Front Page Titles (by Subject) III.: Science, Truth, and Politics - The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Vol. 10 (The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy)
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III.: Science, Truth, and Politics - Geoffrey Brennan, The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Vol. 10 (The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy) 
The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Vol. 10 (The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy) Foreword by Robert D. Tollison (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Science, Truth, and Politics
We can clarify the discussion by making a distinction between two types of social interaction: between science and politics of the ordinary sort. This distinction is helpful because science is a social activity pursued by persons who acknowledge the existence of a nonindividualistic, mutually agreed-on value, namely truth, and who, furthermore, accept this value as the common goal of all participants in the enterprise. Science cannot, therefore, be modeled in the contractarian, or complex exchange, paradigm. Science is categorically different from the relationship that is the domain of economics. The contractarian contends that politics is best modeled as being analogous to the economic relationship; the noncontractarian contends that politics is best modeled as being analogous to scientific activity.
Science does, of course, make use of agreement, but it does so only in the epistemic sense noted in Chapter 2. Agreement among informed scientists is a test for the establishment of the truth of a proposition. But such agreement, in itself, does not ultimately validate the proposition. The validity as such remains conceptually independent of the belief of any scientist or of the commonality of belief among many or even all scientists. For this reason, any proposition is always subject to refutation, even if there exists unanimous agreement on its validity at a single point in time. The world was not flat in the Middle Ages because all “scientists” thought it was; nor is the world curved today because all scientists think it is. That which actually exists can never be known. But in the Middle Ages, the best available test supported the proposition of flatness, just as today the best available test supports the hypothesis of curvature. Our point is that in science, “what exists” is acknowledged to be wholly independent of the subjective judgment of any scientist or scientists.
In participating in the scientific enterprise, the individual scientist expresses a belief that certain propositions are “true.” In so doing, he is not placing an individually derived value on the set of propositions as such. He is applying his own truth test or truth judgment. He is asking, “Is the proposition true?” He is not asking, “Is the proposition good for me?” or “Is the proposition good for society?” No value in a scientific proposition is akin to the value that the individual places on an economic result or outcome. It is appropriate for the participant in economic exchange to ask, “Is the extra orange good for me?” or “Is the extra orange good for the whole set of interacting traders?”
The question comes down to that of the place of politics in these two clearly contrasting paradigms. The anticontractarian-anticonstitutionalist’s model of the social enterprise of politics is much like the model of science. Persons are seen to be engaged in a collectively organized, cooperative endeavor aimed at “discovering” some “public good” that is external to their own preferences or values. This “public good” exists, “out there,” waiting to be found through the activity of politics. “Public good” is the holy grail. Finding it is fully analogous to finding truth in the scientific search process. By contrast, to the contractarian-constitutionalist it is inappropriate for the participant in politics to ask, “Is candidate A better than candidate B in promoting a ’public good’ that is external to and common to us all?” Instead, the participant in politics should ask, “Is candidate A or candidate B best for me, in terms of my private interests?” or, perhaps more appropriately in a moral sense, “Is candidate A or candidate B best for the whole community membership, in my own assessment of that question?”
The jury as an example
The legal institution of the jury offers an example of the difference between the two conceptualizations of politics; it also allows us to construct a bridge between the discussion here and that of majoritarian democracy in Section V. The activity of the members of a jury is analogous to the activity of scientists. The jury is an institution charged with the task of establishing the truth or falsity of a proposition, and this truth or falsity is acknowledged to be totally independent of the subjective values of the jurors. The proposition that Mr. X is guilty of the crime with which he is charged admits one of two mutually exclusive judgments: Mr. X is guilty, or he is not guilty. But the finding of the jury does not in itself resolve the factual issue. Even if Mr. X is acquitted, he may remain factually guilty, and even if he is found guilty, he may be factually innocent. There is no direct relationship between the expression of the jurors and the fact of guilt or innocence.
The jury, as an institution, is an instrument designed to facilitate the discovery process. If it is efficient, as an institution, it may be the best available means of ascertaining judgments of guilt or innocence in situations in which one or the other of these verdicts is socially required. In its operation, the jury may use agreement among its members as a criterion for determining any collective judgment of the group. Individual members, like scientists, express their beliefs in the validity or invalidity of the proposition in question.
Because agreement is only a criterion that is instrumental to the institutional functioning, there is nothing intrinsic in agreement per se that dictates the appropriateness of the unanimity rule or, indeed, of any other decision rule. The best rule is the one that, on balance, seems to generate results that are in closest correspondence to the “truth,” defined as that set of propositions that are ultimately nonrefuted. For the same reason, the jury itself, because it exists only as an institutional means of producing or discovering required judgments on the validity or invalidity of guilt-innocence propositions, may well be proved inefficient and replaced by alternative institutional forms. The random process of selecting jurors may, in particular, prove less efficient than some alternative that might rely only on “experts.” Or as in many jurisdictional areas of law, a single judge may, as an “expert,” be the most “efficient” vehicle for producing correspondence with independently desired results.
In the anticontractarian-anticonstitutionalist paradigm, politics is modeled as if the whole process were jurylike and concerned with finding or discovering “public good,” just as the jury is concerned with determining guilt or innocence. Politics as a social activity is indeed like science. Values are external to the persons who participate, and agreement is only one of the instruments that may be employed to locate such values.3
[3. ]Of course, none of this has any bearing on the question of whether a science of politics is possible or legitimate. A science of markets has developed that does not claim that market participants pursue anything akin to scientific truth. The science of biology does not necessarily invoke the assumption that organisms are “doing science.”