Front Page Titles (by Subject) Hayek\'s Opposition to Apriori Science - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4
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Hayek's Opposition to Apriori Science - 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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Hayek's Opposition to Apriori Science
A number of points may be made briefly about Hayek's conception of method in social and economic theory. First, whereas he follows his great teachers in the Austrian tradition in emphasizing the subjective aspects of social phenomena, Hayek's methodology of social and economic science does not belong to that Austrian tradition in which social theory is conceived as an enterprise yielding apodictic truths. Specifically—contrary to T. W. Hutchinson, who periodizes Hayek's work into an Austrian praxeological and a post-Austrian Popperian period, and also contrary to Norman P. Barry who sees both trends running right through Hayek's writings—Hayek never accepted the Misesian conception of a praxeological science of human action which would take as its point of departure a few axioms about the distinctive features of purposeful behavior over time. In the Introduction to Collectivist Economic Planning [E-5, 1935] and elsewhere in his early writings, Hayek had (as Hutchinson notes) insisted that economics yields “‘general laws,’ that is, ‘inherent necessities determined by the permanent nature of the constituent elements.’”55 As Hutchinson himself acknowledges in passing, however, such laws or necessities function in Hayek's writings as postulates (rather than as axioms), and they continue to do so even in his later writings, in which (as I have already noted) a suspicion of the nomothetic paradigm of social science is expressed. It is clear from the context of the quotations cited by Hutchinson that, in speaking of the general laws or inherent necessities of social and economic life, Hayek meant to controvert the excessive voluntarism of historicism, which insinuates that social life contains no unalterable necessities of any sort, rather than to embrace the view that there can be an apriori science of society or human action. To this extent Barry is right in his observation that, “there is a basic continuity in Hayek's writings on methodology.”56 Certainly there seems little substance in a periodization of Hayek's methodological writings by reference to the supposedly Popperian paper of 1937 on “Economics and Knowledge” (A-34).
At the same time, there seems little warrant for Barry's claim that throughout his work Hayek tries “to combine two rather different philosophies of social science; the Austrian praxeological school with its subjectivism and rejection of testability in favour of axiomatic reasoning, and the hypothetico-deductive approach of contemporary science with its emphasis on falsifiability and empirical content.”57 For there is no evidence, so far as I know, that Hayek ever endorsed the Misesian conception of an axiomatic or apriori science of human action grounded in apodictic certainties. Again, as we have seen, Hayek's view that the social sciences are throughout deductive in form antedates Popper's influence and is evidenced in the Introduction to Collectivist Economic Planning [E-5, 1935].
[55.] Quoted by T. W. Hutchinson, The Politics and Philosophy of Economics, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981, p. 214.
[56.] Norman P. Barry, Hayek's Social and Economic Philosophy, London: MacMillan, 1979, p. 41.
[57.] Barry, Hayek, p. 40.