Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street

By Tomas Sedlacek | Go to book overview

14
Masters of Truth
Science, Myths, and Faith1

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.
The unreasonable man persists in trying
to adapt the world to himself.
Therefore, all progress depends
on the unreasonable man
.2
George Bernard Shaw

What is truth? What is the nature of truth? Does truth lend itself more readily to scientific inquiry or is truth more of a poetic issue? In the words of Lévi-Strauss: “[T]he most wonderful and most challenging fact is that science does not and cannot pretend to be ‘true’ in any absolute sense it is a tentative organization of working hypotheses.” 3

The truth can be difficult. Nowadays, economics uses mostly analytical tools to understand it. But the truth is not always analytical. There are many secrets surrounding us, which we try to understand, but our analytical apparatus does not enable us to. For this reason we must give up the desire to know the entire truth using scientific analytical methods. And this should lead us to a much higher level of modesty than the economic science often exhibits. Nevertheless, economics has an admirable mathematical apparatus, which has been built over the last century. Because of it, it was possible to rewrite a major part of economics from pure verbal language into mathematical language. Using math has made economics more coherent, more precise. But mathematics is also only a language. A language which —like any other language —cannot express everything. And apart from that, what is even more important: If we start to speak in another language, should we start to ask ourselves different questions? Should the focus of our attention change just because we start to use this different language?

Mainstream economics in recent years has abandoned the original topics of economics such as ethics, morals, and on the contrary became

1 The co-author of this chapter is Martin Pospíšil, who also co-edited this book as well as the previous Czech version.

2 Shaw, Man and Superman, 189.

3 Lévi-Strauss, Myth and Meaning, Cracking the Code of Culture, 16.

-299-

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