and the adoration by private families of spirits whose worship is reserved for public ceremonial was a heinous offence. No such rigorous control over the multiplication of rites and deities has been instituted elsewhere. On the other hand, while in other countries the State has recognised no more than one established religion, the Chinese Government formally recognises three denominations. Buddhism has been sanctioned by various edicts and endowments, yet the State divinities belong to the Taoist pantheon, and their worship is regulated by public ordinances; while Confucianism represents official orthodoxy, and its precepts embody the latitudinarian spirit of the intellectual classes. We know that the Chinese people make use, so to speak, of all three religions indiscriminately, according to their individual whims, needs, or experience of results. So also a politic administration countenances these divisions and probably finds some interest in maintaining them. The morality of the people requires some religious sanction; and it is this element with which the State professes its chief concern. We are told on good authority that one of the functions of high officials is to deliver public lectures freely criticising and discouraging indolent monasticism and idolatry from the standpoint of rational ethics, as follies that are reluctantly tolerated. Yet the Government has never been able to keep down the fanatics, mystics, and heretical sects that are incessantly springing up in China, as elsewhere in Asia; though they are treated as pestilent rebels and law-breakers, to be exterminated by massacre and cruel punishments; and bloody repression of this kind has been the cause of serious insurrections. It is to be observed that all religious persecution is by the direct action of the State, not instigated or insisted upon by a powerful orthodox priesthood. But a despotic administration which undertakes to control and circumscribe all forms and manifestations of superstition in a vast polytheistic multitude of its subjects, is inevitably driven to repressive measures of the utmost severity. Neither Christianity nor Islam attempted to regulate polytheism, their mission was to exterminate it, and they succeeded mainly because in those countries the State was acting with the support and under the uncompromising pressure of a dominant church or faith. Some writers have noticed a certain degree of resemblance between the policy of the Roman empire and that of the Chinese empire toward religion. We may read in Gibbon that the Roman magistrates regarded the various modes of worship as equally useful, that sages and heroes were exalted to immortality and entitled to reverence and adoration, and that philosophic officials, viewing with indulgence the superstitions of the multitude, diligently practised the ceremonies of their fathers. So far, indeed, his description of the attitude of the State toward polytheism may be applicable to China; but although the Roman and Chinese emperors both assumed the rank of divinity, and were supreme in the department of worships, the Roman administration never attempted to regulate and restrain polytheism at large on the Chinese system. The religion of the Gentiles, said Hobbes, is a part of their policy; and it may be said that this is still the policy of Oriental monarchies, who admit no separation between the secular and the ecclesiastic jurisdiction. They would agree with Hobbes that temporal and spiritual government are but two words brought into the world to make men see double and mistake their lawful sovereign. But while in Mohammedan Asia the State upholds orthodox uniformity, in China and Japan the mainspring of all such administrative action is political expediency. It may be suggested that in the mind of these far-Eastern people religion has never been conceived as something quite apart from human experience and the affairs of the visible world; for Buddhism, with its metaphysical doctrines, is a foreign importation, corrupted and materialised in China and Japan. And we may observe that from among the Mongolian races, which have produced mighty conquerors and founded famous dynasties from Constantinople to Pekin, no mighty prophet, no profound spiritual teacher, has arisen. Yet in China, as throughout all the countries of the Asiatic mainland, an enthusiast may still gather together ardent proselytes, and fresh revelations may create among the people unrest that may ferment and become heated up to the degree of fanaticism, and explode against attempts made to suppress it. The Taeping insurrection, which devastated cities and provinces in China, and nearly overthrew the Manchu dynasty, is a striking example of the volcanic fires that underlie the surface of Asiatic societies. It was quenched in torrents of blood after lasting some ten years. And very recently there has been a determined revolt of the Lamas in Eastern Tibet, where the provincial administration is, as we know, sacerdotal.

The imperial troops are said to be crushing it with unrelenting severity. These are the perilous experiences of a philosophic Government that assumes charge and control over the religions of some three hundred millions of Asiatics.

I can only make a hasty reference to Japan. In that country the relations of the State to religions appear to have followed the Chinese model. Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, are impartially recognised. The emperor presides over official worship as high priest of his people; the liturgical ordinances are issued by imperial rescripts not differing in form from other public edicts. The dominant article of faith is the divinity of Japan and its emperor; and Shinto, the worship of the gods of nature, is understood to be patronised chiefly with the motive of preserving the national traditions. But in Japan the advance of modern science and enlightened scepticism may have diminished the importance of the religious department. Shinto, says a recent writer, still embodies the religion of the people; yet in 1877 a decree was issued declaring it to be no more than a convenient system of State ceremonial.[ The Development of Religion in Japan, G. W. Knox, 1907] And in 1889 an article of the constitution granted freedom of belief and worship to all Japanese subjects, without prejudice to peace, order, and loyalty.

In India the religious situation is quite different. I think it is without parallel elsewhere in the world. Here we are at the fountainhead of metaphysical theology, of ideas that have flowed eastward and westward across Asia. And here, also, we find every species of primitive polytheism, unlimited and multitudinous; we can survey a confused medley of divinities, of rites and worships incessantly varied by popular whim and fancy, by accidents, and by the pressure of changing circumstances. Hinduism permits any doctrine to be taught, any sort of theory to be held regarding the divine attributes and manifestations, the forces of nature, or the mysterious functions of mind or body. Its tenets have never been circumscribed by a creed; its free play has never been checked or regulated by State authority. Now, at first sight, this is not unlike the popular polytheism of the ancient world, before the triumph of Christianity. There are passages in St. Augustine’s Civitas Dei, describing the worship of the unconverted pagans among whom he lived, that might have been written yesterday by a Christian bishop in India. And we might ask why all this polytheism was not swept out from among such a highly intellectual people as the Indians, with their restless pursuit of divine knowledge, by some superior faith, by some central idea. Undoubtedly the material and moral conditions, and the course of events which combine to stamp a particular form of religion upon any great people, are complex and manifold; but into this inquiry I cannot go. I can only point out that the institution of caste has riveted down Hindu society into innumerable divisions upon a general religious basis, and that the sacred books separated the Hindu theologians into different schools, preventing uniformity of worship or of creed. And it is to be observed that these books are not historical; they give no account of the rise and spread of a faith. The Hindu theologian would say, in the words of an early Christian father, that the objects of divine knowledge are not historical, that they can only be apprehended intellectually, that within experience there is no reality. And the fact that Brahmanism has no authentic inspired narrative, that it is the only great religion not concentrated round the life and teachings of a person, may be one reason why it has remained diffuse and incoherent. All ways of salvation are still open to the Hindus; the canon of their scripture has never been authoritatively closed. New doctrines, new sects, fresh theological controversies, are incessantly modifying and superseding the old scholastic interpretations of the mysteries, for Hindus, like Asiatics everywhere, are still in that condition of mind when a fresh spiritual message is eagerly received. Vishnu and Siva are the realistic abstractions of the understanding from objects of sense, from observation of the destructive and reproductive operations of nature; they represent among educated men separate systems of worship which, again, are parted into different schools or theories regarding the proper ways and methods of attaining to spiritual emancipation. Yet the higher philosophy and the lower polytheism are not mutually antagonistic; on the contrary, they support each other; for Brahmanism accepts and allies itself with the popular forms of idolatry, treating them as outward visible signs of an inner truth, as indications of all-pervading pantheism. The peasant and the philosopher reverence the same deity, perform the same rite; they do not mean the same thing, but they do not quarrel on this account. Nevertheless, it is certainly remarkable that this inorganic medley of ideas and worships should have resisted for so many ages the invasion and influence of the coherent faiths that have won ascendancy, complete or dominant, on either side of India, the west and the east; it has thrown off Buddhism, it has withstood the triumphant advance of Islam, it has as yet been little affected by Christianity. Probably the political history of India may account in some degree for its religious disorganisation. I may propound the theory that no religion has obtained supremacy, or at any rate definite establishment, in any great country except with the active co-operation, by force or favour, of the rulers, whether by conquest, as in Western Asia, or by patronage and protection, as in China. The direct influence and recognition of the State has been an indispensable instrument of religious consolidation. But until the nineteenth century the whole of India, from the mountains to the sea, had never been united under one stable government; the country was for ages parcelled out into separate principalities, incessantly contending for territory. And even the Moghul empire, which was always at war upon its frontiers, never acquired universal dominion. The Moghul emperors, except Aurungzeb, were by no means bigoted Mohammedans; and their obvious interest was to abstain from meddling with Hinduism. Yet the irruption of Islam into India seems rather to have stimulated religious activity among the Hindus, for during the Mohammedan period various spiritual teachers arose, new sects were formed, and theological controversies divided the intellectual classes. To these movements the Mohammedan governments must have been for a long time indifferent; and among the new sects the principle of mutual toleration was universal. Towards the close of the Moghul empire, however, Hinduism, provoked by the bigotry of the Emperor Aurungzeb, became a serious element of political disturbance. Attempts to suppress forcibly the followers of Nanak Guru, and the execution of one spiritual leader of the Sikhs, turned the Sikhs from inoffensive quietists into fanatical warriors; and by the eighteenth century they were in open revolt against the empire. They were, I think, the most formidable embodiment of militant Hinduism known to Indian history. By that time, also, the Marathas in South-West India were declaring themselves the champions of the Hindu religion against the Mohammedan oppression; and to the Sikhs and Marathas the dislocation of the Moghul empire may be very largely attributed. We have here a notable example of the dynamic power upon politics of revolts that are generated by religious fermentation, and a proof of the strength that can be exerted by a pacific inorganic polytheism in self-defence, when ambitious rebels proclaim themselves defenders of a faith. The Marathas and the Sikhs founded the only rulerships whose armies could give the English serious trouble in the field during the nineteenth century. On the whole, however, when we survey the history of India, and compare it with that of Western Asia, we may say that although the Hindus are perhaps the most intensely religious people in the world, Hinduism has never been, like Christianity, Islam, and to some extent Buddhism, a religion established by the State. Nor has it suffered much from the State’s power. It seems strange, indeed, that Mohammedanism, a compact proselytising faith, closely united with the civil rulership, should have so slightly modified, during seven centuries of dominion, this infinitely divided polytheism. Of course, Mohammedanism made many converts, and annexed a considerable number of the population—yet the effect was rather to stiffen than to loosen the bonds that held the mass of the people to their traditional divinities, and to the institution of castes. Moreover the antagonism of the two religions, the popular and the dynastic, was a perpetual element of weakness in a Mohammedan empire. In India polytheism could not be crushed, as in Western Asia, by Islam; neither could it be controlled and administered, as in Eastern Asia; yet the Moghul emperors managed to keep on good terms with it, so long as they adhered to a policy of toleration. To the Mohammedan empire has succeeded another foreign dominion, which practises not merely tolerance but complete religious neutrality.

Looking back over the period of a hundred years, from 1757 to 1857, during which the British dominion was gradually extended over India, we find that the British empire, like the Roman, met with little or no opposition from religion. Hindus and Mohammedans, divided against each other, were equally willing to form alliances with, and to fight on the side of, the foreigner who kept religion entirely outside politics. And the British Government, when established, has so carefully avoided offence to caste or creed that on one great occasion only, the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, have the smouldering fires of credulous fanaticism broken out against our rule. I believe the British-Indian position of complete religious neutrality to be unique among Asiatic governments, and almost unknown in Europe. The Anglo-Indian sovereignty does not identify itself with the interests of a single faith, as in Mohammedan kingdoms, nor does it recognise a definite ecclesiastical jurisdiction in things spiritual, as in Catholic Europe. Still less has our Government adopted the Chinese system of placing the State at the head of different rituals for the purpose of controlling them all, and proclaiming an ethical code to be binding on all denominations. The British ruler, while avowedly Christian, ignores all religions administratively, interfering only to suppress barbarous or indecent practices when the advance of civilisation has rendered them obsolete. Public instruction, so far as the State is concerned, is entirely secular; the universal law is the only authorised guardian of morals; to expound moral duties officially, as things apart from religion, has been found possible in China, but not in India. But the Chinese Government can issue edicts enjoining public morality and rationalism because the State takes part in the authorised worship of the people, and the emperor assumes pontifical office. The British Government in India, on the other hand, disowns official connection with any religion. It places all its measures on the sole ground of reasonable expediency, of efficient administration; it seeks to promote industry and commerce, and material civilisation generally; it carefully avoids giving any religious colour whatever to its public acts; and the result is that our Government, notwithstanding its sincere professions of absolute neutrality, is sometimes suspected of regarding all religion with cynical indifference, possibly even with hostility. Moreover, religious neutrality, though it is right, just, and the only policy which the English in India could possibly adopt, has certain political disadvantages. The two most potent influences which still unite and divide the Asiatic peoples, are race and religion; a Government which represents both these forces, as, for instance, in Afghanistan, has deep roots in a country. A dynasty that can rely on the support of an organised religion, and stands forth as the champion of a dominant faith, has a powerful political power at its command. The Turkish empire, weak, ill-governed, repeatedly threatened with dismemberment, embarrassed internally by the conflict of races, has been preserved for the last hundred years by its incorporation with the faith of Islam, by the Sultan’s claim to the Caliphate. To attack it is to assault a religious citadel; it is the bulwark on the west of Mohammedan Asia, as Afghanistan is the frontier fortress of Islam on the east. A leading Turkish politician has very recently said: ‘It is in Islam pure and simple that lies the strength of Turkey as an independent State; and if the Sultan’s position as religious chief were encroached upon by constitutional reforms, the whole Ottoman empire would be in danger.’ We have to remember that for ages religious enthusiasm has been, and still is in some parts of Asia, one of the strongest incentives to military ardour and fidelity to a standard on the battlefield. Identity of creed has often proved more effective, in war, than territorial patriotism; it has surmounted racial and tribal antipathies; while religious antagonism is still in many countries a standing impediment to political consolidation. When, therefore, we survey the history of religions, though this sketch is necessarily very imperfect and inadequate, we find Mohammedanism still identified with the fortunes of Mohammedan rulers; and we know that for many centuries the relations of Christianity to European States have been very close. In Europe the ardent perseverance and intellectual superiority of great theologians, of ecclesiastical statesmen supported by autocratic rulers, have hardened and beat out into form doctrines and liturgies that it was at one time criminal to disregard or deny, dogmatic articles of faith that were enforced by law. By these processes orthodoxy emerged compact, sharply defined, irresistible, out of the strife and confusion of heresies; the early record of the churches has pages spotted with tears and stained with blood. But at the present time European States seem inclined to dissolve their alliance with the churches, and to arrange a kind of judicial separation between the altar and the throne, though in very few cases has a divorce been made absolute. No State, in civilised countries, now assists in the propagation of doctrine; and ecclesiastical influence is of very little service to a Government. The civil law, indeed, makes continual encroachments on the ecclesiastical domain, questions its authority, and usurps its jurisdiction. Modern erudition criticises the historical authenticity of the scriptures, philosophy tries to undermine the foundations of belief; the governments find small interest in propping up edifices that are shaken by internal controversies. In Mohammedan Asia, on the other hand, the connection between the orthodox faith and the States is firmly maintained, for the solidarity is so close that disruptions would be dangerous, and a Mohammedan rulership over a majority of unbelievers would still be perilously unstable. I have thus endeavoured to show that the historical relations of Buddhism and Hinduism to the State have been in the past, and are still in the present time, very different from the situation in the West. There has always existed, I submit, one essential distinction of principle. Religious propagation, forcible conversion, aided and abetted by the executive power of the State, and by laws against heresy or dissent, have been defended in the West by the doctors of Islam, and formerly by Christian theologians, by the axiom that all means are justifiable for extirpating false teachers who draw souls to perdition. The right and duty of the civil magistrate to maintain truth, in regard to which Bossuet declared all Christians to be unanimous, and which is still affirmed in the Litany of our Church, is a principle from which no Government, three centuries ago, dissented in theory, though in practice it needed cautious handling. I do not think that this principle ever found its way into Hinduism or Buddhism; I doubt, that is to say, whether the civil government was at any time called in to undertake or assist propagation of those religions as part of its duty. Nor do I know that the States of Eastern Asia, beyond the pale of Islam, claim or exercise the right of insisting on conformance to particular doctrines, because they are true. The erratic manifestations of the religious spirit throughout Asia, constantly breaking out in various forms and figures, in thaumaturgy, mystical inspiration, in orgies and secret societies, have always disquieted these Asiatic States, yet, so far as I can ascertain, the employment of force to repress them has always been justified on administrative or political grounds, as distinguishable from theological motives pure and simple. Sceptics and agnostics have been often marked out for persecution in the West, but I do not think that they have been molested in India, China, or Japan, where they abound, because they seldom meddle with politics.[ ‘Atheism did never disturb States’ (Bacon)]. It may perhaps be admitted, however, that a Government which undertakes to regulate impartially all rites and worship among its subjects is at a disadvantage by comparison with a Government that acts as the representative of a great church or an exclusive faith. It bears the sole undivided responsibility for measures of repression; it cannot allege divine command or even the obligation of punishing impiety for the public good. To conclude. In Asiatic States the superintendence of religious affairs is an integral attribute of the sovereignty, which no Government, except the English in India, has yet ventured to relinquish; and even in India this is not done without some risk, for religion and politics are still intermingled throughout the world; they act and react upon each other everywhere. They are still far from being disentangled in our own country, where the theory that a Government in its collective character must profess and even propagate some religion has not been very long obsolete. It was maintained seventy years ago by a great statesman who was already rising into prominence, by Mr. Gladstone. The text of Mr. Gladstone’s argument, in his book on the relations of the State with the Church, was Hooker’s saying, that the religious duty of kings is the weightiest part of their sovereignty; while Macaulay, in criticising this position, insisted that the main, if not the only, duty of a Government, to which all other objects must be subordinate, was the protection of persons and property. These two eminent politicians were, in fact, the champions of the ancient and the modern ideas of sovereignty; for the theory that a State is bound to propagate the religion that it professes was for many centuries the accepted theory of all Christian rulerships, though I think it now survives only in Mohammedan kingdoms. As the influence of religion in the sphere of politics declines, the State becomes naturally less concerned with the superintendence of religion; and the tendency of constitutional Governments seems to be towards abandoning it. The States that have completely dissolved connection with ecclesiastical institutions are the two great republics, the United States of America and France. We can discern at this moment a movement towards constitutional reforms in Mohammedan Asia, in Turkey, and Persia, and if they succeed it will be most interesting to observe the effect which liberal reforms will produce upon the relation of Mohammedan Governments with the dominant faith, and on which side the religious teachers will be arrayed. It is certain, at any rate, that for a long time to come religion will continue to be a potent factor in Asiatic politics; and I may add that the reconciliation of civil with religious liberty is one of the most arduous of the many problems to be solved by the promoters of national unity.”

Aldous Huxley’s Essay “DH Lawrence”

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was a friend and admirer of DH Lawrence. Three years after Lawrence’s death in 1930, he edited and published The Letters of DH Lawrence.

“D. H. Lawrence”  by Aldous Huxley

“It is impossible to write about Lawrence except as an artist. He was an artist first of all, and the fact of his being an artist explains a life which seems, if you forget it, inexplicably strange. In Son of Woman, Mr. Middleton Murry has written at great length about Lawrence — but about a Lawrence whom you would never suspect, from reading that curious essay in destructive hagiography, of being an artist. For Mr. Murry almost completely ignores the fact that his subject — his victim, I had almost said — was one whom “the fates had stigmatized ‘writer’.” His book is Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark — for all its metaphysical subtleties and its Freudian ingenuities, very largely irrelevant. The absurdity of his critical method becomes the more manifest when we reflect that nobody would ever have heard of a Lawrence who was not an artist.

An artist is the sort of artist he is, because he happens to possess certain gifts. And he leads the sort of life he does in fact lead, because he is an artist, and an artist with a particular kind of mental endowment. Now there are general abilities and there are special talents. A man who is born with a great share of some special talent is probably less deeply affected by nurture than one whose ability is generalized. His gift is his fate, and he follows a predestined course, from which no ordinary power can deflect him. In spite of Helvetius and Dr. Watson, it seems pretty obvious that no amount of education — including under that term everything from the Oedipus complex to the English Public School system — could have prevented Mozart from being a musician, or musicianship from being the central fact in Mozart’s life. And how would a different education have modified the expression of, say, Blake’s gift? It is, of course, impossible to answer. One can only express the unverifiable conviction that an art so profoundly individual and original, so manifestly “inspired,” would have remained fundamentally the same whatever (within reasonable limits) had been the circumstances of Blake’s upbringing. Lawrence, as Mr. F. R. Leavis insists, has many affinities with Blake. “He had the same gift of knowing what he was interested in, the same power of distinguishing his own feelings and emotions from conventional sentiment, the same ‘terrifying honesty.’ ” Like Blake, like any man possessed of great special talents, he was predestined by his gifts. Explanations of him in terms of a Freudian hypothesis of nurture may be interesting, but they do not explain. That Lawrence was profoundly affected by his love for his mother and by her excessive love for him, is obvious to anyone who has read Sons and Lovers. None the less it is, to me at any rate, almost equally obvious that even if his mother had died when he was a child, Lawrence would still have been, essentially and fundamentally, Lawrence. Lawrence’s biography does not account for Lawrence’s achievement. On the contrary, his achievement, or rather the gift that made the achievement possible, accounts for a great deal of his biography. He lived as he lived, because he was, intrinsically and from birth, what he was. If we would write intelligibly of Lawrence, we must answer, with all their implications, two questions: first, what sort of gifts did he have? and secondly, how did the possession of these gifts affect the way he responded to experience?

Lawrence’s special and characteristic gift was an extraordinary sensitiveness to what Wordsworth called “unknown modes of being.” He was always intensely aware of the mystery of the world, and the mystery was always for him a numen, divine. Lawrence could never forget, as most of us almost continuously forget, the dark presence of the otherness that lies beyond the boundaries of man’s conscious mind. This special sensibility was accompanied by a prodigious power of rendering the immediately experienced otherness in terms of literary art.

Such was Lawrence’s peculiar gift. His possession of it accounts for many things. It accounts, to begin with, for his attitude toward sex. His particular experiences as a son and as a lover may have intensified his preoccupation with the subject; but they certainly did not make it. Whatever his experiences, Lawrence must have been preoccupied with sex; his gift made it inevitable. For Lawrence, the significance of the sexual experience was this: that, in it, the immediate, non-mental knowledge of divine otherness is brought, so to speak, to a focus — a focus of darkness. Parodying Matthew Arnold’s famous formula, we may say that sex is something not ourselves that makes for — not righteousness, for the essence of religion is not righteousness; there is a spiritual world, as Kierkegaard insists, beyond the ethical — rather, that makes for life, for divineness, for union with the mystery. Paradoxically, this something not ourselves is yet a something lodged within us; this quintessence of otherness is yet the quintessence of our proper being. “And God the Father, the Inscrutable, the Unknowable, we know in the flesh, in Woman. She is the door for our in-going and our out-coming. In her we go back to the Father; but like the witnesses of the transfiguration, blind and unconscious.” Yes, blind and unconscious; otherwise it is a revelation, not of divine otherness, but of very human evil. “The embrace of love, which should bring darkness and oblivion, would with these lovers (the hero and heroine of one of Poe’s tales) be a daytime thing, bringing more heightened consciousness, visions, spectrum-visions, prismatic. The evil thing that daytime love-making is, and all sex-palaver!” How Lawrence hated Eleonora and Ligeia and Roderick Usher and all such soulful Mrs. Shandies, male as well as female! What a horror, too, he had of all Don Juans, all knowing sensualists and conscious libertines! (About the time he was writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover he read the memoirs of Casanova, and was profoundly shocked.) And how bitterly he loathed the Wilhelm-Meisterish view of love as an education, as a means to culture, a Sandow-exerciser for the soul! To use love in this way, consciously and deliberately, seemed to Lawrence wrong, almost a blasphemy. “It seems to me queer,” he says to a fellow-writer, “that you prefer to present men chiefly — as if you cared for women not so much for what they were in themselves as for what the men saw in them. So that after all in your work women seem not to have an existence, save they are the projections of the men. . . It’s the positivity of women you seem to deny — make them sort of instrumental.” The instrumentality of Wilhelm Meister’s women shocked Lawrence profoundly. . .

For someone with a gift for sensing the mystery of otherness, true love must necessarily be, in Lawrence’s vocabulary, nocturnal. So must true knowledge. Nocturnal and tactual — a touching in the night. Man inhabits, for his own convenience, a home-made universe within the greater alien world of external matter and his own irrationality. Out of the illimitable blackness of that world the light of his customary thinking scoops, as it were, a little illuminated cave — a tunnel of brightness, in which, from the birth of consciousness to its death, he lives, moves and has his being. For most of us this bright tunnel is the whole world. We ignore the outer darkness; or if we cannot ignore it, if it presses too insistently upon us, we disapprove, being afraid. Not so Lawrence. He had eyes that could see, beyond the walls of light, far into the darkness, sensitive fingers that kept him continually aware of the environing mystery. He could not be content with the homemade, human tunnel, could not conceive that anyone else should be content with it. Moreover — and in this he was unlike those others, to whom the world’s mystery is continuously present, the great philosophers and men of science — he did not want to increase the illuminated area; he approved of the outer darkness, he felt at home in it. Most men live in a little puddle of light thrown by the gig-lamps of habit and their immediate interest; but there is also the pure and powerful illumination of the disinterested scientific intellect. To Lawrence, both lights were suspect, both seemed to falsify what was, for him, the immediately apprehended reality — the darkness of mystery. “My great religion,” he was already saying in 1912, “is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what the blood feels, and believes, and says, is always true.” Like Blake, who had prayed to be delivered from “single vision and Newton’s sleep”: like Keats, who had drunk destruction to Newton for having explained the rainbow, Lawrence disapproved of too much knowledge, on the score that it diminished men’s sense of wonder and blunted their sensitiveness to the great mystery. His dislike of science was passionate and expressed itself in the most fantastically unreasonable terms. “All scientists are liars,” he would say, when I brought up some experimentally established fact, which he happened to dislike. “Liars, liars!” It was a most convenient theory. I remember in particular one long and violent argument on evolution, in the reality of which Lawrence always passionately disbelieved. “But look at the evidence, Lawrence,” I insisted, “look at all the evidence.” His answer was characteristic. “But I don’t care about evidence. Evidence doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t feel it here.” And he pressed his two hands on his solar plexus. I abandoned the argument and thereafter never, if I could avoid it, mentioned the hated name of science in his presence. Lawrence could give so much, and what he gave was so valuable, that it was absurd and profitless to spend one’s time with him disputing about a matter in which he absolutely refused to take a rational interest. Whatever the intellectual consequences, he remained through thick and thin unshakably loyal to his own genius. The daimon which possessed him was, he felt, a divine thing, which he would never deny or explain away, never even ask to accept a compromise. This loyalty to his own self, or rather to his gift, to the strange and powerful numen which, he felt, used him as its tabernacle, is fundamental in Lawrence and accounts, as nothing else can do, for all that the world found strange in his beliefs and his behavior. It was not an incapacity to understand that made him reject those generalizations and abstractions by means of which the philosophers and the men of science try to open a path for the human spirit through the chaos of phenomena. Not incapacity, I repeat; for Lawrence had, over and above his peculiar gift, an extremely acute intelligence. He was a clever man as well as a man of genius. (In his boyhood and adolescence he had been a great passer of examinations.) He could have understood the aim and methods of science perfectly well if he had wanted to. Indeed, he did understand them perfectly well; and it was for that very reason that he rejected them. For the methods of science and critical philosophy were incompatible with the exercise of his gift — the immediate perception and artistic rendering of divine otherness. And their aim, which is to push back the frontier of the unknown, was not to be reconciled with his aim, which was to remain as intimately as possible in contact with the surrounding darkness. And so, in spite of their enormous prestige, he rejected science and critical philosophy; he remained loyal to his gift. Exclusively loyal. He would not attempt to qualify or explain his immediate knowledge of the mystery, would not even attempt to supplement it by other, abstract knowledge. “These terrible, conscious birds, like Poe and his Ligeia, deny the very life that is in them; they want to turn it all into talk, into knowing. And so life, which will not be known, leaves them.” Lawrence refused to know abstractly. He preferred to live; and he wanted other people to live.

No man is by nature complete and universal; he cannot have first-hand knowledge of every kind of possible human experience. Universality, therefore, can only be achieved by those who mentally stimulate living experience — by the knowers, in a word, by people like Goethe (an artist for whom Lawrence always felt the most intense repugnance).

Again, no man is by nature perfect, and none can spontaneously achieve perfection. The greatest gift is a limited gift. Perfection, whether ethical or aesthetic, must be the result of knowing and of the laborious application of knowledge. Formal aesthetics are an affair of rules and the best classical models; formal morality, of the ten commandments and the imitation of Christ.

Lawrence would have nothing to do with proceedings so “unnatural,” so disloyal to the gift, to the resident or visiting numen. Hence his aesthetic principle, that art must be wholly spontaneous, and, like the artist, imperfect, limited and transient. Hence, too, his ethical principle, that a man’s first moral duty is not to attempt to live above his human station, or beyond his inherited psychological income.

The great work of art and the monument more perennial than brass are, in their very perfection and everlastingness, inhuman — too much of a good thing. Lawrence did not approve of them. Art, he thought, should flower from an immediate impulse toward self-expression or communication, and should wither with the passing of the impulse. Of all building materials Lawrence liked adobe the best; its extreme plasticity and extreme impermanence endeared it to him. There could be no everlasting pyramids in adobe, no mathematically accurate Parthenons. Nor, thank heaven, in wood. Lawrence loved the Etruscans, among other reasons, because they built wooden temples, which have not survived. Stone oppressed him with its indestructible solidity, its capacity to take and indefinitely keep the hard uncompromising forms of pure geometry. Great buildings made him feel uncomfortable, even when they were beautiful. He felt something of the same discomfort in the presence of any highly finished work of art. In music, for example, he liked the folk-song, because it was a slight thing, born of immediate impulse. The symphony oppressed him; it was too big, too elaborate, too carefully and consciously worked out, too “would-be” — to use a characteristic Lawrencian expression. He was quite determined that none of his writings should be “would-be.” He allowed them to flower as they liked from the depths of his being and would never use his conscious intellect to force them into a semblance of more than human perfection, or more than human universality. It was characteristic of him that he hardly ever corrected or patched what he had written. I have often heard him say, indeed, that he was incapable of correcting. If he was dissatisfied with what he had written, he did not, as most authors do, file, clip, insert, transpose; he rewrote. In other words, he gave the daimon another chance to say what it wanted to say. There are, I believe, three complete and totally distinct manuscripts of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Nor was this by any means the only novel that he wrote more than once. He was determined that all he produced should spring direct from the mysterious, irrational source of power within him. The conscious intellect should never be allowed to come and impose, after the event, its abstract pattern of perfection.

It was the same in the sphere of ethics as in that of art. “They want me to have form: that means, they want me to have their pernicious, ossiferous skin-and-grief form, and I won’t.” This was written about his novels; but it is just as applicable to his life. Every man, Lawrence insisted, must be an artist in life, must create his own moral form. The art of living is harder than the art of writing. “It is a much more delicate thing to make love, and win love, than to declare love.” All the more reason, therefore, for practicing this art with the most refined and subtle sensibility; all the more reason for not accepting that “pernicious skin-and-grief form” of morality, which they are always trying to impose on one. It is the business of the sensitive artist in life to accept his own nature as it is, not to try to force it into another shape. He must take the material given him — the weaknesses and irrationalities, as well as the sense and the virtues; the mysterious darkness and otherness no less than the light of reason and the conscious ego — must take them all and weave them together into a satisfactory pattern; his pattern, not somebody else’s pattern. “Once I said to myself: ‘How can I blame — why be angry?’. . . Now I say: ‘When anger comes with bright eyes, he may do his will. In me he will hardly shake off the hand of God. He is one of the archangels, with a fiery sword. God sent him — it is beyond my knowing.’ ” This was written in 1910. Even at the very beginning of his career Lawrence was envisaging man as simply the locus of a polytheism. Given his particular gifts of sensitiveness and of expression it was inevitable. Just as it was inevitable that a man of Blake’s peculiar genius should formulate the very similar doctrine of the independence of states of being. All the generally accepted systems of philosophy and of ethics aim at policing man’s polytheism in the name of some Jehovah of intellectual and moral consistency. For Lawrence this was an indefensible proceeding. One god had as much right to exist as another, and the dark ones were as genuinely divine as the bright. Perhaps (since Lawrence was so specially sensitive to the quality of dark godhead and so specially gifted to express it in art), perhaps even more divine. Anyhow, the polytheism was a democracy. This conception of human nature resulted in the formulation of two rather surprising doctrines, one ontological and the other ethical. The first is what I may call the Doctrine of Cosmic Pointlessness. “There is no point. Life and Love are life and love, a bunch of violets is a bunch of violets, and to drag in the idea of a point is to ruin everything. Live and let live, love and let love, flower and fade, and follow the natural curve, which flows on, pointless.”

Ontological pointlessness has its ethical counterpart in the doctrine of insouciance. “They simply are eaten up with caring. They are so busy caring about Fascism or Leagues of Nations or whether France is right or whether Marriage is threatened, that they never know where they are. They certainly never live on the spot where they are. They inhabit abstract space, the desert void of politics principles right and wrong, and so forth. They are doomed to be abstract. Talking to them is like trying to have a human relationship with the letter x in algebra.” As early as 1911 his advice to his sister was: “Don’t meddle with religion. I would leave all that alone, if I were you, and try to occupy myself fully in the present.”

Lawrence’s dislike of abstract knowledge and pure spirituality made him a kind of mystical materialist. Thus, the moon affects him strongly; therefore it cannot be a “stony cold world, like a world of our own gone cold. Nonsense. It is a globe of dynamic substance, like radium or phosphorus, coagulated upon a vivid pole of energy.” Matter must be intrinsically as lively as the mind which perceives it and is moved by the perception. Vivid and violent spiritual effects must have correspondingly vivid and violent material causes. And, conversely, any violent feeling or desire in the mind must be capable of producing violent effects upon external matter. Lawrence could not bring himself to believe that the spirit can be moved, moved even to madness, without imparting the smallest corresponding movement to the external world. He was a subjectivist as well as a materialist; in other words, he believed in the possibility, in some form or another, of magic. Lawrence’s mystical materialism found characteristic expression the curious cosmology and physiology of his speculative essays, and in his restatement of the strange Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body. To his mind, the survival of the spirit was not enough; for the spirit is a man’s conscious identity, and Lawrence did not want to be always identical to himself; he wanted to know otherness — to know it by being it, know it in the living flesh, which is always essentially other. Therefore there must be a resurrection of the body.

Loyalty to his genius left him no choice; Lawrence had to insist on those mysterious forces of otherness which are scattered without, and darkly concentrated within, the body and mind of man. He had to, even though, by doing so, he imposed upon himself, as a writer of novels, a very serious handicap. For according to his view of things most of men’s activities were more or less criminal distractions from the proper business of human living. He refused to write of such distractions; that is to say, he refused to write of the main activities of the contemporary world. But as though this drastic limitation of his subject were not sufficient, he went still further and, in some of his novels, refused even to write of human personalities in the accepted sense of the term. The Rainbow and Women in Love (and indeed to a lesser extent all his novels) are the practical applications of a theory, which is set forth in a very interesting and important letter to Edward Garnett, dated June 5th, 1914. “Somehow, that which is physic — non-human in humanity, is more interesting to me than the old-fashioned human element, which causes one to conceive a character in a certain moral scheme and make him consistent. The certain moral scheme is what I object to. In Turgenev, and in Tolstoi, and in Dostoievsky, the moral scheme into which all the characters fit — and it is nearly the same scheme — is, whatever the extraordinariness of the characters themselves, dull, old, dead. When Marinetti writes: ‘It is the solidity of a blade of steel that is interesting in itself, that is, the incomprehending and inhuman alliance of its molecules in resistance to, let us say, a bullet. The heat of a piece of wood or iron is in fact more passionate, for us, than the laughter or tears of a woman’ — then I know what he means. He is stupid, as an artist, for contrasting the heat of the iron and the laugh of the woman. Because what is interesting in the laugh of the woman is the same as the binding of the molecules of steel or their action in heat: it is the inhuman will, call it physiology, or like Marinetti, physiology of matter, that fascinates me. I don’t so much care about what the woman feels — in the ordinary usage of the word. That presumes an ego to feel with. I only care about what the woman is — what she Is — inhumanly, physiologically, materially — according to the use of the word. . . You mustn’t look in my novel for the old stable ego of the character. There is another ego, according to whose action the individual is unrecognizable, and passes through, as it were, allotropic states which it needs a deeper sense than any we’ve been used to exercise, to discover are states of the same single radically unchanged element. (Like as diamond and coal are the same pure single element of carbon. The ordinary novel would trace the history of the diamond — but I say, ‘Diamond, what! This is carbon.’ And my diamond might be coal or soot, and my theme is carbon.)”. . .

Lawrence, then, possessed, or, if you care to put it the other way round, was possessed by, a gift — a gift to which he was unshakably loyal. I have tried to show how the possession and the loyalty influenced his thinking and writing. How did they affect his life? The answer shall be, as far as possible, in Lawrence’s own words. To Catherine Carswell Lawrence once wrote: “I think you are the only woman I have met who is so intrinsically detached, so essentially separate and isolated, as to be a real writer or artist or recorder. Your relations with other people are only excursions from yourself. And to want children, and common human fulfillments, is rather a falsity for you, I think. You were never made to ‘meet and mingle,’ but to remain intact, essentially, whatever your experiences may be.”

Lawrence’s knowledge of “the artist” was manifestly personal knowledge. He knew by actual experience that the “real writer” is an essentially separate being, who must not desire to meet and mingle and who betrays himself when he hankers too yearningly after common human fulfillments. All artists know these facts about their species, and many of them have recorded their knowledge. Recorded it, very often, with distress; being intrinsically detached is no joke. Lawrence certainly suffered his whole life from the essential solitude to which his gift condemned him. “What ails me,” he wrote to the psychologist, Dr. Trigant Burrow, “is the absolute frustration of my primeval societal instinct. . . I think societal instinct much deeper than sex instinct — and societal repression much more devastating. There is no repression of the sexual individual comparable to the repression of the societal man in me, by the individual ego, my own and everybody else’s. . . Myself, I suffer badly from being so cut off. . . At times one is forced to be essentially a hermit. I don’t want to be. But anything else is either a personal tussle, or a money tussle; sickening: except, of course, just for ordinary acquaintance, which remains acquaintance. One has no real human relations — that is so devastating.” One has no real human relations: it is the complaint of every artist. The artist’s first duty is to his genius, his daimon; he cannot serve two masters. Lawrence, as it happened, had an extraordinary gift for establishing an intimate relationship with almost anyone he met. “Here” (in the Bournemouth boarding-house where he was staying after his illness, in 1912), “I get mixed up in people’s lives so — it’s very interesting, sometimes a bit painful, often jolly. But I run to such close intimacy with folk, it is complicating. But I love to have myself in a bit of a tangle.” His love for his art was greater, however, than his love for a tangle; and whenever the tangle threatened to compromise his activities as an artist, it was the tangle that was sacrificed: he retired. Lawrence’s only deep and abiding human relationship was with his wife. (“It is hopeless for me,” he wrote to a fellow-artist, “to try to do anything without I have a woman at the back of me. . . Böcklin — or somebody like him — daren’t sit in a café except with his back to the wall. I daren’t sit in the world without a woman behind me. . . A woman that I love sort of keeps me in direct communication with the unknown, in which otherwise I am a bit lost.”) For the rest, he was condemned by his gift to an essential separateness. Often, it is true, he blamed the world for his exile. “And it comes to this, that the oneness of mankind is destroyed in me (by the war). I am I, and you are you, and all heaven and hell lie in the chasm between. Believe me, I am infinitely hurt by being thus torn off from the body of mankind, but so it is and it is right.” It was right because, in reality, it was not the war that had torn him from the body of mankind; it was his own talent, the strange divinity to which he owed his primary allegiance. “I will not live any more in this time,” he wrote on another occasion. “I know what it is. I reject it. As far as I possibly can, I will stand outside this time. I will live my life and, if possible, be happy. Though the whole world slides in horror down into the bottomless pit. . . I believe that the highest virtue is to be happy, living in the greatest truth, not submitting to the falsehood of these personal times.” The adjective is profoundly significant. Of all the possible words of disparagement which might be applied to our uneasy age “personal” is surely about the last that would occur to most of us. To Lawrence it was the first. His gift was a gift of feeling and rendering the unknown, the mysteriously other. To one possessed by such a gift, almost any age would have seemed unduly and dangerously personal. He had to reject and escape. But when he had escaped, he could not help deploring the absence of “real human relationships.” Spasmodically, he tried to establish contact with the body of mankind. There were the recurrent projects for colonies in remote corners of the earth; they all fell through. . .

It was, I think, the sense of being cut off that sent Lawrence on his restless wanderings round the earth. His travels were at once a flight and a search: a search for some society with which he could establish contact, for a world where the times were not personal and conscious knowing had not yet perverted living; a search and at the same time a flight from the miseries and evils of the society into which he had been born, and for which, in spite of his artist’s detachment, he could not help feeling profoundly responsible. He felt himself “English in the teeth of all the world, even in the teeth of England”: that was why he had to go to Ceylon and Australia and Mexico. He could not have felt so intensely English in England without involving himself in corporative political action, without belonging and being attached; but to attach himself was something he could not bring himself to do, something that the artist in him felt as a violation. He was at once too English and too intensely an artist to stay at home. “Perhaps it is necessary for me to try these places, perhaps it is my destiny to know the world. It only excites the outside of me. The inside it leaves more isolated and stoic than ever. That’s how it is. It is all a form of running away from oneself and the great problems, all this wild west and the strange Australia. But I try to keep quite clear. One forms not the faintest inward attachment, especially here in America.”

His search was as fruitless as his flight was ineffective. He could not escape either from his homesickness or his sense of responsibility; and he never found a society to which he could belong. In a kind of despair, he plunged yet deeper into the surrounding mystery, into the dark night of that otherness whose essence and symbol is the sexual experience. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover Lawrence wrote the epilogue to his travels and, from his long and fruitless experience of flight and search, drew what was, for him, the inevitable moral. It is a strange and beautiful book; but inexpressibly sad. But then so, at bottom, was its author’s life.

Lawrence’s psychological isolation resulted, as we have seen, in his seeking physical isolation from the body of mankind. This physical isolation reacted upon his thoughts. “Don’t mind if I am impertinent,” he wrote to one of his correspondents at the end of a rather dogmatic letter. “Living here alone one gets so different — sort of ex-cathedra.” To live in isolation, above the medley, has its advantages; but it also imposes certain penalties. Those who take a bird’s-eye view of the world often see clearly and comprehensively; but they tend to ignore all tiresome details, all the difficulties of social life and, ignoring, to judge too sweepingly and to condemn too lightly. . .

Enough of explanation and interpretation. To those who knew Lawrence, not why, but that he was what he happened to be, is the important fact. I remember very clearly my first meeting with him. The place was London, the time 1915. But Lawrence’s passionate talk was of the geographically remote and of the personally very near. Of the horrors in the middle distance — war, winter, the town — he would not speak. For he was on the point, so he imagined, of setting off to Florida — to Florida, where he was going to plant that colony of escape, of which up to the last he never ceased to dream. Sometimes the name and site of this seed of a happier and different world were purely fanciful. It was called Rananim, for example, and was an island like Prospero’s. Sometimes it had its place on the map and its name was Florida, Cornwall, Sicily, Mexico and again, for a time, the English countryside. That wintry afternoon in 1915 it was Florida. Before tea was over he asked me if I would join the colony, and though I was an intellectually cautious young man, not at all inclined to enthusiasms, though Lawrence had startled and embarrassed me with sincerities of a kind to which my upbringing had not accustomed me, I answered yes.

Fortunately, no doubt, the Florida scheme fell through. Cities of God have always crumbled; and Lawrence’s city — his village, rather, for he hated cities — his Village of the Dark God would doubtless have disintegrated like all the rest. It was better that it should have remained, as it was always to remain, a project and a hope. And I knew this even as I said I would join the colony. But there was something about Lawrence which made such knowledge, when one was in his presence, curiously irrelevant. He might propose impracticable schemes, he might say or write things that were demonstrably incorrect or even, on occasion (as when he talked about science), absurd. But to a very considerable extent it didn’t matter. What mattered was always Lawrence himself, was the fire that burned within him, that glowed with so strange and marvelous a radiance in almost all he wrote.

My second meeting with Lawrence took place some years later, during one of his brief revisitings of that after-war England, which he had come so much to dread and to dislike. Then in 1925, while in India, I received a letter from Spotorno. He had read some essays I had written on Italian travel; said he liked them; suggested a meeting. The next year we were in Florence and so was he. From that time, till his death, we were often together — at Florence, at Forte dei Marmi, for a whole winter at Diablerets, at Bandol, in Paris, at Chexbres, at Forte again, and finally at Vence where he died.

In a spasmodically kept diary I find this entry under the date of December 27th, 1927: “Lunched and spent the p.m. with the Lawrences. D. H. L. in admirable form, talking wonderfully. He is one of the few people I feel real respect and admiration for. Of most other eminent people I have met I feel that at any rate I belong to the same species as they do. But this man has something different and superior in kind, not degree.”

“Different and superior in kind.” I think almost everyone who knew him well must have felt that Lawrence was this. A being, somehow, of another order, more sensitive, more highly conscious, more capable of feeling than even the most gifted of common men. He had, of course, his weaknesses and defects; he had his intellectual limitations — limitations which he seemed to have deliberately imposed upon himself. But these weaknesses and defects and limitations did not affect the fact of his superior otherness. They diminished him quantitively, so to speak; whereas the otherness was qualitative. Spill half your glass of wine and what remains is still wine. Water, however full the glass may be, is always tasteless and without color.

To be with Lawrence was a kind of adventure, a voyage of discovery into newness and otherness. For, being himself of a different order, he inhabited a different universe from that of common men — a brighter and intenser world, of which, while he spoke, he would make you free. He looked at things with the eyes, so it seemed, of a man who had been at the brink of death and to whom, as he emerges from the darkness, the world reveals itself as unfathomably beautiful and mysterious. For Lawrence, existence was one continuous convalescence; it was as though he were newly reborn from a mortal illness every day of his life. What these convalescent eyes saw, his most casual speech would reveal. A walk with him in the country was a walk through that marvelously rich and significant landscape which is at once the background and the principal personage of all his novels. He seemed to know, by personal experience, what it was like to be a tree or a daisy or a breaking wave or even the mysterious moon itself. He could get inside the skin of an animal and tell you in the most convincing detail how it felt and how, dimly, inhumanly, it thought. Of Black-Eyed Susan, for example, the cow at his New Mexican ranch, he was never tired of speaking, nor was I ever tired of listening to his account of her character and her bovine philosophy.

“He sees,” Vernon Lee once said to me, “more than a human being ought to see. Perhaps,” she added, “that’s why he hates humanity so much.” Why also he loved it so much. And not only humanity: nature too, and even the supernatural. For wherever he looked, he saw more than a human being ought to see; saw more and therefore loved and hated more. To be with him was to find oneself transported to one of the frontiers of human consciousness. For an inhabitant of the safe metropolis of thought and feeling it was a most exciting experience.”

(From “D. H. Lawrence,” The Olive Tree)

A Quick Comparison Between the September 11 2001 NYC-Washington attacks and the November 26-28 2008 Mumbai Massacres (An Application of the Case-by-Case Philosophical Technique of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough)

A Quick Comparison Between the September 11 2001 NYC-Washington attacks and the November 26-28 2008 Mumbai Massacres (An Application of the Case-by-Case Philosophical  Technique of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough)

by

Subroto Roy

In my book Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, 1989) and in my August 24  2004 public lecture  in England  “Science,  Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, both available elsewhere here, I described the “case-by-case” philosophical technique recommended by Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough.  (Bambrough had also shown a common root in the work of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.)   Herewith an application of the technique to a contemporary problem that shows the “family resemblance” between two modern terrorist attacks, the September 11 2001 attack on New York and Washington and the Mumbai massacres last week.

Similarity:  In both, a gang of motivated youthful terrorists acted as a team against multiple targets; their willingness to accept  suicide while indulging in mass-murder may have, bizarrely enough, brought a sense of adventure and meaning to otherwise empty lives.

Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, Mohammad Atta seemed to have been a single predominant leader while each of the others also had complex active roles requiring decisions, like piloting and navigating hijacked jumbo-jets.  In the Mumbai massacres, the training and leadership apparently came from outside the team before and even during the operation  – almost as if the team were acting like brainwashed robots under long-distance control.

Similarity:  Both attacks required a long prior period of training and planning.

Difference: The 9/11 attacks did not require commando-training imparted by military-style trainers; the Mumbai massacres did.

Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, the actual weapons used initially were primitive, like box-cutters; in the Mumbai massacres, assault rifles and grenades were used along with sophisticated telecommunications equipment.

Difference: In 9/11, the initial targets, the hijacked aircraft, were themselves made into weapons against the ultimate targets, namely the buildings, in a way not seen before.  In the Mumbai massacres, mass-shooting of terrorized civilians was hardly something original; besides theatres of war, the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Japanese Red Army used these in the 1970s as terrorist techniques (e.g. at Rome Airport  Lod Airport; Postscript January 26 2009: I make this correction after reading and commenting on the RAND study which unfortunately  did not have the courtesy of acknowledging my December 6 2008 analysis) plus there were, more recently, the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres.

Similarity: In both cases, Hollywood and other movie scripts could have inspired the initial ideas of techniques to be  used.

Similarity: In both cases, the weapons used were appropriate to the anticipated state of defence: nothing more than box-cutters could be expected to get by normal airport security; assault rifles etc could come in by the unguarded sea and attack soft targets in Mumbai.  (Incidentally, even this elementary example of strategic thinking  in a practical situation may be beyond the analytical capacity contained in the tons of waste paper produced at American and other modern university Economics departments under the rubric of  “game theory”.)

Similarity: In both cases, a high-level of widespread fear was induced for several days or more within a targeted nation-state by a small number of people.

Similarity: No ransom-like demands were made by the terrorists in either case.

Similarity: Had the single terrorist not been captured alive in the Mumbai massacres, there would have been little trace left by the attackers.

Difference: The 9/11 attackers knew definitely they were on suicide-missions; the Mumbai attackers may not have done and may have imagined an escape route.

Tolstoy on Science and Art

Tolstoy has been admired by many millions, and I shall plan to upload when I can some rare photos of him with his family and contemporaries from a Russian book in our Library which my father had given my sister in 1962.  Here is an interesting excerpt from his On the Significance of Science and Art translated by Isabel F. Hapgood and published in the Project Gutenberg edition.

“The thinker or the artist will never sit calmly on Olympian heights, as we have become accustomed to represent them to ourselves.  The thinker or the artist should suffer in company with the people, in order that he may find salvation or consolation.  Besides this, he will suffer because he is always and eternally in turmoil and agitation: he might decide and say that which would confer welfare on men, would free them from suffering, would afford them consolation; but he has not said so, and has not presented it as he should have done; he has not decided, and he has not spoken; and tomorrow, possibly, it will be too late, — he will die.  And therefore suffering and self-sacrifice will always be the lot of the thinker and the artist.  Not of this description will be the thinker and artist who is reared in an establishment where, apparently, they manufacture the learned man or the artist (but in point of fact, they manufacture destroyers of science and of art), who receives a diploma and a certificate, who would be glad not to think and not to express that which is imposed on his soul, but who cannot avoid doing that to which two irresistible forces draw him,—an inward prompting, and the demand of men…. It is possible to study out how many beetles there are in the world, to view the spots on the sun, to write romances and operas, without suffering; but it is impossible, without self-sacrifice, to instruct people in their true happiness, which consists solely in renunciation of self and the service of others, and to give strong expression to this doctrine, without self-sacrifice. Christ did not die on the cross in vain; not in vain does the sacrifice of suffering conquer all things.  But our art and science are provided with certificates and diplomas; and the only anxiety of all men is, how to still better guarantee them, i.e., how to render the service of the people impracticable for them.

True art and true science possess two unmistakable marks: the first, an inward mark, which is this, that the servitor of art and science will fulfill his vocation, not for profit but with self-sacrifice; and the second, an external sign,—his productions will be intelligible to all the people whose welfare he has in view. No matter what people have fixed upon as their vocation and their welfare, science will be the doctrine of this vocation and welfare, and art will be the expression of that doctrine.  That which is called science and art, among us, is the product of idle minds and feelings, which have for their object to tickle similar idle minds and feelings.  Our arts and sciences are incomprehensible, and say nothing to the people, for they have not the welfare of the common people in view.  Ever since the life of men has been known to us, we find, always and everywhere, the reigning doctrine falsely designating itself as science, not manifesting itself to the common people, but obscuring for them the meaning of life. Thus it was among the Greeks the sophists, then among the Christians the mystics, gnostics, scholastics, among the Hebrews the Talmudists and Cabalists, and so on everywhere, down to our own times….”

John Wisdom, Renford Bambrough: Main Philosophical Works

John Wisdom (1904-1993), Main Philosophical Works:

 

Interpretation and Analysis, 1931

Problems of Mind and Matter 1934

Other Minds, 1952

Philosophy & Psychoanalysis, 1953

Paradox & Discovery, 1965

Logical Constructions (1931-1933),1969

Proof and Explanation (The Virginia Lectures 1957), 1991

Secondary literature:

Wisdom: Twelve Essays, R. Bambrough (ed) 1974

Philosophy and Life: Essays on John Wisdom, I. Dilman (ed) 1984.

(Foreword) The Structure of Metaphysics, Morris Lazerowitz, 1955

“Epilogue: John Wisdom”, The later philosophy of Wittgenstein, David Pole, 1958

 

 

Renford Bambrough (1926-1999), Main Philosophical Works:

“Socratic Paradox”, Philosophical Quarterly, 1960

“Universals and Family Resemblances”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1960-61

“Plato’s Modern Friends and Enemies”, Philosophy 1962

The Philosophy of Aristotle, 1963

“Principia Metaphysica”, Philosophy 1964

New Essays on Plato and Aristotle (edited by R. Bambrough), 1965

“Unanswerable Questions”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplement 1966

Plato, Popper and Politics (edited by R. Bambrough), 1967

Reason, Truth and God 1969

“Foundations”, Analysis, 1970

“Objectivity and Objects”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1971-72

“How to Read Wittgenstein”, in Understanding Wittgenstein, Royal Institute of Philosophy 1972-3

“The Shape of Ignorance”, in Lewis (ed) Contemporary British Philosophy, 1976

Introduction & Notes to Plato’s Republic (Lindsay trans.), 1976

Conflict and the Scope of Reason, 1974; also in Ratio 1978

“Intuition and the Inexpressible” in Katz (ed) Mysticism & Philosophical Analysis, 1978

Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge, 1979

“Thought, Word and Deed”, Proceedings of Aristotelian Society Supplement 1980

“Peirce, Wittgenstein and Systematic Philosophy”, MidWest Studies in Philosophy, 1981

“The Scope of Reason: An Epistle to the Persians”, in Objectivity and Cultural Divergence, Royal Institute of Philosophy, 1984

“Principia Metaphysica: The Scope of Reason” also known as “The Roots of Reason”; a work and manuscript mentioned several times but now unknown.

A personal note by Subroto Roy for a public lecture delivered at the University of Buckingham, August 24 2004:

“Renford Bambrough and I met once on January 31 1982, when I had returned to Cambridge from the USA for my PhD viva voce examination. He signed and gave me his last personal copy of Reason, Truth and God. Three years earlier, in 1979, I, as a 24 year old PhD student under F.H. Hahn in economics, had written to him expressing my delight at finding his works and saying these were immensely important to economics; he invited me to his weekly discussion groups at St John’s College but I could not attend. Between 1979 and 1989 we corresponded while I worked in America on my application of his and Wisdom’s work to problems in economics, which emerged in Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (Routledge, International Library of Philosophy 1989, 1991), a work which got me into a lot of trouble with American economists (though Milton Friedman and Theodore W. Schultz defended it). Bambrough said of it “The work is altogether well-written and admirably clear”. On another occasion he said he was “extremely pleased” at the interest I had taken in his work. The preface of my book said he was not responsible for the use I had made of his writings, which I reiterate now. Returning to Britain in 2004, I find the work of Wisdom and Bambrough unknown or forgotten, even at the great University North East of Buckingham where they had lived and worked. In my view, they played a kind of modern-day Plato and Aristotle to Wittgenstein’s Socrates; in terms of Eastern philosophy, the wisdom they achieved in their lives and have left behind for us in their work to use and apply to our own problems, make them like modern-day “Boddhisatvas” of Mahayana Buddhism. My lecture “Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom” purports to apply their work to current international problems of grave significance, namely the cultural conflicts made apparent since the September 11 2001 attacks on America. As I am as likely to fail as to succeed in making this application, the brief bibliography given above is intended to direct interested persons to their work first hand for themselves.”

April 2007, March 2020:

See also

Is “Cambridge Philosophy” dead, in Cambridge? Can it be resurrected, there? Case Study: Renford Bambrough (& Subroto Roy) preceded by decades Cheryl Misak’s thesis on Wittgenstein being linked with Peirce via Ramsey…

https://independentindian.com/2017/10/27/cambridge-philosophy-rest-in-peace-yes-bambrough-i-preceded-misaks-link-by-deacades/

*Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry*, “Science, Religion, Art & the Necessity of Freedom”
*Physics and Reasoning*

 

Introduction and Some Biography

My two main works, namely my book of 19 years ago Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (first published by Routledge, London & New York, 1989, 1991), and my monograph of 24 years ago Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India (first published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1984) are both now republished here, each with a new preface. I have also published here for the first time the full story of my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi — an abbreviated version appeared in Freedom First in October 2001 which focussed on economic policy and deliberately excluded mention of my warnings about his vulnerability to assassination and my attempts in vain to get people around him to do something about it. I have also republished my three advisory memoranda to him between September 1990 and March 1991, which were first published in The Statesman‘s Editorial Page of July 31, August 1 and August 2 1991.

I have also published here now for the first time a public lecture I gave as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham in 2004 titled “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”. Also republished is “A General Theory of Globalization and Modern Terrorism” which was my keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats at their Manila meeting in November 2001; it appeared first in September 11 & Political Freedom: Asian Perspectives (eds. Smith, Gomez & Johannen) in Singapore in 2002.

I have also published for the first time my April 29 2000 address titled “Towards a Highly Transparent Monetary & Fiscal Framework for India’s Union and State Governments” to the Reserve Bank’s Annual “Conference of State Finance Secretaries”.

Also to be found in one place are my most recent signed writings since 2005 in The Statesman and elsewhere on India’s economy and foreign policy, Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Tibet, Taiwan, the United States, etc.

My political affiliation in India would be to a non-existent party — as may be seen from the article on a Liberal Party for India; and I trust it will be seen that I have dispensed criticism upon the present-day Congress Party, BJP/RSS and Communists equally harshly.

Readers are welcome to quote from my work under the normal “fair use” rule, but please quote me by name and indicate the place of original publication. Readers are also welcome to comment or correspond by email, though please try to introduce yourself.

The new preface of Philosophy of Economics is reproduced below as it is partly biographical.

“(Philosophy of Economics) germinated when I was 18 or 19 years of age in Paris, Helsinki and London, and it was first published when I was 34 in Honolulu. I came to economics from natural science (biology, chemistry, physics), not mathematics. It was inevitable I would be drawn to the beauty of philosophy as a theoretical discipline while being driven, as a post-Independence Indian, to economics as the practical discipline that might unlock secrets to India’s prosperity and progress. I belonged to an ancient family of political men, and my father, who had joined India’s new foreign service the year before I was born, inculcated in me as a boy an idea that I had “a mission” (though he later forgot he had done so).

I was fortunate to fail to enter Oxford’s PPE and instead go to the London School of Economics. LSE was at an intellectual peak in the early 1970s. DHN Johnson in international law, ACL Day in international monetary economics, Brian Griffiths vs Marcus Miller in monetary economics with everyone still in awe of Harry Johnson’s graduate lectures in macroeconomics, Ken Wallis, Graham Mizon, JJ Thomas, David Hendry in econometrics with the odd lecture by Durbin himself – I was exposed to a fully grown up intellectual seriousness from the day I arrived as an 18 year old. Michio Morishima as my professorial tutor told me frankly that, as an Indian, I would face less prejudice in Western academia than in the private sector, and said he was speaking from experience as a fellow-Asian. He turned out to be wrong but it was wise advice nevertheless, just as wise as his requiring pupils to read Hicks’ Value and Capital (which, in our undergraduate mythology, he himself had read inside a Japanese gunboat during war).

What was relatively weak at LSE was general economic theory. We were good at deriving the Best Linear Unbiased Estimator but left unsatisfied with our grasp of the theory of value that constituted the roots of our discipline. I managed a First and was admitted to Cambridge as a Research Student in 1976, where fortune had Frank Hahn choose me as a student. That at the outset was protection from the communist cabal that ran “development economics” with whom almost all the Indians ended up. I was wholly impecunious in my first year as a Research Student, and had to, for example, proof-read Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis for its second edition to receive 50 pounds sterling from Hahn which kept me going for a short time. My exposure to Hahn’s subtle, refined and depthless thought as an economist of the first rank led to fascination and wonderment, and I read and re-read his “On the notion of equilibrium in economics”, “On the foundations of monetary theory”, “Keynesian economics and general equilibrium theory” and other clear-headed attempts to integrate the theory of value with the theory of money — a project Wicksell and Marshall had (perhaps wisely) not attempted and Keynes, Hicks and Patinkin had failed at.

Hahn insisted a central question was to ask how money, which is intrinsically worthless, can have any value, why anyone should want to hold it. The practical relevance of this question is manifest. India today in 2007 has an inconvertible currency, vast and growing public debt financed by money-creation, and more than two dozen fiscally irresponsible State governments without money-creating powers. While pondering, over the last decade, whether India’s governance could be made more responsible if States were given money-creating powers, I have constantly had Hahn’s seemingly abstruse question from decades ago in mind, as to why anyone will want to hold State currencies in India, as to whether the equilibrium price of those monies would be positive. (Lerner in fact gave an answer in 1945 when he suggested that any money would have value if its issuer agreed to collect liabilities in it — as a State collects taxes – and that may be the simplest road that bridges the real/monetary divide.)

Though we were never personal friends and I did not ingratiate myself with Hahn as did many others, my respect for him only grew when I saw how he had protected my inchoate classical liberal arguments for India from the most vicious attacks that they were open to from the communists. My doctoral thesis, initially titled “A monetary theory for India”, had to be altered due to paucity of monetary data at the time, as well as the fact India’s problems of political economy and allocation of real resources were more pressing, and so the thesis became “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”. When no internal examiner could be found, the University of Cambridge, at Hahn’s insistence, showed its greatness by appointing two externals: C. J. Bliss at Oxford and T. W. Hutchison at Birmingham, former students of Hahn and Joan Robinson respectively. My thesis received the most rigorous and fairest imaginable evaluation from them.

I had been attracted to Cambridge partly by its old reputation for philosophy, especially that of Wittgenstein. But I met no worthwhile philosophers there until a few months before I was to leave for the United States in 1980, when I chanced upon the work of Renford Bambrough. Hahn had challenged me with the question, “how are you so sure your value judgements promoting liberty blah-blah are better than those of Chenery and the development economists?” It was a question that led inevitably to ethics and its epistemology — when I chanced upon Bambrough’s work, and that of his philosophical master, John Wisdom, the immense expanse of metaphysics (or ontology) opened up as well. “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes, He star’d at the Pacific…”

It has taken me more than a quarter century to traverse some of that expanse; when I returned to Britain in 2004 as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham, I was very kindly allowed to deliver a public lecture, “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, wherein I repaid a few of my debts to the forgotten work of Bambrough and Wisdom — whom I extravagantly compared with the Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, also saying that the trio of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough were reminiscent of what Socrates, Plato and Aristotle might have been like.

I had written to Bambrough from within Cambridge expressing my delight at finding his works and saying these were immensely important to economics; he had invited me to his weekly discussion groups at St John’s College but I could not attend. Between 1979 and 1989 we corresponded while I worked in America on my application of his and Wisdom’s work to problems in economics. We met only once when I returned to Cambridge from Blacksburg for my doctoral viva voce examination in January 1982. Six years later in 1988 he said of my Philosophy of Economics, “The work is altogether well-written and admirably clear”, and on another occasion he said he was “extremely pleased” at the interest I had taken in his work. The original preface of Philosophy of Economics said he was not responsible for the use I had made of his writings, which I reiterated in the 2004 lecture. At our meeting, he offered to introduce me to Wisdom who had returned to Cambridge from Oregon but I was too scared and declined, something I have always regretted. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to grasp the immensity of Wisdom’s achievement in comprehending, explaining and extending the work of both Wittgenstein and Freud. His famous “Virginia Lectures” of 1957 were finally published by his admirers with his consent as Proof and Explanation just before his death in 1993. As for Bambrough, I believe he may have been or become the single greatest philosopher since Aristotle; he told me in correspondence there was an unfinished manuscript Principia Metaphysica (the prospectus of which appeared in Philosophy 1964), which unfortunately his family and successors knew nothing about; the fact he died almost in obscurity and was soon forgotten by his University speaks more about the contemporary state of academic philosophy than about him. (Similarly, the fact Hahn, Morishima and like others did not receive the so-called Economics “Nobel” says more about the award than it does about them.)

All I needed in 1980 was time and freedom to develop the contents of this book, and that I found in America — which I could not have done in either Britain or India. It would take eight or nine very strenuous years before the book could be written and published, mostly spent at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1980-1985) and University of Hawaii (1986-1990) Economics Departments, with short interludes at Cornell (Fall 1983) and Brigham Young (1985-86). I went to Virginia because James M. Buchanan was there, and he, along with FA Hayek, were whom Hahn decided to write on my behalf. Hayek said he was too old to accept me but wrote me kind and generous letters praising and hence encouraging my inchoate liberal thoughts and arguments. Buchanan was welcoming and I learnt much from him and his colleagues about the realities of public finance and democratic politics, which I quickly applied in my work on India, published in 1984 in London as Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India and republished elsewhere here. The visit to the Cornell Economics Department was really so I could talk to Max Black the philosopher, who represented a different line of Wittgenstein’s students, and Max and I became friends until his death in 1988.

Buchanan’s departure from Blacksburg led to a gang of inert “game theorists” to arrive, and I was immediately under attack – one senior man telling me I was free to criticise the “social choice” work of Amartya Sen (since he was Indian too) but I was definitely unfree to do the same of Sen’s mentor, Kenneth Arrow, who was Jewish! (Arrow was infinitely more gracious when he himself responded to my criticism.) On top of that arose a matter of a woman, fresh off the aeroplane from India, being assaulted by a senior professor, and when I stood for her against her assailant, my time in Blacksburg was definitely up.

The manuscript of this book was at the time under contract with University of Chicago Press, and, thanks to Mrs Harry Johnson there, I had come in contact with that great American, Theodore W. Schultz. Schultz, at age 81, told me better to my face what the book was about than I had realised myself, namely, it was about economics as knowledge — its subject-matter was the epistemology of economics. Schultz wrote letters all over America on my behalf (as did Milton Friedman at Stanford and Sidney Alexander of MIT, whom I had also met and become friends with), and I was able to first spend a happy year among the Mormons at Brigham Young, and then end up at the University of Hawaii where I was given responsibility for the main graduate course in macroeconomics. I taught Harry Johnson-level IS-LM theory and Friedman-Tobin macroeconomics and then the new “rational expectations” vs Keynesian material.

I was also offered a large University grant to work on “South Asia”, which led to the books Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, and Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, both created by myself and WE James, and which led to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform and the India-Pakistan peace process as told elsewhere. Also, this book came to be accepted for publication by Routledge, as the first economics book in its famed International Library of Philosophy.

Just as I was set to be evaluated for promotion and tenure at the University of Hawaii, I became the victim of a most vicious racist defamation (and there was some connection with Blacksburg). Quite fed up with the sordidness of American academia as I had experienced it, I sued in the federal court, which consumed much of the next half dozen years as the case worked its way through the United States Supreme Court twice. Milton Friedman and Theodore W. Schultz stood as expert witnesses on my behalf but you would not have known it from the judge’s ruling. There had been not only demonstrable perjury and suborning of perjury by the State of Hawaii’s officers, there was also “after-discovered” evidence of bribery of court-officers in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii, and I had to return to India in 1996 quite exhausted to recuperate from the experience. “Solicitation of counsel, clerks or judges” is “embracery curialis”, recognized as extrinsic fraud and subversion of justice since Jepps 72 E R 924 (1611), “firmly established in English practice long before the foundation” of the USA, Hazel Atlas, 322 US 238 (1943). “Embracery is an offense striking at the very foundation of civil society” says Corpus Juris 20, 496. A court of equity has inherent power to investigate if a judgement has been obtained by fraud, and that is a power to unearth it effectively, since no fraud is more odious than one to subvert justice. Cases include when “by reason of something done by the successful party… there was in fact no adversary trial or decision of the issue in the case. Where the unsuccessful party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his case, by fraud or deception practised on him by his opponent, as…where an attorney fraudulently or without authority assumes to represent a party and connives at his defeat; or where the attorney regularly employed corruptly sells out his client’s interest to the other side ~ these, and similar cases which show that there has never been a real contest in the trial or hearing of the case, are reasons for which a new suit may be sustained to set aside and annul the former judgment or decree, and open the case for a new and a fair hearing….” (Hazel Atlas). There is no time-limit in United States federal law for rectification of fraud on the court of this sort, and I remain fully hopeful today of the working of American justice in the case.

The practical result was that this book was never able to be properly publicized among economists as it would have been had I become Professor of Economics at the University of Hawaii by 1992 as expected. The hardback sold out quickly on its own steam and went into paperback by 1991, and a friend told me it was being used for a course at Yale Law School. The reviews were mostly intelligent. Upon returning to Britain as the Wincott Visiting Professor in 2004, I found times had changed and so had Routledge who would not keep it in print let alone permit a second revised edition. But I am now free to republish the book as I please, and today in 2007, with the Internet growing to a maturity which allows the young geeks at WordPress.com to want to encourage blogging worldwide, I can think of no more apt place to reproduce the first edition of this book than here at my own blog http://www.independentindian.com.

This is not a second or revised edition, and it is unchanged in content except for this lengthy new preface made necessary by the adventures and dramas the book’s author found himself unwittingly part of since its first publication. I am 52 now and happy to say I endorse the book just as I had published it at 34, though I do find it a little impatient and too terse in a few places. The 1991 paperback corrected a few slight errors in the 1989 hardback, and has been used. I am planning an entirely new book which shall have its roots in this one though it will be mostly in philosophy and not economics — the outlines it may take may be seen in the 2004 public lecture I gave on the work of Bambrough and Wisdom mentioned above and published elsewhere; its main aim will be to uncover for new generations the immense worth there is in their work which is in danger of being lost.

At least two names failed to appear in the original list of acknowledgements. G. Bruce Chapman, now of the University of Toronto, and I talked much of serious ethics and political philosophy when I first arrived at Cambridge in 1976. And in 1980 in Blacksburg, Anil Lal, then a graduate student and house-painter, borrowed my copy of Bambrough’s work, read it, and later made a comment on the metaphysics of John Wisdom which allowed me to see things more clearly.

Ballygunge, Kolkata,
April 7 2007″

Of JC Bose, Patrick Geddes & the Leaf-World

Of JC Bose, Patrick Geddes & the Leaf-World

By Subroto Roy

What happened to me yesterday was very odd. In a Kolkata bookshop, the first volume my hand completely accidentally reached for was The Life and Work of Sir Jagadis C. Bose by one Patrick Geddes, published in 1920. I have been in recent years learning a little of the magnificent scientific achievement of J. C. Bose (1858-1937), and knew of the justly acclaimed 1998 “I-triple E” paper by Probir K. Bondopadhyay, as well as a recent article by 25 year old Varun Aggrawal, which much belatedly but definitively have been establishing Bose’s pioneering contribution to the development of “wireless telegraphy” or radio. Marconi and Braun won the 1909 Nobel prize in physics for their work on the subject – had Bose been less of a great scientific soul and even slightly more of a businessman than he was by temperament and character, he should have been a winner too. Indeed, I had already come to a conclusion that Bose’s genius was such that his additional pioneering contributions to understanding plant physiology, e.g. his delicate instruments, one of which the crescograph magnified small movements in plant growth 10 million times, made him someone like Marie Curie who had been probably deserving of not one but two scientific Nobel Prizes in his time. He received none yet seemed not to have cared a hoot.

 

Reading through Geddes’ biography of him quickly last night, I found it simply wonderful in its depth, range and sympathy. The biographer introduced himself modestly as being “Late Professor of Botany” at University College, Dundee and “Professor of Sociology and Civics”, University of Bombay. A kindly young admirer of Bose I thought to myself, doing good for India as many Brits had done in their time.

 

Imagine my surprise this morning to find that the biographer of the lost genius that was JC Bose was himself a lost genius of equal capacity and achievement! Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) was older than Sir JC Bose by a few years, and died a few years before him.He has been considered by his own biographers to have been a modern Leonardo da Vinci — “a prodigy in physical endurance, range of interests, and imaginative powers”, who was praised by Darwin, Einstein, Tagore and like men, and who as a polymath contributed to economics, sociology, history, art, museums, exhibitions, politics, literature, agriculture, gardening, geology, religion, philosophy, education, geography, science, astronomy, biology, planning, printing, mathematics, navigation, travel, public health, housing, music, and poetry, besides having designed a city like Tel Aviv and pioneered the idea that “cities must be planned with respect to their surrounding villages… Industrial development, if left unchecked, would damage the air, water and land upon which all life relies. Little wonder that today environmentalists consider Patrick a prophet of land stewardship and sustainable activity”.

 

Geddes’ most famous words quoted today are: “The world is mainly a vast leaf-colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass, and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests. This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves. By leaves we live.”Little wonder that he became a friend and admirer of Bose.He reports in his biography of Bose that Howes, the successor of Thomas Huxley (disciple of Darwin), had come to witness one of Bose’s experiments with a galvanometer on plants and had exclaimed afterwards: “Huxley would have given years of his life to see that experiment”. Huxley had been Geddes’ mentor too.

Works of DH Lawrence

It seems incredible that DH Lawrence from about 1910 until his death in 1930 produced this immense body of creative work and perhaps more I am unaware of:

Novels:

St Mawr

Aaron’s Rod

Kangaroo

The White Peacock

Sons and Lovers

The Trespasser

The Lost Girl

Women in Love

The Rainbow

The Plumed Serpent

The Virgin and the Gypsy

(with ML Skinner) The Boy in the Bush

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Short Stories:

The Prussian Officer

England, my England

The Captain’s Doll

Twilight in Italy

The Woman Who Rode Away

Poetry

Bay

Look! We have come through!

Amores

Birds, Beasts and Flowers

Tortoises

Love Poems and Others

New Poems

Pansies

Collected Poems

Plays

Touch and Go

The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd

David

Belles Lettres etc

Studies in Classic American Literature

Movements in European History

Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious

Fantasia of the Unconscious

Sea and Sardinia

Mornings in Mexico

Translations of Giovanni Verga: Lttle Novels of Sicily

Phoenix: Posthumous Papers edited and with an introduction by Edward D. McDonald

The Letters of DH Lawrence, edited and with an introduction by Aldous Huxley

(Secondary Literature: DH Lawrence: Novelist by FR Leavis)

Of related interest here: “DH Lawrence’s ‘Phoenix'”; “On Lawrence”.

India’s Moon Mission (2006)

(Author’s Note October 22 2008: Please see also “Complete History of  Mankind’s Moon Missions: An Indian Citizen’s Letter to the ISRO Chairman” published elsewhere here today.)

INDIA’S MOON MISSION

Subroto Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page, August 13, 2006.

If India’s Moon project planned for September 2007 is successful, it will be something for everyone to cheer loudly about. The Moon is Earth’s single important natural satellite, and as planetary moons go, it is unusually large in size compared to Earth. Our five-stage PSLV rocket is planned to place a scientific satellite around it. In token political gestures, NASA and the Europeans may provide scientific payloads too.

The central question is whether the Indian satellite now being built will ever succeed in reaching lunar orbit ~ an immensely complex task which deserves to be urgently reconsidered.  It is of the highest national importance to try to ensure beforehand that our mission succeeds if it is going to be tried at all.

Yet neither our much-vaunted scientific establishment nor our political decision-makers have any sense of urgency about it. Let it be clearly said it will be simply not good enough this time for the Government of India’s scientists, bureaucrats and politicians to shrug off failures as they have been prone to do by saying, “Oh, we’ll do better next time”. Wasteful expenditure of public resources (paid for by endless deficit finance in an inconvertible currency) is common across all government departments, but in this most dramatic of missions, the hopes and aspirations of one thousand million Indians, and especially hundreds of millions of wide-eyed children, will become focussed on the launch. It will be a severe blow to national prestige, morale and self-confidence, as well as a display of scientific and technological incompetence, if there is failure at any stage of this difficult enterprise.

Indeed, it would be better to do the job in discrete and successful stages or not do it at all than to fail at it most spectacularly.

All Indians need to and can come to know what is involved. A trip to the Moon requires a spacecraft reach an “escape” velocity of some 40,000 km per hour. At a distance of some 324,000 km, the spacecraft escapes Earth’s gravity and comes to a “standstill” or “neutral” point, a fictional station on the Earth-Moon axis, still some 32,000 km (or about 19 Moon radii) from the Moon. The Moon’s gravity then gradually takes over, drawing the spacecraft faster and faster towards the Moon, to either land on its surface or go into orbit around it ~ though to avoid a fatal impact crashing into the Moon, the spacecraft may require retrorockets to slow itself down.

The numerous sources of possible failure include (a) launch-failure causing the spacecraft to never reach let aside exit from terrestrial space onto a path to the Moon, all through belts of intense heat and radiation; (b) trajectory-failure causing the spacecraft to move wrongly through cislunar and translunar space, miss the Moon and go into solar orbit like everything else; (c) failing to enter lunar orbit, crashing into the Moon instead; (d) failing to transmit intended data. Only if all these and more are avoided, can our Moon mission as presently defined be considered successful.

India’s mission will be mankind’s 85th to the Moon on record. There is a vast amount of knowledge already gained in other countries, almost all of which is publicly available. The era of international competitions in space-research and exploration started between Russia and America half a century ago and it ended after the Cold War. Since the 1980s, the two space superpowers changed emphasis away from the Moon, towards creating re-usable vehicles like the Shuttle and permanent space-stations, unmanned probes to Earth’s planetary neighbours, as well as major space-telescopes which now provide unprecedented visions of the galaxy we inhabit. Now there has been new interest in the Moon again, and there have been successful American, European and Japanese missions recently. Even if our Moon mission succeeds, we will be placed technologically at a point still 40 years behind the world’s leaders in space exploration, and it would be self-delusion to think we lead in space research in any way whatsoever.

Indeed such a realisation is cause for sober reflection and critical questions. Late-starting space missions like the Europeans and Japanese, have all intelligently absorbed the lessons from the Russian and American projects. Has India done so?

Have our space scientists absorbed into their work for the Moon mission next year all the existing lessons available? Are there people at ISRO wholly conversant with what went wrong with every case of launch-failure, trajectory-failure, instrumentation-failure etc causing spacecraft to fail to reach or leave Earth orbit, or to miss the Moon, or fail to communicate etc? If so, have all those lessons been absorbed into our mission’s planning? If not, why not? Can we be assured now that we are not headed to be making the same mistakes as have been already made by others? It is not the cause of  nationalism but the cause of unwisdom which shall be served if we repeat the known mistakes of others.

We are fond of saying our space programme is low in costs, and indeed it is when compared internationally. But there are always domestic opportunity costs, and there may be much better and more cost-effective ways of creating a scientifically-minded population in India. E.g., all of astrology assumes a geocentric Ptolomaic solar system — a fierce Government-led all-India campaign against astrology, and promotion instead of the heliocentric Copernican solar system, may do much more for the cause of rationality and basic scientific education in the country today than a failed Moon mission. After all, we still have purported physicists and directors of national technological institutes who are astrology-believers!

The Government of India’s scientists, bureaucrats and politicians must become wholly candid and transparent with the public whose resources they are spending about the exact significance of our Moon project, the risks of failure, and how these are being addressed. So far that has not been done. Little more than a year away from the launch, all we seem to have in the public domain are pious hopes being expressed and a wish-list of what scientific results might be like once the spacecraft is in lunar orbit. The real question is whether our satellite will succeed in reaching lunar orbit at all.

Indeed the present aim may be far too ambitious for 2007, and may need to be broken down into several stages. E.g. improving rocketry first to aim at a “parking orbit” around Earth permitting ground control to better calculate trajectories to the Moon, then to flyby the Moon, then to attempt to go into lunar orbit.

It may be wise to postpone carrying scientific payloads until much more experience has been successfully gained in rocketry through terrestrial, cislunar, translunar and lunar space. We should also bear in mind we have not been major manufacturers of engines, aircraft bodies, computers or communications and imaging equipment ~ all of which are vital to this enterprise.

Furthermore, let all the equations involved in the rocketry, and even whether Newtonian or Einsteinian frames of reference are being used, be released into the public domain for scrutiny by everyone in the country and the world. If someone says this will benefit the Pakistanis, the intelligent political response would be to invite the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Malaysians, Singaporeans Indonesians and our other neighbours to join our mission. Science is universal, and belongs to all mankind. All mundane disputes appear petty when seen from selenocentric space ~ which is the one good reason to want to try to reach it.

The Greatest Pashtun: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

THE GREATEST PASHTUN

 

First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, July 16 2006

 

By

 

SUBROTO ROY

 

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988) was without a doubt the greatest political genius the Pashtun people have yet produced.

 

Understanding the political economy of the Pashto/Pakhto speaking peoples, as well as the Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen and other inhabitants of Afghanistan, remains a top intellectual challenge for everyone including themselves. Afghans have hardly lived a peaceful decade since Genghiz Khan destroyed them avenging his grandson in the 13th Century.  Ghazni, Ghor, Peshawar etc. were launch-pads for attacks against the settled people of India’s fertile plains (most recently, the October 1947 attack on Kashmir Valley) while Herat saw wars by and against Iran.

 

Lyall, one of the architects of 19th Century British policy, thought Afghans “wretched”, “treacherous barbarians with whom it was an unfortunate necessity to have any dealings at all”… “I can only sympathise with the Afghan’s love for his country and his hatred against those who disturb him, although he has no scruple in disturbing others to the best of his savage ability”. Yet the British idea of Russian armies marching into India through Afghanistan was always a wild exaggeration, especially after joint boundary commissions demarcated the imperial spheres of influence. When the Russians did finally enter and occupy Afghanistan in 1978-79, they lived to regret it; and they arrived in independent India on passenger aircraft, were greeted as fraternal socialists selling weapons, and remain so today. Pakistan’s generals exaggerated the prospect of Russia seeking warm water ports, first to Nixon (as Vice President) then to Carter and Reagan, causing the Americans to happily supply weapons which the generals promptly turned against India.

 

Ghaffar Khan was and remains the only thoughtful figure in Pashtun history who invented a new, living political philosophy as a constructive force for his people’s peace and progress. Even though his ideology failed to take permanent root or survive among them, he commanded universal respect among all Pashtuns and Afghans and became “Badshah Khan” or “Bacha Khan” to them. Afghanistan’s civil war, in which the USSR was pit against the USA, Pakistan etc, stopped with a ceasefire in 1988 for his burial to take place in Jalalabad, with a funeral procession that was miles long.

 

Pashtun and other Afghan and Arab tribal people have become notorious today by their association with the dogmatism, intellectual insularity and retrograde ideology of Muslim extremism. Yet Osama bin Laden and his Taliban and other friends have been unable to make any moral argument for the cause of violence other than one built on revenge for perceived or misperceived injustices against Muslims. “Because you have done this and this to Muslim people, we are bound by the code of vengeance to do this to you” is just about the entire quantum of moral reasoning contained in Al-Qaida’s statements. “Revenge is a wild kind of justice” and circumstances can exist where injustice is so deep that only revenge suffices in rectification. The current case of the rape-murder of an Iraqi girl and her family by a group of renegade American soldiers may be one such, which explicitly led to the kidnap, torture and murder of some of the soldiers by Iraqis seeking vengeance. But justice too is a civilised kind of revenge, and the transition from a code of revenge to a code of justice is precisely the transition from tribal warfare to civilisation. In Western countries, it occurred recently enough when duelling with swords or pistols came to be banned, giving way to the law of torts.

 

Ghaffar Khan attempted to change the Pashtun code in this one fundamental and all-important direction by abolishing the right to revenge. In its place he brought the doctrine of non-violence. “I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.”Patience and righteousness are not political virtues that seem to find much mention in Islamic or Afghan folklore, and doubtless they arose in Ghaffar Khan’s thought and actions at least partly through his encounter with Christian altruism, first with Rev. Wigram his schoolmaster, and later in adult life with the Tolstoy-Thoreau doctrines applied along with Jain ahimsa by MK Gandhi in the movement for Indian independence.

 

“It is the weapon of the Prophet” was Ghaffar Khan making explicit he was and remained at all times the most devout of Muslims and none could say otherwise; “but you are not aware of it” was his new move to tell his people they had misled themselves by sacerdotalism and needed to read the Prophet’s life and message afresh. He once told M. K. Gandhi how he explained to amazed Punjabi Muslim Leaguers the precise evidence in favour of non-violence from the Prophet’s life in Mecca, leaving his audience speechless.

 

Today’s “Taliban” were named for their purported piety; Lashkar-e-Taiba even means “Army of the Pious”, the typical image being of pious studious youth seated memorising scriptures in a Pakistani madrassa, and later waving AK-47s in a moving truck. Ghaffar Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar “Servants of God” were their polar opposite. Each of some 120,000 members of the order took a fierce oath to non-violence and renunciation: “I am a Servant of God, and as God needs no service, but serving his creation is serving him, I promise to serve humanity in the name of God; to refrain from violence and from taking revenge; to forgive those who oppress me or treat me with cruelty; to refrain from taking part in feuds and quarrels and from creating enmity; to treat every Pathan as my brother and friend; to refrain from antisocial customs and practices; to live a simple life, to practice virtue, and to refrain from evil; to practice good manners and good behaviour and not to lead a life of idleness… I will sacrifice my wealth, life, and comfort for the liberty of my nation and people… side with the oppressed against the oppressor… live in accordance with principles of nonviolence… serve all God’s creatures alike… my object shall be the attainment of the freedom of my country and my religion. … will never desire any reward whatever for my service. All my efforts shall be to please God, and not for any show or gain.”

 

In their founder’s words, the Khudai Khidmatgars were to be ready to lay down their own lives for their cause and never take any life doing so. They became far more forceful practitioners of non-violence than their Gandhian Indian counterparts in the struggle for political freedom from the British, and hundreds of them died in Peshawar under British brutality.

 

In 1893, Durand’s controversial boundary-line gave the British control over the three mountain passes between Afghanistan and India in exchange for raising the annual British subsidy to the Afghan Amir by 50% from Rs 8 lakhs to 12 lakhs. Today, the Durand Line roughly separates perhaps 10 million Pashtun comprising 40% of Afghanistan’s population from perhaps 8 million Pashtun who are Pakistani nationals (no one has exact figures as there has been no census). In the 1950s and 1960s, the Afghan Government backed by the USSR, on pretence that the Durand Line had not been freely accepted by Afghans, wished for a “Pakhtoonistan” under its sway.

 

Though jailed by the new and nervous Pakistanis, Ghaffar Khan was averse to any truck with the Afghan Government ~ he had not demanded erasing the Durand Line but had demanded a separate and distinct “Pashtunistan”. A mature self-confident federal Pakistan today would bifurcate itself vertically into one or two mountainous western provinces on one side, and two or three river valley eastern provinces on the other. The former could be named “East Pashtunistan” if the Baloch agreed, or East Pashtunistan and Baluchistan otherwise, and extend to the port of Gwadar, while the latter would remain Punjab, Sindh and “Northern Kashmir”.

 

Along with an Afghan “West Pashtunistan” and an Indian “Southern Kashmir”, a stable design of peaceful nation-states from Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India would be then finally in place. Badshah Khan’s influence in death may yet become greater than his influence in life.

 

A Philosophical Conversation between Prof. Sen & Dr Roy

A Philosophical Conversation between Professor Sen & Dr Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman, “8th Day”, May 14 2006

 

 

ROY: …The philosophers Renford Bambrough and John Wisdom would have been with you at Cambridge….

SEN: Wisdom I knew better; he was at my College; but you know my philosophy was not an important thing at the time. Among the philosophers there, it was C. D. Broad with whom I chatted more. But Wisdom I knew, and he mainly tried to encourage me to ride horses with him, which I didn’t.

ROY: You went to Cambridge in …

SEN: I went to Cambridge in 1953.

ROY: So Wittgenstein had just died…

SEN: Wittgenstein had died.

ROY: Only just in 1952 (sic; in fact he died in 1951).

SEN: But I knew a lot about the conversations between Wittgenstein and Sraffa because Sraffa was alive; I did a paper on that by the way.

ROY: Well that’s what I was going to ask, there is no trace of your work on Wittgenstein and the Wittgensteinians.

SEN: I don’t know why. My paper was published in the Journal of Economic Literature a couple of years ago. Now mind you it’s not a conclusion, just an interpretation, what was the role of Gramsci in the works of Sraffa and Wittgenstein, what is it that Sraffa actually did in intermediating between them.

ROY: In your book Identity and Violence, I was curious to find you call yourself a “dabbler” in Philosophy yet at the same time you are an eminent Professor of Philosophy at Harvard for decades. The question that arose was, were you being modest, and if so, truly or falsely?

SEN (laughs): I think if you make a statement which you suspect might have been made out of modesty and then I said it was because of modesty I think I would have eliminated the motivation for the statement as you identify it. I am not going to answer the question as to what I think.

ROY: But surely you are not a “dabbler” in Philosophy?

SEN: I am interested in Philosophy is what I meant, and whether I am a dabbler or whether I’ve succeeded in making some contribution is for others to judge. But not for me to judge.

ROY: Okay.

SEN: As for me, the right description is that I am a dabbler in Philosophy. But then that diagnostic is… mine, and I won’t go to war with others if someone disputes that. But it’s not for me to dispute it.

ROY: Would you, for example in reference to our discussion about Wittgenstein, say that you have contributed to Philosophy in and of itself regardless of Economics?

SEN: Most of my work on Philosophy has got nothing to do with Economics. It is primarily on Ethics, to some extent on Epistemology. And these are not “economic” subjects. I have never written on the “Philosophy of Economics” at all.

ROY: How about Ontology? I mean the question “What there is” would be…..

SEN: I am less concerned with Ontology or with Metaphysics than some people are. I respect the subject but I have not been involved.

ROY: You have not been involved?

SEN: Well, I have read a lot but I haven’t worked on it. I have worked on Ethics and Political Philosophy and I have worked on Epistemology and I have worked a little bit on Mathematical Logic. Those are the three main areas in which I have worked.

ROY: Why I say that is because, if the three main philosophical questions are summarised as “What is there?” (or “Who am I?”), “What is true?”, “What should I do?”, then the question “Who am I?” is very much a part of your concern with identity and a universal question generally, while “Is this true?” is relevant to Epistemology and “What should I do?” is obviously Ethics. Morton White summarised philosophy in those three questions. It seems to me you have in this book had to look at…

SEN: At all three of them.

ROY: Well, some Ontology at least.

SEN: But you know I agree with your diagnostic that the second question “What I regard myself to be, is that true?”, is a question of Epistemology, because that’s the context in which “Is it true?” comes in. The second is primarily an epistemological question. The third is, as you said, primarily an ethical question, though I do believe that the dichotomy between Epistemology and Ethics is hard to make. On that subject I would agree with Hilary Putnam’s last book, namely when he speaks of “the collapse of the fact-value dichotomy” which is sometimes misunderstood and described as the collapse of the fact-value distinction, which is not what Hilary Putnam is denying, he’s arguing that the dichotomy is very hard to sustain, because the linkages are so strong, that pursuit of one is always taking you into the other. But the first question you are taking to be an ontological question, “Who am I?”, and at one level you can treat it as that, but there is a less profound aspect of “Who am I?”, namely what would be the right way of describing me, to myself and to others, and that has a deep relationship with the second question. If the separation or dichotomy between the second and third raises some philosophical questions of significance, the dichotomy between the first and second would too. So “Who am I?” can be interpreted at a profound ontological level but it could also be interpreted at a level which is primarily fairly straightforward Epistemology. And it is at that level that I am taking that question to be. Namely: Am I a member of many different groups? Do I see myself as members of many different groups? If I do not see myself as members of many different groups, am I making a mistake in not seeing that I belong to many different groups? Is it the case that implicitly I often pursue things which are dependant on my seeing myself as being members of other groups than those which I explicitly acknowledge? These are the central issues of the “Who am I?” question in this book.

ROY: Well you haven’t used the word “identity” here but when you speak in your book of people having a choice of different identities, you are plainly not referring to multiple identities in the sense of the psychologist; are you not merely saying that everyone has different aspects or dimensions to his or her life, and is required to play different roles at different times in different contexts? Or is there something beyond that statement in your notion of “choice of identities”?

SEN: What I mean by “multiple identities” is, at one level, the most trivial, common but, at another level, most profoundly important recognition that we belong to many different groups: I’m an Indian citizen, I’m a British or American resident, I’m a Bengali, the poetry I like is Bengali poetry, I’m a man, I’m an economist, I belong to all these groups. Nothing complicated about that, and the multiple identity issues of the psychologist that you’re referring to indicate a certain level of complexity of humanity, and sometimes even of pathology perhaps, but that’s not what I am concerned with here, it’s just a common fact that there are many different groups to which any person belongs. And it’s on that extraordinarily simple fact that I am trying to construct a fairly strong, fairly extensive set of reasonings, because that forces us to see the importance of our own choice, our own decisions in deciding on how should I see myself, how would it be correct to see myself given the problems I am facing today, and given the priorities that I will have to examine.

ROY: But if we don’t use the word “groups” just for a minute, then we are not too far wrong to just say that everyone has different aspects or dimensions to their lives, so one dimension could be nationality, one dimension sexuality, one dimension one’s intellectual upbringing, then any person, any character in a novel would have different dimensions….

SEN: The difficulty with that, Subroto, is that in the same aspect we may have more than one…

ROY: Dimension?

SEN: Well dimension tries to capture in a Cartesian space a rather more complex reality, and you know I don’t think this is a metric space we are looking at, so dimensionality is not a natural thought in this context. One thing I am very worried about is when something which is very simple appears to people as being either profoundly right or profoundly mistaken. I’ll try to claim that it is right and it is not very profound but that it is not very profound does not mean people don’t miss it and end up making mistakes. In terms of the aspects of my life which concern my enjoying poetry, there may be many different groups to which I belong, one of them is that I can appreciate Bengali poetry in a way that I will not be able to appreciate poetry in some language which I speak only very little, like Italian poetry for example. But on the other hand, in addition to that, in the same aspect of my appreciating poetry, there may be the fact that I am not as steeped into historical romance which also figures in poetry or patriotic poetry and these are all again classifications which puts me in some group, in the company of some and not in the company of others, and therefore an aspect does not quite capture with the precision the group classification that I was referring to does capture.

ROY: Well, groups we can quarrel about perhaps because groups may not be well- defined…

SEN: Don’t go away Subroto but that does not make any difference, because many groups are not well-defined but they are still extremely important…

ROY: Of course there are overlapping groups…

SEN: Not only overlapping, but you know that is a different subject on the role of ambiguity, that is a very central issue in Epistemology, and the fact of the matter is that there are many things for which there are ambiguities about border which are nevertheless extremely important as part of our identity. Where India begins and China ends or where China begins and India ends may not be clear, but the distinction between being an Indian and being Chinese is very important, so I think that this border dispute gets much greater attention in the social sciences than it actually deserves.

ROY: Well, one of the most profoundly difficult and yet universally common dilemmas in the modern world has to do with women having to choose between identities outside and inside the home. Does your theory of identity apply to that problem, and if so, how?

SEN: I think the choice is never between identities, the choice is the importance that you attach to different identities all of which may be real. The fact of the matter is that a woman may be a member of a family, a woman is also a member of a gender, namely being a woman, a woman may also have commitment to her profession, may have commitment to a politics…

ROY: Does your theory help her in any way, specifically?

SEN: The theory is not a do-it-yourself method of constructing an identity. It is an attempt to clarify what are the questions that anyone who is thinking about identity has to sort out. It is the identification of questions with which the book is concerned, and as such, insofar as the woman is concerned… indeed the language that you use Subroto, that what you have to choose between identities, I would then say that what I am trying to argue is that’s not the right issue, because all these would remain identities of mine but the relative importance that I attach to the different identities is the subject in which I have to make a choice, and that’s the role of the theory…

ROY: They are all different aspects of the same woman.

SEN: Yes indeed. If not explicitly then implicitly, but that is part of the recognition that we need, it is not a question that by giving importance to one of those compared with the others you’re denying the other identities. To say that something is more important than another in the present context is not a denial that the other is also an identity. So I think the issue of relative importance has to be distinguished from the existence or non-existence of these different identities.

ROY: Well, you’ve wished to say much about Muslims in this book….

SEN: That’s not entirely right. I would say that I do say something about the Muslims in this book….

ROY: … yet one gets the impression that you have not read The Quran. Is that an accurate impression?

SEN: No, it’s not.

ROY: You have read The Quran?

SEN: Yes.

ROY: In English, presumably?

SEN: In Bengali to be exact. Not in Arabic, you probably have read it in Arabic.

ROY (laughs): No, just in English. Is it possible to understand a Muslim’s beliefs until and unless one sees the world from his/her perspective? I had to read The Quran to see if I could understand — attempt to understand — the point of view of Muslims. Does one need to read The Quran in order to see their perspective?

SEN: Well it depends on how much expertise you want to acquire. That is, if you have to understand what the Quranic beliefs are, to which Muslims as a group – believing Muslims, who identify themselves as believing and practising Muslims – as opposed to Muslims by ancestry and therefore Muslims in a denominational sense, yes indeed, if you want to pursue what practising and believing Muslims practise and believe then you would have to read The Quran. But a lot of people would identify themselves as Muslim who do not follow these practises or for that matter beliefs, but who would still identify themselves as Muslims because in the sense of a community they belong to that. I mean even Mohammad Ali Jinnah did not follow many of the standard Muslim practises, that did not make him a non-Muslim because a “Muslim” can be defined in more than one way. One is to define somebody who is a believing and practising Muslim, the other is somebody who sees himself as a Muslim and belongs to that community, and in the context of the world in which he lives that identity has some importance which it clearly had in the case of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

ROY: Well, Muslims like Jews and Christians believe the Universe had a deliberate Creation; Hindus and Buddhists may not quite agree with that. Muslims will further believe that the Creator spoke once and only once definitively through one man, namely Muhammad in the 7th Century in Arabia. Would you not agree that no person can deny that and still be a Muslim?

SEN: I think you’re getting it wrong Subroto. It said Muhammad was the last prophet, it does not deny that there existed earlier prophets. Therefore it’s not the case as you said that God spoke alone and uniquely and only once.

ROY: Definitively?

SEN: No, no, Muslims believe that it was definitely spoken at each stage — as a follow up, like Christians misunderstood what message the prophet called Jesus was carrying and they deified Jesus, there was a need for turning a page, that’s the understanding; it’s not the case that’s what Muslims believe, that is not the Quranic view at all, that God spoke only once to Muhammad, that’s not the Quranic belief

ROY: True, true enough..

SEN: But you said that Subroto!

ROY: What I meant was “definitively”, the word “definitively” meaning that…
SEN: Definitively they would say that at each stage there was a memory, and the memory and the understanding got corrupted over time and that’s why they were also so wild about idolatry for example

ROY: Well the Ahmadiyas, for example, are considered non-believers by many Muslims because they claim that there …

SEN: That also brings out the point I was making, that Ahmadiyas see themselves as Muslim….

ROY: Indeed.

SEN: …and in terms of one of the definitions of Muslim that I am giving you, namely as a person who sees himself as a Muslim, or herself as a Muslim, and regards that identity to be important is a Muslim according to that definition; another one would apply a test which is what many of the more strict Sunnis and Shias do, namely, that whether they accept Muhammad as the last prophet, and insofar as Ahmadiyas don’t accept that, then they would say then you are not Muslim…

ROY: Well they do actually…

SEN: Well they do, but in terms…I think what I am telling you is that in terms of the Shia-Sunni orthodox critique they say that in effect they don’t accept that, that is the charge against them, but those who believe that would say that on that ground Ahmadiyas are not Muslim. So I think there is a distinction in the different ways that Muslims can be characterised….

Of Graven Images

OF GRAVEN IMAGES

It is a fallacy of our narcissistic age to expect images of what supreme leaders of thought may have looked like; their teachings and deeds are unaffected by our erroneous expectations

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, Feb 5 2006

IT is hard for us in our narcissistic age of photography, cinema, TV and the Internet to imagine older worlds and cultures where men and women (especially named historical figures) lived and died without any images whatsoever being left behind of what they may have looked like. Few of us know what our own great great grandparents looked like, and they died only a century ago. In Indian religious and philosophical thought, we hardly even know any names.

Eliot in his monumental Hinduism and Buddhism said, “In reading the Brahamanas and older Upanishads we often wish we knew more of the writers and their lives. Rarely can so many representative men have bequeathed so much literature and yet left so dim a sketch of their times. Thought was their real life… we hear surprisingly little about contemporary events.”

In Jain tradition, the first saint, Risabha, son of a king of Ayodhya, was born 100 billion sagaras of years ago, where one sagara is 100 billion palyas, and a palya is the period in which a well a mile deep filled with fine hairs can be emptied if one hair is withdrawn every one hundred years. That is a long time. Risabha lived 8,400,000 years, exceeding all the enormous longevities mentioned in Judaeo-Christian scriptures.

Fortunately for the cause of logic and natural science, “the lives of his successors and the intervals which separated them became shorter”. In Asoka’s edicts, the Jains find their first definite objective mention outside fable, myth and legend. Mahavira, the 24th and greatest Jain saint, whose personal name was Vardhamana, was a contemporary of Buddha though somewhat older. His parents lived in a suburb of Vaisali. When he was 34, “they decided to die by voluntary starvation and after their deaths he renounced the world and started to wander naked in western Bengal, enduring some persecution as well as self-inflicted penances.” Thirteen years later, at age 47, Mahavira had attained enlightenment and appeared as the head of the Nigantha religious order, i.e. the “unfettered”, and it is by that name that the Jains are known to the Buddhists. No image of the historical Mahavira is available, which should not surprise us given the great length of time that separates us as well as the simple fact that the art of realistic portrait-painting is but a few centuries old — starting with, say, Rembrandt and the Dutch Masters — and of course the arts of photography etc are all wholly recent.

Of Gotama, the Buddha, the Sakyamuni of Mahayana tradition, there have been countless images made over the millennia though none may bear any recognisable likeness to the actual man. During his period of fruitless self-mortification, we have his own words “When I touched my belly, I felt my backbone through it and when I touched my back, I felt my belly”. After his enlightenment, wanderings and teachings, the “beauty of his appearance and the pleasant quality of his voice are often mentioned but in somewhat conventional terms which inspire no confidence that they are based on personal reminiscence, nor have the most ancient images which we possess any claim to represent his features, for the earliest of them are based on Greek models and it was not the custom to represent him by a figure until some centuries after his death.”

It is possible “the truest idea of his person is to be obtained not from the abundant effigies which show him as a somewhat sanctimonious ascetic, but from the statues of him as a young man such as that found at Sarnath, which may possibly preserve not indeed the physiognomy of Gotama but the general physique of a young Nepalese prince, with powerful limbs and features and a determined mouth. For there is truth at the bottom of the saying that Gotama was born to be either a Buddha or a universal monarch: he would have made a good general, if he had not become a monk” (Eliot).

In case of Yeshua ben Nazereth, the founder of Christianity, the controversy has become most intense in recent times. A trial has begun in an Italian courtroom on 27 January 2006 as to whether Jesus existed at all, whether the Roman Catholic Church has violated Italian law by teaching about him. An atheist plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, has alleged “The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John, the son of Judas of Gamala”, and claims it is up to the Church to prove in court that Jesus did exist. A priest, Enrico Righi, representing the Church in court, has been accused of breaking two laws: impersonation and abuse of public belief, for having published in a parish bulletin that Jesus was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth. Judge Gaetano Mautone initially refused to hear the case but was forced to do so after being over-ruled by the Court of Appeals.

As for what the historical Jesus may have looked like, The Bible gives no physical description other than in Isaiah 53:2b, “he hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”As a Palestinian Jew, Jesus was likely to have been dark, not the blue-eyed Nordic Jesus of modern American imagination with Presbyterian nose, long blonde hair and height of six feet (Fig. 1). For centuries, the Shroud of Turin was believed by many to have been the actual burial cloth of Jesus — until modern scientific techniques of carbon-dating have conclusively proved that the Shroud was probably of a medieval nobleman and had nothing to do with the historical Jesus. Out of respect as well as sheer ignorance of what he may have looked like, modern cinematic productions traditionally did not show Christ’s face. But based on the Shroud of Turin image (Fig 2), the actor Jim Caviezel recently acted the role of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ” (Fig. 3). Jean Claude Gragard, in a 2001 BBC documentary “Son of God” chose a different way. “Using archaeological and anatomical science rather than artistic interpretation makes this (Fig 4) the most accurate likeness ever created. It isn’t the face of Jesus, because we’re not working with the skull of Jesus, but it is the departure point for considering what Jesus would have looked like.” They “started with an Israeli skull dating back to the 1st century. They then used computer programs, clay, simulated skin and their knowledge about the Jewish people of the time to determine the shape of the face, and colour of eyes and skin.” The result is “a broad peasant’s face, dark olive skin, short curly hair and a prominent nose, about 5’ 1” in height, 110 pounds in weight.” We do not and cannot in practice know what Jesus looked like but this might be closer to the truth than the work of great artists.

And of course, Jesus’ Divinity to Christian believers, and his teachings and deeds for all mankind, like those of Mahavira or Buddha or other supreme leaders of human thought like Aristotle, Zarathustra, Confucius, Muhammad and Nanak, are unaffected by whatever image people have erroneously made of them.

see also my Twitter Wall on the CharlieHebdo controversy; also https://independentindian.com/2001/12/22/the-case-for-and-against-the-satanic-verses/ and https://independentindian.com/science-religion-art-the-necessity-of-freedom-2004/

Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False

Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False

by

Subroto Roy

 

 

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Nov 13 2005 and The Statesman, Nov 14 2005, Editorial Page Special Article

 

 

 

Atal Behari Vajpayee, mentored by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee himself, became Prime Minister of India for less than a fortnight in 1996, then again in 1998 and again in 1999 and remained so until he was voted out in 2004.

 

 

He became PM holding the trust of India’s 120 million Muslims. He was supposed to be the genial, avuncular “good cop” who would keep at bay the harsh forces represented by the unpredictable “bad cop”, his Deputy PM and long-time colleague LK Advani. It was the first time RSS members had come to lead India’s government. How is the Vajpayee-Advani duumvirate to be candidly assessed? The question is important not only for the RSS and BJP engaged in their own introspection and petty politics but for the country as a whole. India needs both a competent Government and a competent Opposition in Parliament, and it is not clear we have ever had either.

 

 

Overall, Vajpayee-Advani, as the chief public symbols of the RSS-BJP, earned relatively high marks in office handling India’s strategic and security interests, including the nuclear issue and Pakistan. Equally, they failed badly in their treatment of India’s Muslims and religious minorities in general. This is a paradox that can be explained by the general failure of putative Hindutvadis to acquire an objective understanding of the processes that had led to Independence, Partition, and Pakistan’s creation.

 

 

Roughly, their comprehension of these processes has been one which sees all Muslims everywhere as cut from the same communal cloth, regardless of the beliefs or actions of individual Muslims. In such prejudiced eyes, there is no conceptual or ultimate difference between a Jinnah and an Azad, between a Salauddin who attacks India at Kargil and a Lt Hanifuddin who dies for India at Kargil. This is the product of a sloppy and erroneous philosophy of history, which in turn is an outcome of an attitude towards modern science and modes of rigorous reasoning that can only be called backward and retrograde.

 

 

It has been signalled most conspicuously by the extremely public adherence of many putative Hindutvadis (and millions of other Indians) to astrology — in apparent ignorance of the fact that all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around Earth. Astrology, a European invention, came to decline in Europe after the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo became widely understood there.

 

 

Like Indian Communists, Hindutvadi ideologues with rare exceptions played no role in the movement that led to Indian independence in 1947 and creation of the modern Indian Republic in 1950. They remained to their credit constantly suspicious of and hostile towards the foreign phenomena that were Bolshevism, Stalinism and Maoism. They remained to their discredit constantly suspicious of and hostile towards Indian Muslims, even at one point seeing virtuous lessons in Hitler’s attitude towards the Jews. They have in their own way subscribed to Ein Reich, Ein Volk but fortunately have always failed to find Ein Fuhrer (on a pattern e.g. of a modern “Netaji”).

 

 

Where Nazis saw communists and Jews in conspiracies everywhere, Hindutvadi ideologues have tended to see communists and Muslims, and also Christians and “Macaulayite” Hindus, in conspiracies everywhere. (An equal methodological admiration for Nazism occurred on the part of Muslims in the 1930s led by Rahmat Ali, the Pakistani ideologue — who saw “caste Hindus” as the root of all evil and in conspiracies everywhere.) The paradox of the RSS-BJP success in handling nuclear and security issues quite well and domestic issues of secular governance badly, is explained by this ideology of double hostility towards communism and Muslims.

 

 

On the positive side, Vajpayee-Advani advocated a tough clear-headed realpolitik on the issue of Indian’s security. “We should go nuclear and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a nuclear weapons’ state. The whole world will recognise us by our power. We don’t want to be blackmailed and treated as oriental blackies. Nuclear weapons will give us prestige, power, standing. An Indian will talk straight and walk straight when we have the bomb”. That is what the BJP told the New York Times in 1993.

 

 

Three years later, the moment Vajpayee first entered office as PM in May 1996, the government’s scientists who had already secretly assembled the bomb for testing, were instructed to stand by for orders to go ahead. Vajpayee did not know if his Government would survive the vote of confidence required of them. When it was pointed out that if he tested the bomb and lost the vote, a successor Government would have to cope with the consequences, Vajpayee, to his credit and reflecting his political experience and maturity, cancelled the test. When he lost the vote, the public demonstration of Indian nuclear weapons capability was also postponed until May 1998, after he had returned as PM a second time. The bomb was a celebration of Hindu, or more generally, Indian independence in the world. India had nominally freed herself from the British but not from Western culture, according to the RSS. Where the Congress had been in the grip of world communism, the RSS-BJP led India to nuclear freedom – such was their propaganda.

 

 

In reality, a long line of prime ministers including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh and IK Gujral had authorised India’s bomb, and a long line of scientists starting with Homi Bhabha had developed it over several decades.

 

 

Vajpayee’s decision finally flushed out Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear weapons developed with North Korea and China. Pakistan is an overtly Islamist state where liberal democracy shows no signs of starting even 65 years after the Lahore Resolution. Its nuclear bombs remain a far greater threat to the world than anyone else’s. Moreover, while India has renounced first use of such weapons, Pakistan has not only not done so, its Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan boasted in 1998-1999 that the next war would be over in two hours with an Indian surrender.

 

 

Such glib talk about nuclear war is beyond contempt in its irresponsibility. A study by medical doctors estimated that a Hiroshima-sized bombing of Mumbai would cause 9 million deaths from blast, firestorms, radiation and fallout. An Indian retaliation would end Pakistan’s existence (though the Pakistani super-elite has long ago fled with its assets to Britain and America). An India-Pakistan nuclear exchange would leave a vast wasteland, finally ending all intellectual controversies about Partition and Jinnah’s theory. In reality, each is hardly able to cope with natural calamities like earthquakes, cyclones and floods, and also has very grave macroeconomic crises brewing because of unending deficit-finance and unlimited printing of paper money. For either to imagine itself a major power is a vain boast regardless of the polite flattery from visiting foreign businessmen. Of course, while each remains the principal enemy of the other, neither is a serious military force in the world.

 

 

After the exchange of nuclear tests in 1998, Vajpayee took the bus across the Wagah border to meet Nawaz Sharif in February 1999. He claimed it was a diplomatic and psychological breakthrough as indeed it was for a moment. But it had not been his original idea. AM Khusro, who accompanied him on the bus, had worked with Rajiv Gandhi in 1990-1991 when Rajiv was advised to make such a Sadat-like move. Furthermore, Vajpayee failed to see the significance of the Pakistani military chiefs led by Pervez Musharraf refusing to meet him formally, which would have entailed saluting him when he was their enemy.

 

 

Vajpayee also may not have known the Pakistani monument he visited was later “purified” with rose water by orthodox Muslim believers. So much for Indian diplomatic triumphs or Pakistan’s diplomatic niceties towards their kaffir guest. BJP foreign ministers later ingratiated themselves with Ariel Sharon because he was an enemy of Muslims — though again the BJP seemed unaware that “a single hair” shorn from idol-worshipping Hindu women at Tirupathi was enough for orthodox rabbis to declare as “impure” the wigs worn by Jewish women made from such hair. The evil of “untouchability” has not been a “caste Hindu” monopoly.

 

 

Kargil war

According to the Sharif-Musharraf plan secretly brewing during Vajpayee’s Pakistan visit, the Kargil infiltration followed. India’s Army and Air Force gamely fought back in the initial weeks suffering relatively severe losses, but the country seemed mesmerised by World Cup cricket and there was no significant political leadership from Vajpayee’s Government until the second week of June 1999. It was only after Brajesh Mishra was provoked by an analysis of how Pakistan might actually succeed (with the possibility of hidden Pakistani plans of a blitzkrieg and missile attacks), that Vajpayee’s Government seemed to wake up from its stupor, mobilised forces rapidly and threatened Pakistan with direst consequences, a threat made credible because it was conveyed by Mishra via the Americans. The Pakistanis backed down, which led soon to Musharraf’s coup détat against Sharif, and the world has had to deal with a Pakistani state synonymous with Musharraf ever since. The Vajpayee-Advani military triumph at Kargil was short-lived, as it was followed within months by an abject surrender to the Taliban’s terrorists at Kandahar airport.

 

 

In the meantime, on 23 January 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were murdered by a savage anti-Christian mob as they slept in their car in rural Orissa. Vajpayee, the agreeable face of the RSS-BJP with allegedly impeccable secular credentials, responded without the moral strength that was necessary from a leader of all of India’s people. It was a model of weakness of political will and comprehension that would be followed in the larger catastrophe to occur in Gujarat.

 

 

On 27 February 2002, a train approaching Godhra station had a bunch of travelling rowdies bullying ticketed passengers, ticket-collectors and local tea-vendors. The vendors belonged to a lowly Muslim caste whose members were entrenched around Godhra and the nearby Signal Falia. During an extended stop at Godhra station, the altercations grew fiercer — the rowdies forcing people to shout slogans and roughing them up when they did not. False rumours flew that the rowdies had molested a Muslim woman and her two daughters who had been waiting on the platform. As the train left Godhra, a gang of rioters led by one tea-shop owner and other tea-vendors gathered before Signal Falia, stopped the train and assaulted it with stones and petrol-bombs.

 

 

One whole compartment was completely burnt, scores of passengers, including 26 women and 12 children, were incinerated, many of whom remain unidentified. (Some of those supposed to be in the compartment according to Railway lists were later found alive and well, as they had moved due to the rowdyism.) Throughout the day, Godhra District Collector Jayanthi Ravi stated on television and radio that a riot had occurred and appealed for calm. But after 7 pm, the State’s political executive called it a “pre-planned violent act of terrorism”, and an organised pogrom began against Muslims across the State. Over several weeks, thousands were killed and raped and turned into refugees inside their own country.

 

 

Political patronage

Gujarat’s chief political executive, a Vajpayee-Advani protégé, should have been immediately held accountable; instead he continued to receive their political patronage. Vajpayee, en route to a planned business trip abroad, made a perfunctory visit to the scene of the civil horror, then proceeded to Singapore, where he was shown moving around on a golf-cart wearing designer goggles. He had clearly failed to grasp the dimensions or the gravity of the nature of the office he held. Vajpayee thus came to lose the trust of India’s Muslims and minorities in general which he had earned by his moderation and maturity over many decades in the Opposition. The RSS-BJP had lost, perhaps permanently, the last opportunity to make their actions tally with their sweet words about a united Indian people living in bliss in a common sacred Motherland.

 

Vajpayee’s finance and economic planning ministers were as ignorant of the reality of India’s macroeconomics as the Stalinist New Delhi bureaucrats pampered by Congress and its Communist friends. These bureaucrats continued in power under Vajpayee. Plus the RSS’s pseudo-economists were enough to scare away all except a minor econometrician and a shallow economic historian. The latter led the BJP up the garden path in 2003-2004 with talk about India’s economy being on the point of “take off” (based on defunct American theory from the 1960s), which misled them into the “India Shining” campaign and electoral defeat. The BJP finance minister, thus misled, revealed his own ignorance of his job-requirements when he happily spoke on TV of how much he sympathised with businessmen who had told him CBI, CVC and CAG were the initials holding India back from this (bogus) “take off”. Equally innocent of economics, the BJP’s planning chief went about promising vast government subsidies to already-rich Indians abroad to become “venture capitalists” in India! Instead of reversing the woeful Stalinism of the Congress decades overall, Vajpayee’s Government super-imposed a crony capitalism upon it. Budgetary discipline was not even begun to be sought — another BJP finance minister revelling publicly in his ignorance of Maynard Keynes.

 

The signal of monetary crisis that was the UTI fiasco was papered over with more paper money printing. Privatisation was briefly made a fetish — despite there being sound conservative reasons not to privatise in India until the fiscal and monetary haemorrhaging is stopped. Liquidating real assets prior to a likely massive inflation of paper assets caused by deficit-financing, is not a public good.

 

RSS members and protégés appointed to government posts and placed in charge of government moneys revealed themselves as corrupt and nepotistic as anyone else. The overall failure of the management of India’s public institutions and organs of State continued under Vajpayee-Advani just as it had done for decades earlier. Vajpayee-Advani evinced no vision of a modern political economy as reformers of other major countries have done, such as Thatcher, Reagan, Gorbachev-Yeltsin, Adenauer-Erhardt, De Gaulle, even Deng Tsiaoping.

 

Irrational obsession

The overall explanation of the ideological and practical failure of the putative Hindutvadis must have to do with their irrational obsession over two decades with the masjid-mandir issue. Ramayana and Mahabharata are magnificent mythological epics yet they are incidental aspects of the faith and culture deriving from the Vedas and Upanishads. The motive force of a true Hindutva is already contained in the simple Upanishadic motto of the Indian Republic, Satyameva jayathe (let truth prevail) which is almost all the religion that anyone may need. The search for all truth necessarily requires individual freedom, and taking its first steps would require the RSS-BJP denouncing all their backward pseudo-science and anti-science. Who among them will liberate them from the clutches of astrology, and bring instead the fresh air and light of modern science since Copernicus and Galileo? Without rigorous modern reasoning, the RSS and BJP are condemned to their misunderstanding of themselves and of India, just as surely as their supposed enemies — literalist Muslim believers — are committed to a flat earth and an implacably stern heaven placed above it. Pakistan’s finest academic has reported how his colleagues pass off as physics the measurement of earth receding from heaven if Einstein and The Qúran could be amalgamated. The RSS and BJP need to free themselves from similar irrational backwardness in all fields, including politics and economics. It is plain Vajpayee, Advani or any of their existing political progeny cannot lead themselves, or Indians in general, to that promised land.

Science, Religion, Art & the Necessity of Freedom (2004)

Science, Religion, Art & the Necessity of Freedom: Reason’s Response to Islamism

by
Subroto Roy

PhD (Cantab.), BScEcon (London)

(A public lecture delivered as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham on August 24 2004, based on a keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, Manila, November 16 2001.)

I am most grateful to the University of Buckingham for allowing me to refresh and carry forward my research these last several months. For some 25 years I have been learning of and reflecting upon the work of two great modern British philosophers, John Wisdom (1904-1993) and Renford Bambrough (1926-1999). In the 1980s in America, I came to apply their thinking in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge 1989), a book which got me into a lot of trouble there. Returning to Britain in 2004, I am dismayed to find their work almost forgotten or unknown today, even at the Ancient University that had been their home. “Orientalists” from the West once used to comprehend and highlight the achievements of the East for the peoples of the East who were unaware of them; I am happy to return the favour by becoming an “Occidentalist” in highlighting a little of the work of two of Britain’s finest sons of which she has become unaware. Wisdom and Bambrough played a kind of modern-day Plato and Aristotle to the Socrates played by Wittgenstein (1889-1951); the knowledge they achieved in their lives and have left behind for us to use and apply to our own problems make them, in terms of Eastern philosophy, rather like the “Boddhisatvas” of Mahayana Buddhism. I do not expect anyone to share such an extravagant view, and will be more than satisfied if I am able to suggest that we can have a grasp of the nature and scope of human reasoning thanks to their work which may help resolve the most intractable and seemingly irreconcilable of all current international problems, namely the grave cultural conflicts made apparent since September 11 2001.

2. The September 11 attacks aimed to cripple one of the world’s largest and most important countries in a new kind of act of war. The perpetrators apparently saw themselves — subjectively in their own minds — acting in the name of one of the world’s largest and most important religions. Since the attacks, the world has become an unusually bewildering place, as if notions of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law have been proven a lie overnight, as if virtues like patience, common reasoning and good humour have all become irrelevant, deserving to be flushed away in face of a resurgence of ancient savageries. The attackers and their friends taunt the West saying their love of death is greater and more powerful than the West’s love of life; the taunts and the counter-taunts of their powerful adversaries have had the effect of spraying panic, mutual fear, hatred or destruction across the surface of everyday life everywhere, so we now have bizarre scenes of people taking off their shoes and clothes and putting them on again while travelling, and of the British public being advised on how to cope with nerve gas attacks when they might have much rather been watching “reality TV” instead. An Age of Unreason appears upon us.

The very simple proposition I put forward here is this: there are, indeed there cannot be, any conflicts that are necessarily irresoluble. To put it differently, the logical scope of common reasoning is indefinite and limitless. There is no question to which there is not a right answer. If I was asked to answer in one sentence what has been the combined contribution to human thought of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough, indeed of modern British philosophy as a whole, I would say it has been the proof that there are no unanswerable questions, that there is no question to which there is not a right answer.
By “common reasoning” I shall mean merely to refer to the structure of any conversation well-enough described by F. R. Leavis’s operators in literary criticism:

“This is so, isn’t it?,

Yes, but….”.

My “yes” to your “This is so, isn’t it?” indicates agreement with what you have said while my “but…” tells you I believe there may be something more to the matter, some further logical relation to be found, some further fact to be investigated or experiment carried out, some further reflection necessary and possible upon already known and agreed upon facts. It amounts to a new “This is so, isn’t it?” to which you may respond with your own, “Yes, but…”; and our argument would continue. Another set of operators is:

“You might as well say…”;

“Exactly so”;

“But this is different…”

This was how Wisdom encapsulated the “case-by-case” method of argument that he pioneered and practised. It requires intimate description of particular cases and marking of similarities and differences between them, yielding a powerful indefinitely productive method of objective reasoning, distinct from and logically prior to the usual methods of deduction and induction that exhaust the range of positivism. We are able to see how common reasoning may proceed in practice in subtle fields like law, psychology, politics, ethics, aesthetics and theology, just as objectively as it does in natural science and mathematics. Wittgenstein had spoken of our “craving for generality” and our “contemptuous attitude towards the particular case”. Wisdom formalised the epistemological priority of particular over general saying: “Examples are the final food of thought. Principles and laws may serve us well. They can help us to bring to bear on what is now in question what is not now in question. They help us to connect one thing with another and another and another. But at the bar of reason, always the final appeal is to cases.” And “Argument must be heard”.

In all conflicts – whether within a given science, between different sciences, between sciences and religion, within a given religion, between different religions, between sciences and arts, within the arts, between religion and the arts, between quarrelling nations, quarrelling neighbours or quarrelling spouses, whether in real relationships of actual life or hypothetical relationships of literature and drama – an approach of this kind tells us there is something further that may be said, some improvement that can be carried out, some further scope for investigation or experiment allowing discovery of new facts, some further reflection necessary or possible upon known facts. There are no conflicts that are necessarily irresoluble. Where the suicide-bombers and their powerful adversaries invite us to share their hasty and erroneous assumption that religious, political or economic cultures are becoming irreconcilable and doomed to be fights unto death, we may give to them instead John Wisdom’s “Argument must be heard.”

Parties to this or any conflict may in fact fail to find in themselves enough patience, tolerance, good humour, courage to take an argument where it leads, or they may fail to find enough of these qualities in adequate time, as Quesnay and the Physiocrats failed to find solutions in adequate time and were swept away by the French Revolution. But the failures of our practical human powers and capabilities do not signal that the logical boundaries of the scope of reason have been reached or even approached or come to be sighted.

3. The current conflict is said to be rooted in differences between religious cultures. We may however wish to first address whether any religious belief or practice can survive the devastating onslaught of natural science, the common modern adversary of all religions. What constitutes a living organism? What is the difference between plants and animals? What is the structure of a benzene ring or carbon atom or subatomic particle? What is light? Sound? Gravity? What can be said about black holes or white dwarfs? When did life begin here and when is it likely to end? Are we alone in being the only form of self-conscious life? Such questions about the world and Universe and our place in it have been asked and answered in their own way by all peoples of the world, from primitive tribes in hidden forests to sophisticated rocket scientists in hidden laboratories. Our best common understanding of them constitutes the state of scientific knowledge at a given time. Once we have accounted for all that modern science has to say, can any reasonable explanation or justification remain to be given of any religious belief or practice from any time or place?

Bambrough constructed this example. Suppose we are walking on the shore of a stormy sea along with Homer, the ancient Greek poet, who has been restored to us thanks to a time machine. We are walking along when Homer looks at the rough sea and says, “Poseidon is angry today”. We look at the waves loudly hitting the rocks and nod in agreement saying, “Yes, Poseidon is angry today”. We may be using the same words as Homer but Homer’s understanding of and expectations about the words “Poseidon is angry today” and our understanding of and expectations about the same words would be utterly different, a difference moreover we are able to understand but he may not. To us with our modern meteorology and oceanography, and the results of the television cameras of Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough, we know for a fact there is no god-like supernatural being called Poseidon living within the ocean whose moods affect the waves. But to Homer, Poseidon not only exists in the ocean but also leaves footprints and descendants on the land, when Poseidon is angry the sea is vicious, when Poseidon is calm the seas are peaceful. We use the words “Poseidon is angry today” as an accurate description of the mood of an angry sea; Homer uses the same words to mean there was a god-like supernatural being inside the ocean whose anger was being reflected in the anger of the waves.

My second story is from 7th century AD located here in Buckingham, from a spot a few hundred yards behind the Economics Department of the University where there is St Rumbwald’s Well. In 650 AD — just a short while after The Recital of the Prophet of Islam (570-632AD) had been written down as The Q’uran, and just a little while before the Chinese pilgrim I-Ching (635-713AD) would be travelling through India recording his observations about Buddhism – here 12 miles from Buckingham was born the babe known as Rumwold or Rumbwald. England was hardly Christian at the time and the first Archbishop of Canterbury had been recently sent by the Pope to convert the Anglo-Saxons. Rumbwald’s father was a pagan prince of Northumbria; his mother the Christian daughter of the King of Mercia. St Rumbwald of Buckingham or Brackley is today the patron saint of fishermen at Folkestone, and he has been historically revered at monasteries in Mercia, Wessex and distant Sweden. Churches have been dedicated to him in Kent,Essex, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Dorset and North Yorkshire. Pilgrims have washed themselves at St Rumwald’s Well over centuries and it is said Buckingham’s inns originated in catering to them. What is the legend of St Rumbwald? It is that on the day he was born he declared three times in a loud voice the words “I am a Christian, I am a Christian, I am a Christian”. After he had been baptised, he, on the second day of his life, was able to preach a sermon on the Trinity and the need for virtuous living, and foretold his imminent death, saying where he wished to be buried. On the third day of his life he died and was buried accordingly.

When we hear this story today, we might smile, wishing newborn babes we have known waking up in the middle of the night might be more coherent too. Professor John Clarke has shown Catholic hagiography over the centuries has also registered deep doubts about the Rumbwald story. We might be tempted to say the whole thing is complete nonsense. If a modern person took it at face value, we would look on it sympathetically. We know for a fact it is impossible, untrue, there has to be some error.

At the bar of reason, all religions lose to science where they try to compete on science’s home grounds, which are the natural or physical world. If a religious belief requires that a material object can be in two places at the same time, that something can be made out of nothing, that the Sun and planets go around the Earth to make Night and Day, that the Earth is flat and the sky is a ceiling which may be made to fall down upon it by Heavenly Wrath, that the rains will be on time if you offer a prayer or a sacrifice, it is destined to be falsified by experience. Natural science has done a lot of its work in the last few centuries; all the major religions pre-date this expansion so their physical premises may have remained those of the science understood in their time. In all questions where religions try to take on scientific understanding head on, they do and must lose, and numerous factual claims made by all religions will disappear in the fierce and unforgiving heat of the crucible of scientific reasoning and evidence.Yet even a slight alteration of the St Rumbwald story can make it plausible to modern ears. Just the other day Radio 4 had a programme on child prodigies who were able to speak words and begin to master language at age of one or two. It is not impossible a child prodigy of the 7th Century AD in his first or second year of life spoke the words “I’m a Christian”, or that as a toddler with a devout Christian mother, he said something or other about the Holy Trinity or about virtue or that he wished to be buried in such and such place even if he had had no real understanding of what he was talking about. If such a prodigious infant of royal blood then died from illness, we can imagine the grief of those around him, and how word about him might spread through a countryside in an era 1200 years before the discovery of electricity and invention of telecommunications, and for that information to become garbled enough to form the basis of the legend of St Rumbwald through the centuries.

The Rumbwald story is a typical religious story that has its parallels in other times and places including our own. It is impossible for it to have been factually true in the way it has come down to us, but it is completely possible for us with our better knowledge of facts and science today to reasonably explain its power over the beliefs of many generations of people. And if we are able to reasonably explain why people of a given time and place may have believed or practised what they did, we have not reason to be disdainful or scornful of them. The mere fact such religious stories, beliefs, experiences and practices of human beings over several thousand years across the globe have been expressed in widely different and far from well-translated or well-understood languages – Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, Samoan, Apache, Kwa Zulu, Hausa, Swahili – let aside English, Arabic, Yiddish or a thousand others, provides more than ample explanation of how miscomprehension and misapprehension can arise and continue, of how a vast amount of mutual contempt and scorn between peoples of different cultures is able to be irrationally sustained. The scope for the reasonable “demythologisation” of all these stories in all these languages from all these religions, in the way we have sought to “demythologise” the Rumbwald story here obviously remains immense and indefinite.

Next consider religious practice in the modern world, and the universal act of praying. (Economists have not seemed to look much at this before though a lot of mankind’s energy and resources are rationally spent towards it every day across the world.) Some weeks ago, on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, Lady Soames, the daughter of Churchill, recalled the incredible fear and tension and uncertainty felt during the buildup to the invasion of Normandy; she said that when she finally heard the roar of the aeroplanes as they started across the English Channel: “I fell to my knees and prayed as I’d never prayed before or since” (BBC 1 June 6 2004, 8.40 am). A policeman’s wife in Costa Rica in Central America is shown making the sign of the cross upon her husband before he goes to work in the morning into a crime-ridden area from which he might not return safely at the end of the day. Footballers and boxers and opening batsmen around the world say a prayer before entering the field of contest. So do stockbrokers, foreign exchange dealers, businessmen, job-candidates and students taking examinations, and of course hospital-patients entering operating theatres. Before a penalty shootout between England and Portugal or Holland and Sweden, many thousands of logically contradictory prayers went up.

All this praying is done without a second thought about the ultimate ontological character of the destination of such prayers, or even whether such a destination happens or happens not to exist at all. The universal ubiquitous act of praying might be a rational human response to fear, uncertainty, hopelessness, and despair, as also to unexpected joy or excessive happiness.

Blake said: “Excess of joy, weeps, Excess of sorrow, laughs”. When there is excess of sorrow or excess of joy, praying may contribute mental resources like courage, tranquillity and equanimity and so tend to restore emotional equilibrium in face of sudden trauma or excitement. A provisional conclusion we may then register is that religious beliefs and practices of people around the world are open to be reasonably comprehended and explained in these sorts of straightforward ways, and at the same time there is a good sense in which progress in religious understanding is possible and necessary to be made following growth and improvement of our factual understanding of the world and Universe in which we live.

We still speak of the Sun “rising in the East” and “setting in the West” despite knowing since Copernicus and Galileo and the testimony of Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong that the Sun has in fact never done any such thing. Our understanding of the same words has changed fundamentally. Tycho Brahe thought the Sun went around Earth; his disciple Kepler the opposite; when Tycho Brahe looked East at dawn he understood something different from (and inferior to) what Kepler understood when Kepler looked East at dawn. It is similar to Homer and us with respect to whether Poseidon’s moods affect the waves of the sea. Examples of traditional religious belief and understanding may get modified by our scientific knowledge and understanding such that the same words may mean something quite different as a result and have a new significance for our consciousness.

Indeed it extends well beyond natural science to our understanding of literature, art and psychology as well. With the knowledge we have gained of ourselves — of our conscious waking minds as well as of our unconscious dreaming minds — after we have read and tried to grasp Blake, Goethe, Dostoevsky or Freud, we may quite well realise and comprehend how the thoughts and feelings residing in the constitutions of actual beings, including ourselves, are more than enough to describe and explain good and evil, and without having to refer to any beings outside ourselves residing elsewhere other than Earth. It is like the kind of progress we make in our personal religious beliefs from what we had first learned in childhood. We do not expect a person after he or she has experienced the ups and downs of adult life to keep to exactly the same religious beliefs and practises he or she had as a child at mother’s knee, and we do not expect mankind to have the same religious beliefs today as it did in its early history.

Bambrough concluded: “There is no incompatibility between a refurbished demythologised Homeric polytheism, a refurbished demythologised Christianity, and a refurbished demythologised Islam…. The Creation and the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Virgin Birth…may be very differently conceived without being differently expressed….we can still learn from the plays and poems of the ancient Greeks, although we reject the basis of the mythological structure through which they express their insight and their understanding. The myths continue to teach us something because they are attached to, and grounded in, an experience that we share. It would therefore be astonishing if the Christian religion, whether when considered as a united and comprehensive body of doctrine it is true or false, did not contain much knowledge and truth, much understanding and insight, that remain valuable and accessible even to those who reject its doctrinal foundations. In and through Christianity the thinkers and writers and painters and moralists of two thousand years have struggled to make sense of life and the world and men…. What is more, the life that they wrestled with is our life; the world they have portrayed is the world that we live in; the men that they were striving to understand are ourselves.”

Bambrough was addressing Church of England clergy forty years ago but in his reference to a refurbished demythologised Islam he might as well have been addressing Muslim clergy today — indeed his findings are quite general and apply to other theists as well as to atheists, and provide an objective basis for the justification of tolerance.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam each starts with a “religious singularity”, a single alleged moment in the history of human beings when a transcendental encounter is believed to have occurred: the Exodus of God’s Chosen People led by Moses; the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of God’s Only Son, Jesus Christ; the Revelation of God’s Book to His Messenger, Muhammad, Peace Be Unto Him, the Seal of the Prophets. Each speaks of a transcendental Creator, of just rewards and punishments awaiting us in a transcendental eternal life after mortal earthly death.

A different fork in the road says, however, that the wind blowing in the trees may be merely the wind blowing in the trees, nothing more; it is the path taken by Buddhism and Jainism, which deny the existence of any Creator who is to be owed our belief or reverence. It is also the path taken by Sigmund Freud the ultra-scientific rationalist of modern times: “It seems not to be true that there is a power in the universe, which watches over the well-being of every individual with parental care and brings all his concerns to a happy ending…. it is by no means the rule that virtue is rewarded and wickedness punished, but it happens often enough that the violent, the crafty and the unprincipled seize the desirable goods of the earth, while the pious go empty away. Dark, unfeeling and unloving powers determine human destiny; the system of rewards and punishments, which, according to religion, governs the world, seems to have no existence.”

We then seem to have a choice between a Universe Created or Uncreated, Something and Nothing, One and Zero, God and No God. Pascal said we have to bet on the Something not on the Nothing, bet on the One not on the Zero, bet on God being there rather than not being there. Pascal’s reasoning was clear and forms the basis of “decision theory” today: if you bet on God’s existence and God does not exist, you lose nothing; if you bet on God’s lack of existence and God exists, you’ve had it. The philosophies of my own country, India, speak of Zero and One, Nothing or Something, and almost leave it at that. Perhaps we know, or perhaps we do not says the Rg Veda’s Hymn of Creation.. Does our self-knowledge end with our mortal death or perhaps begin with it? Or perhaps just as there is an infinite continuum of numbers between 0 and 1, there is also an infinite continuum of steps on a staircase between a belief in Nothing and a belief in Something, between the atheism of Freud and the Buddhists and the theism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Generalising Bambrough’s findings, it would be surprising if we did not find each and every religion, whether theistic or atheistic, to contain some knowledge and truth, some understanding and insight, that remains valuable and accessible even to those who may otherwise reject the doctrinal foundations of any or all of them. In and through the religions, the thinkers, writers, painters, poets, sculptors and artists of thousands of years have struggled to make sense of our life and the world that we live in; the men and women they were striving to understand are ourselves.

4. Just after the September 11 attacks, I said in the Philippines that the perpetrators of the attacks would have been surprised to know of the respect with which the religious experience of the Prophet of Islam had been treated by the 19th Century British historian Thomas Carlyle: “The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Mohammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.” Carlyle told stories of Mohammad once not abiding by his own severe faith when he wept for an early disciple saying “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how, when the young beautiful Ayesha tried to make him compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, he had denied her: “She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!” Carlyle’s choice of stories suggested the simple humanity and humility of Mohammad’s life and example, even an intersection between Islamic belief and modern science (”a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart”). Carlyle quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”, suggesting there might be something of universal import in the message well beyond specifically Muslim ontological beliefs.

In general, the words and deeds of a spiritual leader of mankind like that of secular or scientific leaders like Darwin, Einstein, Aristotle, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, may be laid claim to by all of us whether we are explicit adherents, disciples or admirers or not. No private property rights attach upon their legacies, rather these remain open to be discussed freely and reasonably by everyone. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, politics is too important to be left to the politicians, economics is definitely too important to be left to the economists; even science may be too important to be left to the scientists — certainly also, the religions are far too important to be left to the religious.

Yet Mr Osama Bin Laden and his friends, followers and potential followers, indeed any believing Muslims, are unlikely to be impressed with any amount of “external” praise heaped on Islam by a Carlyle or a Goethe, let aside by a President Bush or Prime Minister Blair. They may be wary of outsiders who bring so much praise of Islam, and will tell them instead “If you like Islam as much as you say you do, why not convert? It’s so easy. You have merely to say ‘God is One and Mohammad is the Seal of the Prophets’ – that’s all, you are Muslim, God is Great”.

Indeed Mr Bin Laden and friends are unlikely to be impressed with any kind of economic or carrot-and-stick policy of counter-terrorism, where incentives and disincentives are created by Western authorities like the US 9/11 Commission or the Blair Cabinet telling them: “If you are ‘moderate’ in your thoughts, words and deed you will earn this, this and this as rewards from the Government, but if you are ‘extremist’ in your thoughts, words and deeds then you shall receive that, that and that as penalties from the Government. These are your carrots and here is the stick.” It is Skinnerian behavioural psychology gone overboard. The incentives mean nothing, and the disincentives, well, they would merely have to be more careful not to end up in the modern Gulags.

We could turn from carrot-and-stick to a more sophisticated mode of negative rhetoric instead. If a doctrine C, declares itself to be resting upon prior doctrines B and A, then C’s reliability and soundness comes to depend on the reliability and soundness of B and A. If Islam declares itself to depend on references to a historical Moses or a historical Jesus, and if the last word has not been spoken by Jews, Christians, sceptics or others about the historical Moses or the historical Jesus, then the last word cannot have been spoken about something on which Islam declares itself to depend.

We can be more forceful too. Suicide-bombers combine the most sordid common crimes of theft and murder with the rare act of suicide as political protest. Suicide as political protest is a dignified and noble and awesome thing – many may remember the awful dignity in the sight of the Buddhist monks and nuns of South Vietnam immolating themselves in 1963 in protest against religious persecution by Diem’s Catholic regime, which led to the start of the American war in Vietnam. Six years and half a world away, Jan Palach, on January 19 1969, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square protesting the apathy of his countrymen to the Soviet invasion that had ended the Prague Spring. Socrates himself was forced to commit suicide for political reasons, abiding by his own injunction that it would be better to suffer wrong oneself than to come to wrong others — suicide as political protest is not something invented recently. And certainly not by Bin Laden and friends, whose greed makes their intentions and actions merely ghastly lacking all dignity: they are not satisfied like the Buddhist monks or like Jan Palach with political protest of their own suicides by self-immolation; they must add the sordid cruelty that goes with the very ordinary crimes of theft and mass murder as well.

Yet this kind of negative rhetorical attack too may not cut much ice with Mr Bin Laden and his friends. Just as they will dismiss our praise for Islam as being a suspicious trick, they will dismiss our criticism as the expected animus of an enemy.

To convict Mr Bin Laden of unreason, of contradicting himself, of holding contrary propositions x and ~x simultaneously and so talking meaninglessly and incoherently, we will have to bring out our heaviest artillery, namely, The Holy Q’uran itself, the Recital of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). We may have to show explicitly how Mr Bin Laden’s own words contradict what is in The Q’uran. He and his followers would then be guilty of maintaining x and its contrary ~x at the same time, of violating the most basic law of logical reasoning, the law of excluded middle, of contradicting themselves, and therefore of speaking meaninglessly, incoherently, nonsensically regardless of their language, culture, nationality or religion. The Q’uran is a grand document and anyone reading it must be prepared to either considering believing it or having powerful enough reasons not to do so. “The great Mystery of Existence”, Carlyle said, “glared in upon (Mohammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.”

Certainly, as in many other religions, the believers and unbelievers are distinguished numerous times in the Prophet’s Recital; believers are promised a Paradise of wine and many luxuries, while unbelievers are promised hell-fire and many other deprivations. But who are these unbelievers? They are the immediate local adversaries of the Prophet, the pagans of Mecca, the hanifs, the local tribes and sceptics arrayed against the Prophet. It is crystal clear that these are the people being named as unbelievers in The Q’uran, and there is absolutely no explicit or implicit mention or reference in it to peoples of other places or other times. There is no mention whatsoever of Anglo-Saxons or Celts, Vikings, Goths, or Gauls, of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Confucians or Shintos, no mention of Aztecs, Incas, or Eskimos. There is no mention of any peoples of any other places or of any later times. Certainly there is no mention of the people of modern America or Israel or Palestine or Britain or India. Yet Mr Bin Laden evidently sent an email to the head of the Taliban on October 3 2001, in which he referred to “defending Islam and in standing up to the symbols of infidelity of this time” (Atlantic Monthly, Sep. 2004). We are then able to say to him or any of his friends: “Tell us, Sir, when you declare a war between believers and unbelievers in the name of Islam, whom do you mean to refer to as “unbelievers”? Do you mean to refer to every person in history who has not been a Muslim, even those who may have been ignorant of Islam and its Prophet? Or do you mean to refer to the opponents and enemies the Prophet actually happened to encounter in his struggles during his mission as a proselytiser, i.e., the Arabic idolaters of Mecca, the hanifs and Qureshis, this local Jewish tribe or that local Christian or pagan tribe against whom the early Muslim believers had to battle strenuously and heroically in order to survive? If it is these local enemies of the Prophet and his early disciples whom you mean to refer to as “unbelievers” destined for Hell’s fires, there is textual evidence in The Recital to support you. But if you mean by “unbelievers” an arbitrary assortment of people across all space and all time, you are challenged to show the verses that give you this authority because there are none. Certainly you may have military or political reasons for wishing to engage in conflict with A or B or C — because you feel affronted or violated by their actions — but these would be normal secular reasons open to normal discourse and resolution including the normal laws of war as known by all nations and all peoples. There may be normal moral arguments to be made by radical Muslims against the US Government or against the Israeli Government or the British or Indian or some other Government — but there are no generalised justifications possible from within The Q’uran itself against these modern political entities. We should expose Mr Bin Laden and his friends’ lack of reason in both maintaining that Prophet Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, and also maintaining that they can extrapolate from The Q’uran something that is not in The Q’uran. The Q’uran speaks of no unbelievers or enemies of the Prophet or the early Muslims who are not their local enemies in that time and place.

Pritchard, the distinguished Oxford philosopher, once wrote an article called “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” We today may have to ask a similar question “Does Islamist Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?”

5. If all this so far has seemed too clinical and aseptic in approaching the mystical matters of the spirit, I hasten to add finally that a decisive counterattack upon natural science may be made by both religion and art together. Our small planet is a satellite of an unexceptional star in an unexceptional galaxy yet we are still the centre of the Universe in that it is only here, as far as any of us knows, that such things as reason, intelligence and consciousness have come to exist. (Finding water or even primitive life elsewhere will not change this.) We alone have had an ability to understand ourselves and be conscious of our own existence — the great galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs are all very impressive but none of them can do the same. What responsibility arises for us (or devolves upon us) because of this? That is the perfectly good question asked by art and religion on which science remains silent. Life has existed for x million years and will be extinguished in y million more years, but we do not know why it arose at all, or what responsibility falls on those beings, ourselves, who have the consciousness to ask this. Religion and art cannot battle and win on science’s home ground but they can and do win where science has nothing left to say.

That is what DH Lawrence meant when he said the novel was a greater invention than Galileo’s telescope. Other artists would say the same. Art expresses life, and human cultures can be fresh and vigorous or decadent and redolent of death. The culture that evaluates its own art and encourages new shoots of creativity will be one with a vibrant life; the culture that cannot will be vulnerable to a merger or takeover. There is and has been only one human species, no matter how infinitely variegated its specimens across space and time. All have a capacity to reason as well as a capacity to feel a range of emotions in their experience of the world, something we share to an extent with other forms of life as well. And every human society, in trying to ascertain what is good for itself, finds need to reason together about how its members may be best able to survive, grow, reproduce and flourish, and this vitally demands freedom of inquiry and expression of different points of view. The lone voice in dissent needs to be heard or at least not suppressed just in case it is the right voice counselling against a course that might lead to catastrophe for all. To reason together implies a true or right answer exists to be found, and so the enterprise of truth seeking requires freedom as a logical necessity. It takes guts to be a lone dissenter, and all societies have typically praised and encouraged the virtues of courage and integrity, and poured shame on cowardice, treachery or sycophancy. Similarly, since society is a going concern, justice and fairplay in the working of its institutions is praised and sought after while corruption, fraud or other venality is condemned and punished. Leavis spoke of the need for an educated public if there was not to be a collapse of standards in the arts, since it was only individual candour that could expose shallow but dominant coteries.

Freedom is logically necessary to keep all potential avenues to the truth open, and freedom of belief and experience and the tolerance of dissent, becomes most obvious in religion, where the stupendous task facing everyone is to unravel to the extent we can the “Mystery of Existence”. The scope of the ontological questions is so vast it is only wise to allow the widest search for answers to take place, across all possible sources of faith, wherever the possibility of an insight into any of these subtle truths may arise, and this may explain too why a few always try to experience all the great religions in their own lifetimes. A flourishing culture advances in its science, its artistic creativity and its spiritual or philosophical consciousness. It would be self-confident enough to thrive in a world of global transmissions of ideas, practices, institutions and artefacts. Even if it was small in economic size or power relative to others, it would not be fearful of its own capacity to absorb what is valuable or to reject what is worthless from the rest of the world. To absorb what is valuable from outside is to supercede what may be less valuable at home; to reject what is worthless from outside is to appreciate what may be worthwhile at home. Both require faculties of critical and self-critical judgement, and the flourishing society will be one that possesses these qualities and exercises them with confidence. Words are also deeds, and deeds may also be language.

The crimes of September 11 2001 were ones of perverse terroristic political protest, akin on a global scale to the adolescent youth in angry frustration who kills his schoolmates and his teachers with an automatic weapon. But they were not something inexplicable or sui generis, but rather signalled a collapse of the old cosmopolitan conversation with Islam, and at the same time expressed an incoherent cry of stifled people trying to return to an austere faith of the desert. Information we have about one another and ourselves has increased exponentially in recent years yet our mutual comprehension of one another and ourselves may have grossly deteriorated in quality. Reversing such atrophy in our self-knowledge and mutual comprehension requires, in my opinion, the encouragement of all societies of all sizes to flourish in their scientific knowledge, their religious and philosophical consciousness and self-discovery, and their artistic expressiveness under conditions of freedom. Ultra-modern societies like some in North America or Europe may then perhaps become more reflective during their pursuit of material advancement and prosperity, while ancient societies like those of Asia and elsewhere may perhaps become less fearful of their capacity to engage in the transition between tradition and modernity, indeed, may even affect the direction or speed of change in a positive manner. To use a metaphor of Otto Neurath, we are as if sailors on a ship, who, even while sailing on the water, have to change the old planks of the ship with new planks one by one. In due course of time, all the planks get changed one at a time, but at no time has there not been a ship existing in the process — at no time need we have lost our history or our identity.

The Case For and Against *The Satanic Verses*: Evaluating Diatribe and Dialectic as Art

The Case For and Against *The Satanic Verses*: Evaluating Diatribe and Dialectic as Art

by Subroto Roy

June 2001, Kolkata, India. First published at www..com on December 23 2002. First appearance in print in The Statesman Festival Volume, October 2006. (Note, April 2007: this article is an example of how the Internet age has transformed meanings: before the Internet, to be published and to be printed referred to practically simultaneous events; but this article was published on the Internet almost four years before it came to be republished in print.)

 

 

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a manifold document; in reading it more than a dozen years after publication, what is brought to mind is the relation between art and criticism described by Lawrence and advertised by Leavis: ”We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else. All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudo-scientific classifying and analysing of books in an imitation-botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon. A critic must be able to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and its force. To do so, he must be a man of force and complexity himself, which few critics are. A man with a paltry, impudent nature will never write anything but paltry, impudent criticism. And a man who is emotionally educated is rare as a phoenix…”

The sincere and vital emotions most obviously provoked by Rushdie’s book are nausea, anger and irritation.It appears at first sight an abusive, incoherent masquerade of a novel with little artistic value, a mere moneymaking vehicle for a preening, self-seeking author and his publisher.The decisions of the Republics of India and Pakistan to ban it for being gratuitously offensive to the religious sentiments of millions of people, or the finding against it of blasphemy by the Islamic authorities of Iran seem understandable.

Yet such an initial response may be followed by another very different set of sincere and vital emotions. Upon reflection and a second reading, it is possible to feel exhilaration, delight, even the calm of a Shia Muslim spiritual experience from the book. These may be accompanied by a conviction that Rushdie has produced a significant work of art even if he himself remains unaware of its nature. This kind of unusual and dichotomous critical experience needs to be explained. College professors around the world have been writing theoretical essays portraying Rushdie as a “magic realist” or some such oxymoron. The truth may be more prosaic: The Satanic Verses is nothing if it is not a second, perhaps definitive, autobiographical experiment in which Rushdie has attempted to reconcile himself with his own experiences, a task in which he has achieved at best partial success. It is as if he has tried to comprehend his own life as an English-speaking Indo-Pakistani Muslim in the Western world, and in that process the words of The Satanic Verses just came tumbling out.And there is little even a bitter enemy can say about one’s search for self-knowledge, especially on matters of religious belief.

The cover says The Satanic Verses is a novel; what may be called its superficial plot amounts to something a giggling adolescent might have written for an undergraduate essay. Here is its outline:

Once there were two young Muslim boys of Bombay, Najmuddin and Chamchawalla. N. is born poor and raised in the slums; from delivering tiffins he becomes a small-time and then a major screen idol of Hindi cinema, a kind of Muslim NTR/Bachan mixture. In his profligacy he has an affair with R. who later murders her young children and commits suicide because of her unrequited love for him; N. travels in an aeroplane to England which is blown up midair by Sikh hijackers at 30,000 ft; he falls unharmed to the ground, is found on the English coast by an old woman whose lover he becomes until her death; then he returns to a lovely Jewish girlfriend who seems to have no reason to want to be with him, he returns to India, murders the Jewish girlfriend and kills himself, all along being tormented by a notion he may have invited divine wrath for having wilfully eaten pork. In parallel, the other young Muslim boy, C. grows up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, is sexually molested by a dhoti-clad street-vendor, has peculiar and perverse parents and servants, is sent to a public school and University in England, ends up in London advertising, is on the same aeroplane which explodes in the sky, also falls unharmed to the ground and is found by the same old woman, but is taken in by British police and immigration authorities, and, most oddly, finds himself transmogrified gradually into a goat like being and then Satan himself, is forced by British police to eat his own goat-pellets, escapes to find refuge among a generous Bangladeshi family in London’s immigrant ghettos, is re-transformed into a human being again after his hatred becomes focussed on a single individual, his fellow Mumbaikari, Najmuddin. C attempts to avenge himself on N. for no particular reason except jealousy, yet N. saves his life and there is supposed to be a moral of good and evil there. C. also at some point acquires a splendid English wife who divorces him — again a woman whom we see no reason to want to be with a jerk like him (though we are not told he might have wanted her for the British passport). C. finally returns to Bombay, is reconciled with his dying father, meets up with an old girlfriend, and the book ends with these two being together.

This is not “magic realism”, it is palpably poor writing. If the superficial plot suffices to make The Satanic Verses a novel, then your or my singing in the shower suffices for us to be in grand opera.

Seen as an autobiographical experiment, however, the superficial plot begins, ever so slightly, to make sense as Rushdie appears himself as both Muslim boys whose lives are traced from Bombay to London and back. He is Najmuddin to the extent he torments himself throughout for having willfully violated Muslim practice

“his mouth full of unclean meat ”(p. 31);

in his relationship with at least one of Najmuddin’s three women, the Jewish girlfriend Allie; and perhaps more generally in his having

”managed to bury his greatest talent so deep that it might easily have been lost forever, his talent, that is, for loving genuinely, deeply and without holding back, the rare and delicate gift which he had never been able to employ” (p.26)

Rushdie is Chamchawalla more obviously in having grown up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, been sent to school and university in England, gotten married to and divorced from an English woman named Pamela. Both Najmuddin and Chamchawalla are left with their fathers after their mothers’ early deaths, and Rushdie is original and most authentic in describing these father-son relationships where he appears to draw deeply on his own emotional life. There is a short delightful scene of him teaching his own son to ride a bicycle. Then he makes rare records of the terrible conflicts possible between fathers and adult sons:

(N.) “would understand how much the older man had resented him, and how important it was for the father to defeat the son and regain, thereby, his usurped primacy in the affections of his dead wife”. (p. 19)

(C.) “wrote his father a letter full of cruelty and anger, whose violence was of the type that exists only between fathers and sons, and which differs from that between daughters and mothers in that there lurks behind it the possibility of actual, jaw-breaking fisticuffs. “(p.47)

The son returns to India to be tenderly reconciled with the emaciated dying old man from whom he has been estranged:

”Abba, I came back because I didn’t want there to be trouble between us anymore.

That doesn’t matter any more. It’s forgotten, whatever it was.”

Whatever it was. Death makes family feuds seem petty and inconsequential in retrospect. The old man is just happy to see the boy, his own life, once again. The son unexpectedly finds in himself love, devotion and respect for the old man whom he had long feared and despised:

”First one falls in love with one’s father all over again, and then one learns to look up to him, too…. He is teaching me how to die… He does not avert his eyes, but looks death right in the face…” (pp. 543 et. seq, italics original)

A child sees his parents initially as God-like beings said Sigmund Freud; an aspect of maturity arrives when the child begins to see them no longer as deities but as humans, warts and all. When Rushdie has applied himself to his own inner life and relationships with his father and his son, he delves into a vast pool of expressiveness, and, ever so briefly, discovers and establishes his artistry. His poignant reconciliation with a dying father is a small treasure.

Another episode worth notice in the superficial plot of The Satanic Verses has to do with the growth to maturity of the character of the young Bangladeshi-British adolescent, Mishal Sufyan, and her marriage to the white-fathered, Pakistani(?)-mothered Hanif Johnson. Their love signals fresh hope and new life in Britain’s grim immigrant neighbourhoods filled with fear and hatred. The race riots in England in 2001 could have been taken from a chapter of The Satanic Verses.Rushdie has been a self-conscious observer here as nice boys from RugbySchool don’t normally go slumming even if they are wogs themselves, yet even so the Indian preppie from Rugby or Harvard must still reconcile the continuous threads which bind him to the people cleaning the lavatories at Heathrow or pumping gas or running motels in America.

In parallel with this superficial plot, The Satanic Verses contains a theological dialectic mostly on the origins, beliefs and practices of Islam, the faith in which Rushdie was born and raised. This is practically independent of the superficial plot, or at best the two have been clumsily pasted together. The link is once more Rushdie himself. While he appears as the main protagonists Najmuddin and Chamchawalla in the superficial plot, he makes a triple appearance in the theological treatise, at three different levels of Muslim doubt or faith.

At the greatest level of scepticism, Rushdie appears as the infidel poet and satirist Baal who gives his life to the cause of an absolute artistic and intellectual freedom, mocking Prophet Muhammad and The Quran, saying he recognizes no authority except his artistic Muse:

”A poet’s work (is to) name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep. “(p. 100)

Under the sword of his Muslim captors, Baal ends with “I’ve finished. Do what you want”; he is beheaded but dies a spiritually free unbroken man. Rushdie may have relied on Islamic legend here though his fellow Anglo-Pakistani, the social anthropologist Akbar Ahmed, has apologetically said that as a matter of historical fact: “The conquest of Makkah cost less than 30 lives…. The charge of those critics who accuse the Prophet of the (death) of a poet who wrote satirical verse… will not hold. An over-zealous Muslim infuriated by his verses set out to silence the poet.”

At a lesser level of scepticism or a greater level of Muslim belief, Rushdie appears in the theological dialectic as a fictional Salman Farsi, supposed to be the “calmest” (p. 107), and “most highly educated” (p. 377) of the Prophet’s intimate disciples. This character becomes in course of time a drunken apostate after starting to doubt the authenticity of The Quran as Divine Revelation, as well as the transcription of the Hadith. As a safety measure perhaps, Rushdie put in

”Where there is no belief, there is no blasphemy” (p. 393).

But in real life the authorities of contemporary Iran were not amused or impressed by legal niceties as to whether young Salman sitting in England had renounced Islam or his Pakistani passport for a British one. In 1989 they roundly pronounced The Satanic Verses to be blasphemous to Islam and sentenced Rushdie to death in absentia, causing as we know a significant recent incident of international law.

Ironically, Rushdie`s experience since might have been scripted by himself:

”Your blasphemy, Salman, can’t be forgiven.”

In response, Salman Farsi is

”unable to muster the smallest scrap of dignity, he blubbers whimpers pleads beats his breast abases himself” (p. 387)

and escapes death only by promising to denounce Baal, the idolatrous satirist. In real life Rushdie blubbered, whimpered, pleaded and abased himself to win a reprieve without avail. If the Iranian authorities have since reduced their hatred of him, it seems because they became bored and found him less consequential as time went by, not because of anything he said or did in repentance. In June 2001, Ayatollah Khatami, then President of Iran, said the blasphemy case was “closed”, and that Iran had always seen Rushdie`s book as part of a modern Western assault on Islam.

Yet one must be grateful the Iranian death sentence did not get carried out because there is evidence to reasonably conclude that, all things considered, Rushdie may well be innocent of blasphemous intent. Though he may be guilty of several literary crimes and misdemeanours, he may have been wrongly placed on Iran’s death row for a dozen years. The evidence suggests that what The Satanic Verses has attempted to be is a genuine Muslim dialectic between faith and doubt — albeit one not expressed in Arabic, Farsi or Urdu to attract serious Islamic scholars, but one done in English in the manner of a Hollywood screenplay designed to attract as much hard currency as possible for Rushdie and his publisher. Commercial English comedy as hermeneutics you might say: Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad.

That Rushdie has lacked blasphemous intent is evident from his third appearance in the theological treatise, this time as the secular Indian Muslim, Mirza Saeed Akhtar, who loves and lusts after both his sick wife, Mishal, and her new friend, the epileptic orphan woman Ayesha.The two women are dogmatic Shia Muslims, who insist on leading a vast, pious pilgrimage from central India into the Arabian Sea in the belief their faith will miraculously make the waters part and allow them to walk to Mecca.

Rushdie does not identify them as Shia Muslims but the story is based on actual events in 1981-1983 in the Naseem Fatima “HawkesBay” case in Pakistan.

According to the sociologist Akbar Ahmed,Naseem Fatima, “a shy, pleasant looking girl with an innocent expression on her face, who had a history of fits,” after a series of miraculous religious experiences which were scorned by Sunni Muslims but were not inconsistent with Shia doctrine, led 38 people into the Arabian Sea at Karachi believing the waters would part and they would be transported miraculously to Shia holy sites in Karbala in Iraq.

“(The women and children locked) in five of the six trunks died. One of the trunks was shattered by the waves and its passengers survived. Those on foot also survived; they were thrown back onto the beach by the waves… The survivors were in high spirits — there was neither regret nor remorse among them. Only a divine calm, a deep ecstasy. The Karachi police in a display of bureaucratic zeal arrested the survivors. They were charged with attempting to leave the country without visas…. Rich Shias, impressed by the devotion of the survivors, paid for their journey by air for a week to and from Karbala. In Iraq, influential Shias, equally impressed, presented them with gifts, including rare copies of the Holy Quran.”

In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie has altered and transformed these facts into a rich allegorical dialectic between rationalism and scepticism on the one hand, and dogmatic faith and ecstatic religious experience on the other. The husband Mirza Saeed, representing Rushdie himself, condemns what he says is the foolishness of the faith-filled women, begs them, pleads with them to change their minds, and finally when they cannot be stopped, follows behind them in his Mercedes, collecting stragglers, hypocrites and apostates on the way. The intellectual and spiritual tension between the rationalist and believer is built up excellently. The reader is finally certain that Ayesha and the other pilgrims walk to their earthly deaths in the Arabian Sea, but is left uncertain whether the miracle may have in fact occurred even so, whether they have in fact walked into Paradise itself on the strength of their faith. It is a splendid, exhilarating and unexpected spiritual experience emerging from the book. Moreover, the Rushdie-character, though he survives the pilgrimage, tempers his scepticism by the end of his life, and eventually dies in fusion with the ghost of his love, the believer Ayesha, and, we are led to think, is finally absorbed with her into the Paradise described in The Quran.

Thus in the attempted theological treatise that is contained within The Satanic Verses,

Rushdie appears

(i) as Baal the disbelieving, mocking, satirist who gives his life for artistic freedom;

(ii) as Salman Farsi the Muslim believer who turns to apostasy; and

(iii) as Mirza Saeed Akhtar, the rationalist and sceptic who turns eventually towards Muslim faith and belief.

In making this triple appearance, Rushdie has tried to construct a genuine Muslim dialectic between scepticism and dogmatism; if the sceptical parts have outraged Muslim believers, some of his descriptions of Muslim belief and practice might do no less than add new sympathisers or converts to Islam among the heathen and infidels. It is a creative achievement for a modern English-speaking Muslim, perhaps unintentionally, to try to turn the tide of hostile opinion that exists against Islam in the English-speaking world, through a sympathetic rendering of aspects of Islam. E.g., a practice like halal, which seems cruel or at least pointless to the non-Muslim, is given new meaning by Rushdie, and made into a point of existential philosophy:

”(The Prophet)… required animals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so that by experiencing their deaths to the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaning of their lives, for it is only at the moment of death that living creatures understand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream. “(p. 376).

It is only at the moment of death that life may make its fullest sense. Such would be to look back at life from the point of death; T. S. Eliot in Burnt Norton seemed to speak of looking forward at life all the way to the point of death:

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

…Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Leavis drew attention to the religious meaning assigned to these lines by the criticD. W. Harding:

“For the man convinced of spiritual values, life is a coherent pattern in which the ending has its due place, and, because it is part of a pattern, itself leads into the beginning.”

The Satanic Verses is preoccupied with the possibility of such patterns of birth, death and rebirth, conflict and its resolution, tension and its relaxation. “To be born again … first you have to die” (p. 1) Rushdie was raised a Muslim exposed to the university of critical thought and dialogue; as such he owed himself a responsibility to examine Islam to determine whether he would render it his individual allegiance, not by fiat or blind faith but by the canons of reasonableness. In The Satanic Verses he has traversed a range of logical possibilities between disbelief, doubt and faith in Islam. On the strength of the Mirza Saeed Akhtar character in the book, he may have been truthful in declaring himself a genuine believing Muslim who was innocent of the charges of blasphemy against him. He needs to be absolved of the charges, and his conviction by the Iranians set aside, as in effect has been done by Iran’s President Ayatollah Khatami in June 2001. Here ends the case for The Satanic Verses.

The case against Rushdie however must continue.

He has produced a few ounces of artistic and philosophical gold but these are contained in mountains of muck, which remain to be disposed of.Rushdie shows himself emotionally alive and expressive as a son to his father and a father to his son, as well as a keen social observer of Britain and a thoughtful and philosophical Muslim believer;but at the same time he also reveals himself immature, dishonest and cowardly as a writer.These aspects are summarily revealed in Rushdie’s desire to be gratuitously abusive or offensive towards a wide range of chosen targets, from the memory of Prophet Muhammad to the innocuous Chinese.For example, for no discernible reason except to show that little Salman can say bad words and get away with it,a Mallory-like ghost on Mt.Everest is made to converse about“Goddamn Chinese” and “Little yellow buggers”.Then an implausible Sikh woman terrorist (named after the Delhi journalist Tavleen Singh though reminiscent more of Leila Khaled, the pioneer Palestinian hijacker) leads Khalistanis to hijack an Air India jumbo (numbered 420) and explode it mid-air.

In June 1985 an Air India jumbo did explode mid-air killing all 329 lives on board, and it took painstaking work by the Canadian police to arrest and prosecute (unsuccessfully) the major suspects who were Canadian Sikhs. The victims’ families whose tragedies are trivialised in The Satanic Verses join the list of people Rushdie has wished to pointlessly upset by his personal fantasy of two survivors falling unharmed from that aircraft. Then, Rushdie’s Khalistanis go about yelling

”those mother-f…..g Americans and sister-f…..g British”,

when in fact Khalistan seemed plausible mostly to North American and British Sikhs in Vancouver or California who (unlike perhaps Rushdie himself at the time he authored the book), tend not to be abusive of America or Britain in that kind of way. The cursing merely shows how our purportedly great British writer keeps despoiling the possibility of his own artistry.

Hindus and India come in for special abuse in Rushdie’s worldview. India is that rather amusing and grotesque country

”of hundreds of millions of believers…. in which, to this day, the human population outnumbers the divine by less than three to one,”

where a Muslim NTR/Bachan cinema star can become “the most acceptable, instantly recognisable, face of the Supreme” (p. 17). A Hindu character

”coming as she did from a polytheistic tradition”

is considered

”plainly… incapable” (p. 334)

of comprehending the scriptures of the Semitic faiths. Rushdie reveals himself incompetent here in his purported role of theologian, as he has failed to see that the secular outlook of Hinduism and its heterodox descendants like Buddhism does not imply belief in more than one god. Rushdie is not alone in this prejudice for the most venerable Oxford English Dictionary itself announces “Hinduism is the polytheistic religion of the Hindus”.

In fact, Indian traditions always have freely allowed questioning whether there is any God at all, let alone whether there is one God or many gods. I.e., there always has been space freely available within orthodox Hinduism and its heterodox offshoots for all manner of religious scepticism, including nihilism and pyrrhonism. This is highly problematic for a believing member of any of the Semitic faiths like Rushdie, or the author of the entry on Hinduism in the Oxford English Dictionary.Thus even Pope John Paul VI said Buddhism is not a religion in his sense of what a religion must be, namely, a doctrine entailing belief in God.

The Hindu, or at least the philosophical Hindu, is very troublesome to all others because he is somehow able to accommodate all of them within his own folds. “You want to worship the sun, the seas, the mountains, rivers, trees, snakes or stones as God Immanent?; that’s fine with me,” he says to the animist. “You think there is no God as such?; that’s cool”, he says to the Buddhist. “You’re telling me Jesus of Nazareth was God’s incarnated Son?; okay that’s great, I like that,” he says to the Christian. “You’re telling me the Holy Quran was revealed by Al-Lah to Prophet Muhammad near Makkah?; I’ll accept that,” he says to the Muslim. And so on. The Hindu’s all-inclusive catholicity can drive other believers up the wall, especially those closest to him like Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs who may most urgently want to differentiate themselves from Hindu practice.

Rushdie momentarily accepts the Hindu view when Najmuddin

”is often filled with resentment by the non-appearance, in his persecuting visions, of the One who is supposed to have the answers, He never turns up, the one who kept away when I was dying, when I needed needed (sic) him. The one it’s all about, Allah Ishvar God. Absent as ever while we writhe and suffer in his name” (p. 113)

Here Rushdie momentarily acknowledges his secular Indian childhood as well as his Christian schooling about Christ on the Cross.But mostly he has taken the easy path of branding the Hindu a rather silly polytheistic idolater or animist.There is a reminder of the destruction of religious idols by the new Muslims in pre-Islamic Mecca (Jahilia).Then there is a long development of the wickedness of the character of the chief idolater, the female Hind.The real Hind was a foe turned convert of Prophet Muhammad; Rushdie’s Hind converts, is forgiven by Prophet Muhammad, then secretly continues as an idolatrous witch who plots and causes the Prophet’s demise.Her name “Hind” is the Urdu/Persian name for India and the root of “Hindu”, so it is possible Rushdie’s years as a Pakistani have led him to absorb some of the views prevalent in that country about Hindus and Hindustan being implacable foes of Islam.

Then, Rushdie makes pornographic allusions to Ganesh and Hanuman, and a pointed reference to ”these Shiv Sena bastards in control” of contemporary Bombay. A Brahmin and an “Untouchable” (there can be no Harijans or Dalits in Rushdie’s British world) seem to convert to Islam only to retract, while pious Muslim pilgrims are attacked by the wicked VHP and RSS in scenes Rushdie might have lifted from Attenborough`s Gandhi. No mention here of East Pakistan, Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan or Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto — just “Bungleditch” for Bangladesh. In Rushdie`s view, the ominous forces of Hindu nationalism (the folks who gave him a visa to finally visit India in 2000) are to be kept at bay only by arm-in-arm socialism. It all amounts to a rather stale politically correct ideology fashionable in the 1970s, which crashed with the Berlin Wall one year after The Satanic Verses was published. Rushdie, a one-time child citizen of India, knows in his middle age next to nothing about modern Indian society or its political economy, yet apparently longs to prove his correct Limousine Socialism credentials to his Western publishers and clientele. He keeps putting his thumb in the pan.

He also has been cowardly. Living in Britain, he did not set out to write a modern diatribe against all religious traditions he had encountered which might have amounted to a nihilism or pyrrhonism worth examining. Jews and Christians are conspicuous by their absence from his target-list, allowing him to duck away from the savage criticism he would have received from within the Judeao-Christian countries where he has led his adult life. The Satanic Verses has been received with considerable applause there, and earned him a lot of money.The few characters identified as Jews in the book (Mimi, Cohen, his wife, and daughter) are all normal and sympathetically drawn (Cohen is even made a Holocaust survivor who survived Nazi “monsters” but now commits suicide).There is one identified Christian, who, consistent with Rushdie’s ideology of Limousine Socialism, is made a comical American creationist who bites off his own tongue in fear during the hijacking.

The Satanic Verses was banned in India and Pakistan after its publication; but had Rushdie attacked Jewish or mainstream Christian beliefs and characters with the same kind of parody he hurls at Muslim and Hindu beliefs and practices, he likely would not have been published at all in the West, drying up his dollar-income.

It was simply too risky for Salman Rushdie to be as offensive towards Jews and Christians in Britain or America as he has been to Muslims and Hindus in India or Pakistan. Much easier and more lucrative to write “Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad” or some Peter-Sellers pidgin Indian English dialogue or dig up some dowry-deaths from reading the Indian newspapers. Goes down well with the people who matter. Fits in with their own post-Imperial pretensions about the state of the wogs today. Even better that the Chief Wog himself is saying so. That has been the principal point made by the Iranian authorities against Rushdie, as for example when Ayatollah Khattami said in June 2001 in “closing” the blasphemy case, that Iran always took The Satanic Verses to be a part of the Western assault on Islam.

Indeed Rushdie’s single worst and most pointless example of offensiveness has to do with his distortion of the memory of Prophet Muhammad himself.

Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without doubt one of the greatest men of history, as may be measured by his vast impact on human civilization. His greatness was marked by a magnificent humility; at his death, it was famously said: “If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”; indicating the total self-effacement of the man to his mission. Arabic is the language of Islam, but even in Rushdie’s chosen language of English there has been a vast literature over the centuries on Prophet Muhammad’s life and example. One of the best known is Carlyle’s fully sympathetic 1842 account , which made the message of the Prophet’s religious experience one of universal import well beyond Muslim ontological beliefs:

“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact , “Here am I!”. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.”

Carlyle quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?” And Carlyle told the stories of how Muhammad could not abide by his own severe faith when he wept over the dead body of an early disciple: “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how the young beautiful Ayesha once tried to get Muhammad to compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, and how Muhammad had denied her:

”She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”

In face of such an enormous wealth of rich legendary material to select from to write about Prophet Muhammad, what does Salman Rushdie, purportedly a major British-educated 20th Century Muslim novelist, choose to do? He invents a pointless sequence of pornographic allusions and events to do with how a Mecca whorehouse increases its business! It makes highly offensive reading, not just to Muslim believers but to decency and the truth of Muhammad’s life; rather like the person who associated Christ on the Cross with a urinal and claimed artistic freedom for himself, outraging Christian opinion in the United States of America a few years ago. Why do it, one may ask? Where is the art in it? Where could the art in it possibly be? Why should it not be seen as merely base and revolting?

In putting together then, the case for and against The Satanic Verses, it may be seen how Rushdie’s artistry might have made him a great writer and also how his vast incorrigible faults have kept him permanently from becoming one. To draw a contrast, in The Brothers Karamasov one hundred years ago, Dostoevsky wrote perhaps the definitive internal critique of Christianity, of how Jesus Christ had made true Christian practice impossibly difficult, of how Christianity demanded too much of mankind, more than man’s nature could possibly achieve. Lawrence said of it:

“As always in Dostoevsky, the amazing perspicacity is mixed with ugly perversity. Nothing is pure. His wild love for Jesus is mixed with perverse and poisonous hate of Jesus: his moral hostility to the devil is mixed with secret worship of the devil. Dostoevsky is always perverse, always impure, always an evil thinker and a marvellous seer.”

Rushdie would have liked a similar comparison in respect of Prophet Muhammad and Islam; but he does not deserve it because he lacks the honesty possessed by the great writers while he possesses a greed and cupidity they disowned. As a novel, The Satanic Verses is about as far from The Brothers Karamasov as the music of David Bowie or Boy George or Madonna is from the music of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven.Superficially, it paints nauseous grotesque absurd accounts of incoherent events, mostly with cartoons and caricatures where real people should have been, forcing the reader to take a most unpleasant journey largely because Rushdie`s deliberately cultivated notoriety pleads for his book to be read. The nausea comes to be suspended for a page here, a handful of pages there, when Rushdie demonstrates that a splendid artistry does exist within him even if he finds it impossibly difficult to muster enough discipline to maintain it.That other Indian writers have been imitating his style in the last few decades often without his substance may merely go to show how far critical editorial standards have collapsed in the book-publishing industry.

It is only when The Satanic Verses is seen as a tortured self-exploration by Rushdie to reconcile his Western life with his Islamic upbringing that it begins to become sensible and comprehensible.Madonna or Boy George’s music is not that of Beethoven and everyone has forgotten it already while no one forgets Beethoven, but it is still a kind of music. Similarly, no one forgets Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and everyone will forget Salman Rushdie, but even so his work still needs to be tested for the presence of significant art.That there is some art in it,perhaps hitherto undiscovered, has been the purpose of this essay to reveal.

References

Akbar Ahmed, Discovering Islam; Pakistan Society

Thomas Carlysle, Heroes and Hero Worship

D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix

F. R. Leavis, The Living Principle; Valuation in Criticism (G. Singh ed.)

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

SUBROTO ROY’s works include Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (Routledge, London & New York, International Library of Philosophy, 1989, 1991).

A General Theory of Globalization & Modern Terrorism (2001)

A General Theory of Globalization & Modern Terrorism with Special Reference to September 11

Subroto Roy

This was a keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats meeting on November 16 2001, Manila, Philippines, and was published in Singapore in 2002, Alan Smith, James Gomez & Uwe Johannen (Eds.) September 11 & Political Freedom: Asian Perspectives. It was republished in the West on January 26 2004 on the University of Buckingham website, when the author was Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics there. It came to be followed a few months later by a public lecture at the University, titled “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom: Reason’s Response to Islamism” which has also been published here.

1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
5. September 11: the Collapse of the Global Conversation
6. Envoi

Synopsis: The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in the face of a resurgence of ancient savageries. One aim of this essay is to show this would be too hasty an assessment; another is to provide a general theory of “globalization”, a notion which often has seemed lost for meaning.

1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
The perpetrators of September 11 subjectively acted in the name of Islam. It would have surprised them to know of the great respect with which the religious experience of Prophet Muhammad (572-632 AD) had been treated in the English language by Carlyle in 1842:

“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.” 1

Carlyle told the story of Muhammad once not abiding by his own severe faith when he wept for an early disciple saying “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how, when the young beautiful Ayesha tried to make him compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, Muhammad had denied her:

“She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”

Carlyle suggested the simple humanity and humility of Muhammad’s life and example, and even an intersection between Islamic belief and modern science (“a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart”). He quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”, suggesting there might be something of universal import in Muhammad’s message well beyond specifically Muslim ontological beliefs.
In general, the life or words of a spiritual leader of mankind like Muhammad, Christ, or Buddha, as indeed of discoverers of the physical world like Darwin or Einstein, or explorers of secular human nature like Aristotle, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, may be laid claim to by all of us whether we are explicit adherents, disciples or admirers or not. No private property rights may be attached upon their legacies, but rather these remain open to be discussed freely and reasonably by everyone.

A second example is more proximate. It is of M. K. Gandhi the Indian sitting in South Africa reflecting on the Christian ideas of Thoreau the American and Tolstoy the Russian, synthesizing these with Hindu-Jain notions of “ahimsa” or “non-hatred” into a technique of political action to be applied eventually to end British rule in India; then transferred a decade after Gandhi’s assassination to the U. S. Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr, and later, after King’s assassination, back to Nelson Mandela languishing in prison, who ends apartheid and brings in its place a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa.2
Construing globalization to mean merely Westernization of the East has been a commonplace error, leading to a narrow cramped perspective and reflecting ignorance of both East and West. There are countless examples of the Easternization of the West including the exportation of Judaism and Christianity, and of Indian and Arab mathematics and astronomy in the Middle Ages. There have been and will be countless cross-fertilizations between East and West, let aside the subtle influences of Africa and other cultures and continents on art, music, dance, sports and beliefs around the world. In general, whenever an idea, practice, institution or artifact transmits itself from its origin elsewhere, we have a little piece of globalization taking place. The speed and volume of such transmissions may have vastly increased in recent decades thanks to the growth of modern transport and communications but that is not to say some of the most important transmissions have not already taken place or may not yet take place. Ours like every generation may be biased in favour of its own importance.

2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
Global transmissions can be as soft and salubrious as Americans learning to enjoy football which is not American football. But they can be grim and desperate too — like the transfer of “suicide bombing” techniques from Sri Lanka’s civil war to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; or the idea of schoolboys firing automatic weapons germinating from A Clockwork Orange to actuality thirty years later in an American or a German school.

In fact the Thoreau-Tolstoy-Gandhi techniques of civil disobedience or a hunger-strike inflicting pain or sacrifice on oneself to show an adversary his folly, slide naturally to a limit of suicide as political protest — as when the Buddhist Superior Thich Quang Duc, protesting religious persecution by Diem’s regime in South Vietnam, immolated himself on June 2 1963, soon to be followed by other Buddhist monks and nuns, leading to the end of the Diem regime and start of the American war in Vietnam. Six years and half a world away, Jan Palach, on January 19 1969, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square protesting the apathy of his countrymen to the Soviet invasion that had ended the Prague Spring. Suicide as political protest still abides by the Socratic injunction that it would be better to suffer wrong than to wrong others.3

Terrorism by suicide killing crosses that line — over into a world of utilitarian calculation on the part of the perpetrator that his or her suicide as political protest would be inadequate, and must be accompanied by causing death among the perceived adversary as well.

Gandhi, King and Mandela each had conservative, accommodative currents on one side, as well as radical dissident or parallel terrorist offshoots on the other, and we will return to ask why no non-violent political movement seems identifiable of which September 11 was the violent terrorist offshoot.

Where political protest is absent from the motivation, and killing the adversary becomes the aim with suicide merely the means, as with Japan’s kamikaze pilots, we have passed into a realm of international war between organized authorities in contrast with mere terrorism against some organized authority. A suicide-killer may of course subjectively believe himself/herself to be making a political protest though his/her principals may see him/her as an instrument of war.

Also, if it is correct to distinguish between kamikaze pilots and the perpetrators of September 11 by absence and presence of political protest in their motivation, terrorism typically arises as rebellion against some organized authority, and is to be contrasted precisely with war between organized authorities. “State terrorism” can then only refer to an organized authority being repressive to the point of using its power to cause terror, physical or mental, upon a people or individuals under its control. “State-sponsored” terrorism would be something else again, where an organized authority assists a terroristic rebellion against some other organized authority, amounting effectively to an undeclared international war.4

3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
The question arises whether anything in human nature or society may be identified to help analyse, explain or predict the myriad transmissions of globalization taking place, whether salubrious or not. If such a theory claims to be “general”, it will need to be wide enough to try to explain the motivation for modern terrorism and September 11 2001 in particular.

We could start with the observable fact there is and has been only one human species, no matter how infinitely variegated its specimens across space and time. All have a capacity to reason as well as a capacity to feel a range of emotions in their experience of the world, something we share to an extent with other forms of life as well. And every human society, in trying to ascertain what is good for itself, finds need to reason together about how its members may be best able to survive, grow, reproduce and flourish. This process of common reasoning and reflection vitally requires freedom of inquiry and expression of different points of view. The lone voice in dissent needs to be heard or at least not suppressed just in case it is the right voice counselling against a course which might lead to catastrophe for all. To reason together implies a true or right answer exists to be found, and the enterprise of truth-seeking thus requires freedom as a logical necessity. It takes guts to be a lone dissenter, and all societies have typically praised and encouraged the virtues of courage and integrity, and poured shame on cowardice, treachery or sycophancy. Similarly, since society is a going concern, justice and fairplay in the working of its institutions is praised and sought after while corruption, fraud or other venality is condemned and punished.

A flourishing society may be viewed as one advancing in its scientific knowledge, its artistic achievements, and its religious or philosophical consciousness. Each of these dimensions needs to be in appropriate balance in relation to the others during the process of social and economic growth, and each has a necessity for its own aspect of freedom.

Science is our public knowledge regardless of culture or nationality gained of ourselves as members of the world and the Universe, and has been the most important common adversary of all religions. Who or what is homo sapiens relative to other living species? What is the difference between plants and animals? What constitutes a living organism? What is the structure of a benzene ring or a carbon atom or any atom or subatomic particle? What is light, sound, gravity? What can we say about black holes or white dwarfs? When did life begin on Earth and when is it likely to end? Are we alone in the Universe in being the only form of self-conscious life? Such questions have been asked and attempted to be answered in their own way by all peoples of the world, whether they are primitive tribes in hidden forests or sophisticated rocket scientists in hidden laboratories. Our best common understanding of them constitutes the state of scientific knowledge at a given time.
At the bar of reason, all religions lose to science wherever they try to compete on science’s home grounds, namely, the natural or physical world. If a religious belief happens to imply a material object can be in two places at the same time, that something can be made out of nothing, that the Sun and planets go around the Earth, that if you offer a sacrifice the rains will be on time, then it is destined to be falsified by experience. Science has done a lot of its work in the last few centuries, while the religions pre-date this expansion so their physical premises may have remained those of the science understood in their time. In all questions where religions try to take on the laws of scientific understanding head on, they do and must lose, and numerous factual claims made by all religions will disappear in the fierce and unforgiving heat of the crucible of scientific reasoning and evidence.
With the enormous growth of science, some scientists have gone to the limit of declaring no religious belief can possibly survive — that we are after all made up of dust and atoms alone, that there is no real difference between a mechanical talking doll and a gurgling baby who has just discovered her hands and feet.

Yet reasonable religious belief, action and experience does exist and may need to make its presence felt. Religion may not battle science and expect to win on science’s home ground but can and does win where science has nothing and can have nothing to say. It has been reasonable everywhere for men or women faced with death or personal tragedy to turn to religion for strength, courage or comfort. Such would be a point where religion offers something to life on which science has nothing of interest to say. These include the ultimate questions of life or death or the “Mystery of Existence” itself, in Carlyle’s term.

In fact the ultra-scientific prejudice fails ultimately to be reasonable enough, and is open to a joint and decisive counter-attack by both the religious believer and the artist. Modern science has well established that our small planet orbits an unexceptional member of an unexceptional galaxy. Copernicus by this started the era of modern science and began the end of the grip on Western culture of astrology, which was based on a geocentric Ptolomaic worldview (many Asian cultures like India and perhaps China still remain in that grip).

Yet the pre-modern geocentrism contained a subtle truth which has formed the foundation of both art and religion: to the best of scientific knowledge to this day, Earth is the centre of the Universe inasmuch as it is only here that reason and intelligence and consciousness have come to exist, that there is such a thing as the power to think and the power to love.5

We are, as far as anyone knows, quite alone in having the ability to understand ourselves and to be conscious of our own existence. The great galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs are all very impressive, but none of them is aware of its own existence or capable of the thought or love of any human baby or for that matter the commonest street dog.

What responsibility arises for human beings because of the existence of this consciousness? That is the common and reasonable question addressed by both religion and art, on which science is and must remain silent. We may come to know through science that life has existed for x million years and is likely to be extinguished in y million more years, but we do not know why it arose at all, or what responsibility devolves on those beings, namely ourselves, who have consciousness and reason to comprehend their own existence in the Universe.
D. H. Lawrence meant to raise this when he said the novel was a greater invention than Galileo’s telescope. Great painters, composers, or other artists can be imagined saying something similar. Art is the expression of life, and human cultures, like plants, may be fresh and vigourous with life or decadent and doomed to death. The society which both recognizes and comprehends its own artistic traditions through reasonable evaluation while encouraging new shoots of artistic creativity, will be one with a vibrant cultural life; the society incapable of evaluating its own art self- critically enough will be likely also to kill new creativity from within itself, and become vulnerable to a merger or takeover.

Science, religion and art each vitally requires freedom in order to thrive. In art, the function of reason arises in critical evaluation of literature, paintings, cinema, drama, music, dance, architecture and other aspects of aesthetics. Swimming against a full tide of majority opinion here often may be the right thing to do. The critic F. R. Leavis spoke of the importance of there being an educated public to maintain serious cultural standards; he meant that the freedom to be vigourously critical, often against shallow entrenched coterie opinions, may be the only safeguard preventing artistic or cultural standards from collapse. In science, the activity of reasoning whether in public with one another or privately within oneself, dispels scientific illusions (like astrology) and so enlarges the area occupied by a common empirical understanding. Freedom is logically necessary here to keep potential avenues towards the truth open; it extends also to protecting through tolerance those factual beliefs which may be manifestly false — it may be a crime to steal or commit murder but it is not a crime to hold erroneous factual beliefs about the world as such (e.g. astrology is wrong because Copernicus is right, but it would be illiberal to jail people for believing in astrology.) Such a need for freedom of belief and experience, as well as the tolerance of dissent, becomes most obvious in religion, where the stupendous task facing all human beings is of attempting to unravel the “Mystery of Existence”. The scope of these ontological questions, unanswered and unanswerable by science, is so vast it would be only wise to allow the widest search for answers to take place, across all possible sources and religious faiths, wherever the possibility of an insight into any of these subtle truths may arise. Perhaps that is why some solitary thinkers have sought to experience all the great religions in their own lifetimes, sometimes by deliberate conversion from one faith to the next.

A flourishing society, then, would be one which grows along the three planes of science, religion and art under conditions of freedom. And such a notion may be measured at different scales of social life. It starts with the family as the author of Anna Karenina knew in its famous opening sentence: “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. It could then move to flourishing tribes, neighborhoods or local communities, to flourishing towns, provinces, or whole nations. At any of these levels, the flourishing society is one which inhales deeply the fresh air of natural science, and so sees its knowledge of the material world grow by leaps and bounds; it encourages religious and philosophical discussions and tolerance so does not fail to comprehend its own purpose of being; and it lives creatively and self-critically in trying to improve the expressiveness of its artistic achievements. Such a society would be self-confident enough to thrive in a world of global transmissions of ideas, practices, institutions and artifacts. Even if it was small in economic size or power relative to others, it would not be fearful of its own capacity to absorb what is valuable or to reject what is worthless from the rest of the world. To absorb what is valuable from outside is to supercede what may be less valuable at home; to reject what is worthless from outside is to appreciate what may be worthwhile at home. Both require faculties of critical and self-critical judgement, and the flourishing society will be one which possesses these qualities and exercises them with confidence.

4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
Actual societies, whether small like families or large like nations, in East or West, now or in the past, typically display these qualities in relative balance, excess, or shortage.6 Broadly speaking, throughout the vast span of Asia, there has been unstinting admiration over the last two hundred years for the contribution of the modern West to art, architecture and the growth of scientific knowledge. Where it has come to be known and applied, there has been admiration for liberal Western political thought; while ancient Asian nations which hastily imported ideologies like fascism and communism have lived to regret it. Western political morality at its finest derives from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that rational beings recognise one another’s autonomy and treat one another as ends in themselves, not as means towards each other’s ends. 7 We see this in action today in for example the cordial relations between the USA and Canada, or between North America and Europe, or in recent attempts at European integration.

Asian nationalists in the 20th Century struggled to try to establish individual autonomous national identities, as the West had done in the 18th and 19th centuries. Asian nationalism represented an unwillingness to be treated as mere means towards the ends of Western nations, something we still see today when country B is used to counter A, then C used to counter B, then D used to counter C, etc in the old imperial manner of divide and rule This remains a serious problem of international relations but is something Asia can resolve independently by seeking to create for herself free societies which flourish in science, religion and the arts which would then be robust, self-confident and autonomous enough to decline to be used as means towards others’ ends. Furthermore, Asian societies in some respects all resemble one another and pre-modern Western societies more than they do the contemporary West. These pre-modern societies were ones in which a person was identified by rights and obligations flowing from the place he or she came to occupy through inheritance or brave achievement, and centred around the loyalty of friendship and kinship, as well as fidelity of the household. The relationships between the sexes, between generations, between friends, all these across Asia today may still perhaps resemble one another and the pre-modern West more than they do some trends in the contemporary West. History and identity continue to predominate our cultures in Asia: everyone is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister or friend or relative, everyone is from some place and is of some age; and every deed has a history to it which everyone knows about or wants to talk about.

In contrast, the modern Western financial economics which the present author teaches his students, describes a world of anonymous “efficient markets” with no memory; where anyone can thrive as long as he or she brings something of value to trade; where all information needed to determine prices tomorrow is contained in today’s prices and events; where nothing from yesterday is necessary to determine anything in the future; where the actual direction of price-change is random and cannot be consistently foretold, so we cannot in general make any prediction which will lead to profit without risk. We are to imagine a large number of players in such a market, each with only a tiny bit of market-power itself, and none able to move the terms of trade on its own. Each of these players then, according to the textbooks, seizes every chance to improve his or her own position regardless of all else, he or she will “buy low” and “sell high” whatever and whenever possible, until price differences between identical assets vanish and no extra profit remains to be squeezed out from anything. Such briefly is the pure theory of the efficient market economy which one teaches as an economist. One tells one’s students it is a good thing, and it is to be found, if anywhere in the best international financial markets, and that what globalization refers to is the whole world becoming like one big efficient marketplace.8

Yet, privately, Asia may have watched with dismay the near-collapse of family and social life which has sometimes accompanied the modern prosperity and technological advancement. The war in Vietnam brought obvious physical destruction to parts of Asia but may also have had more subtle corrosive long-term effects on the social fabric of the West. If there has been something liberal and humane about Western politics while Asian politics have been cruel and oppressive, there may also be something stable and chaste about traditional Asian family life while modern Western societies have sometimes seemed vapid and dissolute. Specifically, if it is fair to say there has been too little autonomy experienced by women and children in many Asian societies, it may be fair as well to observe a surfeit of choices may have arisen in some Western societies, greater than many women and children there may privately wish for. How does a society find its right balance on the question of the autonomy, modesty and protection of family life and other social relationships? The divorce courts of the ultra-modern world are places of deep misery for everyone except the lawyers involved in the trade, and as some Asian leaders have observed, something the globalization of Asia could well seek to avoid. Thus the dilemma faced by many Asians today may be how to absorb the efficiency of markets and sound governance of liberal political institutions, without the kind of private social collapse that seems to have occurred in many ultramodern societies, nor the kind of loss of political sovereignty against which Asian nationalists had struggled during the age of imperialism. We may now see how far this brief but general theory of globalization may be applied in explaining the bewildering events of September 11 2001.

5. September 11 : the Collapse of the Global Conversation
Words are also deeds while deeds may also convey meaning.9 The words and deeds of the perpetrators of September 11 2001, and of the nation-states organized against them since that date, are both components of a complex and subtle global conversation taking place as to the direction of our common future.
In earlier times, Gandhi, King and Mandela each led successful non-violent political protests of “non-white” peoples against “white” organized authorities. Their protests assumed a level of tolerance arising out of mutual respect between rebel and authority. None was a totalitarian revolutionary out to destroy his adversary in toto but rather each intended to preserve and nurture many aspects of the existing order. Each had first become the master of the (Christian?) political idiom of his adversary and was willing and able to employ this idiom to demonstrate the selfcontradiction of his opponent, who was typically faced with a charge of hypocrisy, of maintaining both x and its contrary ~x and so becoming devoid of meaning. Such political conversations of words and deeds required time and patience, and the movements of Gandhi, King and Mandela each took decades to fructify during the 20th Century. They had more conservative accommodative currents on one side, and more impatient radical terroristic offshoots on the other.

All such aspects seem absent from September 11 and its aftermath, which seems at first sight sui generis. No patient non-violent political protest movement can be identified of which September 11 was a violent terroristic offshoot or parallel. Tolerance has not merely vanished but been replaced by panic, mutual fear and hatred. Violence appears as the first and not last recourse of political discussion. The high speed of the modern world almost demands a winner to be declared instantly in conflicts with subtle and unobvious roots, and the only way to seem to win at speed is by perpetrating the largest or most dramatic amount of violence or cruelty. The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in face of a resurgence of ancient savageries.

But this would be too hasty an assessment. The global conversation clearly collapsed very badly from the time of e.g. Carlyle’s effort in 1842 to understand Islam’s legacy to the point of September 11 2001 being carried out against the United States or Western civilisation in general in Islam’s name. Even so, the universal liberal virtues of patience, tolerance and common reasoning can still find use here — in identifying possible deep, long-term historical factors which may have accumulated or congregated together to cause such a crime to take place.
One such historical factor has been technological and economic: the invention and immense use of the internal combustion engine throughout the 20th Century, coupled with discovery of petroleum beneath the sands of Arabia — all of which has made the material prosperity of the modern West depend, in the current state of technology, on this link not becoming ruptured. A second and independent factor has been the history of Christian Europe’s alternating persecution and emancipation of the Jewish people, which leads in due course to the Balfour declaration of 1919 and, following the Nazi Holocaust, to the creation of modern Israel among the Arabic- speaking peoples. The history between Christianity and Judaism is one in which the Arabic-speaking peoples were largely passive bystanders. Indeed, they may have been almost passive bystanders in creation of their own nation-states as well — for a third historical factor must be the lack of robust development of modern political and economic institutions among them, with mechanisms of political expression and accountability often having remained backward perhaps more so than in many other parts of Asia.

The end of World War I saw not only Balfour’s declaration but also Kitchener, Allenby and T. E. Lawrence literally designing or inventing new nationstates from areas on a desert-map:

“Our aim was an Arab Government, with foundations large and native enough to employ the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice of the rebellion, translated into terms of peace. We had to … carry that ninety percent of the population who had been too solid to rebel, and on whose solidity the new State must rest…. In ten words, (Allenby) gave his approval to my having impertinently imposed Arab Governments… upon the chaos of victory…”

“(The secret Arab societies) were pro-Arab only, willing to fight for nothing but Arab independence; and they could see no advantage in supporting the Allies rather than the Turks, since they did not believe our assurances that we would leave them free. Indeed, many of them preferred an Arabia united by Turkey in miserable subjection, to an Arabia divided up and slothful under the easier control of several European powers in spheres of influence.” 10

Beginning with the Allied-induced Arab revolt against the Turks, the classic imperial doctrine of “balance of powers” or “divide and rule” has seemed to continue to be applied in rather more subtle diplomatic form up until the present: with post-Mossadeq Iran against any incipient Arab nationalism, then with Iraq against post-Revolutionary Iran, then against Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991. It is only during and after the Gulf War that Osama Bin Laden, as a totalitarian revolutionary, arose as an adversary of the West.

Throughout these decades, little or no spontaneous cosmopolitan political conversation seems to have occurred from which a mature, sustained indigenous Arab or other Muslim nationalism may have arisen as the basis for nation-states, as had done e.g. with Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Vietnamese nationalism.11

From 1919 to 1945, the global conversation became preoccupied with other matters, and from 1945 to the end of the Cold War, with yet other matters again. While the three long-term factors unfolded themselves through these turbulent decades, the natural vibrant free conversation vitally necessary for the political life of any people continued for the Arabic-speaking peoples to remain mostly stifled, dormant, inchoate or abortive. Expectedly enough, whatever little current it had turned inward to the insular austere roots of a faith of the desert:

“The Beduin of the desert…found himself indubitably free…. In his life he had air and winds, sun and light, open spaces and a great emptiness. There was no human effort, no fecundity in Nature: just the heaven above and the unspotted earth beneath. There unconsciously he became near God…. The Beduin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he was within God. He could not conceive anything which was or was not God, Who alone was great…. This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words, and indeed in thought. It was easily felt as an influence, and those who went into the desert long enough to forget its open spaces and its emptiness were inevitably thrust upon God as the only refuge and rhythm of being…. This faith of the desert was impossible in the towns…” 12

But this attempt to return inevitably became something reactionary in the late 20th Century. Finding the Beduin and the original deserts of Arabia transformed over the intervening decades, it could only try to recreate itself among the Pashtoon in the barrenness of Afghanistan, and led to the bizarre scenes of the Taliban attempting to destroy televisions and cassette-tapes in the name of Islam.

6. Envoi
The crimes of September 11 2001 were ones of perverse terroristic political protest, akin on a global scale to the adolescent youth in angry frustration who kills his schoolmates and his teachers with an automatic weapon. But they were not something inexplicable or sui generis. They represented a final collapse of the centuries-old cosmopolitan conversation with Islam, while at the same time it was an incoherent cry of a stifled people trying to return to the austere faith of the desert. Words are also deeds, and deeds may also be language. What September 11 has demonstrated is that even while the information we have about one another and ourselves has increased exponentially in recent years, our mutual comprehension of one another and ourselves may well have grossly deteriorated in quality.

Reversing such atrophy in our self-knowledge and mutual comprehension requires, in the opinion of the present author, the encouragement of all societies of all sizes to flourish in their scientific knowledge, their religious and philosophical consciousness and self-discovery, and their artistic expressiveness under conditions of freedom. Ultra-modern societies like some in North America or Europe may then perhaps become more reflective during their pursuit of material advancement and prosperity, while ancient societies like those in Asia or elsewhere may perhaps become less fearful of their capacity to engage in the transition between tradition and modernity, indeed, may even affect the direction or speed of change in a positive manner.

To use a metaphor of Otto Neurath, we are as if sailors on a ship, who, even while sailing on the water, have to change the old planks of the ship with new planks one by one. In due course of time, all the planks get changed one at a time, but at no time has there not been a ship existing in the process — at no time need we have lost our history or our identity.

© Subroto Roy, November 16 2001; January 26 2004

1 Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship, London 1842.
2 In fact, “Gandhi’s correspondence with Tolstoy… only started after passive resistance had begun, and he only read Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience when he was in prison for that very offence”. Judith M. Brown, Gandhi’s Rise to Power,Indian Politics 1915-1922, Cambridge University Press 1972.
3 Cf. The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton, 1961, Gorgias 474b, 483a, b.Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Thinking, pp. 181-182, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971
4 Applying this to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the precise question would be
how far the present Palestinian authority may be objectively considered the organized authority of a nation-state: if it is, then Palestinian suicide-killings are acts of war; if it is not, they are acts of terrorism. The rhetoric on each side
5 Finding water or even primitive life elsewhere will not change this.
6 For example, the relatively new nation-states created upon the ancient societies of the Indian subcontinent to which the present author belongs, apparently display a surfeit of religiosity combined with a shortage of rational scientific growth, including the sciences of governance and economics. Despite the examples of solitary thinkers from Kabir and Nanak to Gandhi, the political and economic benefits of social tolerance still seem badly understood in the subcontinent. Equally, the mechanism of holding those in power accountable for their actions or omissions in the public domain has often remained extremely backward. A mature grasp of the division between the private and public spheres may also have been absent in Asia; the distinction between private and public property is often fuzzy or opaque; the phenomena of corruption and pollution are then easily explained as mirror-images of one another: corruption is the transmutation of something valuable from the public domain into private property; pollution is the expulsion of private waste into the public domain. Each is likely to be found with the other.
7 Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, ed. H. J. Paton, Oxford
8 The contrast between “named” and “anonymous” societies occurred to the
author on the basis of the theoretical work of Professor Frank Hahn of Cambridge University, Cf. Equilibrium and Macroeconomics, MIT 1984.
9 This was emphasized by the late Cambridge philosopher Renford Bambrough, “Thought, word and deed”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol.
LIV, 1980, pp. 105-117.
10 T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, A Triumph, 1926, Doubleday 1935, pp. 649, 659; pp. 46-47
11 The most may have been Attaturk’s Turkey, M. A. Jinnah’s creation of a Pakistan separate from India, and Algeria’s independence from France — all distant from the fulcrum of Arabia. In case of Pakistan, it was Hitler’s invasion of Poland that led the British, in something of a panic, to begin on September 3 1939 to treat Jinnah’s Muslim League on par with Gandhi ‘s Indian National Congress. The 1937 provincial election results had shown little support for Pakistan in the areas which today constitute that country. Cf. F. Robinson, “Origins” in Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by William E. James & Subroto Roy, Hawaii MS 1989, Sage 1992, Karachi OUP 1993.
12 Seven Pillars of Wisdom, pp. 40-41

Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (1989)

Apropos *Philosophy of Economics*

“Dr. Roy’s book, Philosophy of Economics, which I have read in galleys, I regard as a masterpiece, not only in economic analysis but in philosophic analysis as well.  Sidney Hook 1989

“I shall have to ponder your rejection of the Humean position which has, I suppose, been central in not only my thought but that of most economists. Candidly, I have never understood what late Wittgenstein was saying, but I have not worked very hard at his work, and perhaps your book will give guidance.” Kenneth J. Arrow, letter to the author, 1989

“I was grateful for the reminder of the passage of Aristotle at which I had not looked for many years and found the criticism of Arrow well justified and important.”  FA Hayek, letter to the author, 1981

“It is an extraordinarily well-written and well-thought through book that shows a wide-ranging capacity and understanding of economics as a discipline in both its macro and micro aspects.” Milton Friedman 1991, Evidence in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that he has a thorough and deep understanding of the major issues that have occupied macroeconomics over the past fifty years…. It is a sign of real understanding that Roy can state these ideas not in terms of jargon, not in terms of equations or technical terms, but in straightforward English using only a minimum of specifically economic terminology. All in all, it is a very knowledgeable and sophisticated performance.”Milton Friedman, 1989

“I had the privilege of reading early drafts of this book. I saw it emerge as an in-depth analysis of the philosophical foundations of economics. It is scholarship of a high order. It is an original contribution of major importance to economic thought.”  Theodore W. Schultz 1989

“The core of Roy’s study is devoted to the nature and grounds of economics as knowledge; it examines the basic intellectual roots of economics. It is cogent and, what is exceedingly rare these days, it is refreshingly lucid…. Roy’s book is in several important respects an original contribution, the most important being his treatment of the philosophical foundations of economics as knowledge. He is all too modest in assessing the importance of his contribution.” Theodore W. Schultz, 1983

“(This) is a very ambitious work directed at the foundations of normative judgements in economics. The author arrives at some conclusions very closely matching those I arrived at some years ago. It is clear, however, that Dr. Roy arrived at his conclusions completely independently. That is all the more piquant to me in that the philosophical underpinning of his work is the development of philosophy in England  from the later Wittgenstein, while mine derives principally from earlier work in the United States by the pragmatists… Dr. Roy reveals a clear understanding of the methodological positivism that invaded economic policy analysis in the thirties and still dominates the literature of economics…. Following Renford Bambrough….he arrives at a position equivalent to that of the American pragmatists, especially Dewey, who insist that the problematic situation provides the starting point for the analysis of a problem even though there are no ultimate starting points. The methodological implication is the support of inquiry as fundamental, avoiding both scepticism and dogmatism. Roy develops his position with a great deal of attention to the ramifications of the problem both in philosophy and in economics. While his treatment of economic questions is ‘from the top down’ so to speak, it reveals a strong command of conventional economic analysis. He writes very well and thinks very clearly. He is certainly not afraid to tackle the big questions. His book reveals a keen mind, ready to pay almost undue respect to his forerunners, but anxious also to achieve originality….”Sidney Stuart Alexander, 1985

“I know that I have to continue to bear the responsibility for things that I wrote nearly fifty years ago.  I am however glad that your attention has been drawn to that passage written much more recently…. building up to what I think is  a coherent point of view very different from that which I took in ’34 and ’39…. concerned with a field not far removed from that you  reach…”   John R Hicks, letter to the author, 1984

“A work altogether well written and admirably clear.”Renford Bambrough, 1985

“I like very much the courage in trying to produce a genuine philosophy of economics. Such a book is badly needed and could be very useful to economists. The fine use made of extensive readings in older as well as contemporary theorists and the splendid choice of quotations would themselves be worth the price of admission. The style maintains a fine level of clarity and emphasis.” Max Black 1985

“The discussion of Arrow’s theorem under unintended interpretations focuses our understanding on what is really fundamental to this famous result…. Roy has obviously thought much harder about the foundational and methodological problems in economics than most of his fellow-economists.” Anonymous

“Roy’s platonist view of what is the purpose of government is very odd at this stage of history. He seems to suppose that there is an objectively best state of affairs which we must simply discover. The more urgent issue in politics is generally not that of knowing what is the best thing to do but of dealing with conflicting interests. Conflict of interests is not merely disagreement over facts.” Anonymous

“The author has performed a very valuable service for economists interested in the philosophical problems and positions discussed. He has not misrepresented the positions he discusses and his account of various issues and different positions on those issues is philosophically adequate. Many economists will be stimulated as a result of reading this work to reconsider their own positions on the issues Roy addresses.” Anonymous

“The work has many strengths. It is wide in its references and its outlook. Its endorsement of objectivism is both right and timely. The chapter on mathematics in economics is particularly fine.” Anonymous

KGZ
“The author intends to discuss some of the central philosophical questions facing modern economic theory. In the foreground is a disposition of the conventional problem of value-independence. Roy sees the value-independence postulate as “Hume’s Scepticism”. He defines Hume’s First and Second Laws on the basis of two signified propositions taken from R. M. Hare. (1) From positive empirical premises, no normative postulate can be derived; in order to establish obligatory propositions, at least one normative proposition is needed. (2) In a specified economic context, after all empirical and formal/logical matters are resolved, little scope exists for further intersubjectively valid answers. Valuations beyond this limit are based on the subjective feelings of the economist to the concerned problem. The scientific/theoretical attitude representative of most economists of the 20th century has been based on this characteristic Humean scepticism. To show this, the author reviews short representative quotations from some of the known names of recent economic theory: Friedman, Myrdal, Lionel Robbins, P. A. Samuelson, Hicks, Joan Robinson, Hayek, Oskar Lange, Schumpeter, Arrow, Blaug, Frank Hahn. Subsequently, the author raises the point as to what explains this scientific-theoretical approval. A cursory survey of important real and virtual historical developments since antiquity confirms that the essential reason for the reported wide acceptance of a humean position by the economic scientist indeed could have been as a defensive posture against dogmatism and political dictatorship (“It is part of the democratic reaction against medieval authoritarianism” p.45). Conditioned by their “disgust with the tyrannies and ideologies of the twentieth century”, these authorities tried to protect economic science and guarantee the objectivity of research by resort to moral scepticism. Hence the author arrives at the starting position of his actual subject: After using Hume to escape from dependence on Plato e tutti quanti, has not value-free economics gotten into a fresh dependence, namely, moral scepticism and its philosophical consequence, moral indifference? Here too a contradiction is shown to arise, namely, that each argumentation against the normative can stand its ground only through normative premises. Thus ultimately something like correct standards become necessary. This however is only a marginal problem compared to a very much more important point: whether the moral scepticism permeating the strict scientific-theoretical position, is not just part of a very much more comprehensive scepticism, which includes Hume’s own criticism of induction as well. But then the same scepticism makes positive theory dubious as well: “Either all of positive economics is attacked with just as much scepticism as anything in normative economics, or we accept one and reject the other when instead there are reasons to think they share the same ultimate grounds and must be accepted or rejected together”(p.47). The author illustrates the difficulties with radical scepticism in a continental traversal of economic theory: micro and macroeconomics, mathematical economic theory and welfare theory are stations on this tour. A solution of the problem in the strict sense is not given nor could have been expected. But Roy delivers a methodical rule which permits a more exact definition of the limits to which normative discussion can take place precisely and objectively: first, to distinguish always whether an objective answer is at all possible to certain questions, and secondly, to ask who is competent or in the best position to give an answer. For readers interested in a new, thoroughly subtle discussion of a basic yet customary problem, this book will be profitable reading. However, the author could have argued some matters slightly more elaborately and others less redundantly, and set forth the central idea more clearly through appropriate summaries.” Karl Georg Zinn, in Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik / Zeitschrift für Wirtschaft und Statistik. Vol. 209, Nr. 5/6 (May 1992), p 573-574, translated from the German by Nahar Bhattacharya. 

“Effectively demonstrates the direct and significant links between the basic philosophical beliefs held by economists and their fundamental disagreements” Kyklos (Switzerland).

“Every rule of good argument is flouted. Does little to grapple with the large issues to which he rightly urges us to attend.” Times Literary Supplement (UK).

“Not the book to set off the revolution in economic epistemology and it is not even a reliable introduction to the field for undergraduates.” Journal of Applied Philosophy (UK).

“Subroto Roy’s Philosophy of Economics is a formidable contribution…. The author’s aim is to steer a middle course between scepticism and dogmatism in his account of the knowledge we can have of economic phenomena, and in this he largely succeeds. The result is a most distinguished and valuable exploration of the nature of economic inquiry.” John Gray, Economic Affairs (UK).

“Interesting and well-written. Definitely worthwhile being read by any economist interested in the philosophical foundations of his subject and profession.”
Journal of Institutional & Theoretical Economics (Germany).

“Roy’s basic argument is that the theory of economic knowledge underlying the work of most economists is logically inconsistent… The inconsistency lies in not permitting the skepticism that undermines the analysis of normative problems to destroy the logical foundation underlying positive analysis….. This well-documented study is a worthwhile contribution to the burgeoning literature on the philosophy of economics.” Choice

“The central argument of the book shows that the skepticism/dogmatism choice is a false dichotomy, that one need not embrace dogmatism in order to have objectivity or give up objectivity for freedom…. In the final section of the book Roy applies his critique… to several debates in economics. Chapter 8 presents the development of macroeconomics from John Maynard Keynes to the present through a dialogue between economists of opposing schools… Chapter 9 is a rich, wide-ranging discussion of mathematical models in economics…. Chapter 10 discusses the foundations of welfare economics… Roy shows how philosophical mistakes can lead economic thought astray, even though some of his arguments are also unsound. As a philosopher I find it encouraging to see an economist apply recent developments in epistemology to economic debates.” Journal of Economic History

“Accomplished, interesting and ambitious.” Mary Farmer, Manchester School (UK) 

“Perfectly sensible.” De Economist (Netherlands).

“Engaging and illuminating study. His seamless style may lull the reader into underestimating the extent and difficulty of the philosophical ground covered.” Research in History & Methodology of Economics (USA).

“(Roy’s) message is for his fellow economists, urging them not to shy away from the treatment of normative issues in their discipline.” – Economics and Philosophy

“When Roy refers to the present received theory of economics, he means that this is the view not only of Chicago, but also of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Cambridge, England, of Friedman, Samuelson, Myrdal, Hayek, and Joan Robinson. His coverage is broad…. In one place he states that it is precisely because it is possible for even a unanimous group of experts to be wrong that we have a reason, an objective reason, why freedom is to be valued. ‘Freedom is necessary for objectivity.’…. Whether one agrees or disagrees, one has to be impressed by the knowledge and sophistication involved in Roy’s presentation. Involved here is no run-of-the-mill carping at the economics establishment. This is a serious thoughtful work.” Social Science Quarterly

https://independentindian.com/thoughts-words-deeds-my-work-1973-2010/philosophy-of-economics-on-the-scope-of-reason-in-economic-inquiry-1989/

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First published by Routledge of London & New York , 1989, in the International Library of Philosophy

Library of Congress HB72.R69 1989

British Library 330’.01-dc19
Economics – philosophical perspectives
ISBN 0-415-03592-9

Reprinted in paperback, 1991
Library of Congress HB72.R69.1991
British Library 330’.01-dc20
ISBN0-415-06028-1

Postscript Twitter 8 July 2016

 pabeypabe

Philosophy of Economics

On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry

Subroto Roy
© 1989, 1991, 2007 Subroto Roy

First published by Routledge of London & New York , 1989, in the International Library of Philosophy,

Library of Congress HB72.R69 1989

British Library 330’.01-dc19
Economics – philosophical perspectives
ISBN 0-415-03592-9

Reprinted in paperback, 1991
Library of Congress HB72.R69.1991
British Library 330’.01-dc20
ISBN0-415-06028-1

Preface to 2007 WordPress.com Republication

This book germinated when I was 18 or 19 years of age in Paris, Helsinki and London, and it was first published when I was 34 in Honolulu. I came to economics from natural science (biology, chemistry, physics), not mathematics. It was inevitable I would be drawn to the beauty of philosophy as a theoretical discipline while being driven, as a post-Independence Indian, to economics as the practical discipline that might unlock secrets to India’s prosperity and progress. I belonged to an ancient family of political men, and my father, who had joined India’s new foreign service the year before I was born, inculcated in me as a boy an idea that I had “a mission” (though he later forgot he had done so).

I was fortunate to fail to enter Oxford’s PPE and instead go to the London School of Economics. LSE was at an intellectual peak in the early 1970s. DHN Johnson in international law, ACL Day in international monetary economics, Brian Griffiths vs Marcus Miller in monetary economics with everyone still in awe of Harry Johnson’s graduate lectures in macroeconomics, Ken Wallis, Graham Mizon, JJ Thomas, David Hendry in econometrics with the odd lecture by Durbin himself – I was exposed to a fully grown up intellectual seriousness from the day I arrived as an 18 year old. Michio Morishima as my professorial tutor told me frankly that, as an Indian, I would face less prejudice in Western academia than in the private sector, and said he was speaking from experience as a fellow-Asian. He turned out to be wrong but it was wise advice nevertheless, just as wise as his requiring pupils to read Hicks’ Value and Capital (which, in our undergraduate mythology, he himself had read inside a Japanese gunboat during war).

What was relatively weak at LSE was general economic theory. We were good at deriving the Best Linear Unbiased Estimator but left unsatisfied with our grasp of the theory of value that constituted the roots of our discipline. I managed a First and was admitted to Cambridge as a Research Student in 1976, where fortune had Frank Hahn choose me as a student. That at the outset was protection from the communist cabal that ran “development economics” with whom almost all the Indians ended up. I was wholly impecunious in my first year as a Research Student, and had to, for example, proof-read Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis for its second edition to receive 50 pounds sterling from Hahn which kept me going for a short time. My exposure to Hahn’s subtle, refined and depthless thought as an economist of the first rank led to fascination and wonderment, and I read and re-read his “On the notion of equilibrium in economics”, “On the foundations of monetary theory”, “Keynesian economics and general equilibrium theory” and other clear-headed attempts to integrate the theory of value with the theory of money — a project Wicksell and Marshall had (perhaps wisely) not attempted and Keynes, Hicks and Patinkin had failed at.

Hahn insisted a central question was to ask how money, which is intrinsically worthless, can have any value, why anyone should want to hold it. The practical relevance of this question is manifest. India today in 2007 has an inconvertible currency, vast and growing public debt financed by money-creation, and more than two dozen fiscally irresponsible State governments without money-creating powers. While pondering, over the last decade, whether India’s governance could be made more responsible if States were given money-creating powers, I have constantly had Hahn’s seemingly abstruse question from decades ago in mind, as to why anyone will want to hold State currencies in India, as to whether the equilibrium price of those monies would be positive. (Lerner in fact gave an answer in 1945 when he suggested that any money would have value if its issuer agreed to collect liabilities in it — as a State collects taxes – and that may be the simplest road that bridges the real/monetary divide.)

Though we were never personal friends and I did not ingratiate myself with Hahn as did many others, my respect for him only grew when I saw how he had protected my inchoate classical liberal arguments for India from the most vicious attacks that they were open to from the communists. My doctoral thesis, initially titled “A monetary theory for India”, had to be altered due to paucity of monetary data at the time, as well as the fact India’s problems of political economy and allocation of real resources were more pressing, and so the thesis became “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”. When no internal examiner could be found, the University of Cambridge, at Hahn’s insistence, showed its greatness by appointing two externals: C. J. Bliss at Oxford and T. W. Hutchison at Birmingham, former students of Hahn and Joan Robinson respectively. My thesis received the most rigorous and fairest imaginable evaluation from them.

I had been attracted to Cambridge partly by its old reputation for philosophy, especially that of Wittgenstein. But I met no worthwhile philosophers there until a few months before I was to leave for the United States in 1980, when I chanced upon the work of Renford Bambrough. Hahn had challenged me with the question, “how are you so sure your value judgements promoting liberty blah-blah are better than those of Chenery and the development economists?” It was a question that led inevitably to ethics and its epistemology — when I chanced upon Bambrough’s work, and that of his philosophical master, John Wisdom, the immense expanse of metaphysics (or ontology) opened up as well. “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes, He star’d at the Pacific…”

It has taken me more than a quarter century to traverse some of that expanse; when I returned to Britain in 2004 as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham, I was very kindly allowed to deliver a public lecture, “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, wherein I repaid a few of my debts to the forgotten work of Bambrough and Wisdom — whom I extravagantly compared with the Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, also saying that the trio of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough were reminiscent of what Socrates, Plato and Aristotle might have been like.

I had written to Bambrough from within Cambridge expressing my delight at finding his works and saying these were immensely important to economics; he had invited me to his weekly discussion groups at St John’s College but I could not attend. Between 1979 and 1989 we corresponded while I worked in America on my application of his and Wisdom’s work to problems in economics. We met only once when I returned to Cambridge from Blacksburg for my doctoral viva voce examination in January 1982. Six years later in 1988 he said of my Philosophy of Economics, “The work is altogether well-written and admirably clear”, and on another occasion he said he was “extremely pleased” at the interest I had taken in his work. The original preface of Philosophy of Economics said he was not responsible for the use I had made of his writings, which I reiterated in the 2004 lecture. At our meeting, he offered to introduce me to Wisdom who had returned to Cambridge from Oregon but I was too scared and declined, something I have always regretted since. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to grasp the immensity of Wisdom’s achievement in comprehending, explaining and extending the work of both Wittgenstein and Freud. His famous “Virginia Lectures” of 1957 were finally published by his admirers with his consent as Proof and Explanation just before his death in 1993. As for Bambrough, I believe he may have been or become the single greatest philosopher since Aristotle; he told me in correspondence there was an unfinished manuscript Principia Metaphysica (the prospectus of which appeared in Philosophy 1964), which unfortunately his family and successors knew nothing about; the fact he died almost in obscurity and was soon forgotten by his University speaks more about the contemporary state of academic philosophy than about him. (Similarly, the fact Hahn, Morishima and like others did not receive the so-called Economics “Nobel” says more about the award than it does about them.)

All I needed in 1980 was time and freedom to develop the contents of this book, and that I found in America — which I could not have done in either Britain or India. It would take eight or nine very strenuous years before the book could be written and published, mostly spent at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1980-1985) and the University of Hawaii (1986-1990) Economics Departments, with short interludes at Cornell (Fall 1983) and Brigham Young (1985-86). I went to Virginia because James M. Buchanan was there, and he, along with FA Hayek, were whom Hahn decided to write on my behalf. Hayek said he was too old to accept me but wrote me kind and generous letters praising and hence encouraging my inchoate liberal thoughts and arguments. Buchanan was welcoming and I learnt much from him and his colleagues about the realities of public finance and democratic politics, which I quickly applied in my work on India, published in 1984 in London as Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India and republished elsewhere here. The visit to the Cornell Economics Department was really so I could talk to Max Black the philosopher, who represented a different line of Wittgenstein’s students, and Max and I became friends until his death in 1988.

Buchanan’s departure from Blacksburg led to a gang of inert “game theorists” to arrive, and I was immediately under attack – one senior man telling me I was free to criticise the “social choice” work of Amartya Sen (since he was Indian too) but I was definitely unfree to do the same of Sen’s mentor, Kenneth Arrow, who was Jewish! (Arrow was infinitely more gracious when he himself responded to my criticism.) On top of that arose a matter of a woman, fresh off the aeroplane from India, being assaulted by a senior professor, and when I stood for her against her assailant, my time in Blacksburg was definitely up.

The manuscript of this book was at the time under contract with University of Chicago Press, and, thanks to Mrs Harry Johnson there, I had come in contact with that great American, Theodore W. Schultz. Schultz, at age 81, told me better to my face what the book was about than I had realised myself, namely, it was about economics as knowledge — its subject-matter was the epistemology of economics. Schultz wrote letters all over America on my behalf (as did Milton Friedman at Stanford and Sidney Alexander of MIT, whom I had also met and become friends with), and I was able to first spend a happy year among the Mormons at Brigham Young, and then end up at the University of Hawaii where I was given responsibility for the main graduate course in macroeconomics. I taught Harry Johnson-level IS-LM theory and Friedman-Tobin macroeconomics and then the new “rational expectations” vs Keynesian material.

I was also offered a large University grant to work on “South Asia”, which led to the books Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, and Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, both created by myself and WE James, and which led to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform and the India-Pakistan peace process as told elsewhere. Also, this book came to be accepted for publication by Routledge, as the first economics book in its famed International Library of Philosophy.

Just as I was set to be evaluated for promotion and tenure at the University of Hawaii, I became the victim of a most vicious racist defamation (and there was some connection with Blacksburg). Quite fed up with the sordidness of American academia as I had experienced it, I sued in the federal court, which consumed much of the next half dozen years as the case worked its way through the United States Supreme Court twice. Milton Friedman and Theodore W. Schultz stood as expert witnesses on my behalf but you would not have known it from the judge’s ruling. There had been not only demonstrable perjury and suborning of perjury by the State of Hawaii’s officers, there was also “after-discovered” evidence of bribery of court-officers in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii, and I had to return to India in 1996 quite exhausted to recuperate from the experience. “Solicitation of counsel, clerks or judges” is “embracery curialis”, recognized as extrinsic fraud and subversion of justice since Jepps 72 E R 924 (1611), “firmly established in English practice long before the foundation” of the USA, Hazel Atlas, 322 US 238 (1943). “Embracery is an offense striking at the very foundation of civil society” says Corpus Juris 20, 496. A court of equity has inherent power to investigate if a judgement has been obtained by fraud, and that is a power to unearth it effectively, since no fraud is more odious than one to subvert justice. Cases include when “by reason of something done by the successful party… there was in fact no adversary trial or decision of the issue in the case. Where the unsuccessful party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his case, by fraud or deception practised on him by his opponent, as…where an attorney fraudulently or without authority assumes to represent a party and connives at his defeat; or where the attorney regularly employed corruptly sells out his client’s interest to the other side ~ these, and similar cases which show that there has never been a real contest in the trial or hearing of the case, are reasons for which a new suit may be sustained to set aside and annul the former judgment or decree, and open the case for a new and a fair hearing….” (Hazel Atlas). There is no time-limit in United States federal law for rectification of fraud on the court of this sort, and I remain fully hopeful today of the working of American justice in the case.

The practical result was that this book was never able to be properly publicized among economists as it would have been had I become Professor of Economics at the University of Hawaii by 1992 as expected. The hardback sold out quickly on its own steam and went into paperback by 1991, and a friend told me it was being used for a course at Yale Law School. The reviews were mostly intelligent. Upon returning to Britain as the Wincott Visiting Professor in 2004, I found times had changed and so had Routledge who would not keep it in print let alone permit a second revised edition. But I am now free to republish the book as I please, and today in 2007, with the Internet growing to a maturity which allows the young geeks at WordPress.com to want to encourage blogging worldwide, I can think of no more apt place to reproduce the first edition of this book than here at my own blog http://www.independentindian.com.

This is not a second or revised edition, and it is unchanged in content except for this lengthy new preface made necessary by the adventures and dramas the book’s author found himself unwittingly part of since its first publication. I am 52 now and happy to say I endorse the book just as I had published it at 34, though I do find it a little impatient and too terse in a few places. The 1991 paperback corrected a few slight errors in the 1989 hardback, and has been used. I am planning an entirely new book which shall have its roots in this one though it will be mostly in philosophy and not economics — the outlines it may take may be seen in the 2004 public lecture I gave on the work of Bambrough and Wisdom mentioned above and published elsewhere; its main aim will be to uncover for new generations the immense worth there is in their work which is in danger of being lost.

At least two names failed to appear in the original list of acknowledgements. G. Bruce Chapman, now of the University of Toronto, and I talked much of serious ethics and political philosophy when I first arrived at Cambridge in 1976. And in 1980 in Blacksburg, Anil Lal, then a graduate student and house-painter, borrowed my copy of Bambrough’s work, read it, and later made a comment on the metaphysics of John Wisdom which allowed me to see things more clearly.

Ballygunge, Kolkata,
April 7 2007

TO: R.A.R.

Contents

Preface

1. Introduction

Part I

2. Hume and the Economists

3. Understanding the Consensus

4. Difficulties with Moral Scepticism

Part II

5. Objectivity and Freedom

6. Expertise and Democracy

Part III

7. An Example from Microeconomics

8. A Dialogue in Macroeconomics

9. Mathematical Economics and Reality

10. Remarks on the Foundations of Welfare Economics

Envoi

Notes and References

Select Bibliography

Preface to First Edition
The publication of this work marks the end of an adventure of more than a decade and a half, most of the writing being done between 17 December 1980 and 22 May 1987. It has been quite perilous at times, especially as a foreigner in the West, and over the years many teachers, colleagues, friends and members of family have contributed to the author’s learning with their thoughts and actions. A number of senior scholars in economics and philosophy — especially Professor Frank Hahn, Professor James Buchanan, Professor Sidney Alexander, Professor Milton Friedman, Professor Max Black, Professor Sidney Alexander, Professor Amartya Sen, Professor Peter Bauer, Professor T. W. Hutchison and Dr C. J. Bliss, have lent their support to the work as it developed, even when they may have not known of its final form, or disagreed with its content, or been themselves a subject of its criticism. Most especially, the work has been honoured in the last six years with the unwavering encouragement of Professor T. W. Schultz of the University of Chicago. And Professor Ted Honderich of University College London has shown it the kindest consideration, without which publication would have been much delayed. Finally, a large philosophical debt will be seen to be owed to the work of Mr. Renford Bambrough of St. John’s College, Cambridge; however he should not be considered responsible for the use that has been made here of his writings.
HONOLULU
15 AUGUST 1988.

1. Introduction

1. IN this book, some of the central philosophical questions facing the modern economist will be raised. Most attention will be given to the question of the appropriate relationship between the positive and the normative, as well as to its parent question of the appropriate scope of objective reasoning in the making of evaluative judgements. Closely related is the question of the appropriate role of the economic expert in society, while slightly more distant questions have to do with the significance of interpersonal comparisons of utility, with the philosophical status of the concepts and theorems of mathematical economics, and with how judgements of probability should be understood. It is this family of questions which will be the concern of the present work.

Economics is a science with potentially important practical bearing upon the lives of men and nations. The state of the modern world may have been affected more profoundly and subtly by the use or misuse of economic knowledge than by many another science. Yet anyone familiar with the intellectual history of the field will know it to have seen more conflicts, and often conflicts of a more destructive kind, than may be reasonably expected or tolerated in the development of a scholarly discipline. The reader will be familiar with the many explicit and implicit divisions of opinion that have occurred upon theories and methods and evidence and policies, which have sometimes torn apart individual university departments and even threatened the integrity of the science itself. Indeed the modern economist in a despondent mood might be inclined to say of the state of his discipline as David Hume once said of philosophy: “There is nothing which is not the subject of debate, and in which men of learning are not of contrary opinions. The most trivial question escapes not our controversy, and in the most momentous we are not able to give any certain decision. Disputes are multiplied, as if everything was uncertain, and they are settled with the utmost warmth, as if everything was certain.”
At the same time as there have been deep and persistent divisions on substantive questions of economic theory and method and evidence and policy, there has been a deliberate or inadvertent consensus about the answer to an important question in the theory of knowledge. Modern economists happen to have been practically unanimous in their opinion on the possible scope of objective reasoning in the making of judgements, and thus in their opinion on the appropriate relationship between the positive and the normative. A broad consensus has developed to the effect that while common reasoning can have some scope in evaluative discussion, it is quite possible in practice and in principle for this scope to become exhausted. At such a point of the exhaustion of reason, only sheer and unadulterated subjective differences will be found to remain between people. Put another way, it has been believed possible for judgements ultimately to become immune to rational question and criticism.

Many of the pioneers of twentieth century economic thought, Kenneth J. Arrow, Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Sir John Hicks, Oskar Lange, Gunnar Myrdal, Lionel Robbins, Joan Robinson, Paul Samuelson, Joseph Schumpeter, Jan Tinbergen, to name but a few, who between themselves would represent all of the main schools of contemporary economics, may be found to have shared such a thesis in the theory of knowledge, differing amongst themselves only upon the relatively minor question of the precise amount of room reasoning should be considered to have: some saying a great amount, others saying almost none, but all agreeing that whatever the exact amount it is a finite amount, both actually and potentially. The theory of demand, the theory of macroeconomic policy, the theory of welfare economics, the theory of social choice — each has in whole or in part rested upon an epistemological premise of this kind. If such a consensus can be shown to have existed, the reader may agree it to be something of a remarkable fact, since it would be difficult indeed to find a single substantive proposition of theory or method or evidence or policy to which a similar measure of consensus among modern economists might obtain.
One of the objects of the present work will be to argue that the fact there have been tremendous disharmonies on substantive economic questions, may not be independent of the fact there has been this kind of harmony in the theory of knowledge among many of the pioneers of twentieth century economics as well as the many more who have followed them. If the epistemological point hitherto accepted as true happens in fact to be false, it becomes possible that the scope of objective reasoning on substantive questions has been artificially prevented from being extended as far as it could have and should have been. Evaluative judgements are clearly of indefinite variety: attitudes towards goods or people, expectations of the future, recommendations to buy or sell, advice to a friend or a student or a government, etc. — roughly, all judgements taken by an individual or social agent about a right or optimal course of action in given circumstances. We shall find the consensus has been that it is possible for reasoning to come to a necessary halt in the process of coming to such judgements, whether the maker of the judgement is a public body or a private individual acting in the capacity of consumer or voter. A large amount (and possibly the whole amount) of what may deserve to be within the domain of common and objective reasoning comes to be placed instead under the rule of subjective will and caprice. Not only must we live with the fact that discussions between citizens or economists or politicians or spouses or states do frequently come to end without resolution, because there happens to be a lack of patience or tolerance or perseverance or good humour or whatever, but also that such outcomes may be written into the script from the start. In any normative discussion, we are to be permitted to call a unilateral halt merely by declaring “Well that is a value judgement of mine” or “That is a personal opinion of mine”, with the implication that any further questioning is out of bounds and unacceptable. Given a theory which allows us in this way to declare as we please what to call objective science and what to call subjective opinion, and given that it may be but human nature to be sceptical of the other fellow’s dogma while being oblivious to one’s own, we may have some explanation of how the consensus among economists in the theory of knowledge may have caused and preserved a state of affairs in which rival substantive dogmas can thrive — because the processes of common reasoning and even communication itself may have been allowed too often to come to a virtual standstill. (Or move at a snail’s pace.) “Disputes are multiplied, as if everything was uncertain, and they are settled with the utmost warmth, as if everything was certain.”

The gist of the present work will be that the present consensus in the theory of economic knowledge is logically inconsistent. It is therefore untenable and deserves to be abandoned. Men can aspire to, and in fact do attain and possess, certain and objective knowledge in an indefinite number of contexts. At the same time, there is no proposition of any kind held by anyone which must be thought of as necessarily closed to further question on grounds of reason or evidence. This simple maxim is something that may be found to hold in any field of human inquiry or endeavour one cares to mention — mathematics or medicine, ethics or physics, history or probability, logic or theology — and it will be our purpose in this work to examine its consequences in the context of economics in particular.

§2. Our study is one in what may be called theory of economic knowledge, and it may be worth a moment to consider what may be meant by this.

Bertrand Russell said of pure mathematics that it was a subject “in which we do not know what we are talking about” — meaning that the pure mathematician does not normally intend to refer in his theorems to substantive factual truths about the world. The epistemology or theory of knowledge of a discipline may be thought of similarly as being not concerned with either affirming or denying, corroborating or refuting the substantive propositions that happen to be made within the discipline. The study of the theory of economic knowledge may be thought of as not making any commitment one way or another to the substantive propositions which are to be found within the department of economics itself. Instead it is a more abstract undertaking, which seeks to examine certain kinds of questions from outside the department in the practical hope of dissolving or at least clarifying the character of substantive questions and controversies that may be occurring within. For example, to ask whether a criterion of truth and falsity can be applied to economic propositions, or whether objective knowledge is possible in the field, or how the kinds of propositions made in economics are to be justified, or how they compare and contrast with propositions made in other departments of inquiry — these would be the kinds of question we might see asked in the theory of economic knowledge; from which too the importance can be seen of generally abstaining from making substantive commitments in the process.

Much of the present work, especially Parts I and II, may be understood to be an attempt to provide a theory of economic knowledge of this kind. Thus the reader will not find in it commitments made to any substantive economic propositions. There is no theorem reported of the existence or efficiency of some new kind of economic equilibrium, no new model or evidence offered of the influence of the supply of money on prices, no new theory of how the expectations of economic agents may be formed or fulfilled or disappointed, no new evidence or explanation of why some country may be experiencing rapid growth or high inflation or increasing unemployment. No new result within economic science; one might almost say, nothing substantive! The present work will offer no more than “a machine to think with” on certain philosophical aspects of economics; it intends to leave economics as it is — and yet in so doing to have shown the way out of some of the philosophical difficulties that are encountered in its study. “For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear.”

Yet the practical purpose to making an investigation of this kind may be stated quite readily. For suppose, for sake of argument, we granted the truth of our simple maxim and assumed the epistemological concepts ‘knowledge’ and ‘doubt’, and their allied concepts ‘objectivity’ and ‘freedom’, should not be seen as incompatible in the project of inquiry. What consequences would follow from accepting such a viewpoint? Clearly first of all, we would be placed in a happy position of being able to say that no matter how deep or persistent the actual disagreements between economists or between citizens on economic questions happened to be, there is knowledge to be had in the study of economics. Not just high sophistry or rhetoric or political posturing or the opinions and prejudices of different people — but certain and objective knowledge about those actions, events, and phenomena that are part of the economic context. We would be able to say, in other words, there are at least some propositions in economics which are true, and which moreover can be known to be true.

An important ambiguity is possible here in asking whether there is knowledge about a given matter, insofar as such a question can be taken either as asking whether it is possible for there to be any knowledge about the matter, or as asking whether it is known that someone actually possesses such knowledge and how that has been determined. Defining as an expert someone who has the most reasonable and justifiable answer to give to a question, we need to distinguish, in other words, the relatively cool logical question of whether here can be any such thing as expert knowledge from the more heated political question of who is supposed to be such an expert and how we are supposed to know that. For instance, a question like “Is there a proof to Fermat’s last theorem?” can be understood either in the manner of the pure mathematician, as asking whether there can be a proof to the proposition it is impossible xn + yn = zn for positive integers x, y, z, n, and n > 2; or in the manner of the historian of mathematics, as asking whether any human being has come up with such a proof, as Fermat himself claimed to have done but of which no record exists. Among the great thinkers, Plato is the most influential to have crossed these wires in suggesting it possible not only for there to be objective knowledge about mathematics and ethics and statesmanship, but also for a special and closed set of experts to come to be identified to whom such knowledge should be thought of as being exclusively given. Plato’s theory can be and has been interpreted as giving license to elitism and dictatorship, yet the natural protest which the ideas of these would evoke in most of us may lead to an equal and opposite error of denying the very possibility of knowledge because we feared or wished to reject the idea of being ruled by a closed set of self-described experts. Once these wires are uncrossed, we may see it to be quite possible to maintain there can be objective knowledge and expertise in economics, without making any commitments toward specifying who should be considered an expert on some economic issue, or how we are supposed to determine that, or for that matter claiming any such knowledge or expertise for ourselves.

A second consequence of our simple maxim may seem more troubling. For by its second part, we should also have to say that even while there is objective knowledge in economics, there is nevertheless no proposition in the field which must be thought of as being necessarily closed to further question. Not the proposition that every human act is a rational act, nor the proposition that economic agents continually maximize utility, or are well modelled as doing so, nor the proposition that the market economy cannot be expected to reach full employment and needs to be and can be actively supplemented by macroeconomic policy, nor the proposition that the growth of money is necessary and sufficient for inflation, nor the proposition that free trade will maximize world output given factor immobility, nor the proposition that externalities imply a possible scope for taxes and subsidies, nor the proposition that the histories of nations is a history of class struggle.

By the second part of the maxim, there is no axiom or theorem of economic theory, no finding of economic history, no estimate of the value of an economic coefficient, no prediction of the course of an economic variable, no proposal of economic policy, which must be thought of as being closed to further question. None whatsoever. “No statement is immune to revision” (Quine).

Taken together, then, the net consequence of supposing objectivity and freedom, knowledge and doubt, to be compatible concepts deserving of equal respect, is that we shall be able to chart a course which steers us clear of two perennial and opposing hazards besetting all projects of human inquiry, viz., Scepticism and Dogmatism — the modern origins of which were traced by the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce to the cartesian proposal that philosophy “must begin with universal doubt, whereas scholasticism had never questioned fundamentals.” In the pages to follow, we will be denying universal doubt and we shall be free to question fundamentals. In an indefinite number of contexts, there is certain and objective knowledge to be had. Scepticism, understood technically as a logical thesis denying that we can possibly have or know that we have certain knowledge, is therefore a false thesis. At the same time, there is no proposition which is necessarily closed to question. Dogmatism, understood technically as a logical thesis implying there can be or must be some propositions which are absolutely and incorrigibly true, is therefore an equally false thesis. In place of a theory of knowledge restricting the scope of common reasoning to the finite or even the potentially finite, it is possible to have a theory of knowledge extending this scope to the potentially infinite. In particular, while normative proposals in economics or elsewhere may be supposed to be objectively better or worse depending on the soundness of the positive grounds given in their support, there are no unquestionable normative proposals — because there are no unquestionable positive grounds. The simple practical result of making the present investigation is that it will permit a sure and safe course to be found between Scepticism and Dogmatism for any project of economic inquiry.

§3. Would such a simple and straightforward thesis be new to economics in any way? To what extent would the argument which has been summarized above and which will be developed in the chapters to follow not been expressed before? The reader may wish an answer to such a question, and the author presently takes this to be as follows. With respect to the general debate which has occurred about knowledge and scepticism especially in moral philosophy, there will be little if anything in the present work which is a direct or novel contribution to it. While the philosophers have not been concerned with political economy at all, we shall be passive participants to their discussions, listening in to see what can be learned for our purposes and not intending to add to them directly. It may be remembered of course that it has not been long since economics formally broke away from philosophy to become a specialized discipline in its own right, in the belief the concerns of economics are of a more concrete and practical kind than those of philosophy. Since then we have made many highly abstract and theoretical claims, while also becoming scornful of philosophical thinking and believing ourselves to be exempt from its influences. Yet serious philosophical thought constitutes a mature and magnificent conversation which it would be foolish for any serious science to be deaf to. Moreover, it has been quite widely believed that there have been significant advances in philosophical understanding in the present century, and we are responsible to take such a claim seriously. It will be one of the aims of the present work to apply what may be learned from these discussions towards resolving, or at least clarifying, some of the main substantive disputations in modern economic science.

These are two broad traditions of moral philosophy relevant to our subject-matter, one deriving from Aristotle, the other from Hume (and a line of sceptics before him). Even though it would be unwise to expect agreement within either tradition, we may for convenience speak of an aristotelian and a humean tradition respectively. With respect to the discussions among economists on the relationship of the positive to the normative, we shall find an eminent consensus to have appeared on the humean side. This work will declare for the other side, and in so doing shall have to dissent from the humean consensus upon which all of the theory of social choice and much of the theory of welfare economics and theory of economic policy have appeared to rest. As far as is known by the author, there seem to have been but two published dissents on similar lines among economists in recent decades: those of Sidney Alexander and Amartya Sen. Of these, Professor Sen’s dissent has been very short and hesitant, and he would seem to have withdrawn it in other writings. Professor Alexander’s dissent has been clear and vigourous, but unlike his work on the balance of payments, his philosophical work has not received attention, and the present work was mostly developed in complete ignorance of its existence.

By the end of this work however, a clear choice should have been set out for the reader on the question of the relationship of the positive to the normative — between the consequences of accepting the humean consensus among economists and the consequences of the position of Professor Alexander and the author and possibly Professor Sen. The simple maxim “Objective knowledge is possible and yet there is no proposition which is closed to question” should not undermine its own content by being closed to question itself — instead it is supposed to refer and apply to itself as well. It may be true and deserving of our belief but it is not self evidently so, and will have to earn its credentials at the common bar of reason. Ultimately it will have to be the reader’s individual judgement whether it has been successfully shown that, contrary to what has been supposed by many of the pioneers of twentieth century economics, no conflict must arise between knowledge and doubt, objectivity and freedom. The history of the discussion may accord to our side the advantage J. S. Mill had seen to be enjoyed by all minority opinions: if the opinion of one or a few is false then not much will be lost by believing in it, while if it proves better able to stand the tests of time then much may be gained by allowing it to replace error. Put differently, it may seem quite risky that the pioneers of modern economic science have placed all their philosophical eggs in the humean basket — just in case it is Hume himself who happens to be mistaken.

§4. In Part I of the work will be found described the received theory of economic knowledge and its possible justification, as well as an account of the logical difficulties that arise with it. Chapter 2 has the task of documenting as fully as possible the existence of a humean consensus among economists in recent decades. Chapter 3 then examines the kinds of reasons that may incline us to be persuaded to such a view, and which may go to explaining how it has seemed to be an attractive theory to so many economists. These reasons appear to have been of two different but related sorts.

First the concept of value as used in ordinary life and ethics may have become confounded with the concept of economic value or scarcity or rareté in Walras’s term. Where economists have referred to a theory of value, they may have meant to refer more accurately to a theory of relative prices as determined by conditions of scarcity. The advance of the original neoclassicals in the late nineteenth century was to establish the importance of subjective estimations of economic agents to the determination of the relative prices of goods — as opposed to say how much labour went into different production processes as the classical economists might have said, or how much intrinsic value God had placed in the goods as the scholastics might have said. While it is clear by now that such an observation is broadly correct, it would be a mistake to go from a premise that market prices are determined in part by subjective estimations to a conclusion that the relative prices thus determined in any sense establish an order of how goods deserve to be valued or not. Goods are indeed valued the way they are because people happen to value them. Yet equally, in most cases, people seem to value goods in the way they do because the goods deserve to be thus valued — for example, because, like food or clothing or shelter, the goods are conducive to some valuable human purpose.
Secondly, it is possible the consensus has been motivated by a desire to find an effective shield against dogmatism and tyranny. For example, the context of an open parliamentary democracy presupposed by the modern theory of economic policy may have derived out of the experience of the great tyrannies of twentieth century history. There may have been a natural and understandable desire that the choices and decisions of citizens in the capacity of voters or consumers should be treated with the fullest due respect, and a humean scepticism may have been adopted because it has been believed to be something which is necessary and sufficient for this kind of respect to be shown. This would be an outstanding reason for adopting a humean point of view, and one which any critic must be required to account for. Yet it also places in relief the fatal self-contradiction that is present within the humean theory. For example, a theory of economic policy which has to rely upon an assumption of the polity being open and democratic would have to be silent about the conduct of economic policy in societies which were demonstrably not open or democratic, making it a theory very special and contingent in its range of application. Moreover, to give the defence of political or economic or religious freedom as a reason for holding a subjectivist epistemology would be to have left freedom entirely defenceless and toothless from those who would attack it from within precisely the same subjectivist framework. For example, if we conflated a general right to express an opinion freely with an idea that what such an opinion expresses is itself a matter of subjective opinion, then clearly, by the same token, an opinion that opinions should be freely expressed might also be considered merely subjective, and therefore no better or worse than its contrary. Within a subjectivist theory of knowledge, there ultimately can be nothing to choose between freedom and tyranny.

Chapter 4 is a survey of these kinds of logical difficulties with the humean position stated in Chapters 2 and 3. Its main result will be that the anti dogmatic campaign of the humean cannot succeed, and in fact comes to make the Sceptic resemble the Dogmatist more than anything else. It is possible this happens because both Sceptic and Dogmatist are sharing the same deductivist model of justification, to the effect that we cannot know a proposition to be true or right unless we have deduced it as the conclusion of a set of premises of whose truth or rightness we are certain. The Sceptic sees the threat of infinite regress that is implicit in such a model, and then denies we can be certain of anything. The Dogmatist sees the potential regress too, but responds to it by calling a halt at some arbitrary point, denying the need or possibility of going any further. In Part II a fresh picture will be given which attempts to preserve the truths the Sceptic and Dogmatist would each like us to take notice of, while correcting for the distortions both would force upon us by their unequivocal adoption of a deductivist model of justification. Chapter 5 reframes the main philosophical problems of Part I in the terms of the ancient dualism between Nominalism and Realism, and brings to light a possible resolution of this which has been advanced by a number of modern philosophers. Chapter 6 develops the argument further and applies it to the question of the appropriate role of expertise in a democracy. Taken together, Part II contains the main outlines of a fresh theory of economic knowledge with which to replace the flawed and inconsistent theory to which so many economists have thus far subscribed.

Part III of the work consists of a series of diverse illustrations and possible applications of the theory of knowledge developed in Part II. Chapters 7-10 all give examples of how inquiry and criticism can be seen to proceed in economics without sacrifice of either objectivity or freedom. Chapter 7 examines an actual debate on a concrete question of microeconomic policy, which may be compared and contrasted with the more academic examples of later chapters. Chapter 8 examines aspects of the division in macroeconomics and monetary theory since J. M. Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Chapter 9 considers a question with wide and general reference to economic theory: how the relationship between mathematical economics and real economic phenomena might be best understood. This has been the subject of long and bitter disputation, and some light is attempted to be shed on it from the vantage point of the philosophy of mathematics. It is possible that certain views in the philosophy of mathematics have been presupposed in modern mathematical economics; once these are exposed and aired, some of the conceptual problems which have been faced in this discussion may come to be dissolved. The theory of probability and expected utility and the theory of general equilibrium will be used as brief illustrations. Finally, in Chapter 10, the possible philosophical sources of the controversy surrounding the question of interpersonal comparisons of utility will be described, and a possible resolution suggested. This will be argued to have bearing on received understanding of the foundations of welfare economics.

§5. It will be found in the present work, then, that we shall be denying universal doubt on the one hand, while yet being free to question fundamentals on the other. Such a project will entail a critical examination of the philosophical premises and assumptions advanced by some of the most distinguished contemporary scholars in our field, and it is to be hoped the spirit in which the present criticism is offered will not be misunderstood. Every generation holds a peculiar advantage over preceding generations in having available to it what has gone before, while not being able to anticipate the criticisms of its own beliefs that will certainly come in the future. This kind of advantage that the present holds over the past may be thought of as being quite arbitrary, and we can expect it to carry with it a responsibility of taking what has gone before into serious account. Since no individual is able to do so on his own, we find every generation as a whole attempting to provide itself with critical discussions, which, when integrated over time, constitute the grand and unending conversation we call the history of human thought. It is with such a model in mind of a continuing and self-critical tradition of scholarship that we shall seek to address the questions raised at the beginning about the foundations of economic knowledge, while not making any pretence whatsoever to finality, and instead leaving the entire treatment as open as it can be made to the examination and criticism of others.

PART I

2. Hume and the Economists
THERE has been a broad and long standing consensus among economists about the character of the relationship between positive and normative propositions, as well as about the related question of the appropriate scope and limits of economic expertise in society. Joining in this consensus have been many of the pioneers of twentieth century economic thought: Kenneth J. Arrow, Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Sir John Hicks, Oskar Lange, Gunnar Myrdal, Lionel Robbins, Joan Robinson, Paul A. Samuelson, Joseph Schumpeter, Jan Tinbergen, to name but a few. Many others are likely to be found in explicit or implicit agreement, while a survey by Professor T. W. Hutchison suggests that some of the most renowned figures of nineteenth century economics should probably be included as well. The main purpose of this chapter will be to provide enough documentary evidence to show that such a consensus has in fact existed. When we think of how many deep and wide differences there have been over the years in the field that was once called political economy and is now called economic science, differences on questions of method and theory and evidence and recommendations of policy, the existence of such a consensus may seem quite a remarkable fact.

Very briefly, what appears to have been accepted is that it is possible to identify a body of progressively changing knowledge called ‘positive economics’, which is the main contribution of economists to human knowledge and understanding in general. It consists of such things as the microeconomic and macroeconomic descriptions of present and past states of an economy, conditional predictions of such states in the future, hypothetical or substantive explanations of what economic causes may have what economic effects, the deduction and analysis of theorems of economic significance, and so on. That is to say, positive economics has been supposed to consist of the domain of propositions in an economic context which have to do in one way or another with questions of what is the case, or with what has been the case in the past or may be expected to be the case in the future. In contrast, evaluative or prescriptive or ‘normative’ propositions, having in one way or another to do with what ought to be done or not done by a government or a private economic agent, have been believed to fall into quite a different category. These have been believed to amount sooner or later to being expressions of subjective personal opinion, either on the part of the individual economist himself or of those whom he may happen to be advising.

Most economists who have considered the matter have allowed that there is usually at least some scope, and sometimes much scope, for common reasoning on logical and empirical grounds to be brought to bear in normative discussion; making it possible that at least some of the disagreements between economists or citizens or politicians on normative questions can come to be objectively resolved. But it has been believed possible also for the processes of common reasoning to become exhausted in discussions of normative questions like those of economic policy or ethics or jurisprudence, in a way they are not supposed to become exhausted in discussions of positive questions like those of economic theory or econometrics or natural science or mathematics. Once such a point of the exhaustion of reason has been reached, any residual conflict which remains is to be considered necessarily irreconcilable and of a sheer normative kind. And such sheer normative opinions, upon which it is not possible to bring to bear any further objective consideration, are to be supposed to express the purely subjective attitudes and feelings of the individual person, opinions which might happen to be shared by others too, but which are certainly closed to further argumentation, whether in public or in the person’s own mind. Put a little differently, the theory of knowledge and policy which we shall see to have been widely accepted by many economists in the twentieth century, has made an assumption that while all questions of analysis and evidence can have objectively true or false answers, only some and not all questions of evaluation and prescription can have objectively right or wrong answers.

§2. Underlying the consensus among economists has been a more general thesis in the theory of knowledge or epistemology. It is a thesis which may be called ‘moral scepticism’, and its most brilliant and influential exponent in the modern period has been David Hume (1711-1776). Among those to have advanced influential and persuasive points of view of a similar kind in twentieth century moral and political philosophy have been C. L. Stevenson, R. M. Hare, A. J. Ayer, and Karl Popper.

In the course of a critique of dogmatic religion and ethics, the young Hume was to attack with a sceptical scalpel what he took to be the illogic of trying to deduce evaluation and prescription from analysis and description: “In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with… the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning… when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses a new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.” While the precise context and implications of this passage continue to divide philosophers, it will be adequate for our present purpose to follow the sympathetic and influential modern interpretation given by the Oxford moral philosopher R. M. Hare, and obtain for an economic context what may be called Hume’s First Law: No normative conclusion, for example, about what a private economic agent or a government ought to do or not do, can be validly deduced from a set of solely positive premises, i.e., from premises which only describe what is the case. No normative conclusion can be deduced without at least one normative premise having been made. A dualism of this kind between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ has been frequently supposed to separate science from ethics, the objective from the subjective, the rational from the irrational, public knowledge from private opinion.

Hume was to reinforce this opinion a decade later in a more recondite form of words: “[A]fter every circumstance and every relation is known, the understanding has no further room to operate, nor any object on which it could employ itself. The approbation or blame which then ensues cannot be the work of the judgement, but of the heart; and is not a speculative proposition or affirmation, but an active feeling or sentiment.” This passage too continues to divide philosophers, but for our present purpose R. M. Hare’s recent writing is once more helpful in obtaining a modern interpretation. Hare asks whether, in addition to logical questions and factual questions about how the world is, there can be “irreducibly evaluative or prescriptive questions” as well; once we have “done all we can” by way of reasoning and adducing evidence, “will there remain something to be done which is neither logic nor fact finding but pure evaluation or prescription?” Hare answers yes it is possible, and in the same vein we may restate the idea to obtain for an economic context what may be called Hume’s Second Law: After every empirical question and every logical and mathematical question has been answered in an economic problem, there is no further scope for common reasoning to work. If an evaluative statement is made at such a point, then it can express no more than a subjective attitude or feeling of the individual economist towards the subject.

This is a maxim which does grant that a measure of common reasoning and evidence can be brought to bear upon particular normative questions, and so some normative disagreements may come to be objectively resolved. But it also allows for the potential for such reasoning to become exhausted, leaving merely a subjective residue of personal sentiment or feeling which people might or might not happen to share with one another but which would be beyond further question and discussion. In the pages to follow, a position will be referred to as ‘humean’ if it implicitly or explicitly endorses one or both of Hume’s Laws as stated above. The small h is used to suggest that a close examination of Hume’s works may show him to have been not entirely clear in his own meaning, as well as to suggest that the question of what Hume himself may have actually or fully meant is not of as direct importance for the present purpose as the question of what he has been taken to mean by contemporary economists.

The remainder of this chapter is given to documenting at fair length the fact that a number of the pioneers of twentieth century economics have quite unambiguously seemed to endorse a humean point of view in the theory of knowledge. Chapter 3 will be given to placing this fact in an appropriate historical context. This needs to be done not only in order to understand the nature of the consensus as fully as possible, but also to realize how close economists have been to one another on a central question in the theory of knowledge, even while being engaged in any number of deep and well known and seemingly interminable disputes on substantive matters. The reader who may be impatient with a detailed record of this kind, or who is prepared for the present to take its existence for granted, may wish to move on directly to Chapter 3 without losing the main threads of the argument.

§3. Friedman. Following Neville Keynes, Professor Milton Friedman has clearly and emphatically argued the importance of extending the scope of common reasoning in economics: “Positive economics is in principle independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments…. [it] is, or can be, an ‘objective’ science, in precisely the same sense as any of the physical sciences…. Normative economics and the art of economics, on the other hand, cannot be independent of positive economics…. differences about economic policy among disinterested citizens derive predominantly from different predictions about the economic consequences of taking action — differences that in principle can be eliminated by the progress of positive economics — rather than from fundamental differences in basic values, differences about which men can ultimately only fight.” It is well known that in this and other works, Friedman has argued for the extension of common reasoning and evidence, or positive economics, as the surest means to resolving normative disputations. Yet from the passage quoted, it is clear that Friedman has also accepted something like Hume’s Second Law, to the effect that while common reasoning can have some and indeed much scope, a point of ultimate and sheer normative disagreement can still be reached, distant though it might be, where reasoning must be considered to have become exhausted and “men can ultimately only fight”. In the same essay, Friedman added that it was the practical importance of economics which impeded objectivity and promoted confusion between “scientific analysis and normative judgment”, suggesting an endorsement of Hume’s First Law as well.

Myrdal. Gunnar Myrdal argued for many years that a number of economic concepts purporting to be analytical or descriptive in character in fact had evaluative or prescriptive overtones. Myrdal and his editor and translator, Professor Paul Streeten, argued that a view that there is no place for normative judgments in economic science has been a guise for the advocacy of a specifically liberal political economy, a thesis which might well be endorsed by many marxian and keynesian economists. While postponing an assessment of this claim to a later chapter, we may note that Myrdal also happened to endorse the extension of the scope of positive economics, with as much emphasis as Friedman would do after him: “By subjecting to impartial criticism those arguments in political controversies which concern the facts and the causal relations between them, economic science can make an important contribution to the political sphere. As often as not, conflicting political opinions spring not so much from divergent valuations about the best possible future state of society and the proper policy for securing it, as from subjectively coloured and therefore distorted beliefs regarding actual social conditions.” Myrdal went on to endorse Hume’s First Law in recommending that the economist leave the supply of evaluative premises to the politician. While the economist can provide descriptions, explanations and conditional predictions, “the scientist must not venture beyond this. If he wishes to go further he needs another set of premises, which is not available to science: an evaluation to guide him in his choice of the effects which are politically desirable and the means permissible for achieving them.” Finally, Myrdal reached the humean conclusion that the normative differences between economists are ultimately beyond objective resolution: “[E]conomic reasoning is often obscured by the fact that normative principles are not introduced explicitly, but in the shape of general ‘concepts’. The discussion is thus shifted from the normative to the logical plane. On the former there is either harmony or conflict; conflict can only be stated, not solved by discussion. On the logical plane we should define our concepts clearly and then operate with them in a logically correct manner. What is ‘correct’ and what ‘false’ can be discussed with the methods of logic, whereas conflicting interests can be recognized, never solved scientifically.”

Robbins. In his influential writings over many years, Lionel Robbins made a distinction between ‘economic science’, having to do with such questions as how best to allocate scarce resources between alternative ends, and ‘political economy’ or normative theories of economic policy, prescribing the ends themselves and the weights to be attached to them. In his well known methodological work we read as clear a statement of Hume’s First Law as might be found in economics: “Propositions involving ‘ought’ are on an entirely different plane from propositions involving ‘is’…. Economics is neutral as between ends. Economics cannot pronounce on the validity of ultimate judgements of value…. Economics deals with ascertainable facts; ethics with values and obligations. The two fields of inquiry are not on the same plane of discourse. Between the generalizations of positive and normative studies there is a logical gulf fixed which no ingenuity can disguise and no juxtaposition in space or time can bridge over.” Robbins’s endorsement of the Second Law was equally emphatic. While positive economics extends the scope of common reasoning, it is still possible to find normative differences which are rationally irresoluble: “If we disagree about ends it is a case of thy blood or mine — or live and let live according to the importance of the difference or the relative strength of our opponents. But if we disagree on means, then scientific analysis can often help us to resolve our differences. If we disagree about the morality of the taking of interest (and we understand what we are talking about), then there is no room for argument.”
Samuelson. Professor Paul Samuelson has seemed to feel a tension in the humean position, but also that its logic compelled him to follow closely in Robbins’s path: “It is fashionable for the modern economist to insist that ethical value judgments have no place in scientific analysis. Professor Robbins in particular has insisted upon this point, and today it is customary to make a distinction between the pure analysis of Robbins qua economist and his propaganda, condemnations and policy recommendations qua citizen. In practice, if pushed to extremes, this somewhat schizophrenic rule becomes difficult to adhere to, and it leads to rather tedious cicumlocutions. But in essence Robbins is undoubtedly correct. Wishful thinking is a powerful deterrent of good analysis and description, and ethical conclusions cannot be verified in the same way that scientific hypotheses are inferred or verified.”

Hicks. Like Samuelson, Professor Sir John Hicks has seemed to feel a tension in the humean position, yet he too must be considered as having endorsed at least an important version of it. On the one hand, Hicks has seemed critical of mid-century positivism and emotivism, and claimed the main rationale of the “new welfare economics” to be that it allowed a route of escape from them. “During the nineteenth century, it was generally considered to be the business of an economist, not only to explain the economic world as it is and as it has been, not only to make prognostications (so far as he was able) about the future course of economic events, but also to lay down principles of economic policy, to say what policies are likely to be conducive to social welfare, and what policies are likely to lead to waste and impoverishment.” Since then positivism had declared that explanation and only explanation may be part of scientific economics, and any move to prescribe “must depend upon the scale of social values held by the particular investigator. Such conclusions can possess no validity for anyone who lives outside the circle in which these values find acceptance. Positive economics can be, and ought to be, the same for all men; one’s welfare economics will inevitably be different according as one is a liberal or a socialist, a nationalist or an internationalist, a christian or a pagan.” But such a position is “rather a dreadful thing to have to accept”, one which might “become an excuse for the shirking of live issues, very conducive to the euthanasia of our science.” Fortunately we are not compelled to accept it, since the new welfare economics advanced by Kaldor, Hotelling and Hicks himself was a viable alternative, not open to the objections the positivists had raised to the utilitarianism of Pigou and others.

Yet we may ask, what had the new welfare economics been about? And did it in fact make a break with the positivism which seemed to be troubling Hicks, or had it not been prompted precisely by humean doubts? As is well known, the new welfare economics had to do with questions such as whether the potential gainers from a change in policy could possibly compensate the potential losers from the change by enough so as to get them to go along with it, or conversely for the losers from a change to compensate the gainers from the change by enough so as to get them to go along without it, and so on. As Hicks himself makes clear, it was a discussion very much motivated by the belief that while the Pareto criterion was not a wholly adequate substitute for the utilitarianism of Pigou, any emendation of the paretian theory must leave untouched its basic positivistic premise, viz., that interpersonal comparisons cannot be conceived of as anything but purely subjective judgements, outside the scope of objective reasoning. Hicks claimed it was because the new welfare economics avoided making interpersonal comparisons that it should be considered a positive advance, a scientific advance. And Hicks has emphasized that he, like Robbins, has not wanted any truck with interpersonal comparisons. The old welfare economics of Pigou required one “to admit the possibility of comparing the satisfactions derived from their wealth by different individuals. This is where Professor Robbins parts company; for my part, I go with him.” More recently: “A single individual… shows by his choices that he prefers one thing to another; we may put this, if we like, in the form of saying that he derives (or thinks he derives) greater satisfaction from the one than from the other. But there is no similar way in which we can see that the satisfaction derived by one individual from one good is greater than the satisfaction derived by another individual from another good; these satisfactions are not compared in any actual choice, so that for the comparison between them there is not the same evidence.”
While we shall be returning to these questions in Chapter 10, what we may note here is that since interpersonal comparisons certainly amount to being a particular species of evaluative judgement, Hicks’s scepticism with respect to the possibility of making them objectively must be considered to amount to an endorsement of at least a species of moral scepticism. If so, it would seem to sit uncomfortably with Hicks’s opinion that he had not cared much for the positivist dichotomy between explanatory science and subjective prescriptions, which was said to have prompted the search for the new welfare economics in the first place.

Robinson. Writing on the theory of employment, Joan Robinson was to give a superbly clear account of the humean position at its best, which requires no commentary: “[All economic] controversies should be capable of resolution. The rules of logic and the laws of evidence are the same for everyone, and in the nature of the case there can be nothing to dispute about. Controversies arise for five main reasons. First, they occur when the two parties fail to understand each other. Here patience and toleration should provide a cure. Second, controversies occur in which one (or both) of the parties have made an error of logic. Here the spectators at least should be able to decide on which side reason lies. Third, two parties may be making, unwittingly, different assumptions, and each maintaining something which is correct on the appropriate assumptions…. Here the remedy is to discover the assumptions and to set each argument out in a manner which makes clear that it is not inconsistent with the other. Fourth, there may not be sufficient evidence to settle a question of fact conclusively one way or the other. Here the remedy is for each party to preserve an open mind and to assist in the search for further evidence. Fifth, there may be differences of opinion as to what is a desirable state of affairs. Here no resolution is possible, since judgements of ultimate values cannot be settled by any purely intellectual process…. argument in the nature of the case can make no difference to ultimate judgements based on interest or moral feeling. The ideal is to set out all the arguments fairly on their merits, and agree to differ about ultimate values. On questions of policy, the differences can never be resolved.”

Hayek. Professor F. A. Hayek has stated an unambiguous commitment to Hume’s First Law, as when he wrote recently: “Our starting point must be the logical truism that from premises containing only statements about cause and effect, we can derive no conclusions about what ought to be.” In his earlier discussion of the economics of socialism, Hayek had hinted at the Second Law as well, saying that “problems of ethics, or rather of individual judgements of value… [are]… ones on which different people might agree or disagree, but on which no reasoned arguments would be possible.” If the questions about socialist planning are ethical by this definition then “no scientist, least of all the economist” would have anything to say about them. Positive argument presumes there to be some common values between the participants: “Meaningful discussion about public affairs is clearly possible only with persons with whom we share at least some values. I doubt if we could even fully understand what someone says if we had no values whatever in common with him. This means, however, that in practically any discussion it will be in principle possible to show that some of the policies one person advocates are inconsistent or irreconcilable with some other beliefs he holds.” In particular, the argument over socialist planning should be seen to be one on positive grounds: “[E]veryone desires, of course, that we should handle our common problems as rationally as possible and that, in so doing, we should use as much foresight as we can command. In this sense, everybody who is not a complete fatalist is a planner, every political act is (or ought to be) an act of planning, and there can be differences only between good and bad, between wise and foresighted and foolish and shortsighted planning. An economist, whose whole task is to study how men actually do and how they might plan their affairs is the last person who could object to planning in this general sense.” The dispute between socialists and their critics is “not a dispute about whether planning is to be done or not. It is a dispute as to whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals.”

Lange. Oskar Lange, the famous adversary of Hayek and Robbins on the question of socialist planning, was agreed with them that the only task within the scope of scientific economics was the determination of the best means, with economic ends having been decided politically. He gave this infelicitous analogy to the economist’s role: “The situation may be compared with that of two physicians treating a patient. There is no necessity of interpersonal agreement about the objective of the treatment. One physician may want to heal the patient, the other may want to kill him (e.g., the patient may be a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp; one physician may be a fellow prisoner who wants to help him, the other may be a Nazi acting under orders to exterminate Jews). But once the objective is set for the purposes under discussion (either of the two physicians may, of course, refuse to act upon it), their statements as to whether a given treatment is conducive to the end under consideration have interpersonal validity. Any disagreement between them can be settled by appeal to fact and to the rules of scientific procedure.”

Schumpeter. In discussing the wertfrei controversy between Carl Menger and the German historical school, Joseph Schumpeter was to suggest that the epistemological matters involved were neither difficult nor interesting and could be disposed of shortly. The distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ had been correctly and adequately drawn already, so it only needed to be accepted that an ‘ought’ statement “that is to say, a precept or advice, can for our purpose be reduced to a statement about preference or ‘desirability’.” Schumpeter went on to endorse Hume’s First Law, saying that an acceptance of one value judgement always requires the acceptance of others. This “is of little moment when the ‘ultimate’ value judgments to which we are led up as we go on asking why an individual evaluates as he does, are common to all normal men in our cultural environment.” Unlike Lange, Schumpeter gave the physician as a negative analogy: “[T]here is no harm in the physician’s contention that the advice he gives follows from scientific premises, because the — strictly speaking extra-scientific — value judgment involved is common to all normal men in our cultural environment. We all mean pretty much the same thing when we speak of health and find it desirable to enjoy good health. But we do not mean the same thing when we speak of the Common Good, simply because we hopelessly differ in those cultural visions with reference to which the common good has to be defined in any particular case.” I.e., common reasoning can proceed in normative discussion but only so long as we find common values among “all normal men in our cultural environment”, which is to suggest reasoning may be helpless with abnormal men or those who are outside our cultural environment. Further, siding with Menger, Schumpeter suggested that the bitterness of the wertfrei controversy could be explained because it had been not so much a logical dispute as one between those who were practising and those who were protesting a kind of scholarly deceit, viz., the propagation of personal dogmas within an ostensible pursuit of objective knowledge: “Those who profess to be engaged in the task of widening, deepening, and ‘tooling’ humanity’s stock of knowledge and who claim the privilege that civilized societies are in the habit of granting to the votaries of this particular pursuit, fail to fulfil their contract if, in the sheltering garb of the scientist, they devote themselves to what really is a kind of political propaganda.”

Arrow. In opening his famous paper on the theory of social choice, Professor Kenneth J. Arrow was to refer explicitly to the ancient ontological dualism between Nominalism and Realism. To take aggregate rankings of “social states” as independent of individual rankings “is to assume, with traditional social philosophy of the Platonic realist variety, that there exists an objective social good defined independently of individual desires. This social good, it was frequently held, could be best apprehended by the methods of philosophic inquiry. Such a philosophy could be and was used to justify government by elite, secular or religious, although the connection is not a necessary one. To the nominalist temperament of the modern period the assumption of the existence of the social ideal in some Platonic realm of being was meaningless.” Nineteenth century utilitarianism had “sought instead to ground the social good on the good of individuals”, which, when combined with a hedonistic psychology, implied “each individual’s good was identical with his desires” and “the social good was in some sense to be a composite of the desires of individuals.” Such a view “serves as a justification of both political democracy and laissez faire economics, or at least an economic system involving free choice of goods by consumers and of occupations by workers.”
While Arrow found it necessary to remark that a connection between elitist rule and a Realist ontology was “not a necessary one”, he did not also remark upon whether he took a connection between democratic rule and a Nominalist ontology to be logically necessary. If not, then we might of course entertain other cases equally well, such as Nominalism being associated with elitist rule, or Realism with democratic rule, or perhaps more subtle cases which may arise from a denial of the dualism altogether — matters to which we shall return more explicitly in Part II. In any case, it would seem evident Arrow’s sympathy has been with the humean thesis, which he endorses strongly in suggesting, like Schumpeter, that no distinction can be made between a personal preference and a judgement of value: “One might want to reserve the term ‘values’ for a specially elevated or noble set of choices. Perhaps choices in general might be referred to as ‘tastes’. We do not ordinarily think of the preference for additional bread over additional beer as being a value worthy of philosophical inquiry. I believe, though, that the distinction cannot be made logically, and certainly not in dealing with the single isolated individual. If there is any distinction between values and tastes it must lie in the realm of interpersonal relations.” That Arrow believes normative questions to be only personally and subjectively answerable is further suggested by his remarks that “[t]he only rational defense of what may be termed a liberal position… is that it is itself a value judgment”; that his own values are such he is willing “to go very far indeed in the direction of respect for the means by which others choose to derive their satisfactions”; that he personally shares “a strongly affirmed egalitarianism, to be departed from only when it is in the interest of all to do so”; that he is personally “in favor of very wide toleration”; and so on. In Chapters 9 and 10, we shall return to examine certain aspects of the theories of general equilibrium and social choice which Professor Arrow has helped pioneer.

Blaug. In his influential writings in the history and methodology of economics, Professor Mark Blaug has appealed directly to Hume, declaring that the “orthodox Weberian position on wertfrei social science is essentially a matter of logic: as David Hume taught us, ‘you can’t deduce ought from is’.” Blaug grants that scientific practice does continually call for the exercise of judgement, but he wishes to distinguish “methodological” judgements, having to do with such questions as “the levels of statistical significance, selection of data, assessment of their reliability, and adherence to the canons of formal logic”, from “normative” or “appraising” judgements, which “refer to evaluative assertions about states of the world, including the desirability of certain kinds of behavior and the social outcomes that are produced by that behavior; thus all statements of the ‘good society’ are appraising value judgments.” It is judgements of this latter sort which are “incapable of being eliminated in positive science”. In support of such a dualism Blaug claims “there are long established, well tried methods for reconciling different methodological judgments” but none “for reconciling different normative value judgments — other than political elections and shooting it out at the barricades.” Blaug’s acceptance of Hume’s Second Law is as explicit as may be found in contemporary economics. There sometimes can be rational discussion over normative differences “and that is all to the good because there is a firmer tradition for settling disputes about facts than for settling disputes about values. It is only when we distill a pure value judgment… that we have exhausted the possibilities of rational analysis and discussion.” Echoing Robbins, Blaug suggests that at such a terminal point we are left with “factual statements and pure value judgments between which there is indeed an irreconcilable gulf on anyone’s interpretation.” Like Arrow, Blaug also makes reference to an ontological division between Realism (or “essentialism”) and Nominalism, and hints at a necessary link between a Realist ontology and dogmatism and tyranny. From Plato and Aristotle up through the nineteenth century, Western thought had been under the malign and mistaken impression that “it is the aim of science to discover the true nature or essence of things”. Such a view “raises its ugly head” even today, and Blaug charges the authors of a recent marxian thesis as being one such recent manifestation: “Adherents of essentialism are inclined to settle substantive questions by reaching for a dictionary of their own making, and Hollis and Nell exemplify this tendency to perfection: reproduction is the ‘essence’ of economic systems because we tell you so!”

Hahn. Professor Frank Hahn reports that contemporary economists “in keeping with the Positivist perspective” make “a thorough distinction of ‘is’ from ‘ought’ (positive from normative).” While Hahn has been mostly guarded in his own opinion as to the precise relationship between positive and normative, he has suggested recently that while normative questions are subject to reasonable argument, and economic theory is intended to widen this scope of common reasoning, “the intention is to take a small step in distilling what are genuinely questions of values.” Such a remark would seem to place Hahn among the moderate humeans like Joan Robinson and Milton Friedman — which in turn would make it an interesting fact that while Hahn has had long and well known disputes on substantive matters with both Friedman and Robinson, he would appear closely agreed with them on a point in the theory of knowledge, viz., that while there is much room for objective discussion to take place, it is possible for sheer differences of a normative kind to exist and come to be identified.

A few others. To take some final examples, Professor Robert Sugden affirms “Hume’s Law reflects a liberal view of the universe”; Professor William Baumol and Professor Allan Blinder write in their textbook that the economist defines rational decisions as those “that are most effective in helping the decision maker achieve his own objectives, whatever they may be”; Professor James Quirk writes in his textbook that “normative economics is based on a system of axioms, but these axioms concern ethics” and because these and any propositions derived from them are not “verifiable through empirical observation”, a person is “free to accept or reject the conclusions of normative economics as he wishes, simply by accepting or rejecting the axiom system — there are no scientific issues involved.” And Professor Jack Hirschleifer wrote in his textbook that “if one economist prefers Maoism and another capitalism, or if one prefers to exterminate and the other to tolerate an inconvenient minority group, the fundamental sources of contention are almost surely divergences in ethical values… [which] will not be eliminated by advances in scientific economics.”

3. Understanding the Consensus
THE great German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege suggested at one place that we should not “ask for the meaning of a word in isolation, but only in the context of a proposition.” In the same vein, it may be said the meaning of a proposition or a hypothesis should not be asked for except in relation to the particular context in which it has been advanced. And we can maintain this without requiring the description of such a context to be fully explicit or even one which can be easily expressed in words. A proposition needs to be understood in relation to the fullest possible description of its implicit and explicit context — which may be a good sense too in which to understand the reference by Wittgenstein to the concept of a “language game” .

In the previous chapter, we have marshalled considerable evidence for our initial thesis that there has been a broad measure of consensus among many of the pioneers of modern economics about the appropriate relationship of the positive to the normative. Irrespective of their many and well known substantive differences, they have seemed all to share an affinity with a humean thesis of moral scepticism, whether in a radical way like Schumpeter and Professor Arrow when they say there can be no difference in kind between personal preferences and value judgements, or in a more moderate way like Joan Robinson and Professor Friedman and Professor Hahn, when they say there can be a great amount of room for objective argumentation to take place about normative questions before a naked and irreconcilable difference will be found to appear. The first question that needs now to be addressed is how this consensus should be understood, and this will require as full a description as can be attempted in this work of the context in which it has occurred. The second question would be whether or not the consensus is correct and justified — whether or not there are firm and adequate grounds for us to think we should join it, and so take the is ought dualism to be a barrier which it is neither possible nor necessary to surmount. The reader will have known from the Introduction that it is a main purpose of this study to make the argument that such grounds are not in fact available, that a humean position is ultimately untenable and misleading, and deserves to give way to a theory of economic knowledge and policy which treated objectivity and freedom as compatible concepts deserving of equal respect. Nevertheless we are first obliged to identify the strengths and motivations of a humean point of view, if only so that we might explain how it has come to command the kind of assent it has done among many of the most eminent of twentieth century economists as well as the many more who have followed them. When expressed as thoroughly as it has been by some, a humean point of view is certainly a respectable and recondite one to hold in the theory of knowledge; there seems nothing obvious that is wrong with it; to the contrary, it may seem foolhardy to try to refute it or even place its merits under scrutiny. In other words, a well thought-out moral scepticism deserves the respect of its critics, and any difficulties with it may be expected to be of a relatively subtle and not self evident kind.
The purpose of this chapter will be then to give as full a description as possible of the historical and political context — of the “language game” or the civilization — within which it is possible for the humean consensus in modern economics to be understood. The economists quoted in Chapter 2 do not appear to have attempted such descriptions themselves, and may even have assumed a humean point of view on the positive and normative to be self-evidently justified, for little thought seems to have been given as to why we should want to endorse it. Thus it will be fair to caution the reader that while a possible justification and explanation of a humean point of view will be given here, it will be one which has been constructed by a critic. Furthermore, the discussion will refer first to a more distant and then a more proximate context, and the discussion of the former will have to be speculative and greatly simplified — a mere thumbnail sketch of an actual drama of indefinite proportions.

§2. The adoption of moral scepticism in twentieth century economics may be most briefly explained as having been motivated by a genuine desire to shield against dogmatism and tyranny, whether in political, economic, scientific, or religious contexts. As scientist and scholar, the economist has been naturally concerned to extend the scope of common reasoning, as well as to protect the objectivity of the findings of his science from the imposition of personal or political dogma. Equally, it has been felt that the choices of the individual agent who is studied by economists, whether as consumer or voter, deserve to be treated with the fullest respect. A humean scepticism may have been adopted because it has been believed to be necessary and possibly sufficient for this kind of respect to be shown to the results of popular choice, whether in parliament, the market place, or in private life. This is summarized in for instance Sugden’s remark “Hume’s Law reflects a liberal view of the universe”, as well as in Schumpeter’s suggestion that the wertfrei controversy had been merely one between those who practised and those who protested a kind of scholarly deceit, namely, the propagation of personal dogma in the guise of a pursuit of knowledge. In other words, someone might become a moral sceptic because he wishes to defend, and wishes perhaps to be seen as defending, the freedom of the individual person to form and hold his or her own normative beliefs, as well as the objectivity of science from being compromised by the forced imposition of the beliefs of any one or a few people. In particular, the modern humean economist is likely to wish to contrast his theory as sharply as possible with the famous theory given by Plato, both directly with the political philosophy which is to be found in Plato’s writings, as well as indirectly, with the medieval scholasticism which came to be deeply influenced by the rediscovered works of Plato and Aristotle and to which the origins of modern economic and political thought can be traced.

Now the question of whether there is any objective knowledge in a field of inquiry is open to be understood either as asking whether there possibly can be any knowledge in the field, or as asking who should be thought of as possessing such knowledge and how they may have been identified. The first of these senses can be thought of as epistemological and the second as political in character. In Republic, Plato offered answers to both questions with respect to the knowledge of the statesman, and the answers he gave were yes — not only is it logically possible for there to be objective knowledge of use to the statesman, but it is practically possible to identify certain men and women in society as actually possessing or being considered fit to possess such knowledge. It is these special people who are the only true lovers of wisdom in society, and since we surely should want the policies of a state in which we lived to be the wisest and most prudent possible, informed by the best available knowledge, it appears to follow at once that what needs to be done is unite knowledge with authority and make these special people our guardians and rulers.

Plato’s ideal city-state is a place where individual freedom is conspicuous by its absence. Its rulers are to be imagined as being about as perfect rulers as there can be: the single and genuine source of all true wisdom and justice, and deserving therefore to be granted absolute authority on all significant questions of private and political conduct, including the right to suppress dissent, since any dissent would be misguided by definition. This is not to say the philosopher-kings would be entitled to a life of luxury or even ordinary comforts. To the contrary, since those who deserve to be philosopher-kings may well be disinclined to seek power and privilege for themselves in the normal course of politics, they may have to be first discovered and then forcibly drafted to take the office which rightfully should be theirs. In preparation for the serious business of piloting the ship of state, they will be placed in seclusion and rigourously educated in such disciplines as aesthetics and gymnastics and mathematics and music, their lives certainly without any of the signs of corruption that we would frequently associate with the exercise of power. At the end of the tenure of one generation of such rulers, they will be retired and replaced by a new generation, bred and educated through a similar and careful programme of eugenics and training in the arts and sciences of statesmanship. Finding actual examples of such extraordinary beings may be quite impossible; perhaps some appropriate mixture of the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Attaturk and Mozart’s Sarastro might help our modern imagination.
A number of modern political thinkers have roundly condemned Plato for having written a theory hostile to democratic political institutions, and even for having provided the blueprints for the tyrannies of modern history. Yet while there is no question that Plato was no friend of democracy, or at least of the kind of democracy which had brought about the judicial murder of his friend and teacher Socrates, a fair-minded reader of Republic is unlikely to find in it any justification of tyranny at all. If we were to define tyranny in the way Plato and his contemporaries would have done as the rule of the ignorant and capricious, it would be a state of affairs Plato found abhorrent, the complete antithesis of his own ideal of a full union between knowledge and authority, of rule by the genuinely wise and the genuinely good; even the faulted system of democracy would be preferable to it. Moreover, Plato was to discuss at length the dynamics of how even his ideal city-state would be likely to degenerate into a tyranny; and besides, his single attempt to put theory into practice ended in pathetic failure, when he accepted an invitation to train a fatuous prince, who was incapable of and soon became bored with the rigorous education Plato had in mind for him, and who eventually became the worst of tyrants, much to Plato’s disgust. In fact Kant, the modern lover of freedom, was led to come to the defence of Plato, the ancient authoritarian, precisely because the logical possibility of a utopia is suggested to the reader of Republic — a state of affairs in which everyone is a genuine lover of wisdom, everyone a philosopher-king, and therefore all external government made redundant. Republic is a masterpiece of philosophy and mathematics and literature and political economy as well, and it would be a mistake to suppose its author to have been so inexperienced of human nature and society as to provide it as a textbook for grand or petty tyrannies, whether of his own time or of ours.

What is true however what is true is that the theological culture of medieval Europe would come to be deeply influenced by the rediscovered works of Plato and Aristotle, with which a synthesis of medieval Christianity was sought to be made. And it may also be fair to say that regardless of Plato’s intentions, Republic came to provide something of a model for the tyrannies to be experienced in subsequent European history.
Social and economic life in medieval Europe is marked by a four-fold division of society into the nobility, the clergy, free artisans and tradesmen self governed within a system of guilds and corporations, and the peasantry. The medieval church is seen as an eternal institution representing divine will on earth, deserving to be endowed with final and absolute authority on all significant questions of right conduct, somewhat perhaps in the manner of Plato’s philosopher-kings. Specific duties and rights belong to the members of different occupations, and it is within one’s calling that one is expected to lead one’s life in accordance with the divine law as interpreted by the church and the natural law as discovered by the temporal authorities. In particular, there is a notion that economic activities may be licit or illicit in nature, and since the general moral question of what ought to be done is closely identified with whether there is the sanction of the church for it to be done, whether a particular economic activity is to be approved of or not comes to depend on whether or not it has such a sanction. There is an idea too of economic goods having a ‘true’ or ‘intrinsic’ or ‘natural’ value endowed in them by God — an idea which will become perhaps a precursor of the labour theory of value of classical economics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Determining this intrinsic value establishes the ‘just’ price of a good or service, i.e., the price at which it ought to be traded, even if the actual market price as determined by the subjective estimates and actions of traders happens to contingently differ from this. There is a related concept of ‘equivalence’ in transactions, with a suggestion that one party to a trade can gain from it only at the expense of the other. Merchants and middlemen thus come to be treated with some disdain, since it does not seem apparent they are adding anything to the intrinsic values of goods, making the just price of their services seem hard to determine. Indeed the unabashed pursuit of wealth by anyone is probably the object of some considerable social and religious disapproval. Similar thinking may underlie the condemnation of usury, since, given a premise of money having no intrinsic worth, what is perceived to be the lending out of money should seem to have a just price of nought.

The common medieval culture and economy was to be transformed drastically though differently across Europe between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. The sea routes are discovered, nation states emerge competing with one another in trade and war, the age of modern science begins, a long and rapid succession of scientific discoveries and technological inventions takes place, there is a vast expansion of commerce and population and the settlement of European colonies in other continents. Accompanying these transformations in some places are intellectual rebellions against the medieval church, and almost everywhere in Europe a decline in the influence of formal faith. The assertion of individual will and conscience as the principal guides of human conduct is a challenge directed at church doctrine and dogma; but given that the medieval concept of reasoning is one of reason ultimately bounded by the doctrines and dogmas of faith, the assertion of a subjective individual will may have been assumed to amount to being a challenge to the full possibilities of objective reasoning itself.

In this new mercantilist age, the pursuit of material gain must come to be freed of the sanction of the church, and once more, since right and wrong are closely identified with such sanction and prohibition, a declaration of the independence of economic activity from the sanction of the church amounts virtually to a declaration of its independence from ethics as well. In particular, the medieval notion of ‘equivalence’ in the intrinsic value of goods in a transaction is transformed with the aid of mechanistic analogies at hand into a concept of ‘equilibrium’ in trade, such that each party to a trade is conceived of as gaining from it as an individual and continuing to transact until the prospect of such gain has come to be exhausted. It is understandable perhaps that England and Holland will be in the vanguard of the mercantilist revolution, given their theological distance from Rome as well as their growing commercial interests and naval power. Nor does it seem obviously foolish, at least in the early mercantilist years, for the wealth of a nation to be identified with its ability to export and its holdings of precious metals, when the circumstances of the time make it a first priority of the business of government to have liquid payment available for navies and armies. In France there comes to be the liberal protest of the physiocrats against the iniquities upon the peasantry, a protest which serves to rehabilitate a more secular version of the natural law of the scholastics. But the calls of men like Quesnay and Turgot for reform are too late, and the system of physiocracy is itself swept away with the onset of the French Revolution.

Adam Smith however has admired and learned from the physiocrats, while observing at first hand the dismal effects of a staling British mercantilism. This he rises to condemn in The Wealth of Nations, thereby starting an intellectual revolution of his own, ringing in a new century of free enterprise and imperial expansion, and establishing the concern of the economist with the workings of individual interest and the market economy which continues to this day. Forty years later it is David Ricardo who introduces to political economy the practice of an abstract hypothetical method, by which it is a body of abstract and general principles that the economist’s speculations and ratiocinations are intended to discover, detached from the rush of concrete economic realities. And Ricardo and his immediate followers exemplify the application of the new method to a main subject of Smith’s preoccupation, namely, the workings of individual self interest and the market economy.

In the musty passage-ways of Victorian thought, the new methods of abstraction in political economy must have been felt to be as invigorating as fresh air. Jevons, Walras, Menger and the other original neoclassicals firmly insist upon making the plain and simple observation that in the case of many and perhaps most goods, the prime determinant of relative value is not how much labour went into the different production processes, nor how much intrinsic value God might have placed in the goods, but rather the subjective estimations of economic agents in the market place. The victory seems complete. Out of the medieval notion of the scope of reasoning being limited by the dictates of doctrine and dogma, is eventually born the neoclassicals’ notion of the concept of value as fully and exactly synonymous with the concept of scarcity or market value, or rareté in Walras’s term. Economists are seemingly freed to speak of ‘a theory of value’ when meaning to refer more specifically to a theory of scarcity-determined relative prices, determined by conditions of supply and demand in the marketplace. From an idea that something is or is not a good only and merely because the church happens to say so, the wheel comes full circle to an idea that something is or is not a good only and merely because of the price it happens to command in the marketplace. The moral absolutism of the platonist and the scholastic gives way to the moral scepticism of the humean, and we reach the threshold of the modern period of economics in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

§3. Briefly then, the development of the kind of sceptical and subjectivist point of view represented by Hume and the humean economists may be seen as the democratic reaction which occurs to medieval and platonist authoritarianism. And in parallel with these democratic developments occurring in the marketplace and economic thought, there occurs between the medieval and the modern period an emancipation of the political mind as well. No more will it be for clergy and aristocracy to dictate divine and temporal laws respectively. Men are born equal — which is to say there are not grounds ex ante why one human being should be supposed to deserve more or less authority or dignity than another merely in virtue of his or her humanity. The political process must reflect this new emancipation, and displace the hierarchies of the past with the equalitarian notion that every man’s vote should count the same, and the most popular choice be established to rule.

The modern institutional context of a parliamentary democracy, bound by formal or informal constitutional principles and precedents, may be roughly sketched somewhat as follows. From among the body of citizens, some will choose to run for elected office. While reasonable restrictions may be placed on who can so choose (e.g., they must be adult nationals) any citizen normally will be free to be a candidate. Before a vote is conducted, a reasonable time will be allowed for candidates to put their respective cases to the public. There will be some constitutional rule, like first-past-the-post or proportional representation, agreed upon more or less unanimously in advance of the vote, which will map how the actual balloting will induce particular outcomes as to the composition of the parliament. The individual voter casts his or her ballot, reflecting some private mixture of interest, prejudice, caprice or good sense about the common welfare. The rule is applied, and the largest coalition of winning candidates come to constitute the new government, with smaller coalitions constituting the loyal opposition. Once elected, a government will be expected prima facie to carry out the agenda it had proposed to the public before the election and not something different. What it actually does will be the subject of constant scrutiny and criticism by the opposition, the press, and the public at large, but the laws finally enacted will have jurisdiction over all. After a certain maximum time, elections must be held again and the process repeated, with an incoming government either maintaining or changing the policies of its predecessor in large or small measure. The system may be considered indirectly democratic insofar as that at any given time citizens shall have given themselves, via their elected representatives, the policies and laws under which they are themselves to live.

While a government would be expected to implement the agenda chosen indirectly in this way by the public, it will be expected also to elicit expert advice upon the best means to be employed towards achieving the chosen ends. Yet the expert must be appropriately humbled, brought down from the high altar where Plato had placed him to being the modest and self-effacing servant of the popular will. The scientist in government is to take as given the ends of his political masters, under a presumption that these reflect the democratic choice and any interference or criticism would be impertinent. More generally, the competence of the expert in a democratic society is not to extend to questioning the uses to which his expertise may be put. Thus Popper was to write: “No amount of physics will tell a scientist that it is the right thing for him to construct a plough, or an aeroplane, or an atomic bomb. Ends must be adopted by him, or given to him; and what he does qua scientist is only to construct means by which these ends can be realised.” Or as Myrdal put it in the passage quoted in the previous chapter, the expert must not go beyond advising on the means, for he would otherwise require premises of a normative kind which have not been given to science, but which are to be presumed available instead to the elected politican. And Robbins wrote of how economists ought not to judge the ends to which economics is put, indeed that ultimately “there is no room for argument” about ends, but rather how the quintessence of economics is the study of the optimal allocation of scarce resources between competing ends. It is only the question of the best or optimal means towards such an allocation that is within the scope of rational inquiry, and therefore within the competence of the economist qua scientist; it is not for the economist to question the ends given to him by the representatives of the public.

Now the widespread view since that there is a unique and quintessential economic problem, and that in particular it is the problem of the allocation of scarce resources between competing ends, is of course one initially advanced in the course of the neoclassical revolution. As Marshall put it: “if a person has a thing which he can put to several uses, he will distribute it among these uses in such a way that it has the same marginal utility in all. For if it had a greater marginal utility in one use than another, he would gain by taking some of it from the second use, and applying it to the first.” The housewife must decide how much yarn should be put to making socks and how much to making vests so “as to contribute as much as possible to family well-being”; she will have allocated the yarn efficiently if the marginal increase in family well-being is the same whether she puts the last ball of yarn to making an extra pair of socks or to making an extra vest. In modern terms, the problem is one of constrained maximization in which a concave objective function is to be maximized subject to a number of linear or non-linear constraints. We might imagine, for example, a hospital administrator who must allocate fixed quantities of various resources at his disposal like medical staff, beds, dressings, and so on, between a number of alternative outputs which have to be produced in different hospital wards, with the aim of maximizing an objective function containing these outputs as concave arguments. The objective function itself, that is, the relative weights which should be given to the various outputs, is not ultimately for the administrator to decide, but rather to be taken by him as a parameter from an appropriate authority. If the necessary conditions for a maximum are met, an optimal allocation would be one in which (a) the ratio of marginal increases in the objective function from marginal increases in the output of any two goods equalled the implicit shadow prices of their technologies; and (b) the marginal increase in the objective function from increased use of a resource in any two production activities would be the same and equalled the shadow price of the particular resource. Thus the marginal hour of a nurse’s skills would be equally well applied whether in assisting mothers in labour or in providing aid in the Emergency Room. Similarly, a humean view of the expertise of economists would be one in which the economist did not question the social objective function but rather takes as his task the statement and solution of the formal problem of the allocation of scarce resources between the defined ends.

With the necessary change of detail, the same has been required in the influential theory of macroeconomic policy advanced by Professor Jan Tinbergen and his principal expounder, Professor Henri Theil. In this theory, normative premises are seen as being given to the expert economist by a representative of the political process, for instance “the Minister of Finance or Economic Affairs, who is interested in the employment level of his country and its balance of payments”. Such a person is assumed to know the set of variables relevant to determining the present state of the economy, which are divided into those whose values can be changed (“instruments”) and those whose values cannot be changed (“targets”), with a change in the value of an instrument being defined as a “policy measure”. The expert economist is called upon to specify as best as possible the structural relations between targets, instruments, and exogenous disturbances, and predict as best as possible the future course of the targets under alternative assumptions about the instruments. As Theil put it, the policy-maker is to receive from his forecasters “conditional expectations about the time-patterns of non-controlled variables, the conditions being alternative measures to be taken by himself in the present and the future.” Alternative futures of the economic model are then to be evaluated one against the other by means of a social utility function decided upon by the policy-maker. Its arguments could be a pair of macroeconomic ills such as inflation and unemployment implying the function should be minimized, or a pair of microeconomic goods like efficiency and equity implying the function should be maximized subject to the relevant constraints, with the relative weights given to the ends presumed to be reflecting the democratic mandate. An optimal vector of targets is determined which yields the least possible social disutility or the highest possible social utility; the values of the instruments which would result in this optimal vector are calculated, and changes from the present values of these instruments to these optimal values define the optimal set of policy measures to be taken.
Such briefly was the kind of theory of economic policy Tinbergen put forward in the early years after the Second World War. It was soon to have much influence among macroeconomists, especially in the United States. Fairly or not to both Keynes and Tinbergen, the models themselves came to be called “Keynesian”, yet their influence has been significant enough that contemporary critics of Keynes and Tinbergen have described their method and purpose in similar terms. For keynesians and their critics, the macroeconomist principally has a positive role, extending the scope of reasoning and discussion on logical and empirical grounds as far as he is able to. He assumes a constitutional democracy, and takes for granted that the normative premises of the policy-maker reflect the popular will.

§4. Drawing together, then, the main threads of this highly simplified and summary discussion, it may be possible to explain the adoption by twentieth century economists of a humean theory of knowledge by the widespread belief that such a theory provides a necessary and even a sufficient defence against dogmatism and tyranny. It is part of the democratic reaction to medieval authoritarianism. The modern civilization which has adopted the moral scepticism of Hume is one born out of the great medieval civilizations which had been influenced by the authoritarianism of Plato. And just as Plato’s theory was affected by his disgust with the doings of the democracy of his time, so it may be the theory of knowledge which has come to be adopted by as eminent and diverse economists as Robbins and Friedman and Samuelson and Hicks and Robinson and Myrdal and Arrow and Hayek and Lange and Tinbergen and Hahn and Schumpeter, and the many others who have followed them, has been conditioned in part by their disgust with the tyrannies and ideologies of twentieth century history, and their desire to protect from these both the objectivity of economic science as well as the individual in his capacity of consumer and voter.

The question arises however, whether, in making their escape from Plato, the pioneers of twentieth century economic thought have not become entranced by Hume.

4. Difficulties with Moral Scepticism

We have now a description of some of the main features of the theory of economic knowledge most widely accepted in the twentieth century, and we have seen also how its plausibility and influence may be explained by placing it in appropriate historical and political context. In this chapter we shall examine some of the main difficulties and paradoxes which happen to arise with this theory. These have been serious in their implications, and the more general problems from which they derive have been well known to many contemporary philosophers, yet they do not appear to have been given adequate notice by modern economists.
Briefly, the difficulties are two-fold.
First, if the justification of adopting a humean theory of knowledge by contemporary economists is to be what we have taken it to be, viz., that such a theory and only such a theory can provide an adequate bulwark for science and the individual against tyranny and dogmatism, then we clearly have the makings of an internal contradiction on our hands — since what is patently a moral purpose would have been advanced within a theory of knowledge whose ostensible aim was to deny the possibility of moral knowledge! In a theory in which all moral propositions are taken ultimately to be statements of mere personal opinion, the defence of the freedom of the individual or of the integrity of science must also be taken ultimately to be matters of mere personal opinion, and the declared or undeclared purpose of protecting freedom by adopting moral scepticism would have been internally defeated by that very scepticism itself.
Secondly, we shall find that sceptical attacks just as powerful as Hume’s attack on the possibility of moral knowledge can be made upon the possibility of knowledge in a number of non-moral contexts as well. Hume himself is responsible for one such attack when he raised his famous doubts about the possibility of induction, and analogous attacks can be made in diverse other contexts such as those of science, history, mathematics, or psychology. The result of recognizing these new possibilities for scepticism is to make evident that an acceptance of moral scepticism on its own may force a choice between either sliding into total scepticism, the position of believing there is ultimately nothing whatsoever that can be objectively known, or forsaking parity of reasoning, and denying that what may be sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. Either the possibilities of mathematical knowledge and scientific knowledge and historical knowledge all come to be denied ultimately because we wish in a consistent way to deny the possibility of moral knowledge, or one sort of knowledge is accepted and another sort rejected when there are reasons to think they must stand or fall together. Either all of positive economics is attacked with just as much scepticism as anything in normative economics, or we accept one and reject the other when instead there are reasons to think they share the same ultimate grounds and must be accepted or rejected together.
Such will be the main hazards we shall find on the humean course taken in the theory of knowledge by the economists quoted in Chapter 2. Their precise locations however are subtle and quite well hidden, so if we are to avoid them we must move here as carefully and precisely as possible.

§2. Let us recall at the outset Hume’s First Law as saying to the effect that a normative conclusion cannot be validly deduced from solely positive premises; that a normative conclusion cannot be deduced without at least one normative premise being made. Faced with a normative proposition then, a moral sceptic will ask to see the set of prior positive and normative premises from which it is to derive. To take a simple example, if you were to say “I think the government should reduce the rate of growth of the money supplym from 6% to 3%”, a moral sceptic may ask “Could you say why you think so, since your proposition is plainly normative and cannot have derived from a set of solely positive premises?” (We can suppose this not to be meant rhetorically, that some opinion like “What a stupid idea!” is not being surreptitiously introduced in the guise of asking a question, but rather that a genuine inquiry is being made to be told the grounds that may go to support the proposal.) If you were to reply “Well the government should try to reduce the rate of inflationp , it is necessary and/or sufficient to reducem in order to reducep , that is why I think the government should reducem ,” it would remain open for the sceptic to respond “Certainly I can agree if your premises are true then your conclusion follows. But your premises once more are not solely positive ones, including as they do one that is plainly normative. Could you now say why you think the government should try to reducep in the first place?”
It is not difficult to imagine a fair reply being given to this as well, such as perhaps “Well inflation has been rampant and the election was fought and won on a promise inflation would be curbed, election promises should be attempted to be kept, that is why the government should make a determined attempt to reducep .” But in practice the economist would typically and rightly allow such discussion to fade into the background — since an important and difficult task would already have been defined for him, which is to ask whether it is likely a reduction inm by the stated amount will succeed in reducingp , assuming that the government should be trying to do this in the first place. Trying to answer it will require abiding by the practices of language and logic and scientific method; but the question itself is a positive and not a normative one insofar as it asks what is the case, or what has been the case or is likely to be the case, and the desire to keep it distinct for analytical convenience from the explicitly normative may be understandable. The modern economist is one of many kinds of expert in civil society, and as such is expected to have some special theoretical or practical knowledge not possessed by the non-economist. And economists everywhere are in fact being called upon to evaluate whether or not a dam or a highway should be built, a budget balanced or unbalanced, a bond released or redeemed, a tax or a tariff levied or lifted; to judge whether the argument of a government or a colleague or a student or a critic is valid, substantiated, compelling, sound, cogent. In any such investigation, it may well be useful for purposes of clarity and analytical convenience to work with a dualism between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’, the descriptive and the prescriptive — just as it is commonly useful to work with a dualism between an analytical sense of ‘is’ as in “two plus two is four”, and a descriptive sense of ‘is’ as in “the cat is on the mat”.
Yet from saying it may be useful to make working dualisms between what is possible and what is actual or between what is the case and what ought to be done, it does not follow there are any absolute or ineradicable lines to be drawn. Taking a set of normative premises as given and from there proceeding to extend the scope of positive reasoning would not imply the normative premises are unquestionable — only that they are not now in question, not presently in question. It is as if they have been temporarily taken out of the game while we attempted to see how far we may proceed without them. They can still be brought back and others taken out — indeed, in the game of inquiry, we might even wonder if there needs to be any proposition which must be so privileged as never to be benched, so indispensable that we must fear the whole project will collapse without it.

§3. We may recall next Hume’s Second Law to the effect that while it may be possible to bring to bear objective reasoning in some normative discussions, a point of sheer and unadulterated difference over ‘basic’ or ‘ultimate’ values can nevertheless come to be reached. The moderate humean may allow for much room for common reasoning to take place, but he takes the further step of supposing such reasoning to have a limit, a finite limit. In any normative discussion, it is eventually possible for the scope of objective reasoning to become exhausted and a difference of a sheer normative kind to come to be identified. While it is clear the economists quoted in Chapter 2 have meant to refer to a limit of this sort being reached, it is strictly speaking not clear if they have meant to refer to such a limit being reached just as a contingent matter of fact — in actual arguments and discussions — or whether they have meant to refer to such a limit being possible in principle as well. In other words, whether it is merely intended to be an empirical possibility that a disagreement will come to end without resolution, or whether it is also intended for this to be the logically necessary outcome. If a residue of disagreement remains after the processes of common reasoning have been allowed to work, is this residue to consist of differences which just happen to be closed to further discussion in a particular case, say because the discussants lack patience or good humour or tolerance or perseverance or whatever, or is it supposed to consist of sheer and naked differences over ‘basic’ values which must be thought of as necessarily beyond the scope of further discussion?
If it is the first interpretation alone which has been intended, then only a fairly small claim would have been made, which may need to be clarified and fully set out but which would not need to be disputed by someone wishing to attribute a greater scope to reason than does the moral sceptic. For it is quite evident that actual arguments and discussions frequently do come to end without full resolution — those between physicists, mathematicians, biologists, doctors or engineers no less perhaps than those between politicans, economists, writers, historians, spouses, or nation states. Yet an observation of this sort of the frequency or intensity of disagreement would not be directly relevant to the theory of knowledge, insofar as the fact an argument happens to stop where it does, does not bear upon whether a question in dispute is capable of having a true or a right answer. It is possible for the true or right answer to a question not to be available to those who happen to be discussing it, or even to others in their generation or those in later generations; that there can be an objectively true or right answer to a question is a different question from whether it has been found or will be found today or tomorrow or next year. What the answers happen to be to the questions raised by Darwin or Freud or Keynes is a different question from what they themselves might have thought the answers to be, or what their contemporary state of opinion happened to think the answers to be, or what the state of opinion in our own time or in some future time happens to think the answers to be. It is of course natural to want to know the true or right answer to a question, to know whether the answer which we think is true or right is true or right, and certainly we should be surprised and find it incongruent if someone said he or she believed something even while knowing it was not true, or approved of something even while knowing it was not right — we normally want to know what is true and what is right and make our beliefs congruent with it. In other words, we may distinguish the actual and contingent history of inquiry and conflict from the logic of inquiry and conflict.
Moreover, some concepts and propositions will be found to form a context or a background in any disagreement, being understood by both sides and being unnecessary to be made explicit. If we were discussing the monetary history of the United States in the 1980s for example, we would take for granted such facts as that the United States was not at war or civil war or in the throes of any major social convulsion during this time; assumptions which may not have formed the implicit background if we were instead discussing the monetary history of the 1960s or the 1860s. Not every feature of a description may be relevant to a particular question at hand nor must it be made explicit. And an observation of this kind may be made of any dispute in economics, once it has been carefully and thoroughly characterized, whether on method or theory or evidence or policy, in microeconomics or macroeconomics, whether between mathematical economist and applied economist, or keynesian and quantity theorist, or marxian and mainstream. Some aspects of any description will be implicitly understood or taken for granted by the participants in a discussion.
More strictly, it has been argued by the Cambridge philosopher Renford Bambrough that it is necessary for the participants in a discussion to be in at least some agreement before they can be even said to be in any disagreement at all: “You and I cannot be known to be in conflict unless it is possible to identify a proposition that I assert with a proposition that you deny; no such proposition can be identified unless there is some expression that you and I use in the same way; if we use an expression in the same way then we regard the same steps as relevant to determining the truth or falsehood of what is expressed by it; for a disagreement about what is relevant is or involves a disagreement about what the dispute is that we are engaged in, and when such a case of cross-purposes is resolved it resolves itself either into agreement or into a disagreement to which all these conditions again apply.” In other words, it must be either that the participants in a dispute are giving different answers to the same question or that they are giving answers to different questions. If the first, we have identified a genuine case of disagreement; if the second, we have what is strictly speaking not a genuine disagreement at all but a case of cross-purposes, where each is giving a different answer to the question as to what the question they are disagreeing over happens to be. The English literary critic F. R. Leavis suggested at one place that critical inquiry proceeds as if one person declares to another “This is so, isn’t it?”, and the other replies “Yes, but…”. When A declares “This is so, isn’t it?” he has invited both the challenge and collaboration of others. B’s yes in reply would indicate a certain agreement, while his “but…” would indicate the agreement was not total, that there perhaps is some case or circumstance to which what A has said will be found not to apply. In effect, the “but…” amounts to being a fresh “This is so, isn’t it?”, inviting in turn the collaboration and challenge of A, and so on. Applying such a scheme to our example of a simple debate over economic policy, we would obtain an abstract form of the following sort:
A : n1.
B : Why n1?
A : Given n2, p1 implies n1.
B : Granted (p1), but why n2?
A : Given n3, p2 implies n2.
B : Granted (p1, p2), but why n3?
A : Given n4, p3 implies n3.
B : Granted (p1, p2, p3), but why n4?
A can think B to be stupid or stubborn or self-seeking, and B can think the same of A, and neither or one or both of them may be partly or wholly correct in thinking so, and all these may be facts which go to explaining how their dispute actually happens to proceed or fail to proceed over time — yet the correct answer, the most reasonable and justifiable answer, to the question to which different answers may be given at any stage will be independent of all this. We should want to distinguish, in short, questions of the logic of thought from questions in the history of thought.
Thus if someone becomes persuaded to a moderate moral scepticism only through observing that as a matter of fact many normative disputations seem heated or interminable, then we need only to demonstrate that such an observation does not and should not be allowed to bear upon the theory of knowledge or epistemology we come to hold. Certainly the scope of objective reasoning may be found to be finite in practice in actual disagreements and disputations between people, because there happens to be a lack of patience or good humour or tolerance or perseverance or whatever. But from that it does not follow at all that there is no further room for discussion, or indeed that reasoning cannot be thought of as being of potentially indefinite scope.
If however, as seems equally likely, the economists who have endorsed a humean theory of knowledge have meant it to be possible not only in practice but also in principle for the scope of objective reasoning to become exhausted, then a much more serious claim would have been made, which deserves appropriately more rigorous scrutiny. It would then have been claimed that it is logically possible for A and B to be in total and justifiable agreement about all the empirical evidence and about every logical relation, and still for each to declare in favour of a sheer and contradictory ‘ultimate’ value.
B : Granted (p1, p2, p3,…, pω-2); but why nω-1?
A : Given nω, pω-1 implies nω-1.
B : Granted (p1, p2, p3,…, pω-2, pω-1); but why nω ?
A : nω that’s why! (Go jump in the lake if you don’t accept it too.)
B : I deny nω that’s all! (And it’s you who can jump in the lake.)
Not only in practice but also in principle the scope of common reasoning would be supposed to have a finite limit. Not only is it a handicap we have to live with that many disputes between economists or scientists or citizens or spouses or nation-states do come to halt without full and justifiable resolution, through lack of patience or tolerance or good humour or whatever, but it is inevitable that common reasoning will become exhausted and only sheer and unadulterated differences remain over ‘basic’ or ‘ultimate’ values over which only the irrational holds sway. Hume and Hare among philosophers certainly may be interpreted to have taken such a view, and, on the basis of the writings quoted in Chapter 2, it would not be unfair to interpret at least some of the economists to have meant the same. However no proof or example of the existence of a sheer dispute over ‘basic’ or ‘ultimate’ values between people who are in justifiable agreement over everything else, has ever been offered by Hume or any philosopher or economist after him. It seems merely to have been asserted or taken for granted that a point can come where the scope of reason must have become exhausted and nothing further could remain to be said or done.

§4. We are in position to have a clear sighting at last of the first major hazard which is present on the humean course: It is possible that the declared purpose of the humean economist of extending objectivity and thwarting dogmatism will be contradicted by an ultimate adoption of irrationality and personal dogmatism. Huge and invaluable edifices of inquiry and argument can crumble to the ground because the scope of reasoning must sooner or later become exhausted, and mere personal prejudice take its place. The presence of a single ‘ought’ would signal the presence of another, and then another, and another… until some set of private moral primes or absolutes or supreme principles are supposed to be reached, which others might or might not share but which are in any event beyond further question. According to the received theory of knowledge, the economist is ultimately able only to persuade or coax or cajole or perhaps bribe others into accepting the absolutes he may himself wish to endorse, but common reasoning is of no further avail. Sooner or later the advice of the expert economist cannot but express the personal dogmas and prejudices of the adviser (or those of his employer).
It was a tension of this kind in the humean doctrine that Professor Samuelson may have felt when he called it a “somewhat schizophrenic rule” even as he endorsed it in the passage quoted in Chapter 2. Yet while Samuelson was not afraid to describe the role of the economist in society that follows from the humean thesis, he did not see the paradox to which it leads. Following Robbins and in keeping with the modern theory of economic policy, Samuelson said we should keep distinct the economist qua scientist from the economist qua citizen. The former expresses objective knowledge (“pure analysis”), the latter expresses subjective opinions (“propaganda, condemnations and policy recommendations”). Thus when Professor Samuelson himself writes from his offices at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we must take him to be doing so qua rational, objective, scientific economist, while if the very same person writes from his home qua citizen of the United States, we must take him to be expressing a subjective and possibly irrational personal point of view. Or must Samuelson expect himself to sign and stamp everything he writes either as being a claim to objective knowledge made by the eminent economist which he is and deserving the world’s attention, or as being a subjective and possibly irrational opinion expressed by the ordinary citizen and human being which he also is, and perhaps not deserving nearly as much of the world’s attention? What would happen if the same human being came to say the same thing in both scientific and civic capacities? Clearly we would be in a quandary of having to decide whether it should be considered objective or subjective, public knowledge or private opinion, rational or irrational, economic science or personal prejudice. In the previous chapter we have seen that the humean economist is likely to want to sharply contrast his theory of the role of economic expertise from the famous theory given by Plato in Republic. Now we are able to see that there seems to be a less well known similarity too between the moral scepticism of the humean and the moral absolutism of the platonist. For just as in Plato’s theory so in the modern humean theory, there is evidently no way of telling from within the theory who is supposed to be the expert. Either the humean has to join the platonist whom he takes to be his enemy and declare there to be some arbitrary and unspecified way of distinguishing expert from layman, philosopher from commoner. Or the humean has to part company with Plato and the scholastics, and say that there is ultimately no objective distinction possible between knowledge and opinion, expert and layman, science and prejudice. What appears to be at stake when the merits of the humean epistemology are brought under critical scrutiny in this way, therefore, is nothing less than whether there ultimately can be objective knowledge in economics; and so, whether or not the economist can rightly consider himself to be a seeker after such knowledge — or whether we are all involved merely in some highly evolved and sophisticated branch of rhetoric, having “the semblance of wisdom without the reality” whose teacher and practitioner is just “one who makes money from an apparent but unreal wisdom.”

§5. The problem we are observing here with the received theory of economic knowledge can be placed in relief by comparing the moderate moral sceptic with his more radical cousin, the emotivist. For the emotivist is one who flatly denies there to be any scope at all for common reasoning to occur upon normative questions, maintaining instead that normative propositions amount only to being the expressions of personal feeling or emotive attitude. Thus a statement like “the government should reducem from 6% to 3%” would be taken by the emotivist to express merely the personal feelings or preferences of the individual, its full meaning and implications being equally well described if the speaker had said “I wish the government would reducem from 6% to 3%”, just as someone might say “I wish to have my coffee black” or “I do not like boiled vegetables” or “I like to wear colourful shirts”.
Now the feelings and emotions and attitudes of a speaker or author may be naturally and normally involved in the making of evaluative or prescriptive statements, in a way they may not be in the making of logical or empirical statements. When I propose something should be done I must mean what I say, or I would not be being sincere, what I outwardly expressed would be incongruent with what I inwardly felt, I would be engaged in a kind of self-contradiction or inner dissonance. Yet this sort of involvement of matters of personal sincerity and authenticity in the making of normative judgements does not imply these are all that is involved, or even the most important of what is involved, or that common reasoning cannot make headway in normative discussion. The emotivist correctly observes the involvement of the emotions in normative discussion but exaggerates its significance, perhaps by the confounding of simple and literal uses of concepts like “taste” and “preference” as in “I have a taste for ice-cream” or “I prefer my vegetables lightly cooked” with looser and more metaphorical and so more complex uses of the same concepts like “I prefer Truman to Dewey” or “I have no taste for public executions”. Where the moderate moral sceptic supposes a residue of irrational difference to remain after every relevant empirical and logical question has been answered, the emotivist wants to call a halt the instant a normative proposition is sighted. The difference is one of degree and not of kind. If a moderate moral sceptic like R. M. Hare or Milton Friedman or Joan Robinson remonstrated with the emotivist saying “Look you really should try to bring to bear as much logic and evidence as you possibly can in a normative dispute”, the emotivist has only to coolly reply “Sorry, but what you have just said is patently normative. Since, as you know, I take all normative propositions to amount to being expressions of personal taste or emotive attitude, I cannot take what you have said to be anything more than that either. That does not mean I cannot share the same emotive attitude as you, but that is no reason to think we can construct an objective justification for it.” The humean can bang his head in frustration at the emotivist’s behaviour, but he may not without circularity argue against it.
A more dramatic illustration of this sort of difficulty with the humean doctrine may be found in the writings of Hare and Popper, suggesting that even the most tough-minded and critical of moral sceptics may have allowed themselves to admit an ultimate irrationalism. Hare considers a fanatic who so fervently believes some group of innocent people should be put to death that he is prepared to be made such a victim himself if his own ancestors transpired to be of the same group. And the fanatic is closed to all further discussion of the matter. This, Hare takes it, would be a case of an ultimate value judgement, impervious both in practice and in principle to further question. Hare says that “fortunately” there are few fanatics who would be found to hold such an “extreme” position, leaving unsaid that if they were found then they should be just as entitled to their opinion as anyone else — not merely in the sense of having a legal right to hold such an opinion but in the more significant sense that such an opinion ultimately must be considered to be just as good, just as reasonable, just as cogent, just as sound, as its contrary. We could try to persuade or cajole or bribe our fanatic to give up his opinion and to hold ours, but there is no way for us to say he is simply wrong in his belief. If it turned out there were more fanatics than there were of us, it could of course become their turn to persuade or cajole or bribe us away from our opinions, yet none of their acts could be condemned, since, in the last analysis, there cannot be any such thing as moral knowledge.
Popper has written frankly that he knows of no rational grounds for recommending a rational temperament: “It is impossible to determine ends scientifically. There is no scientific way of choosing between two ends. Some people, for example, love and venerate violence. For them a life without violence would be shallow and trivial. Many others, of whom I am one, hate violence. This is a quarrel about ends. It cannot be decided by science…. you cannot, by means of argument, convert those who suspect all argument, and who prefer violent decisions to rational decisions. You cannot prove to them that they are wrong….” “I frankly confess that I choose rationalism because I hate violence, and I do not deceive myself into believing that this hatred has any rational grounds. Or to put it another way, my rationalism is not self-contained, but rests on an irrational faith in the attitude of reasonableness. I do not see that we can go beyond this.” But if Popper is entitled to have an irrational faith in being reasonable, then the fanatic is surely entitled as well to have an irrational faith in being unreasonable. Thus Professor Max Black responds on behalf of the fanatic who engages Popper thus: “Bravo! You hate violence, but I hate argument (a sneaking use of force by other means). You call me irrational, but I glory in that title. Like you, I hold that there are no ultimate reasons for my irrationality (for that would detract from the purity of my position). The difference between us is like that between a Protestant and a Catholic: your faith is my heresy; my faith is your heresy. That’s all there is to say.” (Yet Black himself does not say why differences between protestant and catholic must be supposed beyond discussion!)

§6. This kind of internal contradiction we are observing here to be associated with moral scepticism can be seen in a slightly more positive light as well. For we may ask, what does the moral sceptic’s recognition that dogma and tyranny should not be imposed upon science or the individual amount to being except a manifest example of a moral recognition? Or a proposal that the integrity of science as well as the freedom of the individual as consumer and voter should be preserved, except a manifest example of a moral proposal? All the economists quoted in Chapter 2 have recommended and practised the extension of the scope of common reasoning in economic science; what sort of recommendation would that be except a patently moral recommendation? When the theory of economic policy requires the economist to respect the ends of the elected politician, what sort of a premise does that rest upon except a moral premise that the institutions of constitutional democracy should be respected and not abused? It would presuppose in turn such things as that parliamentary elections do take place periodically and are in fact genuine and not fraudulent elections, that citizens will be judicious and well enough informed in their voting so that a good indication of what things are conducive to the common welfare will come to be determined as closely as possible given the size and diversity of the electorate, that the policies of a resulting administration are sincere attempts to reflect the ends chosen by the voters, that candidates for elected office and private citizens and scientists and scholars and others are not subject to being shot or jailed or persecuted for saying publicly what they think these ends should or should not be, and so on. It is implicitly or explicitly within the context of a free and open society, and one which probably has working democratic institutions, that the modern theory of economic policy makes sense at all, that positive questions like “Does the evidence support the hypothesis that reducingm from 6% to 3% is necessary and/or sufficient to reducep ?” are supposed to be discussed in the first place. Regardless of what the humean economist happens to say or suppose himself to be doing or not doing by adopting the theory of knowledge which he does, we are entitled to conclude that he is in fact far from asserting there cannot be any such thing as objective moral knowledge — since he himself may have advanced his moral scepticism precisely upon substantive moral grounds. Put differently, it does not seem possible without contradiction to start with a set of moral premises and arrive at a conclusion that there cannot be moral knowledge.
Equally, if the received theory of economic policy must presuppose a context of a free and open society and working democratic institutions, then it would seem it must be silent where such a context cannot be presumed. When we consider that most societies most of the time probably have not been very open or very democratic (and in such a count we must consider societies not only on the scale of nation-states but also families and clubs and corporations and university departments and armies and religions, and so on) this would at once make the received theory one of quite special and contingent application. Indeed it is a theory which must be silent about the appropriate role of the expert not only under conditions of tyranny (Solzhenitsyn: “The prison doctor was the interrogator’s and executioner’s right-hand man. The beaten prisoner would come to on the floor only to hear the doctor’s voice: ‘You can continue, the pulse is normal'” ); but also where the duly elected government of an open and democratic society proceeded to do things patently wrong or tyrannical (the imprisonment of the Japanese Americans). Hence Popper’s “paradox of democracy” and “tyranny of the majority”. It is ironic that the economist who may have adopted a humean epistemology as a reaction to dogmatism and tyranny in the first place, will come to be prevented by his own moral scepticism from condemning an act of tyranny whether it is committed in the name of the popular will or by an outright despotism. A theory of economic policy which both assumes a free and open society and bases itself upon a moral scepticism cannot have anything to say ultimately about the objective reasons why a free and open society may be preferred to an unfree or closed society, or about the good or bad outcomes that may be produced by the working of democratic processes.
A parallel difficulty arises for the humean economist with respect to market institutions and their possible outcomes. Ultimately, the received theory of economic knowledge cannot allow that there may be objective reasons why market institutions may be preferable (or not preferable) to non-market ones, whether one is speaking roughly and generally in a theory of political economy or more precisely and specifically about some actual set of concrete circumstances. Just as the medieval scholastics might have said that a good was a good only because the church said it was a good, so the modern humeans may have to say that a good is a good only because market forces have made it a good — i.e., because it happens to have a positive price in an equilibrium of supply and demand. And just as the church may have said a lot of things were goods which were indeed good, so market forces make a lot of things goods which indeed are good — for instance, like food, clothing and shelter, because they are conducive to some valuable human purpose. But also, just as there could have been things which the church said were good but were not, and things which were good but which the church said were not, so it is not at all hard for any of us to find in experience things which the market may have put a high value on but which were not in fact valuable, as well as things which the market did not value but which were indeed valuable.

§7. Drawing these simple threads together then, a first set of reasons why the modern economist may think himself poorly served by a subjectivist theory of knowledge has to do with the fact that it is a theory which falters and fails even in its own declared purpose of being an adequate shield against dogmatism and tyranny. In a theory in which nothing, ultimately, can be considered objectively right, it cannot be objectively right to extend the scope of reasoning in economics, or to preserve the integrity of science, or to protect the individual from dogmatism or tyranny. In a theory in which nothing, ultimately, can be considered objectively wrong, it cannot be wrong to block or subvert reason or to force dogma and tyranny upon science or the individual. If all moral propositions are ultimately taken to be matters of mere personal opinion, then the defence of individual freedom or the integrity of science also must be taken ultimately to be matters of mere personal opinion. Professor Arrow remarks: “The only rational defense of a liberal position… is that it is itself a value judgment.” Combine with this the idea that judgements are subjective, and you would have the result that no objective justification can be given ultimately for a liberal position, or for any other position either for that matter. When all has been said and done, protecting individual freedom is no better or worse than attacking it, preserving the integrity of science is no better or worse than destroying it. “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Such fragile things as the preservation of human freedom and the integrity of science would seem to have been left exposed by the accepted epistemology in twentieth century economics to the shifting whims of popular opinion. The purposes that many eminent economists may have had in adopting the humean thesis, and these may have been invaluable purposes, would seem to be able to be fulfilled only in a theory which denied the humean thesis that nothing can be right or wrong but thinking makes it so.

§8. We have now sketched the first important set of dangers that are present on the humean course which has been adopted by modern economists. There happens also to be a second set with equally serious implications, calling for us to continue to move as carefully and precisely as possible. The reader who may have been unconvinced by the argument so far will therefore have a fresh set of challenges to consider, while the author will have to ask for the patience of the reader who may have agreed that there does happen to be something wrong at the foundations of the received theory of economic knowledge.
In short, there is the problem that an adoption of moral scepticism on its own may lead by parity of reasoning to total scepticism, to the ‘pyrrhonism’ which Hume himself had drawn back from. For what will come to be noticed by the truly serious and tough-minded sceptic is that the general logic employed in Hume’s First Law is in fact extremely powerful, more powerful than Hume or the modern humean economist may wish or intend it to be. For the tough-minded sceptic will look at Hume’s First Law and say: Why stop at ethics? Why so half-hearted? That it is not legitimate to deduce one kind of statement from another kind of statement is surely an argument of more general application. Just as a sceptical attack can be launched upon the possibility of ethics, so why not launch sceptical attacks everywhere: on the possibilities of science and history and induction and deduction and everything? In particular, the tough-minded sceptic will say to the humean economist: Why do you stop with normative economics? — Surely you can and you must destroy all of positive economics as well!
It was shown some years ago by the English philosopher John Wisdom how sceptical attacks analogous to Hume’s attack on ethics in fact can be made in a number of other contexts as well. Let us consider an example similar to one given by Wisdom to show how easily it may be possible to proceed to be sceptical of something so obvious as our knowledge of the past. A sceptic says “Do we really know anything about what has happened in the past? Can we be certain about anything that has happened at all before this very instant?” You say to him “What do you mean? Surely you don’t mean that while we know some things for certain such as that we are now having this conversation, we don’t know for certain other things such as that we did get up from bed this morning or that Nazi Germany did invade Poland on September 1 1939?” The sceptic says “Yes that’s the kind of thing I mean.” You reply “Well that’s crazy. I for one am just as confident of knowing that here I am talking with you now, as I am that I got up this morning, as indeed I am that Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1 1939.” The sceptic says “Please tell me how you can be so certain you got up this morning.” Staring at him in disbelief, you reply “Look I usually get up to the alarm clock at 7 am; this morning was no different; I remember the clock going at 7 am as usual, and I got up. That’s all there’s to it.” The sceptic makes a flanking movement. “If you remember something taking place you would of course imply the event did take place?” You are now perhaps quite irritated by this odd fellow — “Obviously; I could not have remembered the alarm clock going off if it had not in fact gone off.” But in fact the sceptic has got you exactly in his sights and can move in for the kill. “In that case it appears to me you have missed the point of my original question completely. I wished to know how we can know anything about the past. You gave me an example that you knew you had gotten up this morning, and that you knew this for certain because the alarm clock had gone off as usual and that you remembered getting up when it did. I can agree of course that if you knew this premise to be true then you are entitled to deduce that you know you did get up this morning. But you will have to grant that this is a premise which itself refers to the past. So all you would have done in supporting one statement about the past is to have given me another statement about the past, when the point of my question was to ask how we can know anything at all about the past for certain.”
Just as the fact we cannot deduce a normative conclusion without a normative premise having been made might lead someone to a moral scepticism, so the fact we cannot deduce a conclusion about the past without a premise about the past being made might lead someone to a historical scepticism. That Nazi Germany did invade Poland on September 1 1939, cannot be deduced except by reference to other historical premises — films and photographs of the dive-bombers going in against the Polish Cavalry, government documents, the testimony of eye-witnesses, reports in the newspapers of September 2 1939, etc. The sceptic agrees that if the premises were known to be true then the conclusion would be true as well, but he says that that would be to miss his point. Like the moral sceptic, he is challenging the possibility of our knowledge of all propositions of a particular kind, and it is no use giving him for his scepticism what amounts to merely a another proposition of the same kind. Bambrough has put the matter clearly thus: “So long as the premises used in support of a proposition include any propositions of the same type as itself, a philosophical sceptic, or any other enquirer who is determined to seek the ultimate grounds, is properly dissatisfied, since his question is about how propositions of that whole type are to be validated, and he cannot consistently permit any such proposition to be unproblematic when it occurs among the premises of an argument whose conclusion is of the same type…. the grounds offered for a proposition of kind k will necessarily be either of kind k or not of kind k; if they are of kind k they may be logically sufficient for the proposition that they are intended to support, but a further question will arise about the validation of the premises themselves; if on the other hand they are not of kind k then they necessarily cannot be logically sufficient for the truth of the proposition that they are intended to support.”
Yet once this box has been opened, we are obliged to examine all its contents, and there are quite a number. For one thing we may now join with the sceptic of the senses and cast doubt on all the knowledge the natural sciences purport to provide of the physical world; since, surely, no conclusion about the physical world can be deduced without a premise about the physical world having been made. Next we might join with the solipsist and question the possibility of knowledge in psychology, doubting whether one can ever know what someone else thinks or feels; since, surely, no conclusion about a mind other than one’s own can be deduced without a premise of the same sort having been made. It is this species of scepticism which forms the basis of the widespread belief in modern economics of the impossibility of interpersonal comparisons of utility, which we observed in discussing the views of Professor Hicks in Chapter 2 and to which we shall be returning in Chapter 10. Then of course there is Hume himself being just as famous for his sceptical attack on the possibility of induction as he is for his attack on the possibility of ethics: “there can be no demonstrative arguments to prove, that those instances of which we have had no experience resemble those of which we have had experience.” “Nay, I will go farther, and assert, that [reason alone] could not so much as prove by any probable arguments, that the future must be conformable to the past. All probable arguments are built on the supposition, that there is this conformity betwixt the future and the past, and therefore can never prove it. This conformity is a matter of fact, and if it must be proved, will admit of no proof but from experience. But our experience of the past can be a proof of nothing for the future, but upon a supposition, that there is a resemblance betwixt them. This therefore is a point, which can admit of no proof at all, and which we can take for granted without any proof.” In short, no conclusion about the future can be deduced without at least one premise about the future having been made.
And then again, the full force of the sceptical onslaught can be felt when we direct its method against that of which we might seem most certain of all: the procedure of deduction itself in logic and mathematics. Adapting an example given by Wisdom and Bambrough, we can see how it may not be possible without circularity to use deductive reasoning to justify deduction itself.
For consider the propositions All firms maximize profits and GM is a firm. We would be normally inclined to think GM maximizes profits is something which follows from these. But the serious sceptic can once more ask how we may justify such a conclusion. We might be inclined to take such a challenge lightly, and try to dismiss it by stating a general rule of the form of modus ponnens: “If all S is P, and x is S then x is P.” But that would be a mistake and we would have fallen directly for the trap set for us, since the sceptic would need only to make the following decisive response: “A rule of this sort must necessarily either exclude or include the particular case at hand. If it is intended to exclude this particular case but is intended to apply to every other case, then clearly I need not accept in this case that the conclusion GM maximizes profits follows from the premises All firms maximize profits and GM is a firm. On the other hand, if the rule is intended to include this case as well, then you are asking me to reason as follows: ‘In all syllogisms, deduction proceeds like this; this is a syllogism; therefore, deduction proceeds like this here as well.’ All you would have done in trying to justify the deduction at hand is to have given me yet another deduction against which all my arguments would apply with equal force once more. You may not mind arguing in a circle but I am not going to join you.” If making an is ought dualism is sufficient ground for us to doubt the possibility of moral knowledge, then we seem now to have just as good grounds to doubt we can know anything at all. The upshot of these kinds of sceptical attacks on the practice of modern economics may be seen quite readily. For consider the fact that it would be difficult to overestimate the significance to the practice of modern economic science of (i) the elementary mathematical concept of a function, mapping all the values taken by one variable X upon a range of values taken by another variable Y, and (ii) the formal and informal procedures of statistical inference. Yet at their foundations, all procedures of statistical inference must rest upon the possibility of a rational induction. Suppose there was some economic variable Y which has been found to take a particular value in each of the last 100 or 200 or 300 or 500 periods. Or suppose it is found in each of a large number of observations that Y happens to be systematically related by some identifiable functional form to another economic variable X. It will be seldom if ever that we shall be obliged with such neat data, but it will be readily agreed the study of such relationships whether in economic theory or in economic history or in applied economics or in econometrics constitutes the very stuff of the modern science. The variable Y might be the quantity traded of a good where X is the market price, or Y the long-term interest rate and X the state of expectations, or Y the change in the price and X the difference between quantity demanded and quantity supplied, or Y the rate of inflation and X the money supply, and so on indefinitely in hundreds of different contexts. If we are genuinely serious about adopting a humean scepticism — that is, adopting it consistently, without contradiction — then we must lead ourselves to conclude that even with a thousand observations of Y taking a certain value after X had taken a certain value, we would still have no grounds, no deductive grounds, for predicting the value of Y given the 1001st observation of X. From no amount of past evidence can any proposition about the present or the future be deduced. Equally, if we were to prevent ourselves out of a debilitating scepticism of this kind from employing the modus ponnens of deductive reasoning — if all S is P, and x is S then x is P — then all reasoning in economic theory would immediately come to a standstill. Without induction and deduction, we cannot proceed in economics or elsewhere: it would be not only normative economics but all of economics which would come to be lost in the whirlpools of scepticism.
The point the sceptic wishes to make is that we cannot deduce one kind of proposition from an altogether different kind of proposition — the is ought dualism may be a useful reminder that we cannot deduce a normative conclusion from any number of positive premises. Every normative conclusion must have had at least one normative premise, and it is the attempt to justify one normative proposition by offering another as a premise that allows the moral sceptic to keep repeating his challenge indefinitely. But that does not prevent us from asking whether the sceptic has not skewed the rules of the game in such a way that he must always win, and if he has done so, we can certainly decline to play. For what the sceptic seems to require is that the grounds for any kind of justification specifically be deductive grounds. We are to deduce every proposition as the descendant of other higher or more primitive propositions, which might explain how the sceptic is able to raise the threat of an infinite regress in every field in which he attacks. “Everything we offer and everything we could conceivably offer is either too little or too much…. Nothing will ever do to meet the sceptic’s requirement. But that is different from saying nothing will ever do.” Perhaps it is not necessary to meet the sceptic’s requirement. Perhaps it is not even possible to do so. Perhaps we do not have to have a deductive proof to justify that we can and we do know some things in science, in history, in ethics, in psychology, in economics, or that we can and do frequently and reliably use inductive reasoning in these and a hundred other contexts. In Part II we shall be making an argument on these lines more fully to show how scepticism can be avoided even as we steer well clear of the opposite dangers of dogmatism. What is important here is only to notice the slide into total scepticism that may be entailed by adopting moral scepticism on its own. The economist who accepts an is-ought dualism as an adequate reason for adopting a subjectivist theory of knowledge comes to face an unhappy choice between either becoming in the interest of consistency a sceptic of all of economics — theory, history, econometrics, everything, not to mention everything else outside economics as well like natural science and mathematics and history; or denying the parity of reasoning, and not having adequate grounds for believing objectivity is possible in one context but not another. Either accept the propositions of positive economics and natural science and mathematics and history etc. to be, in the final analysis, just as subjective as normative propositions. The infinite regress threatens everywhere, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so there cannot be objective knowledge of any kind anywhere. The economist slides into a scepticism about everything — into the pyrrhonism which Hume himself had rejected. Or become a partial and prejudiced sceptic like the positivist — led to the inconsistency of threatening only normative propositions with infinite regress when analogous sceptical attacks can be made with equal force in any number of non-normative contexts as well, and therefore not having adequate reason to maintain objective knowledge to be possible in contexts other than ethics. When asked “Can there be objective knowledge in economics?” if we answer “No, truth is defined merely by agreement of opinions; we know a proposition in economics to be true only insofar as economists happened to agree it to be true; if such agreement fails to hold in the future the proposition would no longer be true”, we next may be asked “Can there be objective knowledge in physics?”, to which we can only reply yes or no. If yes, we shall have said that there is merely rhetoric in economics, perhaps a highly evolved and sophisticated rhetoric but mere rhetoric nevertheless, certainly not objective knowledge. We would justify the cynic and the cartoonist who mocks economists as the most querulous of breeds, for every one who says this there is another who says that, how it is entirely a matter of caprice or fashion or pecuniary interest which side one happens to take, whose “paradigm” one happens to accept. We should have to frankly admit to the scholarly commmunity that since there is nothing which may be properly called objective knowledge in economics, the Department of Economics in every university should be closed down, or why there might just as well be a Department of Astrology on campus too, teaching and researching the reading of palms, the writing of horoscopes, and so on. On the other hand, if we denied there to be objective knowledge possible of the physical world as well, if we said we cannot be certain of such things as that there is a table in this room or that the window is open and there is a tree outside it, then we would have to do battle not only with every scientist in history but also with the man on the street, whose commonsense like our own tells us the opposite.
It is said that Hume thought himself leaving his scepticism behind when he left his study. Yet “[his] scepticism is at odds with his actions even when he is at his most deliberately and consciously philosophical. His pen goes confidently to the ink-pot, he turns the pages of Sextus Empiricus with the well grounded expectation that Book II will be found between Books I and III…. it is shown by his life that he believes what he is trying to doubt.” Just as surely as the scholastics fell under the Spell of Plato, so modern economists may have fallen under the Spell of Hume. The time has come at last to see how both spells may be broken.
PART II

5. Objectivity and Freedom

SUPPOSE there was a philosopher who addressed modern economists in a strange way as follows
Consider the entities that we call ‘firms’. I mean banks, manufacturers, airlines, law partnerships, farms, grocery-stores, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: “There must be something in common, or they would not be called ‘firms'” — but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! — Look for example at banks with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to savings and loans associations; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to manufacturers and transporters, much that is common is retained, but much is lost. — Are they all ‘profit-maximizing’? Compare the taxi company with the electricity company. Or is there always a separation of ownership from management? Think of the tailor’s shop at the corner. With corporations there is the buying and selling of shares; but when a farmer is offered a price for his homestead this feature too may have disappeared. Look at the part played by entrepreneurship; and at the difference between the entrepreneurship of a mom-and-pop shop and the entrepreneurship of a firm of lobbyists. Think now of firms like General Motors; here is the element of giant size, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! And we can go through the many, many other groups of firms in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.
What should we think of such a strange philosopher? And what answer is to be made to him by the economist?
The philosopher is Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the passage which has been paraphrased here, odd though it may seem, is among the most famous in twentieth century philosophy, from his posthumous work Philosophical Investigations. The problem that can be found to be raised in it is the ancient problem of universals, the problem of the One and the Many, of Unity and Diversity: Must all instances of a general term or concept have anything in common, over and above the fact they are all instances of the same concept? Must all firms have anything in common, over and above the fact they are all firms? Must all red things have anything in common, over and above the fact they are all red things? Certainly we know there to be individual red things like red poppies and red roses and red corpuscles and redheads and Red Square, and we know there to be individual firms like General Motors and Mitsubishi and Kodak and the corner grocery-store. But how is each individual red thing related to the general concept ‘Red’? How are General Motors, Mitsubishi, the corner-store etc. each related to the general concept ‘Firm’? Should we think of red poppies and red corpuscles and redheads as each sharing or partaking of some transcendental property, a universal, called ‘Redness’? Should we think of General Motors and Mitsubishi and the corner-store as each sharing or partaking of some universal called ‘Firmhood’? Would it be because they do that we call a red thing red or a firm a firm?
Interpreting Wittgenstein’s passage in this way, one response that might be made to it would be this: “What you seem to be doing is to test whether there is any property common to all firms. However, as your example suggests, individual firms are actually indefinitely varied — in their goals, constraints, size, type of ownership, operating characteristics, and so on. (Even if they were not indefinitely varied as a matter of fact, we can certainly imagine them being indefinitely varied in principle.) Indeed so much do individual firms vary that, in my opinion, we should not think there to be anything at all in common to all of them, besides of course our arbitrary decision to call them all ‘firms’.” Let us call such a reply the reply of the Nominalist.
But another response to the same passage could go like this: “I agree that what you are trying to suggest is that there is no common property between all the things we call firms. But surely in applying the concept ‘firm’ we must have an objective justification. For instance, while we do and we may apply the concept to General Motors and to Mitsubishi and to the corner-store, we do not and may not apply it just arbitrarily to any old thing at all — such as to my umbrella or to the number 16 or to Harry Truman or to the characters in a Dickens novel. Even when people refer to modern Japan as ‘Japan Inc.’, what they mean is that some analogy can be drawn between the way a firm works and the way political and economic arrangements in Japan seem to work, not that Japan is literally a firm, for that would be absurd since Japan is not a firm but a sovereign nation-state, a parliamentary democracy, a former Axis power, etc., and to call her a firm would be an objective misuse of language. It is likely that a property common to all individual firms does exist, and indeed it seems to me it is precisely because it does exist, whether or not we have been able to identify it, that we are entitled to call all firms ‘firms’, and so distinguish what are firms, such as General Motors and Mitsubishi and the corner-store, from what are not firms, such as Harry Truman or my umbrella or the nation-state of Japan.” Let us call such a reply the reply of the Realist.
The Nominalist stresses the Many — he is the lover of Freedom and Diversity, and the enemy of all Dogmatism and Conformity. He looks and insists that we look at the vast differences there are or can be — between firms, in the uses of words and concepts, across ways of life and culture, in the histories of nations, in the circumstances and personalities of individuals. The Realist worries about the indiscipline and caprice that can result from the exaggeration or corruption of freedom. He recognizes and insists that we recognize the vast areas of commonality there are or can be. We use words and language only because there are objective or “intersubjective” (Popper) ways of speaking and understanding. No matter how diverse individual personalities or circumstances or ways of life may be, the fact is we belong to one species (or one genus etc.), which implies something different from if we had not. The Realist stresses the One; he is the lover of Objectivity and Reason, and the enemy of all Scepticism.
A similar division may be made to obtain with any of a number of other concepts in economics as well — ‘capital’, ‘money’, ‘utility’, ‘competitive market’, ‘unemployment’, ‘development’, ‘mixed economy’, ‘socialist economy’, or any of a hundred others. In each case, the plea of the Nominalist would be that we observe the differences between the individual instances, the plea of the Realist that we respect the similarities. Indeed what should be supposed to be in common between individual economists themselves? From Aaron, Abramovitz and Ackley, through Bagehot, Baran and Bauer, and Cantillon, Cassell and Cournot, all the way to Zeckhauser, Zellner and Zeuthen, what is there in common except that each happens to be listed in a recent bibliographic dictionary of economists? The Nominalist would say “Nothing. Ultimately there is nothing in common to all economists except that we have chosen to call them all economists. That these people happen to be in the dictionary and other people like Picasso or Jesse Owens or Greta Garbo are not is, ultimately, just a matter of arbitrary choice.” The Realist would say “Surely there must be something in common to all economists, otherwise we would not call them economists. We wouldn’t in our right minds consider Picasso, Jesse Owens, or Greta Garbo to be economists, just as we wouldn’t consider Wicksell, Keynes, or Milton Friedman to be famous artists, athletes, or cinema stars. There must be an objective justification to calling someone an economist — it must be that economists are economists because they all believe in Q”; where Q would refer to some criterion like the practice of mathematical modelling, or an attribution of utility-maximization, or an attendance to statistical data, or a concern with the distribution of wealth and income. If someone did not believe in Q, did not fall under a specific definition of this kind, the Realist would be inclined to say such a person was not really an economist at all but something of an imposter or a charlatan who did not rightfully belong in the dictionary. And of course if one man chooses one Q and another chooses another then we may begin to explain how each might think himself to fall under his own definition of economist while it was the other fellow who was the charlatan.
A similar division can be made to obtain upon the larger concept of science itself. The Nominalist would observe the rich and indefinite variety there is in the methods and subject-matter of the individual sciences, and indeed that there can be within any of the individual sciences as well — certainly within physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering but also within mathematics, law, medicine, economics, history, and philosophy itself. Dazzled by all the different colours and the different shades of different colours, the Nominalist would tend to conclude there to be no unifying characteristic between the sciences, nothing except that we have chosen to name them all sciences. The Realist for his part would observe and be impressed by the many points of comparison there are between and within the individual sciences. And being especially concerned to protect the concept of science from being hijacked and employed arbitrarily to just anything at all, the Realist will be in search of the common ingredient which he thinks must be present in each individual science to warrant our calling it a science at all. The Realist will be inclined to say that all scientific statements have this in common — where his this would now refer to something like “hypothetico-deductive methodology”, or the use of mathematics or deductive proof, or the empirical testability or falsifiability of propositions, or knowing the means of verification. The Realist searches for the criterion or set of criteria which he believes to be necessary to demarcate science from non-science (Popper), public knowledge from private opinion. And again, if one man chooses one criterion to demarcate science from non-science and another chooses another and contrary criterion, we can imagine the merry possibility of how each might think himself to fall under his own definition of scientist while really it is the other fellow who is the charlatan and the fraud.
Parallel to this kind of a division between Nominalism and Realism in the theory of existence occurs the division between Scepticism and Dogmatism in the theory of knowledge which we have met with in previous chapters. A Nominalist in ontology is likely also to be a Sceptic in epistemology, and a Realist in ontology is likely also to be a Dogmatist in epistemology and vice versa. C. S. Peirce had remarked that two points of contrast between scholastic and modern thought lay in the modern opinions that thought “must begin with universal doubt, whereas scholasticism had never questioned fundamentals” and that “the ultimate test of certainty is to be found in the individual consciousness; whereas scholasticism had relied on the testimony of sages and of the Catholic Church.” The Dogmatist finds there are at least some things which are certainly known. Therefore, he concludes, it must be that we cannot question everything, it must be that there are at least some propositions which should be supposed to be closed to further inquiry and discussion. Thus the medieval schoolmen would have supposed the Christian Scriptures to contain at least some propositions of this sort. Certainly there is scope to reason but it is a scope necessarily limited by the doctrines and dogmas of the faith. It would be precisely against this kind of a barrier being placed on the road of inquiry that the Sceptic protests. And finding there to be no human belief which must be thought of as closed to further question, the Sceptic concludes that it must be we cannot know anything for certain. Each side seems to have a compelling reason in its favour yet to be in direct contradiction of the other. One asks for belief and conviction, the other for doubt and question. The feeling of an antinomy arises because we feel we must choose between them.
It was suggested in Chapter 3 that medieval political thinking was platonistic and absolutist in important respects, and evidence has been given in Chapter 2 that modern economists have adopted the sceptical humean epistemology which may be seen as a reaction to the medieval dogmatism. As Peirce’s remarks make clear, this would not be a new thesis, though it is perhaps something which has not been adequately noticed before by modern economists and it has now been plainly set out. It is also a thesis which amounts to being a generalization, and suffers, as all generalizations must, from a lack of truth in its details, especially in not doing nearly enough justice to the depth and diversity of medieval thought. Yet every generation must be concerned with identifying and correcting the errors of its own time, and the purpose of trying to establish even such a generalized thesis as this has been to correct contemporary errors: to argue that the humean foundations of the modern theory of economic knowledge entail serious difficulties, that it is these and not the is-ought dualism which turn out to be insurmountable, that the broad and long standing consensus on the central question of the relationship between economic knowledge and economic advice, the positive and the normative, cannot be held consistently and deserves to be abandoned.
Nevertheless the reader who may have agreed with the drift of these arguments may wish to ask whether, in an attempt to correct contemporary errors, we shall not be led to commit the errors of an earlier time. Will we become Dogmatists if we renounce Scepticism? Are we forced to choose between Realist and Nominalist, Dogmatist and Sceptic, Plato and Hume? Must we either admit objectivity and reality and knowledge and expertise and common reasoning and commonsense, and suppress diversity and individuality and creativity and freedom and question and criticism; or embrace diversity and individuality and creativity and freedom and question and criticism, and abandon objectivity and reality and knowledge and expertise and common reasoning and commonsense? Can we lead our thinking lives coherently enough without making a choice, or would we find ourselves inevitably being shuttled between the rival parties, one moment in the Nominalist’s camp the next moment in the Realist’s, one moment with the Sceptics the next moment with the Dogmatists? If we decide to abandon Hume, is there no choice but Plato? If we find Plato’s embrace too close and claustrophobic, is there no alternative but to continue to live in doubt with Hume? Are we caught between the Spell of Plato and the Spell of Hume? Is the choice: Either Objectivity or Freedom?

§2. The simple answer that may be offered is that it is not. When objectivity and freedom, knowledge and doubt, have been carefully and adequately characterized, there is no conflict which must arise between them, whether in natural science, mathematics, ethics, history, economics, medicine, law, literature, or any other context of inquiry. There may be good reasons to be a Nominalist and also good reasons to be a Realist and yet better reasons to be neither. There may be good reasons to adopt a sceptical theory of knowledge and also good reasons to adopt a dogmatic theory of knowledge and yet better reasons to adopt neither. A course can be found which will allow us to steer clear of the hazards of Dogmatism on the one side while avoiding the whirlpools of Scepticism on the other.
How we may proceed to chart such a course is by airing and exposing a hidden and questionable assumption which may be being shared by both Nominalist and Realist. Namely, an assumption that for a general term or concept like ‘firm’ or ‘game’ or ‘science’ to be objectively employed, there must also correspond some sort of object. Just as alcohol is common to whiskey and beer and gin, so some common ingredient must be present in General Motors and Mitsubishi and the corner grocery-store in order to make them all firms. If such an assumption does happen to be at the source of the division between Nominalist and Realist, we might readily explain how it is that each seems plausible in part yet neither seems satisfactory as a whole. The Nominalist finds he cannot distill out any single common ingredient from all the particular instances of firms that there are or can be. But because he may be committed to an assumption that such an ingredient is necessary for the concept ‘firm’ to be objectively employed, he concludes it cannot be objectively employed. The Realist is certain the concept ‘firm’ can be objectively employed, and very certain it should not be arbitrarily employed, but because he too may be committed to the same assumption, he concludes there must be a common ingredient, a common “essence” which every particular firm must share, prompting him to make a search for it or merely declare his faith in it being “there”, somewhere, “out there”.
Wittgenstein in his later works (as well as others before and after him such as H. A. Price) may be understood to have offered a suggestion that to make this kind of dualism between Nominalism and Realism is ultimately mistaken and misleading. After careful and detailed examination of a variety of the individual entities or institutions or activities which fall under a general concept like ‘firm’ or ‘game’ or ‘competitive market’ or ‘mixed economy’ or ‘economist’ or ‘science’, it may well be that we shall wish to make an entry in our notebooks of the following sort: “We see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities in detail. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than ‘family resemblances’; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way.” An alternative to a common ingredient model of the structure of concepts would be a family resemblances model, and an example constructed by Bambrough may easily illustrate its working. Suppose there to be five objects, A, B, C, D, E, each of which has four out of five possible properties, a, b, c, d, e. A pattern may be produced like
object A B C D E
properties bcde acde abde abce abcd
in which each object would evidently share 75% of its properties with every other yet there would no single property or set of properties common to all the objects. “But if someone wished to say: ‘There is something in common to all these constructions — namely the disjunction of all their common properties’ — I should reply: Now you are playing with words. One might as well say: ‘Something runs through the whole thread — namely the continuous overlapping of those fibres.”
Many concepts, perhaps even most concepts, may be family resemblance concepts, their instances constituting “a ‘family’ of diverse things bundled together by virtue of shifting similarities”. While there may be no single or constant similarity between all the individual instances of firms or games or economists or sciences or competitive markets or mixed economies, there may be diverse and shifting similarities between the different instances. It is these shifting similarities which can provide an adequate justification for supposing the different instances to fall under the same concept; while the recognition that there is no need for them to be anything but shifting in kind would equally justify not making a search for some mysterious essence which must be common to the individual instances. (We might even “throw away the ladder” after we have climbed with it — for armed with such a model of the structure of concepts, we might even take Nominalism and Realism as family resemblance concepts themselves!)
A parallel observation is suggested about the division between Sceptic and Dogmatist, and a parallel resolution may be offered as well. Perhaps there too the problem occurs because the Sceptic and the Dogmatist have been united in sharing a hidden and questionable assumption, viz., that if knowledge is to be considered objective, it must also be considered absolute, not admitting any error or exception. The Sceptic correctly sees error to be possible, indeed error to be ubiquitous, and so an absolute or exceptionless knowledge to be impossible; from which he mistakenly concludes objective knowledge to be impossible. The Dogmatist correctly sees many things indeed to be known, but mistakes the character of what is known or at least some of what is known as incorrigible and unexceptionable, and goes on to deny error and exception to be possible. An equal and opposite error would be to confound the notion of something being personal or subjective with respect to an individual and the notion of something being relative to a given individual case or context or circumstance. That something can be true or right in a given case, context, or circumstance does not imply it must be true or right in all cases or contexts or circumstances. Nor does it have to mean that such knowledge must have been derived by applying an absolute and unexceptionable law or theory to a particular case. What may be true or right simply may be true or right relative to the particular case or context or circumstance, while the fact it is relative to the case or circumstance would not imply that it is a matter of subjective choice whether it is true or right.
An example can illustrate. If a child asked us whether Chicago is to the left or the right of New York, we might say that this is an incomplete question with no definite answer. Relative to someone looking north in Washington, Chicago is certainly to the left of New York, while relative to someone looking south in Montreal, it is to the right of New York. In each case, there is an objectively right answer to the question relative to the situation of the observer. And the significant fact would be the situation of the observer, not what his subjective beliefs might happen to be. If a man in Montreal said Chicago was to the left of New York he would be making an objective mistake in the sense that anyone in his situation should be reasonably expected to conclude the opposite. Or consider that while the West is due West and the East is due East of Istanbul, the West is due East and the East is due West — of Honolulu. The Sceptic would take the fact different and conflicting answers are possible to the same question as evidence for the conclusion that it is ultimately arbitrary what we call West or East, or whether Chicago is to the left or right of New York. The Dogmatist would take one or the other answer and conclude it must hold absolutely true everywhere, without possibility of exception or error. The division has been expressed clearly by Bambrough like this: “Both the sceptic and his dogmatist opponent assume that the absoluteness of logical space is necessary for the objectivity of enquiry; that in seeking knowledge and understanding we orient ourselves, if at all, by fixed landmarks whose own positions neither can be nor need to be the subject of investigation. Sceptics become sceptical because they recognise that what they believe to be necessary is nevertheless not possible. Dogmatists become dogmatic because they rebel against the paradoxes of scepticism but still agree with the sceptic on what is necessary for the validity of our knowledge. One party denies the possibility of knowledge because it sees that logical space is relative and the other denies that logical space is relative because it sees that knowledge is possible.” Both Sceptic and Dogmatist may be seen as united in their belief as to what will be allowed to count as knowledge — in what must be supposed to be the appropriate model of the justification of knowledge. In answering the question “How do we know this?” both may be assuming that we have to deduce our answer from some previous and more general law, rule, or theory; the answers we seek or arrive at must always be a particular application or exemplification of some more general thesis. (Wittgenstein wrote of a “craving for generality” and a “contemptuous attitude towards the particular case”.) The Sceptic becomes sceptical because he finds the process of deduction to be one without end. Deduction cannot be done without a remainder of unproven premises — a conclusion is deduced from a set of premises, each of which is the conclusion of other sets of premises, each member of which is the conclusion of yet other sets of premises, and so on. For every proposition there seems to be a genealogical tree consisting of all the lines from which the proposition deductively descends. The fact these lines can be indefinitely extended to unknown reaches leads the Sceptic to think the pedigree of every proposition to be questionable, that every argument ultimately must be inconclusive, that there really can be no such thing as certain knowledge. The Dogmatist shares the same kind of idea that the only justification of knowledge is a deductive justification, and also observing the same kind of threat of infinite regress in argument, decides to call a halt at some or other point; the precise point where to halt either being determined ex cathedra (the medieval schoolmen) or being chosen arbitrarily (the humean economist!). At such a point the Dogmatist is ready to stand and fight, and of course if different people choose different and contrary points, we may expect some mighty rows indeed to develop between rival dogmas. Indeed it is possible that economists who have subscribed to the received theory of knowledge have been both sceptical about the possibility of moral knowledge and dogmatic about the existence of supreme unquestionable normative primes and principles. The widespread adoption of moral scepticism may be itself a relevant fact in explaining how it is that numerous divisions of opinion have been so persistent in modern economics, whether with respect to the methods or the substance of inquiry in the subject. Thus it is possible to find eminent economists being in deep and seemingly irreconcilable conflict with one another on questions of method or theory or evidence or policy, being members or even founders of rival schools of thought, yet being completely agreed that the logical status of economic advice is equivalent ultimately to that of personal bias or prejudice. As Peirce remarked: “When society is broken into bands, now warring, now allied, now for a time subordinated one to another, man loses his conceptions of truth and of reason. If he sees one man assert what another denies, he will, if he is concerned, choose his side and set to work by all means in his power to silence his adversaries. The truth for him is that for which he fights.”

§3. It is possible that this parallelism between the Nominalist/Realist divide in the theory of existence and the Sceptic/Dogmatist divide in the theory of knowledge is not accidental. There is a possible connection which goes back to Plato. For it was part of Plato’s thinking that the things we find in the world are merely distorted and defective versions of ideal entities not actually given to human experience. In mathematics for example, a platonist would say that the dot we make on a piece of paper and call “a point” is but a defective image of the ideal point which has no parts or magnitude; the chalk mark on the blackboard which we call “a line” is but a defective version of the ideal line which has no breadth or width, and so on. It is these kinds of ideal points, lines, planes, etc. which are the true objects of mathematics; while they do not have location in the world in which we live that does not mean they are any less real. Rather mathematical objects should be thought of as inhabiting a kind of transcendental universe, a domain not directly observable yet which is reachable through the reasonings of the mathematician and philosopher, whose task it would be to discover and chart this unobservable terrain much as the geographer and astronomer discover and chart the observable earth and universe in which we live. As the English mathematician G. H. Hardy put it: “For me, and I suppose for most mathematicians, there is another reality, which I will call ‘mathematical reality’; and there is no sort of agreement about the nature of mathematical reality among either mathematicians or philosophers. Some hold that it is ‘mental’ and that in some sense we construct it, others that it is outside and independent of us…. I believe that mathematical reality lies outside us, that our function is to discover and observe it, and that the theorems which we prove, and which we describe grandiloquently as our ‘creations’, are simply notes of our observations.” Professor Michael Dummett has put it recently like this: “[Platonism is] the thesis that there really do exist such structures of abstract objects, and that we are capable of apprehending them by a faculty of intuition which is to abstract entities as our powers of perception are to physical objects.”
And ideal mathematical objects need not be the only inhabitants of Plato’s heaven. So could be ideal men and ideal women, ideal marriages and ideal families, ideal languages and ideal cultures, ideal economic agents trading at ideal prices in ideal markets, ideal societies and ideal polities. In fact there is some evidence to think modern economic theorists may have subscribed to such a view. For example, Professor Arrow remarked in his Nobel Lecture: “In my own thinking, the model of general equilibrium under uncertainty is as much a normative ideal as an empirical description. It is the way the actual world differs from the criteria of the model which suggests social policy to improve the efficiency with which risk bearing is allocated.” And Professor Hahn in his Political Economy Lecture at Harvard University and elsewhere has argued that the model of general equilibrium “serves a function similar to that which an ideal and perfectly healthy body might serve a clinical diagnostician when he looks at an actual body”, that even though the model “is known to conflict with the facts” and “is not a description of an actual economy” it nevertheless tells us “what the world would have to look like” if a neoclassical view of the economy is to be considered plausible. What is it possible to understand Arrow and Hahn to mean by such remarks except to be endorsing a platonist ontology? If so, it would of course sit oddly with their subjectivism elsewhere; we shall return to these matters in Chapters 9 and 10.
The platonist seeks to mentally grasp the ideal entities by his “mind’s hand” as it were, to use a phrase of Professor Morton White . And once he believes himself to have done so, the expression of his understanding would amount to being not only an expression of objective knowledge but an expression of absolute knowledge as well — something which is necessarily free of error or exception since it would have been the ideal which had been understood and expressed. The Realist becomes the Dogmatist. The Nominalist for his part wants nothing whatever to do with tales of airy fairy entities in transcendental heavens. As Professor W. V. O. Quine might have put it, what needs to be done instead is to make a clean shave of Plato’s Beard with Occam’s Razor. But in rejecting a picture of transcendental entities and the theory of absolute knowledge that goes with it, if the Nominalist cuts too thickly, he ends up rejecting the possibility of objective knowledge as well; the Nominalist becomes the Sceptic.
The theory of knowledge suggested by the writings of Peirce and Wittgenstein independently, suggests a third route. Reject Plato’s theory of a transcendental universe, as being unnecessary to the resolution of any question in the theory of knowledge. With it therefore is rejected the idea that to know something certainly and objectively we must have deduced it from some absolute and general law, theory, rule or principle; that when we say we know something we must be in fact expressing the discovery of some ideal transcendental “form”. Gone at once would be the possibility of an error-free and exceptionless knowledge which forms the basis of the Dogmatist’s dogmatism. Error and folly are ubiquitous: Let freedom ring! At the same time, once we unshackle ourselves from the cramped idea that every claim to genuine knowledge must be deduced from some previous and higher claim to knowledge and ultimately from some set of unquestionable supreme principles or axioms, we may reject Hume just as decisively as we reject Plato. The antidote to Hume’s debilitating and self-contradictory scepticism is commonsense. — We know some things are true and other things are false, we know some things to be right and other things to be wrong. And we can know these things without having to be haunted by an idea that we do not truly know them unless we have deduced them from some “higher” or more general proposition. The general rule or principle or theory may serve perfectly well as the unquestioned premise of one argument only to be the questionable conclusion of another. The inductive and the deductive may alternate in the activity of reasoning, as we proceed from one set of particular cases and questions to another set of particular cases and questions via as many general rules, principles, and theories that we need. As John Wisdom put it: “Examples are the final food of thought. Principles and laws may serve us well. They can help us to bring to bear on what is now in question what is not now in question. They help us to connect one thing with another and another and another. But at the bar of reason, always the final appeal is to cases.”
Furthermore, there may be a third and alternative mode of reasoning too, namely, reasoning by analogy. When faced with a question to which we do not have an answer, what may be required of us may involve neither induction nor deduction but comparison and contrast. The most reasonable way to proceed in a given situation may be to take the question at hand to which we do not presently have an answer and compare and contrast it with questions on either side of it to which we do have true or right answers. Here is a question L to which we do not presently have an answer. But we do know the answer to a question K which is close to L on one side, as well as the answer to another question M which is close to L on the other side. Now our question is, is L more like K or more like M? The reader may agree that that is how much reasoning does in fact proceed — in mathematics as much as in medicine, in science as much as in literature, in engineering as much as in ethics. It may turn out that on a particular question L the present state of our knowledge happens to be so poor that we require an answer not only to K but also to I, H, G, F, E, on the one side of it, as well as an answer not only to M but also to N, O, P, Q, R, on the other side of it, as well as perhaps to questions above and below and all around it. Will that mean our project is hopeless or that common reasoning can be of no avail in answering L? Not at all — it would only mean there is that much work to be done. For inquiry to be inchoate does not have to be cause for despair.
This kind of a notion that in the actual process of inquiry we always do start somewhere, and indeed that that is the only place to start, is to be found being expressed in the writings of Peirce: “We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by (the Cartesian maxim that philosophy must begin with universal doubt) for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt; and no one who follows the Cartesian method will ever be satisfied until he has formally recovered all those beliefs which in form he has given up…. A person may, it is true, in the course of his studies, find reason to doubt what he began by believing; but in that case he doubts because he has a positive reason for it, and not on account of the Cartesian maxim. Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” Then again: “Philosophers of very diverse stripes propose that philosophy shall take its start from one or another state of mind in which no man, least of all the beginner in philosophy, actually is. One proposes that you shall begin by doubting everything, and says that there is only one thing that you cannot doubt, as if doubting were ‘as easy as lying’. Another proposes that we should begin by observing ‘the first impressions of sense’, forgetting that our very precepts are the results of cognitive elaboration. But in truth, there is but one state of mind from which you can ‘set out’, namely, the very state of mind in which you actually find yourself at the time you do ‘set out’ — a state in which you are laden with an immense mass of cognition already formed, of which you cannot divest yourself if you would; and who knows whether, if you could, you would not have made all knowledge impossible to yourself? Do you call it doubting to write down on a piece of paper that you doubt? If so, doubt has nothing to do with any serious business.” A remarkable resemblance to this line of thought is to be found in the later writing of Wittgenstein: “If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.”
No theory of knowledge can compel us to think of the activity of reasoning to be starting all of a sudden out of nothing and nowhere, nor are we obliged to suppose it must have any necessary end. We always start somewhere — there are always cases to which we do have answers with which to compare and contrast the particular case presently in question. And there are always unexamined cases and unasked questions remaining, which we may bring to test the validity and soundness of any general law or theory or definition or principle in which we may have come to believe on the basis of the known and settled cases. Thus reasoning can be thought of as a certain and objective activity without having to be thought of as an exhaustive activity. Argument can be potentially endless, but it is not thereby inconclusive. It is conclusive, but it is not thereby absolute or final. There need not be either any canonical points from which we have to begin our reasonings, or any ultimate destination at which we have to stop. Reasoning can be objective without being thought of as having to have either an absolute beginning or an absolute end. We can be objective without being platonist, we can admit a rich and indefinite variety and diversity without being subjectivist.
In the next chapter this line of argument is continued in more detail and concluded.

6. Expertise and Democracy

In this chapter we shall consider in more detail the thesis introduced in the last, with the intent of together providing the main outlines of a theory of economic knowledge with which to replace the received humean theory.

§2. Our first task is to try to provide a more formal refutation of scepticism, i.e., to formally prove the existence of knowledge, a task which is in fact quite readily accomplished.
We have noted in previous chapters the important difference between the question of whether it is possible for an objective answer to be given to a question, and the question of whether someone should be thought of as possessing such an answer and how we are supposed to identify him or her. The question of whether there can be any expertise about a given matter is independent of (and prior to) the question of who if anyone should be thought of as an expert about it. Scepticism, considered technically as a thesis in the theory of knowledge, needs to be concerned with the former question alone; the consistent and universal sceptic being someone who takes each and every concept like ‘scientific knowledge’, ‘historical knowledge’, ‘moral knowledge’, ‘mathematical knowledge’, ‘probable knowledge’, ‘economic knowledge’ etc. and argues it to be empty, devoid of content, ultimately extending to no instances, in the way concepts like ‘unicorn’ or ‘reigning Czar of Russia’ would be said to have no instances. Equally a refutation of scepticism may proceed as a logical exercise as well, amounting to showing the existence of just one instance of knowledge. And to argue the possible existence of knowledge in this way would not be to commit oneself to any claim of knowing who should be thought of as an expert or indeed to any claim of knowledge for oneself. The heated political problem of who is supposed to be an expert and how we are supposed to identify him or her deserves to be kept separate from the cooler logical problem of whether there can be any knowledge on a question in the first place.
It is in such a light that we may view the proof of the existence of an external world given by the English philosopher G. E. Moore. Moore raised his hands one at a time before the British Academy and declared to the effect “Here is one hand and here is another. Therefore we know there are at least two objects in the external world.” Or Moore might have taken a pencil from his pocket and said: “Here is a pen; therefore we know there to be a world outside our minds.” The sceptic who protested that Moore was holding a pencil and not a pen would have helped Moore to prove his point, in that an attempt to deny Moore was holding an object in his hand could not be more certain than Moore’s claim itself. A single such example may suffice to show the concept ‘knowledge of the external world’ to be not empty and scepticism of the senses to be false and misleading. Moore wanted to show that we can and we do know some things for certain, and that we know them neither by induction or deduction necessarily, nor by fiat or dogma or mysticism, but simply by commonsense. Furthermore, if a theory of knowledge came to imply we did not know such things to be true when we did know them to be true then it was likely that it was the theory and not commonsense which was in error. Thus Moore declared that he most definitely knew that there was a living human body which was his body; that this body had been born at a certain time in the past and had existed continuously since then though not without changes; that it had come into contact with and been at various distances from many other things also having shape and size in three dimensions; that the earth had existed for many years before he had been born; that his body had been always in contact with or not far from the surface of the earth, and so on. Moore said that not only did he know these things to be certainly true, but that all of us know such things to be certainly true as well. In short, the problem of proving the existence of knowledge of an external world had a simple and yet rigorous solution.
An analogous proof of the existence of moral knowledge has been given recently by Bambrough by way of the following example: “We know that this child, who is about to undergo what would otherwise be painful surgery, should be given an anaesthetic before the operation. Therefore, we know at least one moral proposition to be true.” Bambrough claims there can be no argument to refute this proposition which does not accept the logical existence of moral knowledge. For suppose we tried to disagree on whether the child should be given the anaesthetic; there might be any of a number of grounds for doing so — such as the parents forbidding it, or because it went against the religion of the child and the child refused it, or because it was wartime and there was a shortage of anaesthetic and the child needed only a stitch on the hand when there were more serious cases needing the same scarce anaesthetic, or because the child was a premature and underweight newborn and there was danger it would not survive an operation under anaesthetic, and so on. That is, because there were other values besides that of avoiding unnecessary pain which were considered relevant to the problem at hand. We would have entered into a substantive moral debate with Bambrough, and pari passu we would have implied that whether it was he who was right to say the child should be given the anaesthetic or we who were right to say the child should not be given the anaesthetic, there was a right answer to the question whether the child should or should not be given the anaesthetic in the circumstances. A logical thesis of the objectivity of moral knowledge needs to establish only that there is, in principle, a right answer to every question as to what ought to be done. And this can be maintained without having to make any claim of either having the answer oneself, or knowing with whom it lies, or even knowing whether the answer has been in fact found. All substantive normative argumentation might be seen to take place within, as it were, this kind of logical space and would presuppose its existence. Likewise it may be said that there is to every question, once it has been appropriately characterized, a true answer whether or not we happen to have found it. “If a question can be framed at all, it is also possible to answer it.”
An analogous proof can be and needs to be given of the existence of objective knowledge in economics. And just as Moore did not refer to relatively complex physical propositions such as whether the universe is or is not expanding, nor Bambrough to relatively complex moral propositions such as whether abortion is or is not justifiable in some cases, so too we do not have to refer to relatively complex propositions in economics such as = (X’X)-1 X’y ; or that if Uh is a continuous utility function from a non-empty compact subspace Bh of Xh to the real line then Uh(Xh) has a maximum; or that with identical consumer preferences and production techniques a difference in factor endowments between countries is sufficient to explain the existence and direction of trade, with a country tending to export those goods which used relatively intensively the relatively abundant factor, and factor prices tending to equalize across countries. Just as very simple and uncomplicated propositions are sufficient to prove the existence of objective knowledge in physics or ethics, so only very simple and uncomplicated propositions are sufficient to prove the existence of objective knowledge in economics. For example: “In any human society which is not tribal or nomadic, there will be households concerned with the terms at which they are able to trade some of what they own for some of what they want, and this may well be true of tribal and nomadic societies as well. Therefore, we know at least one proposition in economics to be certainly true.” This would be a weak substantive claim, which can be made even weaker if in place of a generalization we merely point to this particular person who happens to be concerned with the terms of trade and declare: “Here is a person who happens to be concerned with the terms at which he can trade what he has for what he wants; therefore, we know at least one proposition in economics to be certainly true.” Or perhaps weaker still: “Here is a London taxi driver who knows how to get his passengers from King’s Cross to Knightsbridge; therefore, we know at least one proposition in economics to be certainly true.” The sceptic who tried to deny any of these as examples (albeit simple examples) of economic knowledge will have to bring to bear reasoning and evidence; will have to refer to propositions which he would say are true of economics — for instance, that this person in particular or people in general are not really concerned with the terms of trade or that the taxi driver does not really know his roads and intersections. Like Moore’s sceptic of the senses or Bambrough’s moral sceptic, the sceptic of economics would help us to prove our point, namely, that there exists a right answer to the substantive question to which he and we were giving different answers — as well as to every other substantive question, once it has been adequately characterized, which happens to have divided economists, whether or not its answer has been actually found. Once again to maintain that there can be objective knowledge in economics — that is, certain and definite answers known to be true about substantive questions in an economic context — would not commit us to any claim of knowing with whom such knowledge lies or even to claiming any such knowledge for ourselves. The cool logical question may be answered affirmatively that there is objective knowledge and expertise in economics without commitment to any answer to the heated political question of knowing who should be thought of as an expert on a given economic matter.
What may be indicated by this line of argument is the self-refutation that seems to be inherent in the sceptical position. As Frege remarked: “If anyone tried to contradict the statement that what is true is true independently of our recognizing it as such, he would by his very assertion contradict what he had asserted; he would be in a similar position to the Cretan who said that all Cretans are liars. To elaborate: if something were true only for him who held it to be true, there would be no contradiction between the opinions of different people. So to be consistent, any person holding this view would have no right whatsoever to contradict the opposite view.” It is also the requirement of Socrates that to be engaged in rational thought or action what one may not do is contradict oneself: “And yet I think it better…. that the majority of mankind should disagree with and oppose me, rather than I, who am but one man, should… contradict myself.” I, who am but one man, carry myself within as a partner, so to speak, and my thinking consists of the silent conversation in which we engage. If I find nothing uncomfortable in being inconsistent in my thought, I am at odds with myself and perhaps may not be said to be engaged in thinking at all. Likewise I would not be saying what I meant if my words contradicted my thoughts, and I would not be doing what I said if my actions contradicted my words.

§3. Now it is the political question of course of who should be thought of as having knowledge, who should be thought of as being an expert, which leads everywhere to the most and the merriest discussion. As we have seen in Chapter 3, a moral scepticism may have been found appealing by economists because it has been believed to be a doctrine which protects both the individual and the integrity of science from dogmatic claims that knowledge and expertise derive necessarily and absolutely out of unique or special sources. Plato may be considered responsible for this, if only indirectly through the misunderstandings and corruptions of his philosophy which have occurred from medieval times onwards. Plato was no friend of the democracy of his time, and dreaded the rise of the charlatan to high office who might proceed in caprice and folly to ruin public institutions and bring about civil chaos and misery. In the parable of the ship of state, which is overrun by a mob of sailors who then constantly try to fight one another for its control, the warning is issued of how mob rule can lead inevitably to the adulation of fraud and the condemnation of knowledge and justice. And certainly if we grant it to be possible that power and authority will fail to coincide with competence and virtue and instead coincide with ignorance and vice, we would be agreeing in some measure with this lesson in Republic. Plato’s solution was to propose the coincidence of competence and virtue with power and authority, either by suitably re-educating those already in office or by replacing them with those already educated in the arts and sciences requisite of statesmanship.
With the first part of such a solution, the modern democrat will have no dispute. In the modern theory of economic policy advanced by Professor Tinbergen and his followers for example, the maker of economic policy is imagined as someone representing the democratic political process, who, while setting the weights to be given to the variables in the social objective function to reflect the popular choice, also elicits expert advice on the best means to achieve these desired ends. The expert economist is imagined as someone specifying the constraints, doing the calculations and recommending how the intended “targets” can be most expeditiously reached given the “instruments” at hand. The modern theory differs from Plato’s in saying the democratic choice deserves respect, and that it is not the place of the expert to gratuitously debate it; but the modern democrat would be fully and rightly in agreement with Plato that the policies of a state deserve to be as well advised and well informed, as judicious and as prudent as they can be made.
Even some of the second part of Plato’s solution need not be disputed by the modern democrat. For the notion that an incompetent or corrupt government deserves to be replaced by one expected to do better is after all a principal reason for holding elections in modern democracies (“throw the rascals out”). What will be disputed by the democrat is Plato’s view that genuine knowledge and wisdom ultimately cannot be the property of any more than a few people, specifically a closed and identifiable set of philosopher-kings. We have seen in the previous chapter a possible connection between Plato’s theory of knowledge and his ontology or theory of existence; now we may add that Plato’s political philosophy too may be connected to his ontology. For it is only the genuine lover of wisdom, the true philosopher, who is supposed to have access through his pure reasonings to the transcendental domain of ideal “forms”, and thus come to possess what amounts to not just objective knowledge but absolute and infallible knowledge as well. Hence if knowledge and authority are to be made to coincide in the interest of good statesmanship, it is such a person and only such a person in whom they should be united. We have seen that we can sever Plato’s link between the possibility of objective knowledge and his ontological idea of the existence of a transcendental domain; likewise a democratic political theory might sever the link between the existence of political wisdom and Plato’s idea that such wisdom must be the ultimate property of only a few. It seems likely that Plato misconstrued the character of knowledge in this respect, and especially the task the scholar and scientist have of elucidating it. Yet it is possible to preserve the merits of his thought even while we reject its mistakes.
For what would there be to prevent us from characterizing the concept of knowledge fully and thoroughly as a family resemblance concept — as a concept of indefinite variety of kind and instance? As something which is the ultimate property neither of the one or the few as the platonist tells us, nor of no one at all as the humean tells us, but rather of everyone — precisely as the democrat tells us? In the previous chapter it was proposed that the activity of reasoning need not be conceived of so narrowly as to require deduction and induction alone as its methods; it can and often does require and involve a third method as well which is the method of analogy, i.e., the comparison and contrast of a question to which we do not presently have an answer with questions on all sides of it to which we do have answers. The expert answer is merely the correct answer, the most reasonable and most justifiable answer. When Plato has Socrates asking questions like “Who would you go to for advice in medicine or carpentry or shipbuilding?” the most natural answers are the ones given by Socrates’s respondents “Why to the doctor and the carpenter and the shipbuilder of course!” We expect the doctor’s answer to a medical question to be better than our own because we expect the doctor to have encountered many similar cases before in his training and practice; in other words, to have had experience of a larger stock of similar cases, drawing upon which he is expected to come more quickly and more surely than we would to the right answer to the question at hand. Learning from experience in any context, whether removing an appendix or piloting an aircraft or driving an automobile or tailoring clothes or running a household or a business, involves facing and resolving an indefinite number of similar cases. We call someone an expert about something relative to his or her stock of experience, and the novice or apprentice or student may be the expert relative to the complete layman. Understood in this way, everyone may be thought of as in fact having some experience, some expertise, some knowledge. — And then, if we are all specialists at some things, we must be laymen at everything else. Knowledge and expertise, as well as the power of reason as the means of their acquisition, may be relative and not absolute quantitites, possessed in some measure by all and in complete measure by none. (And it is this perhaps, we might say with Kant, that accords to every individual, to every rational being, a certain dignity. )

§4. A line of argument of this sort may be developed further in two aspects, with more specific reference first to knowledge of a public and scientific kind, and secondly, to the private knowledge of the individual agent.
Not everyone who may want to know the answer to a given question may be able to answer it correctly or have access to the correct answer. “The ionic addition to unsymmetrical alkenes proceeds in such a way that the more positive part of the reagent attaches itself to the least substituted carbon atom of the double bond” is not something self-evident to everyone, yet it is as a matter of fact something quite elementary to the student of organic chemistry, who refers to it as “Markofnikoff’s Rule” and knows it to be true under particular conditions, predicting for example that hydrochloric acid reacts with ethanol to give ethyl chloride and water. But why should the non-chemist be obliged to accept it? If the chemist tells us we must do so merely because all chemists happen to accept it, we may tell him he is making an ex cathedra claim and begging the question, since what we wish to know is from where the community of chemists itself derives its authority. Indeed the distinction we have made between the logical question of the existence of knowledge and the political question of who is supposed to have knowledge, makes it evident that even if every scientist or expert or a whole community itself took something to be true or right, that would not by itself make it true or right. For it is clearly possible to imagine a world in which all those who were called scientists or experts about a given matter happened to be inadvertently or deliberately spinning myths and falsehoods; to be engaged in self-deception and deception on a vast scale; e.g. Lysenkoism or Nazi genetics — but there are many less obvious examples too. (At once the claim of Mark Blaug reported in Chapter 2 is seen to be untenable. Blaug says “methodological” judgements can be and have to be made objectively in science but similar objectivity is not possible about “ethical views about the desirability of certain kinds of behaviour and certain social outcomes.” But let a community unanimously have as its “ethical view” one which entails deception or self-deception on scientific matters, and Blaug’s position becomes helpless.) Rather it is precisely because it is possible for even a unanimous group of experts to be wrong that we have a reason, an objective reason, why freedom deserves to be valued. As J. S. Mill put it: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion and only one person of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth, produced by its collision with error.” Where there is no freedom to ask what is the case, there may be answers but there will not be justifiable answers as to what the case is. In other words: freedom is necessary for objectivity. Just as Mill was clear that what is important is not only the formal presence of the freedom of dissent and criticism but its active exercise, so Karl Popper in more recent times has urged scientists to actively and continually try to refute their own and others’ conjectures about the world. It is only when we engage in conversation, in critical argument and discussion, in inquiry, whether within ourselves or with one another, that we are able to find out whether our beliefs are true or false, right or wrong, justifiable or unjustifiable, sound or unsound. If we are prevented by force or dissimulation from engaging one another in conversation, all we would be left with is the private reasoning in our own minds, as Orwell’s hero found in 1984: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: ‘Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” (Also Solzhenitsyn: “Fastenko, on the other hand, was the most cheerful person in the cell, even though, in view of his age, he was the only one who could not count on surviving and returning to freedom. Flinging an arm around my shoulders, he would say: To stand up for truth is nothing! For truth you have to sit in jail!”)
When the authority of a scientific or scholarly or expert community is brought to bear in answering some question, it may be understood merely as a short hand way of saying the result happens to be the best that common reasoning under conditions of freedom has thus far been able to achieve. If we say Markofnikoff’s Rule is true because the community of organic chemists says it is or β^ = (X’X)-1 X’y is true because the community of econometricians says it is, we would mean that so far as is known by anyone who has inquired into the truth of these propositions, they happen to be true under given conditions. If the layman wishes to challenge them, the route remains open for examination and discussion. If the route comes to be closed by force or dissimulation, the layman correspondingly is not obliged to accept as genuine what is being claimed as expert knowledge, and the writ of the experts cannot be said to run; while if it is open for anyone to examine the gamut of reasoning and evidence from common ground right up to the question at hand then we would have another kind of instance in which knowledge may be thought of as objective and yet relative to the situation of the knower. Just as someone in Washington is expected to conclude Chicago to be to the left and not the right of New York, so someone in the position of the econometrician is reasonably expected to conclude β^= (X’X)-1 X’y, and anyone in the position of the chemist is reasonably expected to conclude Markofnikoff’s Rule to be true under given conditions.
With respect to dogmatism directed at the individual, our central notion may continue to be applied that knowledge can be objective and yet its objectivity relative to the situation of the knower. Just as the West is objectively due West relative to Istanbul but objectively due East relative to Honolulu, so it may be said about positive questions that there can be a true answer in every case without it having to be that what is true in one case is also true in another, and likewise about normative questions that there can be a right answer as to what should be done in every case or context circumstance without it having to be that what is right in one case or even right in most cases is also right in every case. Murder is wrong, yet tyrannicide may be an exception (the July 1944 conspiracy against Hitler); slavery is an evil, yet it may have been the lesser evil when ancient victors offered the vanquished slavery or death; the soldier must obey orders, yet mutiny or desertion may prevent what could be worse such as mass murder, and so on. The social proposals of Jefferson or Marx or Keynes might be found strange and irrelevant by the bushmen of the Kalahari or the tribal people of the Amazon not because either the tribesmen or the philosophers are foolish or dogmatic but because the contexts experienced by the one are not the contexts envisaged by the other. “Circumstances objectively alter cases.” It is possible to suppose normative questions may be answered objectively in each carefully described context, while stopping well short of the further and fatal step taken by the dogmatist of supposing such answers to be of an absolute or infallible or unexceptionable kind. We have seen the subjectivist epistemology may have had as its purpose to protect the individual from some or other dogmatic rule when the individual is in fact going to be faced with having to make particular judgements in particular circumstances. Yet this is a purpose which may be better fulfilled, without the inconsistencies of the subjectivist epistemology, within an objectivist theory which nevertheless recognized the diversity, the indefinite diversity, that there can be in individual experiences and circumstances. Indeed an argument in support of the traditional liberal thesis of the freedom of the individual has been that individual knowledge and expertise is precisely of this particular and relative kind, and not of a general or absolute kind. An observation common to a number of liberal thinkers has been that the evidence relevant to the making of individual decisions is most likely to be available to the agents whom they most concern, that the individual normally has a certain kind of privileged access to the data which most concern him. Professor Hayek especially has placed in the foreground of his thinking what he has called the “indisputable intellectual fact which nobody can hope to alter” that there is a “constitutional limitation of man’s knowledge and interests, the fact that he cannot know more than a tiny part of the whole of society and that therefore all that can enter into his motives are the immediate effects which his actions will have in the sphere he knows.” Aristotle, though not a liberal in the modern sense, had made a similar observation long before: “the whole account of matters of conduct must be given in outline and not precisely, as we said at the very beginning that the accounts we demand must be in accordance with the subject matter; matters concerned with conduct and questions of what is good for us have no fixity, any more than matters of health. The general account being of this nature, this account of particular cases is yet more lacking in exactness; for they do not fall under any art or precept but the agents themselves must in each case consider what is appropriate to the occasion, as happens also in the art of medicine or of navigation…. We do not deliberate even about all human affairs; for instance, no Spartan deliberates about the best constitution for the Scythians. For none of these things can be brought about by our own efforts. We deliberate about things that are in our power and can be done.” It is an observation made in modern microeconomics as well. When an assumption of rationality is said to require of the individual economic agent merely “correct calculations and an orderly personality”, it is meant that the agent ranks in a consistent way the alternatives he believes himself to be facing, and that the action taken is the highest ranked alternative given constraints of feasibility. The picture is of someone looking to the particular evidence and deliberating upon it, evaluating the alternatives believed to be faced, and doing what is judged to be the most appropriate in the circumstances. ‘Ought’ certainly follows from ‘is’ in such a model of man, in the straightforward sense that action and conduct follow from observation and thought — Aristotle would have claimed no more in arguing the objectivity of moral knowledge. If this is believed to be the set of alternatives and this the set of constraints and this the ranking then this is the right action, the “optimal” action — that which the agent ought to do. Change the factual ingredients of the individual case, and the right action may well change with it, suggesting again not that there is no such thing as a right action but that what happens to be the right action in one context or set of circumstances may not be so in another. In the theory of general equilibrium too, an economy would be formally defined by the preferences, resources, technologies, expectations, etc. of different economic agents, and it would be taken for granted an individual agent has available knowledge only of his own particular data (“informational privacy”). To account for the fact the individual agent knows only of a small fraction of all the tradeable goods there are, we may have to define the specific partition of goods and skills known to the agent as his particular “information structure”, so all of the agent’s other data would come to be defined only within this small and particular subspace. It then would be said that for the agent to be able to make decisions and act upon them it suffices that he knows in addition only of relative prices, i.e., the terms at which he can make his desired trades.
It is from positive observations of this sort that the normative liberal recommendations followed. For example, it has been from an observation that the individual agent has a “special knowledge of circumstances of the fleeting moment not known to others”, a “knowledge of particular circumstances of time and place”, that Hayek concludes “practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active cooperation.” Adam Smith had arrived at a similar conclusion from similar grounds: “What is the species of domestick industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him.” A correct answer exists to every question. Smith’s question is: Who is likely to know best where an individual’s resources will earn their highest reward? The expert answer is just the correct answer. In Smith’s view, it is the individual himself who is normally the expert, perhaps the unique expert, because evidently it is he in his local situation who is most likely to know where his resources will come to earn their highest reward. In general, the liberal thesis of Adam Smith and J. S. Mill and Hayek and others gave objectivist grounds as to why the individual’s exercise of expertise should be valued and considered to be part of his “protected sphere”; viz., because it is usually the individual himself who knows most about his own ends and means while being ignorant of or indifferent about those of others.
Moreover, that the individual agent normally can be expected to have available to him the particular evidence relevant to his own decisions does not imply that what he actually comes to do is necessarily the right or optimal thing to be done. Nor does this in turn imply that he should be forced to do anything different. We know from ordinary experience that it is possible for our actual behaviour to be capricious, mercurial, myopic, foolhardy, thoughtless, profligate — in short, irrational. A person may even know something ought not to be done or be made a habit of and yet continue out of what Aristotle called akrasia or weakness of the will. Dostoevsky has Marameladov tell us how he is fully aware of the wretch he has become, that the more he drinks the more he feels it, that he is in search of not happiness but continued wretchedness. As the addict himself may be prepared to grant, behaving out of akrasia may no longer to be acting out of free and responsible volition. Of course the economist typically must ignore all this actual diversity in human behaviour and restrict his study for the sake of economy and analytical convenience only to what is purposeful in an economic context. Yet a potential error in the use of the concept of rationality in contemporary economic science would be to assume every human action must be an instance of it, when there is no such necessity and to make such an assumption would be to leave the concept without any force. As Frege said at one place: “It is only in virtue of the possibility of something not being wise that it makes sense to say ‘Solon is wise’. The content of a concept diminishes as its extension increases; if its extension becomes all-embracing, its content must vanish altogether.” If the concept of rationality is made to be all-embracing, its content must vanish altogether.
Furthermore, whether an individual believes what is mistaken or behaves irrationally is a different question from whether he or she should be forced to believe or do any different. This is a difference which has been blurred in the theory of social choice which will be discussed in Chapter 10, where dictatorship is defined as a situation in which one person alone believes x to be better than y and x and not y comes to be imposed on everyone. Certainly dictatorship may imply, among other things, the forced imposition of something over someone else; but in general whether someone should or should not believe or do something is quite a different question from whether he or she should be forced to believe it or do it. Whether it is only one or a few or a minority or a majority or all who happen to believe one alternative to be better than another, that would not by itself make one better than the other nor be a ground for others to be forced to believe the same. Whether a lesser or a greater evil happens to be avoided or a greater or lesser good promoted when a law forces everyone to do or not do something would be a question requiring the fullest possible description of the particular case for its answer; the question of whether something should or should not be done by an individual in a given context or set of circumstances deserves to be kept separate from it.

§5. Thus the Spell of Plato is broken when we recognize the pursuit of knowledge in any context to be a dynamic enterprise which necessarily requires freedom for its success. While we can know and do know many things, everything that we know or will come to know remains open to further inquiry, examination, discussion, and interpretation — open, that is, to fuller and more mature understanding. According to the received theory of economic knowledge, we are to suppose that while some positive considerations may be brought to bear in a normative discussion, a naked subjective conflict can still remain after there has been full and justifiable agreement over the evidence and the analysis. We have been taught to assume that the processes of common reasoning must have a finite limit. Yet even so, it is only supposed to be after all the positive questions have been answered, every relevant piece of evidence discovered, every piece of evidence tested for its relevance, every logical relation established, every detail in the vector of positive considerations (p1, p2,…, pω-2, pω-1) not only agreed upon but justifiably agreed upon; that Hume’s Second Law would declare there to be no further scope for reason, nothing more to be said or done. We have found in our study no grounds for supposing such a limit to be anything but a fiction. Instead we are in position to turn the tables on both sceptic and dogmatist and say to them: Surely there is always something further to be said, some logical argument to be improved, some contrast or comparison yet to be made, some relevant piece of evidence yet to be established. Even when two disputants seem entirely agreed upon all the positive considerations (p1, p2,…,pω-2, pω-1), and seem to be divided only over a sheer normative proposition like nω, surely there still remains pω to be discussed! The Spell of Hume upon modern economists can be finally broken when we see that while normative recommendations in economics or elsewhere may be objectively better or worse depending upon how sound or unsound are the positive arguments given in their support, there are no unquestionable normative recommendations — because there are no unquestionable positive grounds. A set of actions which are the means towards certain ends can be themselves the ends towards which other prior means have to be taken, as Aristotle said. Similarly the ends of certain actions can be the means towards certain others. The rational agent may be capable of deliberating not only as to the means towards certain ends but also as to the reasonableness of the ends themselves. We can accept the sound advice of the humean economist that it is a useful maxim to do these tasks in stages, without having to accept the dogmatic advice of the humean economist that deliberating about ends must sooner or later become dogmatic.

§6. If these should all seem quite simple and straightforward thoughts it will be all the more remarkable that in recent decades there seem to have been but two economists, Sidney Alexander and Amartya Sen, who have come to similar conclusions in their writing. In a very brief and troubled argument, Sen defined a “basic value judgment” as one held by a person “under all conceivable circumstances”. Sen admitted the humean position: only if a person’s judgement was “basic” could it be said to be beyond rational discussion. And then continued: while some judgements could be shown not to be “basic”, no judgement could be shown to be “basic”; there is “no sure-fire test” which can tell us whether the point has arrived where the scope of reasoning is allegedly exhausted. But Sen was ambivalent, and ended weakly with the statement “it seems impossible to rule out the possibility of fruitful scientific discussion on value judgments.” Sidney Alexander advanced the argument clearly and vigorously that if the foundations of economics are to be laid on positivist premises they would be necessarily inadequate. The positivist economist had seemed to shy away from normative discussion without in fact having done so. Indeed the positivist economist could not help not doing so, and besides need not do so, because once the scope of reason in the making of judgements has been properly characterized it is in fact seen to be potentially indefinite.
Many economists who have explicitly subscribed to the received theory of knowledge have nevertheless contradicted it in practice, and thereby stood on firmer epistemological grounds than their own theory would permit them to do. To take just two distinguished examples: when Professor Friedman recommends a monetary authority ought to have a steady and declared k% money supply growth rule, it is because he believes that it is the case that money is neutral outside the short run, that the quantity theory more or less accurately describes the demand for real money balances, that the lags entailed by discretionary policies are likely to thwart the intent of such policies, and so on. And Robbins for many years of his life was closely involved with the making of government policy in Britain, especially having to do with higher education. In such a capacity he would have sought to justify his evaluations on grounds of reasoning and evidence, and hardly would have said that only a free-for-all was ultimately possible over value judgements. There are these grounds on one side of the issue, and these on the other, he might have said, let us try to stand on the firmest possible. The same may be confidently expected to hold for every economist who has ever made a recommendation as to what ought to be done or not done by a government or a committee or a colleague or a student. Evaluations are grounded on reasons, and an evaluation is good or bad, judicious or capricious as the arguments and evidence which go to support it are true or false, reasonable or unreasonable, sound or unsound. Whenever two economists come to give different answers to the same normative question — who are therefore in genuine disagreement and not at cross-purposes — we may be confident they shall be found to be giving different answers to some or other positive question at the same time. When we disagree on whether the highway should be built, or whether there should be a balanced budget amendment, or whether the deficit or the money supply should be expanded, we shall also be found to disagree on whether the benefits expected of the highway will be exceeded by its costs, whether an amendment will hobble the legislature or discipline it, whether a deficit or an expanding money supply is likely to be inflationary or recessionary, and so on. In any actual public discussion, it is very unlikely that any serious economist will want to make use of, or be permitted by others to make use of, what he happens to be permitted to by the received theory of economic knowledge, which would be to foreclose all further discussion at any point he wishes saying “Look I like it and that’s that; if you don’t like it as well you can jump in the lake.”

§7. There is finally to be considered the position of Gunnar Myrdal and Paul Streeten, which has been widely believed to be opposed to the humean theory. In a representative statement Myrdal wrote: “There is no way of studying social reality other than from the viewpoint of human ideals. A ‘disinterested social science’ has never existed and, for logical reasons, cannot exist. The value connotation of our main concepts represents our interest in a matter, gives direction to our thought and significance to our inferences. It poses the questions without which there are no answers. The recognition that our very concepts are value-loaded implies that they cannot be defined except in terms of political valuations.” And Streeten writes: “The strict separation of ‘ought’ from ‘is’, which dominates modern liberal economic theory (and, in different versions, modern philosophy) is not, as it claims to be, morally neutral, nor simply a discovery of philosophical analysis. For no observation or logical analysis can discover that we ought to separate values from facts, or ends from means. No amount of description or deduction can show that we can fully analyze actual political and moral choices without introducing values into our analysis…. The philosophy which denies the logical connection between facts and values and deduces from this denial its own moral neutrality (suppressing a series of necessary unwarranted premises) suits admirably a liberal philosophy of tolerance, in which different political views have an equal right to exist (though it is not explicit whence it derives this claim).”
A sound epistemological premise may be seen here to be leading to an unsound epistemological conclusion. As Myrdal correctly observes, ethics does indeed help to represent our interest in a matter, give direction to our thoughts, significance to our inferences, to pose the questions without which there are no answers. And Streeten correctly hints at the paradoxes resulting from a cramped understanding of the is-ought dualism which have been brought to light in previous chapters. But both Myrdal and Streeten appear to take for granted with the humean economist, whom they think to be their enemy, that normative questions are only subjectively answerable, indeed that the answers to them might as well be equated with the personal interests of the respondent. Combine with this the correct observation of the involvement of values within the activity of reasoning, and we would be led with Myrdal and Streeten to conclude that there is no distinction — not even a working distinction — between facts and values, means and ends; that making such a distinction is merely a guise for the covert advocacy of a liberal economics; more generally, that the “main concepts” used by economists or other students of society must be being driven by the covert political motivations of their users — i.e., by “ideologies”. From trying to establish that some particular economic concepts may have had particular political overtones, Myrdal and Streeten would seem to slide into a position of saying political motivations permeate the study of man and society completely. Where the valid and useful line between the positive and the normative is exaggerated by the humean to be one which is impenetrable and ineradicable, Myrdal and Streeten over-react to erase it completely. The humean theory makes itself unable to judge the ends to which economic expertise is to be put, and so has a perverse if unintended consequence of confounding the economist as independent scholar or adviser with the economist as mercenary — disapproved of less because of the ends to which his special knowledge might be put than because he himself is indifferent as to whether these are foreseeably right or wrong, justifiable or unjustifiable, good or evil; where the humean theory provides respectability to the mercenary, the theory of Myrdal and Streeten may come to have an equally perverse if unintended consequence of providing respectability to the ideologue — solely and supremely concerned with the advancement or imposition of his own ideas. (“Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions.”)
We are entitled to take a view less cramped than that offered by either theory.
First, the objectivity of economic knowledge is independent of the history of our controversies. The fact there may be widespread or even unanimous agreement among economists on a substantive positive or normative proposition does not by itself make the proposition true or right. Equally, the actual presence of deep and long standing substantive disputes between economists on the answers to positive or normative questions does would not constitute grounds for doubting the objectivity of economic inquiry, just as the presence of deep and long standing disputes on mathematical or scientific or medical questions does not constitute grounds for doubting the objectivity of mathematical or scientific or medical inquiry. We may hold certain and objective knowledge to be possible in economics even while we hold there to be no logical end to inquiry in the field.
Secondly, as noted in Chapter 4, it would be a cramped understanding of the is-ought dualism which leads to an absolute separation between the economist qua objective, rational, expert scientist, and the economist qua subjective, irrational, opinionated citizen and propagandist; the former allegedly concerned only with the ‘is’ questions of science, the latter allegedly with the ‘ought’ questions of dogma or prejudice. We have seen this to be, in effect, the same kind of absolute distinction as made in Plato’s theory between the special people of true wisdom and the ignorant populace at large, and that it suffers from the same internal weakness as well, of not being able to specify how such special people are supposed to be identified. Instead, we are entitled to take a view that the expertise of the economist — like that of the doctor, scientist, historian, writer or mathematician — is relative and not absolute in character. Its authority derives from and rests upon the weight of reasons in its support; upon the extent to which it can be made to stand, or has been subject to and has withstood rational criticism. Where force or dissimulation happens to prevent the possibility of criticism, we may not claim authority for our pronouncements, while if we are ourselves party to the prevention of criticism by force or dissimulation, then we lose by the same token our credentials as experts with special knowledge of the question at issue.
Thirdly, the expertise of the economist, like that of the scientist or the doctor, does not ipso facto exempt him from the constraints of ordinary moral reasoning to which everyone else is subject. The fact we are trained within a particular department of enquiry is hardly sufficient license for us to ignore or deny the central moral distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil, which we as rational beings are in general capable of making. Indeed the true/false distinction and the right/wrong distinction may be thought of as running in close parallels within the very activity of reasoning. If something is true then it ought to be believed (normally). Thus Peirce was to regard “Logic as the Ethics of the Intellect”. And Frege was to remark “Logic has a closer affinity with ethics. The property ‘good’ has a significance for the latter analogous to that which the property ‘true’ has for the former.” While Wittgenstein spoke of “the hardness of the logical ‘must'”. “A proof shews us what ought to come out.” “What I am saying comes to this, that mathematics is normative. But ‘norm’ does not mean the same thing as ‘ideal’.”
In sum, our broad strategy has been to show common knowledge to be a sufficient antidote for scepticism, while freedom to be a necessary antidote for dogmatism. We are justified in relying upon our commonsense beliefs in the objectivity of science, yet the history of the progress of science has been a history of the discovery of errors in our beliefs, requiring us to place as much importance upon the ubiquity of error as upon the possibility of knowledge. In turn this shows there to be perfectly objective grounds for valuing freedom, namely, that it is necessary for the progress of our knowledge and understanding and rationality itself, in all the manifold diversity that these concepts may be understood. We are also justified in relying upon our commonsense beliefs that some things are objectively right and others objectively wrong, without having to deduce how we know what is right or wrong in a particular case from some or other allegedly unquestionable, ultimate, moral prime or principle. What may be right or optimal in one case or context or circumstance simply may not be so in another. Furthermore, what we believe to be right in a given context, just as what we might believe to be true, is itself open to question and discussion. Again it is the active exercise of freedom which should be the antidote to dogmatism. The degree of authority resting in a claim of expertise in a given context depends squarely on the weight of reasons in its support and the degree of rational criticism it would be possible for it to successfully withstand. Where freedom is suppressed, whether deliberately or accidentally, whether in a grand or a petty tyranny, and claims to expertise are prevented from being examined for errors with a fine-tooth comb, there would be no genuine authority to be acknowledged.

PART III

7. An Example from Microeconomics

“EXAMPLES are the final food of thought”, and in this third part of the book we shall examine a diverse set of examples and applications with a view to illustrating the theory of economic knowledge advanced in the previous chapters. If this and the received theory of economic knowledge are to be tested for their relative merits, then we may wish the scope of the testing to extend to all manner of discussions. We begin in this chapter with a brief example in microeconomics; specifically, an actual debate spanning about ten or fifteen minutes which occurred not long ago on public television in the United States. Although the subject was of an economic nature the participants were not economists or academics as such; the debate is offered here as representative of similar non-technical discussions on concrete subjects which make up perhaps the bulk of actual discussion on economic policy in any society, and from which the university economist is sometimes far removed. We shall be returning in later chapters to the more abstract kinds of discussions which are to be found in university economics.
The debate to be considered had to do with a decision of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December 1984 to require an increase in the charge of purchasing access to the long distance network. The rate was to increase by one dollar per month in 1985 and another dollar per month in 1986, in the expectation of revenues increasing by one billion dollars in the first year. One participant represented the FCC and was called upon to explain and justify the decision, the other represented the Consumer Federation of America and was called upon to express and explain his criticism of the decision. The two moderators were Mr. James Lehrer and Mr. Robert MacNeil.
LEHRER: Here to explain why the FCC did what it did is Albert Halprin, chief of the agency’s common carrier bureau, which oversees telephone rates among many other things. First, why was this charge necessary?
HALPRIN: Well, the FCC took an important step today designed to preserve the viability of the nation’s public telephone network and to prevent the division of society into a set of information haves — the very large companies, high tech companies — and information have nots — everybody else who will never have any choice but the public telephone network.
LEHRER: Now, how does the one dollar fit into all of that?
HALPRIN: The one dollar… covers the cost of connecting every telephone customer to the entire network… [as] part of an attempt to price the public telephone network in a way that will not discourage large companies from using it. The FCC believes that the public network serves almost everybody at the cheapest cost
LEHRER: What do you mean by “the public network”?
HALPRIN: Well, we have in place a tremendous public telephone system. It connects every subscriber to almost everybody inside the country and in the world. It makes a lot of sense to have everybody use this big, integrated, switchable network, because it’s there. Up until now we’ve developed a system in which we’ve charged heavy users of that public telephone network a much, much higher price than it actually costs them to use the network…
LEHRER: You mean business customers, mainly ?
HALPRIN: Well, in fact residential customers, who are heavy users of long distance service, have been paying to subsidize businesses that do not use long distance service. The key factor here is the people who make a lot of long distance calls have been asked to pay a price that’s much more expensive than it would cost them to go around the public network and go over what are called bypass facilities….
LEHRER: What was the FCC’s conclusion as to what would be the consequence of not imposing this dollar fee?
HALPRIN: Well, the FCC has been looking at what has been taking place, and we have found an increasing number of large users bypassing the network, either through building special facilities or through ordering new special line types of facilities, both of which are taking away from the network that serves you and me at home.
LEHRER: And why is this so awful?
HALPRIN: Well, for two reasons. The first, of course, is that those are the people who are paying subsidies now to keep your rates and my rates below the actual cost. If they drop off the network, that goes away. But even more important than that, if they drop off the telephone network, the telephone wires that are in place serving them now will not only not be used, but will be paid for by you and me, by those people who have no choice and will never have any choice but using the public network.
LEHRER: Thank you. Robin?
MACNEIL: For a very different perspective we turn to Gene Kimmelman, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America, which represents more than two hundred consumer groups nationwide. Mr. Kimmelman, I know you object to this new charge. Can you tell us why?
KIMMELMAN: Well, we don’t think the access charge is necessary to keep the public network together, and nor do we think it’s equitable. We’ve found in studies of rate increases this past year that residential customers are now paying $2 billion more for basic telephone service. When you take that additional billion dollars in June 1985 for access charges and add them onto recent rate increases, we think that we are losing affordable phone service for the average American household.
MACNEIL: And are people dropping off?
KIMMELMAN: Yes. We found that in 1984, using a model put together by the Bell Companies, that over two million people will do without phone service by June 1985 because of the rate increases that they experienced in 1984.
MACNEIL: And how many more people do you estimate will do without phone service because of this new, by 1986, $2 a month charge?
KIMMELMAN: Well, at this point it’s difficult to predict, but we think at least a million people, if remedial action is not taken by state commissions or by the FCC to try to provide some special help, particularly to low income people.
MACNEIL: I see. How many more did you say again? I’m sorry. How many more?
KIMMELMAN: At least another million. It’s difficult to say.
MACNEIL: So that would be three million altogether who would have dropped off, you mean?
KIMMELMAN: Right. We already have over three million households that do not have phone service, and the number is growing as the rates increase. And this is an unnecessary result of phone company pricing changes, and the FCC seems to be buying into this new scheme….
MACNEIL: Well, what about [Mr. Halprin’s] point that if you don’t provide some incentives for big users, they’re going to go and set up their own networks to the detriment of the system that is already in place?
KIMMELMAN: Well, I believe it’s a legitimate concern. I do not believe it is occurring quite as much as the FCC believes. And even if it is occurring, I think there are other ways of repricing long distance service that will keep everyone on the network without having to shift those costs onto the average residential customer….
LEHRER: Mr. Halprin, let’s go through some of Mr. Kimmelman’s points. First of all, this is going to result – the fee, the access charge itself is going to result in another million people losing their phone service.
HALPRIN: Well, it won’t, for two reasons. The first, as Mr. Kimmelman mentioned, that rather than tracking and seeing that two million people had dropped off the network as a result of past increases, they used a model which predicted that two million people would drop off. The FCC has
LEHRER: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You’re saying that two million haven’t dropped off?
HALPRIN: That’s exactly right.
LEHRER (to KIMMELMAN): You’re saying two million have?
KIMMELMAN: We’re saying from the best numbers that we have available from the industry, conservative estimates are that at least that many people are giving up phone service, yes.
LEHRER: Well, because of the way
KIMMELMAN: Because of the 1984 rate increases.
HALPRIN: The FCC adopted a report today which was not based upon models, which are things you plug into a computer; [but which was instead] based upon studies and the actual numbers of people who are taking telephone service. It’s the Universal Service Report. There has not been any type of dropoff like this. In fact, as with most other commodities, each year there have been increases in telephone service….
LEHRER: I don’t think we can resolve this specific point, but this is awfully confusing. I mean, one of you is saying very clearly one thing and the other the other. I mean, this is a matter of fact, is it not? People either have phones or they don’t have phones.
KIMMELMAN: Yes, it is a matter of fact. The important thing to remember is the FCC is moving ahead in imposing these charges and now deciding just to start studying it. No, we do not have precise, absolute figures of the names of the people who have given up phone service, but we have the phone companies’ own model that projects what will happen. I seriously doubt that it’s an exaggeration of what has happened. I would be happy if the FCC would prove us wrong, because we want everyone to have a phone.
LEHRER (to HALPRIN): Why don’t you do that? Why don’t you go out and find out how many
HALPRIN: We have. The FCC adopted a report today which is not based upon computer models but upon an actual survey of what’s taken place, and there has not been a loss of universal service….
LEHRER: What do you say to Mr. Kimmelman’s other point in his conversation with Robin that there are other ways, if you really wanted to ensure the integrity of the national system, there are other ways to do it?
HALPRIN: I don’t believe that’s correct. I’ve taken a brief glance at Mr. Kimmelman’s report, and his answer is to
LEHRER: You have a report too, Mr. Kimmelman?
KIMMELMAN: Yes we do.
LEHRER: Okay.
HALPRIN: It uses a lot of computer models and very few facts. But it basically says that they agree that it’s necessary to keep the large customers on the network by reducing their rates, and what they propose is to jack up the price of long distance service for you and me and the people who only make one or two calls. We don’t think that can be done. We don’t think it’s feasible. We don’t think it’s fair.
LEHRER (to KIMMELMAN) Is that your solution? Has he accurately characterized your solution?
KIMMELMAN: I cannot say he has accurately characterized it. What I can say is we spread the costs of the public telephone network, I believe more equitably, among everyone who uses it. We do not believe the bulk of those costs should be on the local ratepayer. They should be spread equitably among everyone who benefits from the existence of the public network. That means keeping more costs on the long distance users, spreading them slightly differently than is currently done….
LEHRER (humourously): Gentlemen, I’m sure glad we cleared all this up tonight. Thank you very much.”
The reader may agree that the first thing that may be said about this debate is that it is one of good quality. It succeeds remarkably well in its purpose of advising and informing the observer of the matter at hand, not of course in any final or absolute way with every possible consideration having been brought up, but adequately enough for at least a number of the pertinent facts and issues to have been raised in the span of a few minutes. The purpose of the discussion is a limited one, and its fulfillment must be judged accordingly. Moreover, it is all four participants who contribute to this quality, protagonists and moderators jointly. The protagonists are willing and able to address the same questions and so come to define what correctly may be called disagreement, in which contrary answers are given to the same questions, rather than be at cross purposes resulting from one participant answering a different question from the other. There is also little or no stone-walling or prevaricating or obfuscating on either side; and of course it is the moderators who contribute here by asking the precise questions that they do, with a view to creating as much common ground as possible upon which the argument may take place. This conversation, brief and mundane as it was, is quite sufficient to show how the process of critical inquiry is a common and not a personal enterprise, reflecting the fact of language as a social institution and not a private possession.
Turning to the substantive questions raised, we find there to be much that may interest the economist. Halprin opens his defence of the FCC’s decision by arguing the ex ante situation is not one of equilibrium, and he hints it has been neither efficient nor conducive to the general welfare. The price charged to long distance users has greatly exceeded the marginal cost of production, while the opposite has been true for local users. Given current innovations in technology, an implicit tax of this sort on long distance users may make it possible and profitable for them to substitute away from the public network itself, threatening in the longer term to drastically raise marginal costs for those who remain. Better therefore to take a slightly bitter pill now than a more bitter pill later. Kimmelman’s opening round makes the suggestion that

the demand curve for telephone service (long distance and local together) over all households in the economy is quite elastic, and the rise in price will likely lead to a relatively large fall in demand, especially among poorer households for whom telephones might not be an absolute necessity. Implicit in the positions of both protagonists is a moderate kind of utilitarianism, specifically one according to which households should receive somewhat greater weight in the social utility function than businesses (notice Halprin’s quick denial of the suggestion that the FCC’s decision was intended to assist businesses at the expense of households), and poorer households receive more weight than other households. Kimmelman especially is concerned to make this last point, perhaps hinting that the availability of telephone service in a home is a good which deserves to be distributed in something of an egalitarian way, that it would be an avoidable injustice if poorer households were unable to call for things like emergency services in the way that others were able to, that the broad principle of equality in the consumption of public goods would suffer in some measure with the proposed charge. Halprin responds not at all by disagreeing with Kimmelman’s normative premises about the importance of preserving universal service but rather by disagreeing on the positive question of the nature of the demand curve; suggesting one or both that the demand curve is less elastic than Kimmelman claims, and so there will not be the kind of fall in demand that Kimmelman predicts, and also that the demand curve for this good as for other goods has been gradually shifting out over time with the growth in real income (this latter point being something of a red herring in the context).
Next the discussion takes an interesting turn with Halprin raising sceptical doubts about the use of a predictive model by Kimmelman in obtaining his results. The model provides only an indirect means, Halprin suggests, and therefore should be contrasted unfavourably with the direct and allegedly plain results of an actual survey. Halprin claims that to be what the FCC has done, hinting perhaps that the observer’s prize for a solid, feet on the ground approach deserves to go here rather than to any fancy modelling exercise the ordinary man is likely neither to understand nor want to understand. Kimmelman replies no, of course he does not have the names of the actual households who have dropped off the network, hinting perhaps at the practical impossibility of such an exercise, and suggesting that the use of the kind of model he had relied on is the best anyone can hope to do in the circumstances. Besides, Kimmelman says, the model he used would hardly have loaded the dice in his favour, since it was the very same model formulated and used by the telephone companies themselves, and they surely would not act against their own interests to bias their model in favour of consumers, would they?
And so on. Interpreted in this way, the large and potentially indefinite scope which remains for further discussion of the subject becomes readily clear: on the substitution and income effects of the one dollar increase, on the structure and contestability of the market for long distance telephone service, on the choice and formulation of the empirical model, on the collection and interpretation of the data, on the political forces and constraints that may be at work, and so on. Certainly it is the case that neither Halprin nor Kimmelman is a disinterested observer. To the contrary, each is and may even be expected to be representing as best he can the particular facts and points of view which are relevant to his own constituents. Then again, it is possible that Halprin is a Republican and Kimmelman a Democrat, or vice versa, that one is a conservative and the other a liberal, that they happen to agree or disagree with one another on any number of other substantive matters from the infallibility of the Pope to the fallibility of the local football team. But none of this would be in the slightest way relevant in the given discussion to the soundness of their respective arguments — to the truth and plausibility of their premises and reasoning. Nor would it make any difference that their emotions might have become involved in the process. Certainly they could have raised their voices in anger or shouted at one other in trying to make their points — say if the subject had not been the relatively simple and unexciting one of the pricing of telephone service but something more complex and volatile like foreign aid or abortion or the situation in South Africa or the Middle East. Or, it is possible the participants in this or any other debate will deliberately not be fully sincere in what they were saying, in the interests of tact and diplomacy in a public forum, keeping their fingers crossed under the table to remind themselves they did not completely believe what they heard their voices to be saying. But again the truth and plausibility of what was being said — whether one million or three million or nobody at all was likely to drop off the telephone network in consequence of a one dollar increase, whether this model is better than the other or not, and so on — would remain entirely unaffected and open to further inquiry and critical discussion by themselves or others.
In sum, we have a simple and straightforward illustration of how it may be possible for inquiry and discussion to continue freely and yet objectively — conclusively yet without necessary or final end — upon a normative question of microeconomic policy. This example of a direct and actual debate upon a concrete question may now be compared and contrasted with the more indirect and abstract divisions to be found in university economics.

8. A Dialogue in Macroeconomics
OUR next example is of quite a different sort, namely, the academic debate which has occurred in macroeconomics and monetary theory since Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. This has of course received a great amount of attention, with innumerable commentaries having been written by many scores of protagonists and moderators around the world. Only a brief and highly simplified summary of these many conversations can be attempted here, within our limited objective of illustrating once more how it may be possible for critical discussion to be seen to proceed freely and yet objectively in economics. In the previous chapter we were fortunate to have had an actual conversation to consider; here our method shall have to be one of constructing a model of a conversation. In honour of Plato, we might name our conversants Athenian and Stranger.

ATHENIAN Tell me, have you perhaps been following the discussions among macroeconomists? I shall be interested to know what you take their present state to be.
STRANGER Indeed I have, though of course it is not possible or worthwhile to follow all of what has been said. But yes I have followed some of it, and certainly we can make it a topic of conversation.
ATHENIAN Please begin.
STRANGER Very well. Shall we do so in ’36 with the publication of Keynes’s book? Rightly or wrongly, this must be considered a watershed in the history of modern economics, if only because most economists since have had either to admit its arguments in some measure or define and explain their disagreement. You’ll remember at one time it was said by many that Keynes had fathered a revolution in economic science.
ATHENIAN Except Chicago and the Austrians.
STRANGER Quite so. Now more recently a renewal of neoclassical thought has been under way, and many doubts have been raised about the keynesian consensus, so much so that some of the main questions of the thirties seem in modern form to continue to be at issue today.
ATHENIAN The more things change, the more they stay the same! But when you say Keynes has been a central figure, I take it you mean only that he has been among the most influential and most discussed and nothing more. It is not to preclude judgement on the merits of his book, which is itself of very uneven clarity. Besides there has been too much idolatry and hagiography.
STRANGER Yes, there is so often a rush to belief and worship. There may have been less if Keynes had survived longer. Yet I should say the broad aim of the work is not hard to see. Keynes himself clearly believes that he is starting a revolution — going so far as to suggest a comparison with contemporary physics. The first chapter says the book aims to provide a “general” theory, which will explain the traditional model as a “limiting” case. The second chapter says the theory of value has been hitherto concerned with the allocation of given resources between competing ends; Keynes is going to explain how the actual level of employment comes to be what it is.
ATHENIAN And so begs the question?
STRANGER Or does traditional theory? That seems to be at the heart of it.
ATHENIAN Go on.
STRANGER The theory will be of the short run in Marshall’s sense of taking capital as a fixed factor. Traditional theory is said to postulate about the labour market (i) that the real wage equals the marginal product of labour, so there is an assumption of profit maximization by competitive producers giving rise to a short run demand curve for labour; and (ii) that the utility of the wage at a given level of employment equals the marginal disutility of that amount of employment; i.e., the real wage is just sufficient to induce the volume of labour which is actually forthcoming. So it can account for unemployment due to temporary miscalculations, or intermittent demand, or the refusal or inability of labour to accept a job at a given wage due to legislation or social practices or collective bargaining or obstinacy, or merely a rational choice of leisure — i.e., it can account for frictional and voluntary unemployment but not for what Keynes wants to call involuntary unemployment. What it can suggest is either such things as improvements in foresight, information, organization and productivity, or a lowering of the real wage. But Keynes’s critique will not have to do with such causes of the contemporary unemployment; instead the population is said to be seldom “doing as much work as it would like to do on the basis of the current wage…. More labour would, as a rule, be forthcoming at the existing money wage if it were demanded.” But it is not being demanded, and it is not being demanded because there has been a shortfall of “effective demand”. That is why there is as much unemployment as there is.
ATHENIAN Or so Keynes claims. And he would take it the neoclassical view would be that it must be the real wage is too high; it is only because the real wage has not fallen by enough that unemployment continues.
STRANGER Right. To which there are two observations. The first has to do with the actual attitude of workers towards the money wage and the real wage respectively. The traditional supply function of labour is a function of the latter; Keynes claims that at least within a certain range it must be workers are concerned more with the former. ATHENIAN How so?
STRANGER By the interesting and perhaps plausible claim that workers are found to withdraw labour if the money wage falls but do not seem to do the same if the price level rises. A real wage reduction caused by a fall in the money wage and the same real wage reduction caused by an increase in prices seem to have different effects on labour supply. “Whether logical or illogical, experience shows that this is how labour in fact behaves.” And he cites U. S. data for ’32 to say labour did not refuse reductions in the money wage nor did the physical productivity of labour fall yet the real wage fell and unemployment continued. “Labour is not more truculent in the depression than in the boom — far from it.”
ATHENIAN And the second observation?
STRANGER This may be of more interest. “Classical theory assumes that it is always open to labour to reduce its real wage by accepting a reduction in its money wage… [it] presumes that labour itself is in a position to decide the real wage for which it works…” Keynes does not find a traditional explanation why prices tend to follow wages, and suggests it could be because the price level is being supposed to be determined by the money supply according to the quantity theory. Keynes wants to dispute the proposition “that the general level of real wages is directly determined by the character of the wage bargain…. For there may be no method available to labour as a whole whereby…. [it] can reduce its real wage to a given figure by making revised money bargains with the entrepreneurs.” Hence he arrives at his central definition of involuntary unemployment: if the real wage falls marginally as a consequence of the price level rising with the money wage constant, and there is greater employment demanded and supplied in consequence, the initial state was one of involuntary unemployment.
ATHENIAN You are saying then that Keynes’s intent is to establish the existence of involuntary unemployment?
STRANGER At least a major part of the intent yes. To make the concept meaningful, to argue that it refers to a logical possibility, and also that much of the actual unemployment of the time may be falling under it, and is a result of lack of “effective demand”.
ATHENIAN The neoclassicals have been said to be cavalier about fluctuations in economic activity, when in fact Wicksell and Marshall and Thornton, let alone Hawtrey or Hayek as Keynes’s own critics, certainly had profound enough theories of the cycle. Before we go further, I think we should remind ourselves of what they actually said.
STRANGER Very well.
ATHENIAN Would you agree that can be summarized, then as now, as the quantity theory of money married to the theory of general equilibrium?
STRANGER Though it may be better to speak of divorce perhaps rather than marriage, in view of the dichotomy.
ATHENIAN From Smith to Mill, political economists broadly agree the role of government should extend and be restricted to such activities as defence, civil protection, the rule of law, the provision of public goods, education, the encouragement of competition, and so on. The traditional agenda does not as a rule include direct activity to restrain or otherwise change the natural course of trade, production, or consumption, and certainly no theory of what today is called macroeconomic policy. Underlying it is a broad belief that the competitive pursuit of private welfare within the necessary and minimal framework of the institutions of government, will result in tolerable social outcomes, and any further activity may be counterproductive. The State is after all endogenous to the economy, without any resources to its own name.
STRANGER The minimal state, though not so minimal perhaps as we sometimes think.
ATHENIAN The main function of money is seen to be that of facilitating real transactions. Hence the main component of the demand for money is the transactions demand, and the broad objective of monetary policy is the maintenance of the stability of the price of money. But this is recognized to be something elusive in practice, and fluctuations in economic activity are expected to occur in spite of the best intentions of the monetary authorities.
STRANGER How so?
ATHENIAN Well we might imagine two or three distinct but related markets: one for real investment and savings determined by intertemporal preferences, resources, and technologies; one a market for investment and savings defined in terms of money; one a short term credit market. The market for real investment and savings is, as it were, unobservable to the naked eye. Yet it drives the second and third markets for nominal savings and investment in which we actually participate. Monetary equilibrium requires the observable money rates of interest to equal the unobservable real rate of return on the market for physical capital. In particular, the real or natural rate of interest determined in the equilibrium of the first market is not, and perhaps ultimately cannot be, affected by nominal or monetary disturbances in the second or third markets.
STRANGER Why call it “natural”?
ATHENIAN In the sense it is a function of the real data of intertemporal preferences, resources, and technologies being what they are. If these data changed it should be expected to change too. But given these data, it would be the rate at which intertemporal constrained maximizations by individual agents resulted in planned present consumption equalling planned present production at the same time as planned future consumption equalled planned future production.
STRANGER In other words, real planned savings equal real planned investment.
ATHENIAN Exactly. It is the real interest rate, or rather the whole structure of own-rates and cross-rates at various terms, which is the key price signal for macroeconomic equilibrium.
STRANGER “Natural” seems to me to carry a physiocratic connotation. A better nomenclature would replace it with something else — perhaps “equilibrium real rate” or just “walrasian” rate.
ATHENIAN Very well, though I for one do not bias myself against the physiocrats! Now consider how a simple business cycle might occur on wicksellian lines. From a position of full real and monetary equilibrium, an expansion of credit has its first effect on the banks, increasing reserves and inducing more lending for reserve/deposit ratios to be restored, and so lowering the loan rate. But customers are only able to perceive a lowering of this nominal rate of interest and cannot know the equilibrium real rate has not changed. As far as households know, the relative price of present consumption has fallen and there is an incentive for greater consumption and lesser savings. As far as businesses know, the relative price of the future good has risen, and there is an incentive for greater investment. Inventories are run down, and markets for both consumer goods and capital goods are stimulated and show signs of excess demand. But if there was a walrasian equilibrium initially, then the economy will now show signs of inflation; with a gold standard, there would be increased demand for imports and an external drain of reserves, and even perhaps an internal drain if there was a panic and a run on the banks. The loan rate will have to rise once more to reign in reserves, but if the rate is now raised too high relative to the still unchanged real rate, there would be the makings of a recession.
STRANGER Your point being that economists before Keynes had recognized the decentralized economy may be fluctuating continually.
ATHENIAN Surely they had done so quite fully. A first set of causes such as wars, disasters, discoveries and migrations would change the real data of the economy, while a second set would be monetary disturbances like the failure of the authorities to adequately follow the dictates of the real data of the economy, i.e., failure to observe the equilibrium real rate of interest. It may even be intrinsic to the problem that they must fail in the attempt to observe, let aside compute, the equilibrium real rate warranted at a given time by the structure of the real data.
STRANGER Hence the conclusion that they cannot hope to do better than establish a climate of monetary and fiscal stability, such as by declaring a long term policy and staying with it.
ATHENIAN Exactly. Private economic agents already face endemic uncertainty with respect to changes in the real data, and must be assumed to not want more added by government policy. You appear to have seen my point nicely.
STRANGER Very well. But you have jumped ahead as this kind of a conclusion sounds very modern to me. You made me stop all the way back at Keynes’s notion of effective demand!
ATHENIAN As I said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
STRANGER Let us go back a little. I think we may be able to rejoin our initial route at a point which may bring us close to where we seem to have come by the route you have taken. Specifically suppose we go back to the question of the money wage and the real wage, and of the real wage being “too high”.
ATHENIAN That has been interpreted a number of ways, has it not?
STRANGER Yes it has. One would be to say Keynes was merely simple minded and assumed money illusion on the part of workers. Another would be to say Keynes assumed a short run context of fixed prices, so it would not make a difference whether labour happened to be concerned with changes in the real or the money wage. Yet a third would be to say Keynes, whether he realized it or not, had come upon a recondite truth about the sort of complex monetary economy in which we live — namely, that when transactions are quoted and made in a monetary economy, it may become difficult ipso facto for the walrasian equilibrium to be achieved. Even workers might fully recognize the real wage to be too high and be prepared to work more at a lower wage, but be unable to signal this willingness to potential employers.
ATHENIAN So involuntary unemployment becomes another sort of equilibrium outcome. STRANGER Exactly. Not only of labour but of machines too, along with the unintended holding of inventories. It is as if firms would have sold what they had planned to if only workers had the income to buy it, which they would have done if only they had been able to sell as much labour they had planned to, which they would have done if only there had been an effective demand for it, which there would have been if firms had not cut back on production because they found themselves unable to sell what they had planned to sell. A kind of vicious circle, due to pessimistic and self-fulfilling expectations all around.
ATHENIAN An unhappy solution to a non-cooperative game you might say.
STRANGER Quite so. Keynes does not deny there may be a monetary route out of the impasse. A wage deflation would eventually lead to price deflation, raising the real value of money holdings, so via liquidity preference lead to an increased demand for bonds, raising their price and lowering money interest rates, which through the investment function would lead eventually to increased effective demand. But the fiscal route may be more direct and quicker in its effect on expectations. Trying to deflate across the board in the face of what seem to be excess supplies of goods and labour might be counterproductive, causing unexpected transfers from debtors to creditors and precipitating bankruptcies. Instead: “Government investment will break the vicious circle. If you can do that for a couple of years, it will have the effect, if my diagnosis is right, of restoring business profits more nearly to normal, and if that can be achieved then private enterprise will be revived. I believe you have first of all to do something to restore profits and then rely on private enterprise to carry the thing along….”
ATHENIAN A shot in the arm for enterprise in the hope of breaking the pessimism. But Keynes was hardly alone in such thinking.
STRANGER Quite true.
ATHENIAN And he certainly seemed to treat the opinions of others without due respect, which is to say he may have exaggerated the significance of his own. Hinting that he was the Einstein of economics set an especially bad example. Only the other day one eminence was comparing himself to Newton, and another was calling his friend Shakespeare. It will be Joyce and Pasternak next!
STRANGER Flattery and nepotism are common weaknesses, my friend. Like the rush to belief and worship.
ATHENIAN Besides you would have to assume the government to be outside the game, and only so being able to see the problem which private agents could not from inside the game. That may be too large an assumption, don’t you think?
STRANGER Yes it may. Yet it seems to me pump-priming was a possible solution being offered to a temporary problem. Many of the controversies may have come about because it became institutionalized, because discretionary fiscal policy became a permanent part of the government agenda.
ATHENIAN And a more direct route out was available too, was it not? With wealth placed in the consumption function directly, a deflation would increase the real value and affect effective demand directly. We would not have to wait for the roundabout effects through so-called liquidity preference.
STRANGER Which in a way brings us back to a central pillar of traditional theory: with given real data and given velocity of circulation, desired holding of real money balances will roughly be constant. In particular the demand for real money balances should not be seen as a function of the interest rate.
ATHENIAN The real rate or the monetary rate?
STRANGER For neoclassicals certainly the real; Keynes does not seem clear.
ATHENIAN There may lie a problem.
STRANGER The title of the book says “Employment, Interest, and Money”. No question employment is real and money is money — interest is the bridge. If you ask me to bet I would say Keynes’s agents make real responses to signals expressed as they must be in a large economy in monetary terms.
ATHENIAN Perhaps we ought to move on. Tell me, if you think Keynes’s book rightly or wrongly ranks as the most influential document of the last fifty years, would you agree it is Friedman’s address on the role of monetary policy which must rank second to it if not on a par with it?
STRANGER Certainly there can be few competitors.
ATHENIAN Well then, it appears to me the net effect of Friedman’s critique has been a restoration of the wicksellian theory and a banishment of the keynesian theory.
STRANGER Friedman of course makes his approach via a critique of the Phillips’ Curve.
ATHENIAN Yes, but it is Wicksell whom he acknowledges in advancing the notion of a natural rate of unemployment, one which has been “ground out by the walrasian system of general equilibrium equations” — in other words, one which happens to be consistent with the structure of the real data of the economy at a particular time.
STRANGER Though again we may as well speak of walrasian instead of natural.
ATHENIAN A monetary policy which tried to peg unemployment at lower than such a rate (if such a rate could be determined, which it cannot) is likely to be counterproductive. The initial effect of an expansionary policy on a walrasian equilibrium may be to increase real output. Workers assume the increase to reflect an increase in the unobservable real demand for their services, and hence they expect a higher real wage. Businesses see the same and assume it to reflect an increase in the unobservable real demand for their goods. But given there was no real excess demand in the first place for either labour or goods, the effect outside anything but the short run will be a return to the initial structure of real wages, and the temporary decline in unemployment is reversed to the walrasian rate at higher prices. If the government tries to maintain unemployment at less than the walrasian rate, it will have to concede — indeed it will have caused — accelerating inflation without any real fall in unemployment.
STRANGER And vice versa perhaps, so there would be a kind of knife-edge.
ATHENIAN Now your remark about Friedman making his approach via the Phillips Curve seems to me interesting. We may have been too hasty to make a comparison with the debate in the thirties. For the world suffers a very real and severe shock between Keynes’s book and the keynesian consensus, which is the Second World War itself.
STRANGER I am not sure I follow.
ATHENIAN Well think of the consensus afterwards on the need for macroeconomic policy — it is actually Tinbergen’s notion of a “policy-maker” which is married to what seems to be Phillips’s finding of a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. It becomes the role of the macroeconomist to advise the politician on how to minimize social disutility from inflation and unemployment subject to the Phillips Curve. Macroeconomics becomes a so-called “policy science”. Give your expert economist your social utility function, and he will tell you where to slide to on your Phillips Curve.
STRANGER The available instruments being money supply and tax rates. That is what I meant in saying Keynes’s idea became institutionalized.
ATHENIAN It seems to me this consensus is born out of the War.
STRANGER How so?
ATHENIAN Well just think of the structural problems of the time: demobilization of large armies, reconstruction, all the displaced peoples, and so on. What are democratic governments to do? Say to their voters, right, thank you very much, now could you please go home quietly? What could have been expected except an Employment Act? Governments were going to help their returning citizens find work, or at least it would have seemed irresponsible if they had not said they were going to.
STRANGER You are saying then that Friedman may have been arguing against a new orthodoxy, grown out of what might have been a sensible idea.
ATHENIAN Exactly. The world is a very different place now than in 1945, in ’45 than in ’33, in ’33 than in 1914. Real shocks every time. It may be a grave mistake for us to look for a unique and universal theory which is supposed to explain all particular circumstances, all of history.
STRANGER Reminds me of the historical school.
ATHENIAN Why not? Again I hold no prejudice against them! Anyhow, consider that Lucas and others have followed Friedman to argue it is a mistake to formulate the problem as Tinbergen had done, with unemployment as a target in a social utility function along with inflation. If it ought to be assumed that people will not continually make the same mistakes in predicting policy, then a systematic employment policy is going to be discovered quickly enough and rendered either ineffective or counterproductive. This idea too has its origins in Wicksell. Examining an opinion that inflation might stimulate enterprise and free debtors, Wicksell says: “It need only be said that if this fall in the value of money is the result of our own deliberate policy, or indeed can be anticipated and foreseen, then these supposed beneficial effects will never occur, since the approaching rise in prices will be taken into account in all transactions by reasonably intelligent people.”
STRANGER Wicksell said that?
ATHENIAN Precisely that.
STRANGER It does sound very modern.
ATHENIAN Now Lucas speaks of how the advice that economists give should be limited only to “the well understood and empirically substantiated propositions of monetary economics, discouragingly modest as these may be.” What can we take him to mean? It seems to me he is sharing Friedman’s scepticism of the possibilities which had been claimed for macroeconomics by the keynesian consensus. And that surely has been a healthy scepticism, befitting good economists.
STRANGER As I said, there is so often a rush to belief.
ATHENIAN Which is really disastrous when combined with the craving for power.
STRANGER But the question remains, does it not, as to which propositions of monetary economics are to be considered “well understood and empirically substantiated”. I cannot help think the propositions taken to be well understood and empirically substantiated in Chicago may be very different from those taken to be well understood and empirically substantiated in Cambridge, or for that matter, those in the U. S. from those in Europe.
ATHENIAN I don’t see any difficulty in this. For first, it would have been granted there are propositions in economics which can be well understood and empirically substantiated. And that must be counted as progress! For something cannot be well understood if it cannot be understood at all, and where there is the possibility of understanding there must be the possibility of objective knowledge as well. And second, why should we not say the most appropiate task of economic theory or analytical economics is simply one of clarification and elucidation of the conceptual basis of economic thinking and expression? All theory ultimately is, or ought to be, “Critique of Language”. When we are faced with a particular and concrete problematic situation, the theorist is to whom we turn for conceptual guidance and criticism. If instead you take the role of the theorist to be one of searching the universe for grand and general and absolute and abstract truths, which need to be discovered before we can say anything about some concrete set of particulars, then it seems to me you will be either struck dumb by a total and debilitating scepticism or become very shrill in your dogmatism or alternate wildly between the two. To me it seems unimportant ultimately to whose flag one shows allegiance, or indeed that allegiance to any flag must be shown.
STRANGER It seems again I will not disagree. But you have sketched the critique of Friedman and Lucas and indeed the ghost of Wicksell addressed to the dogmas of the keynesian orthodoxy. And I have agreed with you this has been a healthy criticism of the sort we should expect economists to provide. But there has been serious question too of the framework used by Friedman and Lucas, hasn’t there? I am thinking especially of Tobin and Hahn.
ATHENIAN Tobin has done much to add clear and reasonable thinking about Keynes — his suggestion that a certain amount of inflation may be the only way to bring down real wages towards their walrasian rates in complex monetary economics is especially interesting; it shows how wide the common ground can be upon which the debate may occur. But you will have to tell me what Hahn’s criticisms have been. I have always found them too abstract and too caustic.
STRANGER That they tend to be, but don’t let that deter you. As I see it, Hahn argues somewhat as follows. We should grant Friedman and Lucas two important points: first, the government is itself a large economic agent whose actions and announced plans enter the calculations of private agents; secondly, erratic changes in monetary policy away from a steady k% rule may have perverse effects “by confusing signals of relative scarcity with those that arose from the monetary policy”. Also, we may accept that the assumptions sufficient for a full walrasian equilibrium with rational expectations suffice for the absence of any persistent involuntary unemployment by Keynes’s definition. But Hahn would say this may not be the relevant empirical description.
ATHENIAN In what way?
STRANGER Well for one thing the pricing axiom or the recontracting assumption of stability theory remains unexplained. It is possible traders will face quantity constraints, and this often seems so in markets for labour and credit. We may simply find prices not moving in the direction of excess demand even when a quantity constraint happens to be binding. The structure of wages may be “neither fixed, nor abritrary, nor inflexible; it is what it is because given conjectures, no agent finds it advantageous to change it.” Moreover, it may not be plausible to suppose there will be convergence after arbitrary displacements back towards a stable equilibrium, because the conditions for stability are very stringent and uniqueness of equilibrium may also need to be postulated. Furthermore, it may be quite unsatisfactory to treat money in models which are isomorphic to the Arrow-Debreu model, because in such a world there is no logical use for money, so there must be some essential features of reality which have failed to be features of the model.
ATHENIAN You don’t think Patinkin’s integration was adequate?
STRANGER For many practical purposes perhaps, but certainly not to full logical satisfaction. If you put real money balances into the utility function and treat money just about like any other good, you have to be prepared to accept a possible equilibrium in which the price of money is zero. Lastly, if there are internal debts denominated in money as there are in fact, you may not assume equiproportional changes in all prices will not have real effects, unless you are prepared to assume away redistributions between creditors and debtors, which you can do only under another assumption that all households have parallel and linear Engel curves through the origin. Hahn’s line of argument is admittedly abstract, but you will have to admit it raises some fundamental questions.
ATHENIAN Another example we might say of the healthy scepticism of the theorist. It seems my turn to agree with you. But we can imagine replies too can we not?
STRANGER What do you have in mind?
ATHENIAN Well to argue there can be unemployment which is involuntary is not to have argued that an employment policy can be expected to remove it. This seems a premise and conclusion too frequently confounded by both keynesians and their critics, with disastrous consequences. Then, Buchanan would argue that a more thorough characterization needs to be given of the making of government policy, especially when it is proposed to supplant the market outcome. Policies are after all proposed, enacted, and put into effect by actual people — all of whom may need to be assumed to be pursuing private rewards as well in the course of their public duties. The relevant description for the economist needs to be one including this further fact that actual proposals of public policy can embody the private interests of the proposers too.
STRANGER Making it that much more difficult to determine what is in the public interest in a given case.
ATHENIAN Exactly. And so reinforcing the case for predictability and an orderliness in the framework of government.
STRANGER But we have been talking now for quite long enough my friend. I seem to feel a fear too that we have not gained anything at all in our discussions.
ATHENIAN Don’t be so pessimistic! Surely the point of reconstructing such conversations as we have done is not to hold absolutely to the matters raised in them. You and I after all have been making summary and highly simplified and unauthorized interpretations. I take the point of it to have been clarifying our thoughts, and perhaps to show ourselves how discussion can proceed between economists of different schools of thought. Arguments might come to a halt for any of a number of reasons, but they needn’t be supposed to have any logical or necessary end. Too often we let people retreat into different dogmatic positions, fostering the belief that each is starting from some set of absolute axioms ultimately irreconcilable with those of the other. We may need to keep insisting instead that the pursuit of knowledge and understanding is an open-ended activity with potentially indefinite limits. It yields conclusive results but has no absolute end. You or I might call a halt and retire from it, but that will not mean it cannot or will not continue without us.
STRANGER Perhaps so. But you are younger than I, and I have become tired by all these thrusts and parries. Besides, there has been the enjoyment of conversation itself.
9. Mathematical Economics and Reality
In this chapter we shall examine the appropriate relationship of mathematics to the subjects of economic study. Few divisions on substantive questions in economic science have been as bitter as the dispute which has occurred on this question of choice of methods, with charges of sophistry and humbug being periodically traded in private and in print between the more and the less mathematical among economists. The weapons of “intemperate discussion, namely invective, sarcasm, personality and the like” have not been spared, not only by those in minority at some university department to whom they might bring “the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation”, but also by those in comfortable if temporary majorities.
At first, it was the pioneers of mathematical economics who had faced inert and intransigent opinions against the use of any mathematics at all in economic study. Cournot attributed the prejudice of his contemporaries to their ignorance of mathematics even when they were “otherwise judicious and well versed in the subject of Political Economy”, though he added they may have been put off algebra by the errors in earlier attempts at applying it. For his own part, Cournot did not wish “to make a complete and dogmatic treatise on Political Economy” and would be putting aside “questions to which mathematical analysis cannot apply, and those which seem… entirely cleared up already.” Jevons declared economics “if it is to be a science at all, must be a mathematical science”, and counselled against despair even though “the popular opinions on the extension of mathematical theory tend to deter any man from attempting tasks which, however difficult, ought some day to be achieved.” Walras inveighed against “those economists who do not know any mathematics, who do not even know what is meant by mathematics and yet have taken the stand that mathematics cannot possibly serve to elucidate economic principles”; and at the same time against the narrow division of education in his native France into two compartments, “one turning out calculators with no knowledge of sociology, philosophy, history or economics; and the other cultivating men of letters devoid of any notion of mathematics.”
In recent times the majorities have changed, and it is mathematical economists who now command much more the directions of economic study at many universities. Yet the controversy has continued, and a few examples can give a taste of its bitterness. Professor L. R. Klein has denounced non-mathematical writings in economics as “fat, sloppy and vague”, while Professor Samuelson has considered “the laborious literary working over of essentially simple mathematical concepts such as is characteristic of much of modern economic theory” to call for “mental gymnastics of a peculiarly depraved type”. From the other side, Professor N. Georgescu-Roegen quotes Frank Knight as saying “there are many members of the economics profession who are mathematicians first and economists afterwards” and claims “the situation since Knight’s time has become much worse. There are endeavours that now pass for the most desirable kind of economic contributions although they are just plain mathematical exercises, not only without any economic substance but also without mathematical value. Their authors are not something first and something else afterwards; they are neither mathematicians nor economists.” Keynes had provided similar ammunition: “Too large a proportion of recent ‘mathematical economics’ are mere concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.” On the other hand, Samuelson reports with approval Professor Gerard Debreu’s remark that “the discipline which most fully uses in its daily work the frontier refinements of mathematical analysis is modern economic theory.” And Debreu himself justifies axiomatic economic theory as follows: “Among the many consequences of transformation in methodology that the field of economic theory underwent in the recent past, the clarity of expression that it made possible is perhaps one of the greatest gains that it has yielded. The very definition of an economic concept is usually subject to a substantial margin of ambiguity. An axiomatized theory substitutes for an ambiguous economic concept a mathematical object that is subject to entirely definite rules of reasoning. No doubt the economic interpretation of the primitive mathematical objects of the theory is free, and this is indeed one of the sources of the power of the axiomatic method…. [W]hile a primitive concept of an axiomatic theory admits different interpretations a theorist who has chosen one of them succeeds in communicating his intended meaning with little ambiguity because of the completely specified formal context in which he operates…. [T]he complete specification of assumptions, the exact statement of conclusions, and the rigor of the deductions of an axiomatized study provide a secure foundation on which the construction of economic theory can proceed…. Thus axiomatization facilitates the detection of logical errors within the model, and perhaps more importantly it facilitates the detection of conceptual errors in the formulation of the theory and in its interpretations.” On the other hand we find Professor Lord Bauer: “The adoption of mathematical methods as the standard form in economics has had serious untoward effects. The use of these methods has even come to serve as a barrier to criticism of a wide range of transgressions…. Apart from the shielding of specific lapses, emphasis on the use of mathematical methods has contributed more pervasively to inappropriate practices and habits of mind. Possibly the most important of these inappropriate or even misleading practices is the tendency to elevate technique above substance, form above content. Others include preoccupation with economic phenomena and factors which can genuinely or spuriously be quantified, and consequent neglect of those which cannot be so treated but frequently are much more germane…” As well as Kaldor: “There is, I am sure, a vague sense of dissatisfaction, open or suppressed, with the current state of economics among most members of the economics profession…. On the one hand it is increasingly recognised that abstract mathematical models lead nowhere. On the other hand it is also recognised that ‘econometrics’ leads nowhere — the careful accumulation and sifting of statistics and the development of refined methods of statistical inference cannot make up for the lack of any basic understanding of how the actual economy works.” Professor Werner Hildenbrand writes in defence of Debreu: “To a traditionally educated economist, who does not have a training in modern mathematics, Debreu’s contributions might appear, at first glance, incomprehensibly ‘abstract’. There is then a great temptation to dismiss the work as ‘too abstract’ (with the implication of ‘unrealistic’ whatever this term may mean) rather than to invest the required intellectual effort. In this respect Debreu has never compromised just as he has never followed fashions in economic research. I have often heard him say that every economic problem requires its own mathematical treatment. The economic problem determines the mathematical tool that is applied to obtain a precise formulation of the problem and to analyze it; one does not take a mathematical tool and then look for applications…. Debreu presents his scientific contributions in the most honest way possible by explicitly stating all underlying assumptions and refraining at any stage of the analysis from flowery interpretations that might divert attention from the restrictiveness of the assumptions and lead the reader to draw false conclusions.” Hildenbrand quotes Russell, as Professor Hahn had done in an earlier defence: “Many people have a passionate hatred of abstraction, chiefly, I think, because of its intellectual difficulty; but as they do not wish to give this reason they invent all sorts of others that sound grand. They say that all abstraction is falsification, and that as soon as you have left out any aspect of something actual you have exposed yourself to the risk of fallacy in arguing from its remaining aspects alone. Those who argue in this way are in fact concerned with matters quite other than those that concern science.” But in reply there is Professor Wassily Leontief: “Not having been subjected from the outset to the harsh discipline of systematic fact-finding, traditionally imposed on and accepted by their colleagues in the natural and historical sciences, economists developed a nearly irresistible predilection for deductive reasoning. As a matter of fact, many entered the field after specialization in pure or applied mathematics. Page after page of professional economics journals are filled with mathematical formulae leading the reader from sets of more or less plausible but entirely arbitrary assumptions to precisely stated but irrelevant theoretical conclusions…. Year after year economic theorists continue to produce scores of mathematical models and to explore in greater detail their formal properties; and the econometricians fit algebraic functions of all possible shapes to essentially the same sets of data without being able to advance, in any perceptible way, a systematic understanding of the structure and the operations of a real economic system.” There is also the reflection of Professor Salim Rashid in course of a reply to Georgescu-Roegen: “No assistant professor at any reasonably good university can hope to keep his job unless he publishes at least one article a year in a recognized journal. In order for a paper to be published, it must contain something new. How can several thousand junior faculty find topics simultaneously novel and worthwhile?…. One of the inimitable merits of mathematics is that it mechanizes the process of grinding out articles. If a theorem has been proven with twice continuously differentiable utility and production functions, then the next step is to prove them true for once differentiable functions, then for Lipschitze continuous functions, then for continuous functions, and finally for measurable functions. Each step provides a new result and is therefore a publishable effort, but one could argue that the economic content of these (mathematical) refinements is marginal.”

§2. We may ask if the theory of knowledge presented in Part II can be put to work here, to dissolve or at least clarify certain aspects of this conflict, and indeed a number of observations are possible to be made.
First of all, a dispute over choice of methods is of course a dispute over a choice — that is to say, it is a normative dispute having to do with what economists ought to do or not do as economists. At once we would know from our theory of knowledge that this is a dispute capable of sustaining reasonable and open ended and objective discussion. We may begin with the certainty that there are positive grounds to be contested here, that there will be scope for common reasoning to be put to work. Modern mathematical economists have typically argued that the use of mathematical methods has contributed to the removal of ambiguity surrounding economic concepts, to precision in reasoning, to clarity and economy of expression, to assisting the discovery of errors in economic analysis. They have charged the non-mathematical economist with speaking from ignorance, with not making or being capable of the requisite effort to learn the relevant methods, and so failing to see their benefits. The critics have typically argued that the growth of mathematical economics has led to impenetrability and not clarity, to a lack of critical thinking and imagination, to the mechanical churning out of results, to a lack of realism and practical application. They have charged the mathematical economist with irresponsibility in his choice of work. Yet here may be values finely poised! For there is nothing surely to disagree that greater clarity and precision and falsifiability are virtues to be encouraged, or that a lack of responsibility or critical thinking or imagination are failings to be discouraged in economic study. Like other long standing normative disputes, the dispute over the use of mathematics in economics may be found to have substantive intellectual values poised on either side, and it is precisely in face of the complexity of the problem that we must not despair with reason. Where a humean epistemology might conclude the differences to be sheer and irreconcilable and that all we can do ultimately is choose our side and fight for it, the epistemology of Part II would warn us to expect strong dogmatisms pit against strong scepticisms and advise us that there may be no single side to be chosen. Better perhaps to court the friendship and the enmity of both! Indeed the bitterness of the conflict could be explained by the fact each party has tended to deny the legitimacy of the other’s work, as if the legitimacy of research in any complex field of inquiry and scholarship, whether science or literature or economics or philosophy or mathematics itself, can be universally legislated by some or other unique and general and exceptionless rule. Protagonists in divisions on substantive questions in economics have seldom charged one another with not being economists at all, in the way protagonists in this division on the choice of methods seem on occasion to have done.
A juster perspective may be possible by applying the model of the structure of concepts given in Chapter 5. Concepts like ‘economist’ or ‘advance in economic understanding’ may be better understood as family resemblance concepts, whose instances are objectively ascertainable and yet are of indefinite variety, requiring careful description of context and circumstance, of the particular “language-game” within which they are intended to be understood. If we abandoned the idea seemed to be shared by many mathematical economists as well as their critics that there must exist some unique and identifiable criterion or set of criteria determining what makes an economist or what makes a piece of economic study, we would be able to take seriously the manifold diversity of economic thought as it actually is, and to recognize that just as the phenomena we are concerned to study are complex and various, so the methods we need may have to be complex and various. Here as elsewhere the antidote to dogmatisms of all kinds must be freedom of inquiry and expression. Whether the application of a particular method or technique to a particular economic problem indicates a lack of responsibility or imagination or critical thinking, or whether it has led to greater clarity or precision or falsifiability, or to what extent it has done a combination of these things, is a question capable of a disinterested and objective answer. While it may be hard work to determine the answer in some cases (for example the method of analogy may need to be applied, comparing and contrasting the question at hand with others whose answers were not presently in dispute), and even futile work in most cases, what we may be confident about is that it is possible for the answer to be determined in every case.
Secondly, in view of the seriousness of the economic controversy, it is remarkable that scant attention has been paid by either side to the discussions among mathematicians and mathematical philosophers about the ultimate character of mathematics itself. While there has been much abstract thinking in contemporary economics, perhaps we have not been abstract enough! For the relationship that the axioms and theorems of mathematical economics can possibly have to the reality of economic life and phenomena is certainly an abstract epistemological question, but one which has received little if any serious thought on the part of either mathematical economists or their critics. Russell wrote at one place of how in mathematics it is possible either to look telescopically forward “towards gradually increasing complexity: from integers to fractions, real numbers, complex numbers; from addition and multiplication to differentiation and integration, and on to the higher mathematics”, or to look microscopically “backward to the logical foundations of the things that we are inclined to take for granted…. by analyzing, to greater and greater abstractness and logical simplicity; instead of asking what can be defined and deduced from what is assumed to begin with, we ask instead what more general ideas and principles can be found, in terms of which what was our starting-point can be defined or deduced.” By this analogy mathematical economics has been telescopic, as when it is said by Debreu and Samuelson that the “frontier refinements” of mathematics have been finding use in contemporary mathematical economics. But if we looked even briefly in the other direction in which Russell pointed, we would find a sight quite different from the one we have grown accustomed. Here are a rich assortment of continuing questions and controversies in which are engaged some of the great figures of modern logic, mathematics, science and philosophy. Here are leaders and loyalties, doctrines and dissenters, spirited attacks and exchanges, noble admissions of error and paradox and puzzlement — leading one participant to even remark “it has proved not to be intuitively clear what is intuitively clear in mathematics”.
In particular, mathematics most definitely treats of certain kinds of objects, such as points, lines, spaces, numbers, quantifiers, and so on. Yet these objects are surely not objects like the objects of natural science. For one thing, unlike the table in this room or the tree outside the window or the city of Paris or the planet Venus, mathematical objects evidently do not have any real location. “Certainly there are such things as numbers, but surely there is no such thing as a number. What sort of a thing is it that is not a thing and yet is not nothing at all?” Many kinds of answer have been offered in discussions in the philosophy of mathematics to this sort of question, and of these three may have special bearing upon an analysis of the economic debate: (i) that mathematics is an abstraction of the reality in which we actually live (empiricism); (ii) that mathematics is an abstraction of a transcendental reality in which we most definitely do not live (platonism); and (iii) that mathematics is an abstraction of no sort of reality at all (formalism). Let us briefly consider each of these in turn.
The empiricist thesis, represented by Mill, would see mathematics as not differing in kind from empirical science but as a species of empirical science itself, just the most certain and general and abstract of all. Mathematical writing is a shorthand way of describing relationships between the actual objects of our universe. Thus Mill suggested our understanding of a number like 3 would derive from our recognition that it corresponded to particular collections of physical objects like three horses or three pebbles: “[W]e may call ‘Three is two and one’ a definition of three; but the calculations which depend on that proposition do not follow from the definition itself, but from an arithmetical theorem presupposed in it, namely that collections of objects exist, which while they impress the senses thus ooo, may be separated into two parts, thus oo o. This proposition being granted, we term all such parcels Threes, after which the enunciation of the above-mentioned physical fact will serve also as a definition of the word Three…. every number represents that particular number of all things without distinction….” “The mere written characters, a, b, x, y, z, serve as well for representatives of Things in general, as any more complex and apparently more concrete conception. That we are conscious of them, however, in their character of things, and not of mere signs, is evident from the fact that our whole process of reasoning is carried on by predicating of them the properties of things…. The inferences, therefore, which are successively drawn, are inferences concerning things, not symbols.”
The criticism of Frege would appear to have been decisive in discrediting the empiricist view, at least in the form Mill had stated it. Mill seemed to have no place for zero or the imaginary numbers or the irrationals, all of which are legitimate objects of mathematical inquiry yet are not perceivable by the senses, and we surely do not have to perceive zero pebbles or 2 horses to understand the concepts of zero or 2. (Mill’s view is to be contrasted however with the modern opinion of Professor Hilary Putnam, that mathematics does in fact employ empirical and “quasi-empirical” methods. )
The second thesis is one we have met already in Chapter 5, namely, the highly influential thesis of platonism represented by G. H. Hardy, Kurt Gödel, and many others possibly including Frege and Russell as well. The things we find in the world would be taken by the platonist to be distorted and defective versions of ideal entities not given to experience. The dot on a piece of paper we call a point is but a defective image of the ideal point which has no parts or magnitude, the chalk mark on the blackboard we call a line is but a defective version of the ideal line without breadth or width, and so on. It is such ideal points, lines, spaces, etc. which are the true objects of mathematical inquiry. Mathematical objects do not have location in the world in which we live but instead inhabit a kind of transcendental parallel universe, a domain reachable through the reasonings of the pure mathematician, whose task it becomes to discover and chart its unobservable terrain in the way the geographer and astronomer discover and chart the observable earth and universe in which we live. As Michael Dummett puts it: “Platonism, as a philosophy of mathematics, is founded on a simile: the comparison between the apprehension of mathematical truth to the perception of physical objects, and thus of mathematical reality to the physical universe.” It is “the thesis that there really do exist such structures of abstract objects, and that we are capable of apprehending them by a faculty of intuition which is to abstract entities as our powers of perception are to physical objects.” The platonist seeks to mentally grasp the ideal entities by his “mind’s hand” (in the phrase of Morton White) and once he believes himself to have done so, the expression of his understanding would amount to being not only an expression of objective knowledge but an expression of absolute knowledge as well, something necessarily free of error or exception.
In criticism, it may be said again as in Chapter 5 that the platonist’s reference to a transcendental universe would appear to be no more than a declaration of faith. And one moreover which is unnecessary to questions in the theory of knowledge, since the question of the objectivity of mathematical knowledge and inquiry need not be made to depend on the existence of a transcendental mathematical reality.
A third and again highly influential thesis has been that of formalism, represented by David Hilbert, Johann Von Neumann, Haskel Curry and many others. The formalist takes mathematical inquiry to be possible without reference to any and all realities, whether of our own world or that of the platonist or any other. Mathematics is independent of everything that is real or actual, and says nothing about anything that is real or actual. The pure mathematician does not abstract from reality — his theorems simply do not have reality as their concern and are incapable by themselves of having anything to say about it. The felicitous consequence of such a view is that the mathematician is liberated from having to justify in any way whatsoever the empirical plausibility of any of his axioms. In Russell’s epigram: “pure mathematics is the subject in which we do not know what we are talking about.” The formalist requires himself first to state the “vocabulary” he will use; that is to say, list all symbols and propositions to be defined as the “primitives” or “axioms” or “tokens” for the project at hand. For instance
“p  q” will mean “either p or q”
“f(x)” will mean “the property f belongs to object x”
“x, f(x)” will mean “there exists an x such that f is its property”
“x, f(x)” will mean “for every x, f is a property of x”
“x = y” will mean “x and y are names of the same object”
and so on. A list like this would be intended to be no more than a string of symbols, not signifying anything concrete, possessing only what meaning the mathematician shall choose to give each symbol. Then, “rules of procedure” or “operators” are to be stated, the use of which upon the axioms in the vocabulary will give rise to meaningful “formulas”. Taking Von Neumann’s illustrations, a combination of symbols
1 + 1 = 2
would be a meaningful formula which is true, while
1 + 1 = 1
would be a meaningful formula which is false, while

1 +  = 1 or
+ + 1 = 
would remain meaningless strings of symbols. The act of “proving a theorem” is that of deducing meaningful formulas thus defined via the successive application of the given rules of procedure to the given axioms. The “consistency” of the axioms and rules of procedure with a theorem proved from them defines the truth of the theorem. A “formal system” would be a set of theorems derived from given axioms by given rules such that no two theorems contradicted each other. To take a commonplace illustration, the axioms of chess would include that it is a game played by two on an 8  8 board, each player having sixteen pieces, of which eight are of one kind, two each are of three other kinds, and each of the remaining two is of one of two further kinds, and so on. The pieces may be called anything we wish and are not intended to refer to any real objects outside the game. The rules of procedure decree “the King” may move one square in any direction, “the Queen” may move any number of squares in any direction, “the pawns” shall be on the second row of each player at the beginning of play, and so on. Given the axioms and the rules of procedure, it is then a trivial theorem to prove that White can move a pawn to the square called K4: we may say there exists a consistent move by White of pawn to K4. As a game proceeded, a theorem from a particular configuration of the pieces might be deduced like “White is mate in three moves”, i.e., there may be said to exist a set of consistent moves by Black which forces such an outcome. The “formal system” of chess would be the set of all such provable theorems, given the axioms and the rules of the game.
The value of the formalist thesis lay in its liberation of the mathematician. It “allowed mathematicians to investigate any kind of mathematical theory without asking whether any ‘reality’ corresponded to it.” As Hilbert put it in correspondence with Frege: “As long as I have thought, written and lectured about these matters, I have always (believed): if arbitrarily postulated axioms do not contradict each other with their collective consequences, then they are true and the things defined by means of the axioms exist. That, for me, is the criterion of truth and existence.” The kind of “existence” Hilbert meant was not one in the physical world as when we say there exists a table in this room, but rather the kind as when we say there exists a way for Black to mate White in three moves. The consistency of a set of axioms is all there is to the existence of a formal mathematical structure. The formalist stresses the independence of mathematics from empirical science. Empirical experiments can neither prove nor disprove a mathematical theorem, and equally a mathematical theorem by itself can neither refute nor corroborate an empirical hypothesis. To take a famous example, the formal consistency of euclidean geometry and of the various non-euclidean geometries cannot by themselves tell us whether physical space is euclidean or non-euclidean, or euclidean in the small and non-euclidean in the large, and so on.
In criticism, it may be said the recondite theorems of Gödel have cast doubt on the viability of the full formalist programme, and raised the question whether it too may not suffer from serious and fatal internal weaknesses. Also, from the formalist’s self-conscious assertion of the total independence of mathematical axioms and theorems from their interpretations, that mathematical symbols are intrinsically meaningless and only acquire any significance that they can in the context of a consistent mathematical structure, it would seem to follow the formalist thesis must be silent on how mathematics may be in fact applied, on what grounds a particular theorem is or is not to be accepted. As Curry himself put it in a critique of Hilbert: the question of “acceptability” is the question of the relationship of mathematical theorems to their applications, “a matter of interpreting the theory in relation to some subject matter”; while the consistency of a formal system stressed by Hilbert is an internal criterion of acceptability, it is not the only one we may think of; in general, “acceptability is relative to a purpose; discussion of the usefulness of a mathematical theory is pointless until a particular purpose has been stated.” Insofar as this is true, it would seem our old friend, human judgement, in all its complexity, is found again to have to make a necessary reappearance, even in the otherwise austere terrain traversed by the formalist mathematician. If mathematics is to be useful, if it is to have a value or a utility, then there is judgement required in its use. And of course, as has been argued throughout in this work, there is every reason to suppose such judgements to be capable themselves of being objectively supported or criticized.

§3. The possible bearing upon modern economic theory of these brief philosophical considerations may be illustrated in two specific contexts: the theory of probability and expected utility, and the theory of general equilibrium.
In the theory of probability, many contemporary economic theorists appear to have followed the extreme or moderated subjectivism represented in England by F. P. Ramsey’s review of J. M. Keynes’s Treatise on Probability, in Europe by Bruno de Finetti’s Poincaré Lectures, and in the United States by L. J. Savage’s Foundations of Statistics. According to such a theory, a judgement of probability would be understood as the personal degree of belief of an individual agent with respect to the uncertain occurrence of an event, constrained only by the weak requirement that the agent not be allowed to bet against himself — e.g., the agent may not assign a probability of one fourth to an event S as well as a probability of one fourth to its contrary ~S. Indeed the subjective probabilist may be seen to stand in close relationship with the humean and the emotivist in moral philosophy — as when Savage declared logic to be “a crude but sometimes handy empirical psychological theory”, or when de Finetti declared that while there might be “rather profound psychological reasons which make the exact or approximate agreement that is observed between the opinions of different individuals very natural… there are no reasons, rational, positive, or metaphysical, that can give this fact any meaning beyond that of a simple agreement of subjective opinions.” Subjectivist probabilists have been especially emphatic in rejecting any hint of a platonist ontology, as when de Finetti declared: “Probability does not exist!” — which he is taken to mean probability “does not exist in an objective sense, in other words he denies the existence of physical probability.” A small rebellion has been led for a number of years now against the subjectivist school by the French theorist Professor Maurice Allais, who declares to the contrary with as much emphasis as de Finetti: “The probability of an event likely to occur repeatedly under the same conditions is a physical quantity corresponding to a physical reality.” In view of our discussions, a possible means to the resolution of this dispute may be offered. Viz., it is possible that de Finetti and other subjectivist probabilists have wanted to deny a platonist ontology and so have believed it necessary to deny the possible objectivity of probable knowledge; while Allais has wanted to defend the possible objectivity of probable knowledge and so has believed it necessary to accept a platonist ontology. In other words, it is possible both sides have unwittingly shared the same epistemological assumption which we have found to be of questionable soundness, namely, that a claim to objective knowledge in a given context must go hand in hand with a platonist theory of existence. Moreover, relative to discussion of the concept of probability itself, there may have been a subtle reversal of philosophical positions when it comes to the theory of expected utility which has derived from the subjectivist view of probability. For subjectivist probabilists in economic theory have sometimes maintained or given the impression of maintaining the platonistic belief that the Von Neumann-Morgenstern model of an agent maximizing “expected utility” defines or describes absolutely the behaviour of an ideal rational agent, whether or not it can find a counterpart in the actual world in which we live. On the other hand, Allais may be seen on this point to have launched an anti-platonist protest — rightly arguing that to move from the premise “the only rational behaviour is behaviour conforming to the American [expected utility maximizing] School” to the conclusion “anyone who does not conform to these axioms is irrational” would be dogmatic and unfounded.
A juster alternative may be possible. The important truth the subjectivist probabilist has been concerned to emphasize may be seen as analogous to the important truth we have seen in Part I the humean economist to be concerned to emphasize. Namely, that the circumstantial evidence on the basis of which an individual agent makes the probability judgement he does in a given case may be available peculiarly to the agent and not to others. In other words, it will usually be the case as a matter of fact that the individual agent has a kind of privileged access to the relevant evidence necessary for the decisions which happen to concern him most. Once we make such an observation about the availability of evidence, we may be led in rough discussion to treat a statement of probability as synonymous with the personal degree of belief that the individual agent, given his privileged access to the relevant evidence, happens to attach to an event. But that would not imply, as the subjectivist probabilist would have us believe it does, that such a probability judgement cannot be mistaken — objectively mistaken. Like other kinds of judgements, probability judgements may be thought of as liable to error regardless of who happens to be making them, and we have seen moreover that a recognition of this sort would not have to depend on any endorsement of a platonist ontology. Keynes remarked at one place “a proposition is not probable because we think it is so” — just as the theory of knowledge advanced in Part II would suggest that a proposition is not true because we happen to think it is so, or a proposition is not right because we happen to think it is so. Something may be true and we may believe it to be true; these are two separate things. Similarly something may be right and we may believe it to be right; these are again two separate things. Similarly something may be probable and we may believe it to be probable — that these are two separate things would seem to be the point of Keynes’s remark. Things are not made probable or true or right merely because you or I or any number of persons happen to think them so. All the meteorological evidence may point to heavy rainfall being imminent, or all the medical evidence may point to a treatment being a fake cure for some disease, yet someone might choose to place a high subjective probability on the contrary and even be willing to bet sums of money in a consistent way as a token of the depth and sincerity of his belief. The subjective probabilist may have to say there is nothing unreasonable about such a belief even though there is something unreasonable about it. Like the humean and the emotivist, the subjective probabilist may have nothing to say to someone who refuses to reason or discuss or accept objective evidence for what it is.
Of course insofar as probability judgements guide our actions, it may be that it is the subjective probabilities of people, regardless of their accuracy, which need to be studied if we are to explain or predict actual behaviour, just as it is the subjective opinions of voters which interest the pollster trying to explain or predict the outcome of an election or the subjective preferences of consumers which interest the advertiser. Thus the subjectivist theory may be useful for purposes of description and prediction. In general however, if we grant knowledge to be well described as a family resemblance concept capable of indefinitely varied kind and instance, it may be preferable to take probable knowledge to be a particular species of it, one which indeed may be itself capable of varied kind and instance. Just as the way in which we can possibly know something about the present may differ in principle from the way in which we can possibly know something about the past, or the way in which we can know something about our own minds from the way in which we can know something about someone else’s mind, so it may be that the way in which we can know something with certainty may differ in principle from the way in which we can know something with probability. Probable knowledge, like scientific knowledge or moral knowledge or historical knowledge, may be something objectively ascertainable and yet relative to the given circumstantial evidence available to the individual agent. Thus the concerns of the subjectivist probabilist can be met even while we avoid the paradoxes into which he would otherwise lead us. Indeed this would seem to have been a main point of Keynes’s line of argument: “The terms ‘certain’ and ‘probable’ describe the various degrees of rational belief about a proposition which different amounts of knowledge authorise us to entertain. All propositions are true or false, but the knowledge we have of them depends on our circumstances; and while it is often convenient to speak of propositions as certain or probable, this expresses strictly a relationship in which they stand to a corpus of knowledge, actual or hypothetical, and not a characteristic of the propositions in themselves. A proposition is capable at the same time of various degrees of this relationship, depending upon the knowledge to which it is related, so that it is without significance to call a proposition probable unless we specify the knowledge to which we are relating it.” Furthermore, given the particular evidence available, judgements of probability are subject to common reasoning and should not be seen merely as possible expressions of caprice: “When once the facts are given which determine our knowledge, what is probable or improbable has been fixed objectively, and is independent of our opinion. The theory of probability is logical, therefore, because it is concerned with the degree of belief which it is rational to entertain in given conditions, and not merely with the actual beliefs of particular individuals, which may or may not be rational.” Ramsey’s review of Treatise on Probability would seem to have missed this line of argument, and the subsequent influence of the review among modern economic theorists may have contributed to the neglect of Keynes’s original work. The purpose of this brief note will have been served if it is seen that, once the Spell of Hume has been broken, it is possible for this neglect to be redressed.

§4. A second context in which our epistemological discussion may have bearing is the theory of general equilibrium, which has been the centerpiece of much economic study in recent decades. Among the many distinguished economists who have contributed to it in recent times have been Professor Debreu, Professor Arrow and Professor Hahn, with Debreu’s Theory of Value and Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis being two important current statements of the theory. Yet Debreu appears to have taken a formalist perspective in mathematics with some hints at platonism, while Arrow and Hahn have appeared to be platonist with some hints at empiricism, when it is far from clear that these are points of view which are or can be made compatible with one another.
From Theory of Value onwards, Debreu has maintained as his purpose to treat economic subjects “with the standards of rigor of the contemporary formalist school of mathematics”. As we have seen, a formalist perspective would take individual mathematical objects and symbols to be meaningless in themselves, and not intended to refer to any actual economic events or phenomena. The task of the mathematical economist then would be to test by explicit rules of deductive procedure whether or not a given set of axioms is consistent. If so, the existence of a formal mathematical structure would be established, and the individual mathematical objects would find meaning within its defined context. Thus when Debreu says the mathematical propositions of Theory of Value are “logically entirely disconnected” from their “interpretations”, and so from any reference to the actual world, he may be seen as being correctly formalist and hilbertian in particular. The mathematics itself is independent of any of countless possible interpretations that can be given to it, real or imaginary, sensible or absurd, and does not by itself have anything to say about the actual world outside the window. We may posit axioms like:
Let En be an n dimensional Euclidean space.
Let there be a set H with finite number of elements.
Let each element h  H have attributed to it a closed and convex subspace Xh  En….
Let a relation R be defined for each h such that for any pair (x1,x2)  Xh, either x1Rx2, or x2Rx1, or x1Rx2 & x2Rx1 ….
Let there be a set F with a finite number of elements.
Let each element f  F have attributed to it a subspace Yf  Rn….
And so on. The meanings we happen to attach to the ciphers put down on paper are superfluous to the act of stating the axioms themselves. To have said “En” is the “commodity space” or “h  H” is “a household” or “f  F” is “a firm” is as unnecessary to the mathematics itself as the giving of particular names to the pieces of chess is to the playing of chess itself. That we speak about the axioms of chess the way we do implies nothing about the axioms themselves, nor a fortiori about any actual armies engaged in real battle outside the game. Similarly the axioms of Debreu’s theory can be stated and particular meanings attached to them without any reference to any particular households or firms engaged in economic life in any real economy whatsoever. Then, the rules of procedure in chess decree that certain moves are permissible and others are not. Whence we may deduce theorems like “White can move a pawn to K4” or “Black can mate in three moves”. Similarly we may apply to Debreu’s stated axioms a theorem of Weierstrass:
“If f is a continuous function from a non-empty compact set S to the real line,
f: S  R, then f(S) has a maximum”
to obtain
“If Uh is a continuous function from a non-empty compact subspace Bh  Xh to the
real line, Uh: Bh  R, then Uh(Xh) has a maximum”.
Next by attaching particular connotations to Xh, Bh, and Uh(Xh), we can read a theorem of economics:
“If there is a suitably defined utility function for the individual household then there exists a vector of consumption goods within the budget set which gives maximum utility”.
Or, we may take the theorems:
“If x is a boundary point of a convex set A then there is a supporting plane of A through x”
and
“If A and B are two disjoint convex sets then there is a plane separating them”
and interpret each appropriately to obtain
“If technology is a closed and convex set, if the consumption set is closed and convex, if their intersection is bounded and not empty, and if the preference ordering is convex and continuous, then there exists a best point x in the attainable set, then there exists a relative price such that optimal producer and consumer decisions may be made independently of one another”.
Or, we may take a theorem of Brouwer
“For every continuous mapping from a compact convex set to itself, there exists a fixed point”
specifically in the context of general equilibrium theory to obtain under defined conditions
“There exists a vector of relative prices such that every individual agent solves its appropriate constrained maximization problem given this vector, and aggregate excess demand is zero for each good”.
The existence of such a vector of prices may be referred to as the existence of an “equilibrium” of the economy. But by that we would not imply — indeed according to the formalist perspective we could not imply — that we have said anything at all about any real economic phenomena. A general equilibrium would “exist” in the same sense that a way can exist for Black to mate White in three moves; it would not exist in the sense the table in this room or the city of Paris may be said to exist. Thus the formal (uninterpreted) structure presented in Theory of Value may be seen as standing to the simultaneous equations of Walras and Hicks and Samuelson rather in the way that Hilbert’s Foundations of Geometry stands to Euclid: as a statement of consistent systems of axioms establishing the existence of particular formal mathematical structures. As such, both the formal (uninterpreted) theory of general equilibrium and Hilbert’s axiomatization of geometry would be internal to mathematics. Neither would their correctness depend on any feature of the world in which we actually live, nor would anything in the world depend on the existence of these structures. The formal theory of general equilibrium may then be considered to consist of theorems which are unambiguously true; the theorems were true in the fifties, are true today, and will remain true at the millenium; they are true whether they are read in Tokyo or Cairo or on the moon or on Voyager II. Yet their truth is of the same kind other theorems in mathematics are true, or the grand theorems of chess are true. By themselves they must be silent about any and all actual economic phenomena. Such briefly would be the consequence of a strict formalist perspective in mathematical economics.
In contrast, Arrow and Hahn have sought to place the significance of general equilibrium theory in a larger context in the history of economic thought. They have endorsed the widespread view that the primary intent of Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations was to make a universal claim of the allocative merits of a market economy, and furthermore that this claim did not begin to be examined by the standards of modern science until Walras’s statement of a system of simultaneous equations of aggregate demands and supplies in relative prices. Walras’s system was taken further by Hicks and Samuelson and others, but internal or technical weaknesses had remained. Specifically it had not been proven that n-1 independent excess demand equations in n-1 relative prices could have a solution. Through the use of newer and more fundamental mathematics, precise conditions sufficient for the existence of a general equilibrium came to be stated. Moreover, a general equilibrium could also be shown to be “efficient” by the definition of Pareto, and so modern general equilibrium theory is to be seen to represent the culmination of the effort begun by Walras to examine the classical and neoclassical claims originating with Smith about the allocative merits of the market economy, and thus ultimately about the appropriate scope of the functions of civil government. Arrow and Hahn would add that there are numerous features of actual economies not accounted for within the basic model; for instance, forward contracts are less frequent in actual economies then they are assumed to be in the model. Such points of difference between reality and the model, Arrow and Hahn would argue, are grounds for believing the neoclassical belief to be subject to much qualification. The most famous alternative has been that of Keynes (as we have seen in Chapter 8) who had claimed to provide a general theory, a theory from which the neoclassical could derive but not conversely. The scope of general equilibrium analysis has been sought to be extended to ask whether Keynes’s claim was justifiable, and until such a project is completed the question of the merits of neoclassical monetary theory may not be said to have been answered with the authority of economic science behind it.
At the same time, as we have noted in Chapter 5, Professor Arrow was to remark in his Nobel Lecture: “In my own thinking, the model of general equilibrium under uncertainty is as much a normative ideal as an empirical description. It is the way the actual world differs from the criteria of the model which suggests social policy to improve the efficiency with which risk bearing is allocated.” And Professor Hahn has remarked that the model of general equilibrium “serves a function similar to that which an ideal and perfectly healthy body might serve a clinical diagnostician when he looks at an actual body”; that although the model “is known to conflict with the facts” and “is not a description of an actual economy” it can still tell us “what the world would have to look like” if the neoclassical view of the economy is to be plausible. Thus it would seem the formal general equilibrium model is to be taken to describe some empirically possible economy though not any actual one, which is at the same time supposed to be the “normative ideal” of actual market economies in the way the perfect point or line is supposed to be an idealization of the actual point or line we draw with chalk on the blackboard. It may be possible to identify where an actual economy is defective relative to this perfect structure, and thereby seek to improve it. In other words, Arrow and Hahn seem to have wished to endorse both a platonist ontology as well as something of a Millian empiricism — though it is far from clear that these can be made compatible either with one another or with the strict formalism embraced by Debreu (who hints at platonism as well at one place in speaking of the “discovery” of axiomatic theories in economics ), let alone with their own subjectivism on the positive/normative relationship recorded in Chapter 2, or with the subjectivism which is to be found in the theory of social choice to be discussed in Chapter 10. If these are indeed accurate char