Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

The Pretence of Knowledge

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

The Pretence of Knowledge

Article excerpt

Friedrich A. von Hayek (with an introduction by Rodrigo Zeidan, UNIGRANRIO, Rio de Janeiro, BRA)

Originally published in Hayek, F. A. (1975). "The pretence of knowledge," Swedish Journal of Economics, ISBN 0039-7318, 77(4): 433-442. Reproduced by kind permission.

Hayek was a rare breed of economist, a kind that has become extinct in the specialized, publish-or-perish world of academia. He was a political economist whose job was to develop new ideas and foster advanced thinking in social sciences. He was one of the most important economists of the 20th century, alongside Keynes, Schumpeter, and Friedman. His kind was responsible for some of the most important economic transformations of the last century, their ideas novel, their political influence far-reaching. And more importantly, none of the above contain any overstatement to Hayek's place in the economics history of the 20th century.

As every important influential figure, Hayek is immersed in controversy, since his ideological bias comes as opposed to socialism, with a stalwart defensive support of freemarket capitalism. This is best illustrated in his work The Road of Serfdom (1 944) - the historical debate is summarized in Caldwell (1997), and the work revisited in Vol. 2 1 , issue 4 of the European Journal of Political Economy (2005). Hayek's book New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas (1978) is the best example of the scope of his work, an economist that dwelt in philosophy, psychology, jurisprudence, and who expressed his ideas freely and unabashedly.

His lecture on the Pretence of Knowledge is the culmination of many methodological issues raised in earlier work and a preoccupation with the epistemology of social sciences vis-á-vis hard science. This preoccupation is part of an historical debate that is modern in the sense that Hayek's position, in a pragmatic and simplistic way, lost, and the academic economic world that prevails is the opposite of what Hayek surmises as the correct way to do science. On methodology Hayek's work dialogues with the likes of Popper and Lakatos in philosophy, and Friedman and Arrow in economics. There are many sources for Hayek's debates on methodology, (Caldwell, 2004 and White, 1984 are among the best) but in the grand tradition of Nietzsche's Ecce Homo, the best one is Hayek's own words in his Autobiographical Dialogue (1994).

In the Pretence of Knowledge, Hayek makes indirect references to his theory of complex events . It is important to give a brief review of Hayek's theory of complex events insofar as it is directly related and serves as a background to the issues raised in the lecture.

Hayek's theory of complex events is not a complexity theory per se, even if he names it so, since Hayek is writing in an era when complexity was not a formed body. It was a way to criticize most economic simplistic models, and firmly ground social sciences methodology. His argument evolved through time, with a direct line beginning in 'Scientism and the Study of Society (1942)', passing through 'Degrees of Explanation (1955)', and finishing with the appex in "The Theory of Complex Phenomena" (1964). His first argument, a naive one, is that problems arise in social sciences because social phenomena presents too many explanatory variables: "The number of separate variables which in any particular social phenomenon will determinate the result of a given change will as a rule be far too large for any human mind to master and manipulate them effectively" (Hayek, 1942: 290). In this case social sciences are not complex, but complicated. Dealing with a multitude of variables is, in the age information technology, a simple task and Hayek's first argument loses its power to it. However, the argument evolves over time, and is transformed into the more powerful version present in his later works.

The later argument is more well-rounded and approaches the current concept of complexity. …

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