*  ESSAY *

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is a leading figure in the group of Austrian economists who are based at the Mises Institute in the US. At one stage of his life he was influenced by Popper but he moved on and his major influences became Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, who he follows by adopting the very strong and dogmatic form of apriorism which claims to deduce the whole of economic theory from one basic Axiom of human action.

Being a man of strong views, it is interesting to read some of his interpretations of Popper. These are taken from a paper 'In defence of extreme rationalism: Thoughts on Donald McCloskey's The Rhetoric of Economics'.

Hoppe is at war with positivism and empiricism which is ok except that he puts Popper in the same boat because Popper does not accept that there are  "a priori" truths about the world that can be known to be true without investigation. Hoppe does not accept that Popper's critical rationalism is any advance on crude empiricism or logical positivism.

Note18. Karl R. Popper, in order to distinguish his falsificationism from the verificationism of the early Vienna Circle, prefers to label his philosophy "critical rationalism." To do so, however, is highly misleading if not deceptive, much like the common U.S. practice of calling socialists or social democrats "liberals." For in fact, Popper is in complete agreement with the fundamental assumptions of empiricism (see the following discussion in the text) and explicitly rejects the traditional claims of rationalism, i.e. of being able to provide us with a priori true empirical knowledge in general and an objectively founded ethic in particular....

In fact, it is only fair to say that it is Popper who contributed more than anyone else to persuading the scientific community of the modernistic, empiricist-positivist worldview. In particular, it should be emphasized that it was Popper who is responsible for Hayek's and Robbins' increasing deviations from their originally much more Misesian methodological position.

In the text he wrote that McCloskey's attack on the postitivists is well targeted because following the empiricist-falsificationist account of science can only lead to skepticism due to the way that people can deny the outcome of negative tests of  their theory, by denying the recalcitrant observations outright or by ascribing their recalcitrance
to measurement errors, or by postulating some unobserved, intervening variable. He agrees with McCloskey's comment " have we not known since Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions that the actual history of natural science does not seem to come anything close to the Popperian illusion of science as a rational enterprise steadily advancing through a never-ending process of successive falsification. 'Falsification, near enough, has been falsified'. "

Count the errors!

He proceeds, "Yet, apart from McCloskey's own position, his arguments directed against modernism cannot count  as amounting to anything. "So what," the empiricist could reply. McCloskey has shown that following the modernist precepts leads to a peculiar form of relativism. Admittedly, some empiricists, most notably Popper and his school, have not and still do not recognize this. [reference to note 24]"

Note 24 See Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970). Empiricists such as Blaug (note 19), p. 17ff., argue that Popper actually realized the possibility of "immunizing stratagems" yet "solved" this problem and thus escaped relativism and skepticism. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is correct that Popper has always been aware of the possibility of immunizing one's hypotheses from falsification. (See his Logik der Forschung, Tubingen: Mohr, 1969, chapter 4, sections 19,20.) His answer to such a threat to his falsificationism, however, can hardly be accepted as a solution. For he actually admits that he cannot show such "conventionalism" to be wrong. He simply proposes to overcome it by adopting the methodological convention of not behaving as conventionalists do. Yet how can such methodolical conventionalism (i.e., a methodology without epistemological foundation) claim to establish science as a rational enterprise and to stimulate scientific progress?

Moving on, he wrote

Popper would have us throw out any theory that is contradicted by any fact, which, if at all possible, would leave us virtually empty-handed, going nowhere. In recognizing the insoluble connection between theoretical knowledge (language) and actions, rationalism would instead deem such falsificationism, even if possible, as completely irrational. There is no situation conceivable in which it would be reasonable to throw away any theory—conceived of as a cognitive instrument of action—that had been successfully applied in a past situation but proves unsuccessful in a new application—unless one already had a more successful theory at hand.

The last point was made by Popper - even when a theory has known defects we continue to use it until it has been replaced by a better theory, and indeed we may still use it after that if it is easier to use for instrumental purposes, like using Newton's laws to calculate the stopping distance of your car or the rate of descent of a falling object.