Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hayek and Popper

My paper “Hayek, Popper, and the Causal Theory of the Mind” appears in the latest volume of Advances in Austrian Economics, a special issue edited by Leslie Marsh and devoted to the theme Hayek in Mind: Hayek’s Philosophical Psychology.  The publisher’s web page for the volume is here.  You can find Marsh’s website devoted to the book here, the table of contents here, and Marsh’s introduction to the volume here.  Here’s the abstract of my article (which follows the publisher’s required abstract format):

Purpose – The chapter provides an exposition both of Hayek's causal theory of the mind (especially as applied to intentionality) and of Popper's critique of causal theories, argues that Hayek fails successfully to rebut Popper's critique, and shows how the dispute between Hayek and Popper is relevant to controversies in contemporary philosophy of mind.

Methodology/approach –The chapter elucidates Hayek's ideas and Popper's by situating them within the history of the mind/body problem and comparing them to the views of contemporary philosophers like Fred Dretske, Jerry Fodor, and Hilary Putnam.

Findings – Popper's critique has yet to be answered, either by Hayek or by contemporary causal theorists.

Originality/value of the chapter –The chapter calls attention to some important but neglected ideas of Hayek and Popper and examines some of their as-yet-unpublished writings.

What that last line is referring to, specifically, are Popper’s private letters to Hayek vis-à-vis Hayek’s book The Sensory Order and Hayek’s unpublished (and unfinished) draft “Within Systems and about Systems: A Statement of Some Problems of a Theory of Communication,” all of which receive substantive discussion in my article.  The article is an extended treatment of themes to which I was only able to devote the last few pages of my essay “Hayek the cognitive scientist and philosopher of mind” in The Cambridge Companion to Hayek.  It also contains material that should be of interest even to readers with no special interest in Hayek or Popper, since what it has to say about them is relevant to the more general question of whether causal theories of intentionality (which are at the core of attempts to “naturalize” intentionality) can succeed.  (I’ve addressed this issue in previous blog posts, such as this one, this one, and this one.  Obviously, my many other posts on the mind-body problem are also relevant.)


  1. I was led by your last post to this article, which is an excerpt from "Nothing Ventured"
    It is an interesting round-up of the many problems of nothing. There was an argument that-even though it made no intuitive sense- I couldn't seem to find a strictly logical problem with.
    "Suppose, for the sake of argument, that nothing existed. Then, in particular, there would be no laws. (Laws are something, after all, despite what the nothing theorists seem to think.) If there were no laws, then everything would be permitted. If everything were permitted, then nothing would be forbidden. Therefore, if nothing existed, nothing would be forbidden. Therefore, nothing, if it existed, would forbid itself. Therefore there must be something."
    Do you have any comments about this line of approach?

  2. There are many problems with it. But the main one lies here:

    "Therefore, if nothing existed, nothing would be forbidden. Therefore, nothing, if it existed, would forbid itself."

    The sense of the term "nothing" in the phrase "nothing would be forbidden." is different from the senese of the same term in the phrase "nothing ... would forbid itself"

    The first phrase means something like "For all x: x is not forbidden". The second on the other hand means something like "x=nothing. x is forbidden", i.e. "nothing" is treated as if it refers to a thing.


    Sry for going off-topic.

  3. Just so I'm clear with the phrasing, "causal theories" of things like the mind and intentionality in particular are attempts to provide a reductionistic explanation of the mind and intentionality?

  4. Looking at a little closer, I can see another problem, maybe. His first premise "assume nothing existed" is false for one reason: nothing doesn't exist. Existing is doing something, and nothing does nothing, the entire definition of nothing is built on it not existing.
    Two, he says laws are restrictions, but that is not necessarily true, because laws "do things" and therefore are not just restrictive.
    3, he says that there are no restrictions in nothing. However, nothing is a very restrictive term, since it's definition is not being anything. That means nothing is the ultimate restriction.
    Of course, I could just be playing around with words, but I think at least one of those arguments should stick.

  5. Sami and radp,

    I will try to comment later if I can, but could you please take your discussion to the relevant combox? This is off-topic.


    Yes, they are attempts to explain the relevant mental phenomena in terms of causal relations of the sort materialists are willing to countenance. (Hence e.g. no irreducible final causes would be allowed by a "causal theory" of intentionality.)

  6. This is important material & an important topic.


    It seems to me the Wittgensteinian elements in Hayek address some of the issues involved, and the Edelman's work goes some distance toward correcting the fixed "given-ness" of Hayek's connectionist construct.

  7. Have you talked to Caldwell about when this unpublished material might ever be published?

    It's a shame it's not in the public domain.

    I have copies of all of it in my files, where it sits wishing to be free.

  8. Hi Greg,

    I believe the plan is to publish the "Within Systems" draft in the Hayek Collected Works volume on The Sensory Order, which (at least the last I heard) is in the works. Popper's letters to Hayek vis-a-vis TSO, I don't know. The copyright holder is different, though it would be good to publish them with TSO and maybe Popper's estate would allow it.

  9. It's been some time since I read the "Within Systems" paper.

    I look forward to reading your own take on this material.

    My sense is that Popper had stumped Hayek -- Hayek himself seems almost aware that he was pushed to beyond the limits of his conception -- but I've never been happy with where Popper ends up.

    The whole collection of Hayek - Popper letters is terrific, and at one point Bartley planned dedicating a volume of Hayek's collected works to correspondence.

  10. is there any option to Follow your posts via Email?