Progress – for and against

I picked up Karl Popper’s [amazon_link id=”0415278465″ target=”_blank” ]The Poverty of Historicism[/amazon_link] earlier this week. He is arguing against those social scientists who see laws of progress in operation, those who, “Believe that their own advance has been made possible by the fact that we are now ‘living in a revolution’ which has so much accelerated the speed of our development that social change can now be directly experienced within a lifetime.” However, he adds, “Change has been discovered over and over again.” There is nothing new in this enthusiasm for modern times. “Since the days of [amazon_link id=”0142437654″ target=”_blank” ]Heraclitus[/amazon_link], change has been discovered over and over again.”

[amazon_image id=”0415065690″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Poverty of Historicism[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id=”B00AZ4UMF4″ target=”_blank” ]The Poverty of Historicism[/amazon_link] is very much a book of its own time (1957): it’s hard to imagine anyone today writing this, about the most important difference between the natural and the social sciences: “By this I mean the method of constructing a model on the assumption of complete rationality (and perhaps also on the assumption of the possession of complete information) on the part of all the individuals concerned.” Human beings, he says, are not perfectly rational, but they are more or less rational. “There are good reasons, not only for the belief that social science is less complicated than physics, but also for the belief that concrete social situations are in general less complicated than concrete physical situations.”

I don’t think he’d have many takers for that argument today. Progress?

3 thoughts on “Progress – for and against

  1. Pingback: Progress – for and against | Homines Economici

  2. Simple closed systems can be very complicated, making prediction difficult while complex open systems can be quite simple but prediction is uncertain owing to emergence.

    Physical systems are complicated but ergodic, whereas biological and social systems are complex and non-ergodic. Therefore, they are similar as systems but differ markedly in type, and so they must be approached using different methodology suitable to their contrasting characteristics. Thus, the physical sciences, the life science, and the social sciences differ not only in subject matter but also method.

    See the criticism of conventional economics by Paul Davidson and Philip Mirowski, for example.

  3. Pingback: Progress – for and against | Homines Economici

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