10/14/2012

You should be a subscriber of The Independent Review

For so many reasons. Their latest issue is chock full of brilliant work, as usual, and I feel compelled to share with you this except from Daniel Klein’s The Improprieties of the Pretense of Knowledge:

To omit interpretation and judgment from our sense of knowledge, however, is
to presuppose that interpretation is singular and fixed. It is to presuppose symmetric
interpretation. And if interpretation is singular and fixed, then there is no concern
with judging among interpretations. Judgment matters only if interpretations
are multiple.
 
The flattening of knowledge down to information, which I call “flat-talk,” gives
the false sense that the theorist has or can have a composite master interpretation that
subsumes the interpretations of those in the system he studies. When economists
practice flat-talk, they make it seem that more and better knowledge is merely an
informational problem.
 
An interpretation is “right” only in the sense that it is better than the relevant
alternative interpretation. It is not “right” in the sense of being final or definitive. But
once the government starts to act on an interpretation, that interpretation tends to
become ossified. Even if the government seizes on a fairly good interpretation of what
is going on “now,” it is likely to cling to that interpretation long after such a view
should have been superseded. Governmentalization of interpretation tends to regiment
social affairs and to repress the evolution of interpretation.

But the farce crescendos in our highest political superstitions. Flat-talk also
flatters the ordinary person as someone fit to know what policies to favor and whom
to vote for. Thus, flat-talk tends to go with social-democratic sensibilities, as when
Donald Wittman (1995) argues that democracy is efficient.
 
Adam Smith, however, spoke of the ordinary fellow as “being unfit to judge
even though he was fully informed” ([1776] 1981, 266). We might ask Smith: But if
the fellow is fully informed, how can he be unfit to judge? Smith’s answer is that “his
education and habits” leave him unfit to judge—that is, his portfolio of interpretations
and his judgment preclude him from judging well. The chief problem, then, is
not a lack of information. By flattening knowledge down to information, Wittman
made the systematic failings of democracy seem to have disappeared.
 
Flat-talk plays to deep-seated yearnings for a sense of common knowledge and
common experience, a universal human weakness. Hayek (1979, 1988) wrote of a
concurrence between the intellectuals’ pretense of knowledge and certain primordial,
Upper Paleolithic instincts possessed by humans in general. The concurrence between
intellectual hubris and rude instinct makes a tacit alliance against the enlightened
sensibilities of liberal civilization.

Now imagine this comes from an article that contains a Sherlock Holmes sketch, an explanation of why Larry David and Seinfeld are so funny, and somehow manages to come in at under 10 pages. Ya, color me impressed.

1 comment:

  1. I would but international shipping doubles the price and there is no digital edition.

    ReplyDelete