Hayek the Apriorist?

Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2015

46 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2013 Last revised: 19 Dec 2018

See all articles by Scott Scheall

Scott Scheall

Arizona State University, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Faculty of Social Science; Arizona State University (ASU) - Center for the Study of Economic Liberty

Date Written: July 9, 2013

Abstract

The paper aims to establish that Terence Hutchison’s argument in The Politics and Philosophy of Economics (1981) to the effect that the young F.A. Hayek maintained a methodological position markedly similar to that of Ludwig von Mises fails to establish the relevant conclusion. The first problem with Hutchison’s argument is that it is not clear exactly what conclusion he meant to establish with regard to the methodological views of the two paragons of 20th century Austrian economics. Mises (in)famously maintained a rather extreme methodological apriorism. However, Hutchison’s argument does not support the claim that Hayek was ever an apriorist of the Misesian variety. The concept of a priori knowledge that emerges from Hayek’s epistemology – specifically the epistemology implied by Hayek’s work in theoretical psychology – is the direct opposite of Mises’ treatment of a priori knowledge. Simply stated, Hayek conceived of a priori knowledge as fallible and relative, while Mises considered a priori knowledge to be infallible and absolute. Thus, it cannot be maintained – if, indeed, Hutchison meant to establish – that Hayek was a Misesian apriorist during the years in question. What’s more, the paper shows that Hutchison’s argument does not support a weaker interpretation of the relevant conclusion. There are alternative interpretations of the evidence adduced by Hutchison that are both more charitable and more in line with Hayek’s epistemology that undermine Hutchison’s conclusion.

Keywords: Hayek, Mises, Popper, Hutchison, a priori knowledge, methodological apriorism, Austrian economics

JEL Classification: B2, B29, B3, B31, B4, B41

Suggested Citation

Scheall, Scott, Hayek the Apriorist? (July 9, 2013). Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2291731 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2291731

Scott Scheall (Contact Author)

Arizona State University, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Faculty of Social Science ( email )

7001 E. Williams Field Rd.
Mesa, AZ 85212
United States

Arizona State University (ASU) - Center for the Study of Economic Liberty

United States

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