Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Immanuel Kant, Crank

One intellectually bankrupt technique to rationalize non-engagement with an argument is to complain that the ones putting forth the argument compare themselves to Nicolaus Copernicus or Galileo:

"So the central laws of the movements of the heavenly bodies established the truth of that which Copernicus, first, assumed only as a hypothesis, and, at the same time, brought to light that invisible force (Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained forever undiscovered, if Copernicus had not ventured on the experiment-contrary to the senses but still just-of looking for the observed movements not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator. In this Preface I treat the new metaphysical method as a hypothesis with the view of rendering apparent the first attempts at such a change of method, which are always hypothetical...

This attempt to introduce a complete revolution in the procedure of metaphysics, after the example of the geometricians and natural philosophers, constitutes the aim of the Critique of Pure Speculative Reason." -- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to Second Edition.

As I understand it, Kant's revolution was not to look for what must humans be to understand an external, given, phenomenal reality. Rather, he asked, what must the phenomena be such that we could observe it, given the properties of our understanding. But I have never read far in this particular book. Nor, given non-Euclidean geometry and other readings in philosophy, do I expect to agree with it.

10 comments:

Unlearningecon said...

Hehe, this is great.

I've always thought of the 'Galileo Gambit', though amusing, as a complete cop out. The debate goes something like this:

"Your mainstream ideas suck, here is mine."

"Hah, you're a crank, there's a reason your ideas aren't mainstream."

"But Galileo's ideas weren't mainstream, either."

"Galileo Gambit! You aren't right just because you're non-mainstream."

"I know, I never said that. But you aren't right just because you're mainstream. Can we have the actual debate now?"

However, surely invoking Kant as a user of the gambit to show it is silly would lead to an infinite regress? We'll end up with the Gali-Kant-Vienneau gambit :)

Robert Vienneau said...

Thanks. It was supposed to be ironic, at least.

YouNotSneaky! said...

Pointing out a (common, pretentious and annoying) logical fallacy is "intellectually bankrupt"? Not sure where you deposit your intellect.

YouNotSneaky! said...

And speaking of intellectual bankruptcy, it would be a modicum of honesty to admit that in many of the instances, the comparisons to Copernicus or Gailleo come unprompted:

Here are two instances of Steve Keen comparing himself to Copernicus (!), without anyone asking him to, nor anyone employing arguments that UE pretends they do (throw in a strawman fallacy on top of the other one):

http://www.businessinsider.com/steve-keen-crisis-deflation-2010-11

http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2012/04/02/ptolemaic-economics-in-the-age-of-einstein/

Here he gets one of his fans to do it for him (to Galileo)

http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2012/07/03/a-galilean-gesture-eating-with-dr-steve-keen/

Seriously, it's not like this is hard to notice or anything.

Robert Vienneau said...

In the post, I show an instance, from Kant, of a "comparison... to Copernicus ... com[ing] unprompted". That is, I show Kant "comparing himself to Copernicus (!), without anyone asking him to".

(And I can find Philip Mirowski comparing neoclassical economics to Ptolemaic astronomy, for example, in footnote 83 on p. 379 of Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste.)

Did Radek (aka YNS) read past the first three words of the post? Or maybe he thinks Kant truly was a crank worth ignoring.

YouNotSneaky! said...

If you really think that Keen (or whoever is the favorite heterodox guru of the moment) is on par with Kant or Copernicus... well, there's not much I can say to that.

"Kant did it, so it's ok for others to do it" is a pretty lame argument (and Kant shouldn't have done it)

Robert Vienneau said...

"Kant shouldn't have done it".

I cannot see why anybody should care about Radek's ignorant whining.

As I understand it, the reversal of the role of the observer and the phenomena is central to Kant's argument.

Unlearningecon said...

I saw a fantastic blog post a while back - which, after some googling and a twitter request, I still cannot find - which pointed out that believing the earth revolved around the sun at the time of Galileo would actually have been quite a leap of faith. A twitterer also said to me that Galileo believed the moving tides were evidence of the earth's movement, which was obviously wrong.

So the point here is, as Kuhn taught us, that the challenger doesn't come equipped with a fully fleshed out theory that is obviously completely right at the time. It would not have been 'obvious' at the time who was right about orbits and it is not obvious who is right about economics now. The saviour of economics is not going to appear as a shining light; just someone with some key observations or interpretations that go against the mainstream but still need exploring.

I think Keen's work is promising in this area (particularly re: debt). I don't really care whether the mainstream call him a crank or whatever because that's bound to happen; as I said at the beginning, the important points are the actual models.


media said...

Just a comment (or it could be called a comma, as people pause to permit democracy to function, before reverting to authoritarianism---some people provide policies, productivity, etc while others provide commas---like the background, hollywood extras, or rocks and ancestors one walks over).

If i recall correctly (but my memory is failing), at the time galileo and copernicus were writing, the sun actually did revolve around the earth, and the moving tides showed the earth was in motion---this made ulysses' trip past the sirens (and titans---vonnefut) difficult, as documented in the academic literature by Homer (before he had his acting career in the simpsons).

its obviously wrong (or not even wrong) to argue that geocentrism is wrong, since its all in your head, and a convention (henri poincare); ask einstein.

after the war of the wor(l)ds, when martians invaded new jersey (eg christie who just won re-election) , the sun (sometimes spelt son---as in 'when i'm rushing on my run, i feel like jesus' son'---lou reed (heroin))asserted its dominance, and forced the earth to revolve around it instead, since its unfair for any planet to be the center of attention.

as for keen, most of his models seem to derive from r goodwin (lotka-volterra model of marxism, which paul smuelson also studied). he did the empirical data on 'debt' (conceivably australians owe some to the indigenous there), but other than that i'm not sure what the excitement is.

next year the sun may revolve around the moon. i may even get a chance to be the center of the machian universe.

Magpie said...

Actually, at least in "Ptolemaic Economics in the Age of Einstein" is not so much that Steve Keen compares himself with Copernicus (which I didn't see him doing, at least explicitly), but that he compares mainstream economics with the Ptolemaic system (which he does very explicitly: "Ptolemy and Walras - Brothers in Arcs").

Now, one may or may not agree with that characterization; one may or may not feel alluded or insulted by it. But if one does feel insulted, perhaps the right thing would be to say: Well, I don't like Steve Keen because he was rude to me.

Just sayin'.