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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 182 of Karl Popper’s insightful 1969 paper “A Pluralist Approach to the Philosophy of History,” which is a chapter in the 1969 collection Roads to Freedom: Essays in Honour of Friedrich A. von Hayek (Erich Streissler, Gottfried Haberler, Friedrich A. Lutz, and Fritz Machlup, eds.):

For in our own time, the earlier, naturalistic revolution against God replaced the name ‘God’ by the name ‘Nature’. Almost everything else was left unchanged. Theology, the Science of God, was replaced by the Science of Nature; God’s laws by the laws of Nature; God’s will and power by the will and power of Nature (the natural forces); and later, God’s design and God’s judgment by Natural Selection. Theological determinism was replaced by a naturalistic determinism; that is, God’s omniscience and omnipotence were replaced by the omniscience and omnipotence of the Natural Sciences.

Hegel and Marx replaced the goddess Nature, in her turn, by the goddess History. So we get laws of History; powers, forces, tendencies, designs, and plans, of History; and the omniscience and omnipotence of historical determinism. Sinners against God are replaced by ‘criminals who vainly resist the march of History’; and we learn that not God but History will be our judge.

DBx: When the precepts of methodological individualism are abandoned or misunderstood, one result is the kind of ‘brooding-omnipresence-in-the-sky’ determinism that Popper here and in many other of his writings thoroughly debunks.

I have no doubt that the single most important insight ever delivered by those who work in what are today called the ‘social sciences’ is this one, often emphasized by Hayek: human society and economy are the results of human action but not of human design. Yet experience has taught me that this insight must be extraordinarily difficult to grasp and to convey to others. This fundamental insight has never seemed especially difficult for me to grasp; perhaps the reason is that I read the remarkably accessible “I, Pencil” at the very start of my studies in economics. But so many of the mistakes that people make when commenting on society and economics are ones that would most certainly not be made by anyone who understands that society and ‘the’ economy are, indeed, the results of human action but not of human design.