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09/06/2020

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Charles N. Steele

I've only read a little of the Greek philosophers and thus am not competent to judge your argument. But it is fascinating, well argued, and important.

In general, it does not make sense to me that scholars spend time on things they think irrelevant. Hence Plato's reference to the Third Man objection should mean something -- he has a purpose in mind, a target. It also strikes me that the debate is important. I never understood until now why Plato thought the idea of forms was important. He thinks that if one rejects the forms, "he will not even have anything to which to turn his mind, since he will not allow that there is an idea, ever the same, of each of the things that are; and so he will utterly destroy the power and significance of thought and discourse."

Plato thinks that rejecting the forms, one s left with the conclusion that everything is in flux, nothing constant, and there are no fixed meanings to any words or concepts, and ultimately this brings reason into question. Is that right?

If so, is part of Aristotle's work an attempt a different grounding of reason?

John Pepple

Yes, that's right.

For your second question, Plato thought of the forms as existing separately from particulars here in the sensible realm (the physical world, as we would say). They existed in some transcendent realm. Aristotle thought of them as existing within particulars. Plato thought that would make true knowledge impossible, and he was right. Aristotle thought this was the only knowledge we can get (aside from mathematics), and he was right, too. We make generalizations from what we experience, and that's the best we can do. The result is that we often go wrong. We generalized that all swans were white, but when Australia was discovered, we learned that black swans exist.

I hope this makes sense.

Charles N. Steele

It does make sense.

This is particularly interesting for me, because of issues in methodology of economics. The economist Ludwig von Mises argues that social sciences have two fundamentally distinct components and that they each have their own methods: the empirical and the a priori. The empirical side makes generalizations from experiential data, using inference. The theoretical begins with axioms and deduces implications, as with math. This seems to fit with Aristotle... except that Mises argued there are certain properties or principles entailed in consciousness that cannot be denied without contradicting oneself. These principles are effectively axioms, and deductions from them give us certain properties about human behavior, i.e. economic laws, that are true. He argues these axioms are analogous to axioms in a mathematical system, expect that they are not arbitrary but (more or less) properties of consciousness, or conscious action. This is a very rough description of the argument, but it sounds to me as if Mises has extended Aristotle's position on true knowledge to cover *part* of social science. (There remain empirical questions which require inference from data, i.e. generalizations from experience.)
His methodology is generally explicitly rejected by economists, but I think he basically describes how most economists actually think while they pay lip service to empiricism.

I'm to give a lecture to doctoral students (not in economics) on this; I should talk with you further.

John Pepple

Very interesting. I hadn't known.

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