This Quantum Diaries blog is an excellent discussion of the virtues of logical positivism in science, namely the vital distinction between claims that can be tested against evidence, and those that cannot, or where the evidence does not exist.
However, logical positivism is a very dangerous framework for the study of human affairs. This is one of the fundamental assumptions of the thinking behind “The Leaderless Revolution”. Human society comprises many elements, including economic transactions, and other measurable features. These measurable elements are however not the whole picture, by any means. And what cannot be measured may be the most important of all. These elements include things like compassion, love, hate and our existential sense of being, including our relationship with “Nature”. There may be some psychological tests that can crudely put numbers to these features of the human experience, but I suspect that even their most ardent proponents would not claim these measurements comprise a complete account.
Despite this grave reservation, this is nonetheless the claim of the neoclassical mainstream discourse of economics. It does offer, both in its statistics and aesthetics (neat graphs, defined relationships, equations) it offers a compelling and attractive explanation of “what is going on”. The school of “Freakonomics” etc attempts to put economic explanation to many contemporary phenomena, suggesting that “economics” can explain more or less everything.
This tendency in mainstream economics, which is now expanding to include discourses like “behavioural economics”, is of course well recognised more broadly in the mis-named “social sciences”. It is not however recognised in our broader culture. The claims of this very limited form of analysis are perpetrated as eternal provable truths of both individual and business behaviour (“micro-economics”) and the economy and thus society as a whole (macro). The reason that these claims are rarely challenged in public debate is of course that these claims suit the plutocracy, for whom neo-classical economics serves as a very convenient quasi-scientific platform for their more hidden and implicit project of economic exploitation, both of ordinary people and the environment. Notably, mainstream economics continues to ignore the pricing of both “social costs” (which in my view are unpriceable in meaningful terms, precisely because they are unmeasurable) and envirnonmental “externalities”) (likewise unpriceable, but to a lesser extent).
It is time to confine logical positivism to pure ‘science’ (the quoted blog was written by a particle physicists) and reject its claims, except in a very limited setting, about human society. That, to me, is the paradigm shift (to echo Kuhn) that our politics and indeed our culture must now undergo. An acceptance of the unmeasurable as equally important, and perhaps more important than the merely measurable. This assumption will allow us to develop a fuller, more accurate and richer understanding of the human project overall, and value, both empirically and otherwise, other things than those that merely appear in the analyses of mainstream “economics”, the most misleading of supposed sciences.