Crooked timber

From an article on the NY Times’ “The Stone”

Rational choice philosophy … was always implausible. Hegel, for one, had denied all three of its central claims in his “Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences” over a century before. In that work, as elsewhere in his writings, nature is not neatly causal, but shot through with randomness. Because of this chaos, we cannot know the significance of what we have done until our community tells us….


The result might look quite a bit like Hegel in its view that individual freedom is of value only when communally guided.

There is no doubt about the fact that the article is an attack on the very idea of individualism, but it is carried out in an indirect manner. The author attacks the synthetic individualism that is part of “rational choice theory” which he says was invented at RAND Corporation in the late ’40s and early ’50s to counter Marxist collectivism. And-

The overall operation was wildly successful. Once established in universities, rational choice philosophy moved smoothly on the backs of their pupils into the “real world” of business and government (aided in the crossing, to be sure, by the novels of another Rand—Ayn). Today, governments and businesses across the globe simply assume that social reality is merely a set of individuals freely making rational choices.

The bait-and-switch follows-

Today’s most zealous advocates of individualism, be they on Wall Street or at Tea Parties, invariably forget their origins in a long ago program of government propaganda.

So the ridiculous, zombie-like, “rational man” that many economists use to test their theories is now supposed to stand for all individuals and individualism, and what is individualism but the rotting corpse of Cold War-era government propaganda?

I neither know nor care what Hegel and Quine had to say on the subject of epistemology, but you cannot turn into a quantum mystic and argue that quantum mechanics and the related randomness makes individual choice meaningless, or impossible, and then somehow exempt the “community” from such ignorance. Adding up the IQs of the members of a lunatic mob does not a genius make.

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  • Moataz  On June 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Isn’t this the theory behind the book: the myth of the rational voter

    • Aristotle The Geek  On July 15, 2011 at 10:30 pm

      Haven’t read Caplan’s (?) book, so can’t comment on it. As for the above article, or similar ones, it really depends on how one defines “rational.”

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