Hayek the Apriorist?

Journal of the History of Economic Thought:87-110 (2015)
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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.

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Scott Scheall
Arizona State University


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