Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1. Ernst Mach and Metaphysical Neutrality - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4
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1. Ernst Mach and Metaphysical Neutrality - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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1. Ernst Mach and Metaphysical Neutrality
There are a number of influences on Hayek, however, which give his Kantianism a profoundly distinctive and original aspect. The first of these influences is the work of Ernst Mach (1838–1916), the positivist philosopher whose ideas dominated much of Austro-German intellectual life in the decades of Hayek's youth. Hayek's debts to Mach are not so much in the theory of knowledge, as in the attitude both take to certain traditional metaphysical questions. I have observed already that Hayek dissented radically from the Humean and Machian belief that human knowledge could be reconstructed on the basis of elementary sensory impressions, and throughout his writings Hayek has always repudiated as incoherent or unworkable the reductionist projects of phenomenalism in the theory of perception and behaviorism in the philosophy of mind. In these areas of philosophy, then, Hayek's work has been strongly antipathetic to distinctively positivistic ambitions for a unified science. At the same time, while never endorsing the dogma of the Vienna Circle that metaphysical utterances are literally nonsensical, Hayek has often voiced the view that many traditional metaphysical questions express “phantom-problems.”
In both The Sensory Order and later in The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek affirms that the age-old controversy about the freedom of the will embodies such a phantom-problem.6 Hayek's ‘compatibilist’ standpoint in respect of freedom of the will—his belief that the casual determination of human actions is fully compatible with ascribing responsibility to human agents for what they do—is analogous with his stance on the mind-body question. In both controversies Hayek is concerned to deny any ultimate dualism in metaphysics or ontology, while at the same time insisting that a dualism in our practical thought and in scientific method is unavoidable for us. Thus he says of the relations of the mental and the physical domains that “While our theory leads us to deny any ultimate dualism of the forces governing the realms of the mind and that of the physical world respectively, it forces us at the same time to recognize that for practical purposes we shall always have to adopt a dualistic view.”7 And Hayek concludes his study of the foundations of theoretical psychology in The Sensory Order with the claim that “to us mind must remain forever a realm of its own, which we can know only through directly experiencing it, but which we shall never be able to fully explain or to ‘reduce’ to something else.”8
Hayek's thought has a Machian positivist aspect, then, not in the theories of mind or perception, but in its attitude to traditional metaphysical questions, which is dissolutionist and deflationary. There is yet another link with positivism. Notwithstanding Hayek's opposition to any sort of reductionism, whether sensationalist or physicalist, he seems to be a monist in ontology, averring that “mind is thus the order prevailing in a particular part of the physical universe—that part of it which is ourselves.”9 Hayek may seem here to be qualifying or withdrawing from that stance of metaphysical neutrality which in Machian spirit he commends, but this appearance may be delusive. There is much to suggest that, when Hayek denies any ultimate dualism in the nature of things, he is not lapsing into an idiom of essences or natural kinds, but simply observing—much in the fashion of the American pragmatist philosopher, W. V. Quine—that nothing in our experience compels us to adopt ideas of mental or physical substance.10 Though Hayek has not to my knowledge ever pronounced explicitly on the question, the whole tenor of his thought inclines to a Quinean pragmatist view of ontological commitments. In his skeptical and pragmatist attitude to ultimate questions in metaphysics and ontology, Hayek lines up with many positivists rather than with Kantian critical philosophy—though positivists themselves sometimes claim, with some justification, to be treading a Kantian path.
[6.] Hayek, µB-10Õ, Sensory Order, p. 193, para. 8.93, and his µB-12Õ, The Constitution of Liberty, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960, pp. 13, 438. See Mach's influence on Hayek by consulting the bibliography to my essay: B-10 and A-119.
[7.] Hayek, Sensory Order, µB-10Õ, pp. 178-9, para. 8.45. Hayek's affirmation of a practical dualism in the theory of the mind may well have been influenced by Mises, who adopts a very similar standpoint in several of his writings.
[8.] Hayek, µB-10Õ, Sensory Order, p. 194, para. 8.97.
[9.] Hayek, µB-10Õ, Sensory Order, p. 194, para. 8.97.
[10.] See W. V. Quine, Ontological Relativity, New York: 1969. Unlike Hayek, Quine sees compelling reasons for postulating a realm of abstract entities, including numbers, but, like Hayek, he admits no ontological gulf between body and mind. Hayek's objection to the neutral monism defended by William James, Bertrand Russell, and John Dewey seems to be on the grounds of its psychologistic features as it is stated by these writers: see Sensory Order, p. 176, para. 8.38. Neutral monism need not have these features, however, and perhaps Hayek's system need not exclude it.