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More on the theory of everything

I have yet another draft of my “theory of everything” paper online. As always, comments are very welcome.

One line of thought behind the piece is that the modern world is based on a theory of knowledge that tries to be very rigorous but ends up not working. Think of

  • Descartes and his method of universal doubt and insistence on absolute clarity and distinctiveness. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but really hasn’t worked out.
  • The British empiricists and their slide into scepticism, and Kant’s attempt to escape the problem by saying the world we know is a human construction, so of course we can know it.
  • All of which has led to the current choice between scientism and various forms of scepticism and relativism.

All that sounds abstract and specialized. The issues come more down to earth with the demonstrations by Austrian economists that socialist economies necessarily lead to gross inefficiencies. The problem is that if you insist on explicit knowledge intentionally gathered and organized for the purposes you have chosen, which is what Descartes, Bacon and their successors want, you can’t have enough knowledge to know how to run things. So the problems caused by insisting on too much explicitness and clarity in knowledge are practical as well as theoretica.

What I try to do in the paper is:

  • Extend the point regarding the insufficiency of explicit knowledge from economic planning vs. markets to social planning vs. traditions. That seems a no-brainer—if the “scientific” approach won’t work for organizing an economy, it certainly won’t work for organizing less quantifiable aspects of social life.
  • Ask what it means to view traditions as authoritative in political, social and moral life and in our understandings of things generally. How can we view tradition—something we can’t control, evaluate or fully understand—as the road to knowledge? What’s needed for the system to be sensible and to keep working?
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