Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Marx and Freud led Hayek to take Popper's

I hope you like the title but this is very geeky.

The following is a transcript from a long interview with Hayek conducted in October and November 1978 the transcript is here (its a large pdf) pp 18-19

In a discussion I had on a visit to Vienna from London with my friend [Gottfried] Haberler, I explained to him that I had come to the conclusion that all this Machian positivism was no good for our purposes. Then he countered, "Oh, there's a very good new book that came out in the circle of Vienna positivists by a man called Karl Popper on the logic of scientific research." So I became one of the early readers. It had just come out a few weeks before. I found that Haberler had been rather mistaken by the setting in which the book had appeared. While it came formally out of that circle, it was really an attack on that system, [laughter] And to me it was so satisfactory because it confirmed this certain view I had already formed due to an experience very similar to Karl Popper's. Karl Popper is four or five years my junior; so we did not belong to the same academic generation. But our environment in which we formed our ideas was very much the same. It was very largely dominated by discussion, on the one hand, with Marxists and, on the other hand, with Freudians.  
Both these groups had one very irritating attribute: they insisted that their theories were, in principle, irrefutable. Their system was so built up that there was no possibility-- I remember particularly one occasion when I suddenly began to see how ridiculous it all was when I was arguing with Freudians, and they explained, "Oh, well, this is due to the death instinct." And I said, "But this can't be due to the [death instinct]." "Oh, then this is due to the life instinct." [laughter] Well, if you have these two alternatives, of course there's no way of checking whether the theory is true or not. And that led me, already, to the understanding of what became Popper's main systematic point: that the test of empirical science was that it could be refuted, and that any system which claimed that it was irrefutable was by definition not scientific. I was not a trained philosopher; I didn't elaborate this. It was sufficient for me to have recognized this, but when I found this thing explicitly argued and justified in Popper, I just accepted the Popperian philosophy for spelling out what I had always felt. Ever since, I have been moving with Popper. We became ultimately very close friends, although we had not known each other in Vienna
You may remember a while back I posted a video interview with Hayek where he talked about Freud. He couldn't really have got the most basic of Freudian concepts more wrong.

Its an odd world we live in.

"[Freud's] basic idea of harmful effect of repressions just disregards that our civilization is based on repressions"

Now I suppose this should be where I call Hayek stupid. And say 'You never read Freud'. But really the interesting question is how someone as intelligent as Hayek could have misunderstood such a basic idea of one of the most influential thinkers of the modern world. How can that happen?

[Don't take this too seriously but....] Freud might have the answer. Indeed, the answer maybe in that transcript. Hayek's rejection of Freudianism (and Marxism) was the basis of his adoption/creation of his own philosophical position which he found to be in harmony with his friend  - "his very close friend" - Sir Karl Popper. I say no more.

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