How Praxeology Helps Us Understand the Real World
Critics of praxeology often claim that it is isn’t really one of the sciences. It isn’t about the empirical world but is mere idle play with words. In this week’s column, I’d like to look at some remarks that the philosopher and linguistics scholar Jerrold Katz makes about rationalism and empiricism in his important and controversial book Language and Other Abstract Objects (Rowman and Littlefield, 1981) which praxeologists can use. The book isn’t much read these days, as it defends a thesis that hasn’t gotten much traction. Katz thinks that human languages are Platonic universals, a view that strikes many people as absurd. Needless to say, I’m not going to defend that view here—how could I, when I don’t understand it, let alone agree with it? Nevertheless, Katz, who died in 2002, had a sharp mind and Bob Nozick recommended the book to me.
In the book, Katz distinguishes two senses of “empiricism.” He says, “The term ‘empirical’ has the unfortunate use in current linguistics of referring to claims for which there could exist evidence to decide their truth: ‘non-empirical claims’ on this use are claims for which no evidence could be relevant, claims that are metaphysical in the worst sense. There is also the standard use of ‘empirical’ on which it refers to claims for evidence from sense experience, and equivocation between these two uses encourages some linguists to think that claims to which empirical evidence in the sense of evidence from experience is irrelevant are ipso facto metaphysical in the worst sense” (p. 73n6).
Applied to praxeology, what Katz is saying is this: critics of praxeology are equivocating when they claim that praxeology isn’t an empirical science. They may mean that its claims are just arbitrary assertions to which no evidence is relevant,
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