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"Awful Austrians"

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AJ posted on Sun, May 1 2011 10:01 PM

These people think they are totally debunking AE and even Misesean praxeology as pure religion. Where do they go wrong?

http://lesswrong.com/lw/ar/uniquely_awful_others/

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http://mises.org/daily/5158/Mises-on-Mind-and-Method

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You don't think that the argument  "it is impossible to make an argument" is self-contradictory?

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AJ replied on Wed, May 11 2011 4:18 AM

If someone says, "I am not speaking now," they are apparently making a false statement, and we can call that a performative contradiction if we want to, but why bother?

When I said I see no possibility of performative contradiction I was talking about the laws of thought specifically. My larger claim about performative contradiction is that Mises, Rothbard, and Hoppe make no effective use of it, and I have yet to see any effective uses of it anywhere.

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Math and logic are ways of describing how we talk about things.  They're not descriptions of reality in and of themselves.  It's not like science, where gravity refers to an actual thing.    There are no "ones" in the universe.  It's just a thing we generalize about so as better to discuss things.

If numbers aren't actual things, then neither is gravity. Numbers are abstract objects we use to talk about the quantity of things. Gravity is an abstraction we use to take about space-time curvature.

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AJ replied on Wed, May 11 2011 5:11 AM

If we go deep enough, there is only pain and pleasure, satisfaction/dissatisfaction, happiness/unhappiness. All else that we sense - both what we call abstract and what we call concrete - are just guideposts telling us how to direct our actions to attain more satisfaction/pleasure. Some of these guideposts are unintelligible, and some of them are unreliable, but they are all just guideposts. Seeing some guideposts will bring automatic pain or pleasure, and our natural curiosity means we enjoy gathering additional, more reliable guideposts. But they are still just guideposts. All of them are just meaningless symbols until they are interpreted as meaningful guidelines for directing one's actions (or if we develop an automatic pleasure/pain response to the symbols, like some people automatically feel fear or revulsion when they see the infinity symbol or the dollar sign, after repeated experience of seeing such symbols then later feeling bad).

At a sufficiently deep level of analysis, even the sensations of seeing/hearing/smelling/tasting/touching a rock (that is, everything that we can possibly call a "rock") are meaningless unless we either find pleasure/displeasure directly in those rocky sensations or we interpret those sensations as guidance toward relieving felt unease. If someone claims that some thing "exists" but it isn't clear how that notion pays rent in your anticipated experience of happiness/unhappiness based on your actions, you can usefully ask, "So what?"

All that said, it still makes some sense to talk about equations like 1+2=3 being meaningless abstractions, because they are like unfinished sentences unless one finds believing "3" to be pleasurable in itself - such as because it is your lucky number. For most people, though, 1+2=3 is a like an unfinished sentence, in that it provides no specific guidance for their actions. It doesn't tell them anything about what courses of action will lead to pain and pleasure until they interpret it into something like, "I have 1 banana here and 2 bananas there, and since I get full on 3 bananas I won't need to go get dinner tonight." Other than that, such a mathematical equality only has potential value as a tool, like having a screwdriver in your pocket: you might be able to use it as a guidepost to guide your actions, and it is comforting (satisfying) to have more tools at your disposal.

To put it concisely, Meaning = Utility.

At the deepest level, no sensations/symbols/etc. have meaning to a person until they are connected to their anticipated pain or pleasure, satisfaction or dissatisfaction. What we call "abstractions" are those symbols that are relatively more roundaboutly connected to pain/pleasure, or not connected at all (if not at all, we might them "formalisms"). We call symbols/beliefs "concrete" when their guidance of our actions toward satisfaction is more obvious, visceral, or automatic.

If I find that every time I see a red light, I will get a jolt of pleasure if I flex my index finger, that red light (a sensation, a symbol) has meaning for me. If I hear someone say "Duck!" that symbol has meaning for me in that I believe I could avoid some pain by ducking.

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AJ:
The "laws of thought" are more like "advice on how to use words so as not to confuse people." I don't see any possibility of performative contradiction.

Not to sound Randian, but if the "laws" (more accurately IMO, principles) of identity and non-contradiction are not held, then everything is the same as everything else, and everything is the same as nothing. This effectively obviates the possibility of making meaningful statements.

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AJ:
If someone says, "I am not speaking now," they are apparently making a false statement, and we can call that a performative contradiction if we want to, but why bother?

I consider a contradiction to be any statement, proposition, or set of propositions that always evaluates to false - that is, it necessarily evaluates to false. A performative contradiction, then, is a statement, proposition, or set of propositions that necessarily evaluates to false when a person asserts it.

AJ:
When I said I see no possibility of performative contradiction I was talking about the laws of thought specifically. My larger claim about performative contradiction is that Mises, Rothbard, and Hoppe make no effective use of it, and I have yet to see any effective uses of it anywhere.

I'd like to see some support for your larger claim. :)

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AJ replied on Fri, May 13 2011 5:05 AM

Autolykos:

AJ:
The "laws of thought" are more like "advice on how to use words so as not to confuse people." I don't see any possibility of performative contradiction.

Not to sound Randian, but if the "laws" (more accurately IMO, principles) of identity and non-contradiction are not held, then everything is the same as everything else, and everything is the same as nothing. This effectively obviates the possibility of making meaningful statements.

There's a difference between "not invoked verbally" and "violated." But yes, "violating" these "laws" (sorry for the excessive scare quotes, but I need to keep this straight) does effectively obviate the possibility of making unambiguous statements. My point on that is simply that that final note about verbal contradictions preventing clear communication is the heart of the matter, and anything other than addressing that directly seems needlessly roundabout at best.

Re: Mises, Hoppe, etc. on performative contradiction, I was hoping someone would bring up quotes, because I'm too lazy to hunt them down and don't want to attack any strawmen in case I'm mis-remembering. But generally I expect my specific criticism would always be that the statements in question are either obviously absurd anyway ("I'm not acting"), or in Hoppe's case merely hypocritical (and below that in the post), not an actual performative contradiction.

EDIT: By the way, your definition of performative contradiction sounds reasonable, I just don't think it will be necessary as there should always be other more direct paths to catching people when they make an obviously absurd statement.

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