The Counter-Revolution of Science

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It is only insofar as some sort of order arises as a result of individual action but without being designed by any individual that a problem is raised which demands a theoretical explanation.
At first everyone will seek for himself what seems to him the best path. But the fact that such a path has been used once is likely to make it easier to traverse and therefore more likely to be used again; and thus gradually more and more clearly defined tracks arise and come to be used to the exclusion of other possible ways.
It is essential for the growth of reason that as individuals we should bow to forces and obey principles which we cannot hope fully to understand, yet on which the advance and even the preservation of civilization depend.

The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason is a book by Nobel laureate economist Friedrich Hayek, published in 1952.  It addresses the problem of scientism in the social sciences, where researchers and reporters attempt to apply the methodology and claims of objective certainty from hard science, despite the fact that these attempt to eliminate the human factor from study, yet these "soft" sciences center around attempting to understand human action.

Quotes from the book[edit]

F. A. Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1952).

Scientism and the Study of Society (pt. 1)[edit]

The Influence of the Natural Sciences on the Social Sciences (ch. 1)[edit]

  • It need scarcely be emphasized that nothing we shall have to say is aimed against the methods of Science in their proper sphere or is intended to throw the slightest doubt on their value.  But to preclude any misunderstanding on this point we shall, wherever we are concerned, not with the general spirit of disinterested inquiry but with slavish imitation of the method and language of Science, speak of "scientism" or the "scientistic" prejudice.
    • Page 15.

The Problem and the Method of the Natural Sciences (ch. 2)[edit]

  • To return to our more general conclusion: the world in which Science is interested is not that of our given concepts or even sensations.  Its aim is to produce a new organization of all our experience of the external world, and in doing so it has not only to remodel our concepts but also to get away from the sense qualities and to replace them by a different classification of events.
    • Page 23.

The Individualist and "Compositive" Method of the Social Sciences (ch. 4)[edit]

  • While the method of the natural sciences is…analytic, the method of the social sciences is better described as compositive or synthetic.  It is the so-called wholes, the groups of elements which are structurally connected, which we learn to single out from the totality of observed phenomena….  In so far as we analyze individual thought in the social sciences the purpose is not to explain that thought but merely to distinguish the possible types of elements with which we shall have to reckon in the construction of different patterns of social relationships.  It is a mistake, to which careless expressions by social scientists often give countenance, to believe that their aim is to explain conscious action.  …  The problems which they try to answer arise only in so far as the conscious action of many men produce undesigned results….  If social phenomena showed no order except in so far as they were consciously designed, there would indeed be no room for theoretical sciences of society and there would be, as is often argued, only problems of psychology.  It is only in so far as some sort of order arises as a result of individual action but without being designed by any individual that a problem is raised which demands a theoretical explanation.  …  [P]eople dominated by the scientistic prejudice are often inclined to deny the existence of any such order….

    [I]t can be shown briefly and without any technical apparatus how the independent actions of individuals will produce an order which is no part of their intentions….  The way in which footpaths are formed in a wild broken country is such an instance.  At first everyone will seek for himself what seems to him the best path.  But the fact that such a path has been used once is likely to make it easier to traverse and therefore more likely to be used again; and thus gradually more and more clearly defined tracks arise and come to be used to the exclusion of other possible ways.  Human movements through the region come to conform to a definite pattern which, although the result of deliberate decisions of many people, has yet not been consciously designed by anyone.

    • Pages 39–40.

"Purposive" Social Formations (ch. 8)[edit]

  • Many of the greatest things man has achieved are not the result of consciously directed thought, and still less the product of a deliberately co-ordinated effort of many individuals, but of a process in which the individual plays a part which he can never fully understand.
    • Page 84.
  • Even more significant of the inherent weakness of the collectivist theories is the extraordinary paradox that from the assertion that society is in some sense "more" than merely the aggregate of all individuals their adherents regularly pass by a sort of intellectual somersault to the thesis that in order that the coherence of this larger entity be safeguarded it must be subjected to conscious control, i.e., to the control of what in the last resort must be an individual mind.  It thus comes about that in practice it is regularly the theoretical collectivist who extols individual reason and demands that all forces of society be made subject to the direction of a single mastermind, while it is the individualist who recognizes the limitations of the powers of individual reason and consequently advocates freedom as a means for the fullest development of the powers of the inter-individual process.
    • Page 86.

"Conscious" Direction and the Growth of Reason (ch. 9)[edit]

  • It may indeed prove to be far the most difficult and not the least important task for human reason rationally to comprehend its own limitations.  It is essential for the growth of reason that as individuals we should bow to forces and obey principles which we cannot hope fully to understand, yet on which the advance and even the preservation of civilization depends.  Historically this has been achieved by the influence of the various religious creeds and by traditions and superstitions which made men submit to those forces by an appeal to his emotions rather than to his reason.  The most dangerous stage in the growth of civilization may well be that in which man has come to regard all these beliefs as superstitions and refuses to accept or to submit to anything which he does not rationally understand.  The rationalist whose reason is not sufficient to teach him those limitations of the powers of conscious reason, and who despises all the institutions and customs which have not been consciously designed, would thus become the destroyer of the civilization built upon them.  This may well prove a hurdle which man will repeatedly reach, only to be thrown back into barbarism.  …  Common acceptance of formal rules is indeed the only alternative to direction by a single will man has yet discovered.
    • Pages 92–93.

Comte and Hegel (pt. 3)[edit]

§1[edit]

  • The discussions of every age are filled with the issues on which its leading schools of thought differ.  But the general intellectual atmosphere of the time is always determined by the views on which the opposing schools agree.  They become the unspoken presuppositions of all thought, the common and unquestioningly accepted foundations on which all discussion proceeds.
    • Page 191.

Quotes about The Counter-Revolution of Science[edit]

Alan Ebenstein, Hayek's Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003)[edit]

External links[edit]

Encyclopedic article on The Counter-Revolution of Science at Wikipedia

Friedrich Hayek
Concepts and career business cycle theory · dispersed knowledge · extended order · spontaneous order
Books Prices and Production (1931) · The Road to Serfdom (1944) · Individualism and Economic Order (1948) · The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952) · The Sensory Order (1952) · The Constitution of Liberty (1960) · Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967) · Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973) · The Denationalization of Money (1975) · New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas (1978) · The Fatal Conceit (1988)
Notable essays "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (1945) · "Why I Am Not a Conservative" (1960) · "The Pretence of Knowledge" (1974)
Commentators Alan O. Ebenstein · Bruce Caldwell
Other topics evolution · dictatorship · John Maynard Keynes