Seen the careless confusion of analytic and synthetic propositions. Seen operational definitions rise and fall in faddish favor. Seen whole and entire epistemologies come and go.
No, the most experienced epistemologists are very much like old sailors who have been to nearly every major port: Not many sights are left to shock either one of those old hands.
Yet, I must confess to being horrified by Hans-Hermann Hoppe's notions of historical truth. Horrified!
- Hoppe begins his argument by asserting that history "reveals nothing about causes and effects" since "each sequence of empirical events is compatible with any number of rival, mutually incompatible interpretations."
- He then goes on, "To make a decision regarding such incompatible interpretations, we need a theory. By theory I mean a proposition whose validity does not depend on further experience but can be established a priori."
- And then he follows up his strange argument by reasserting that, "Experience may thus illustrate a theory. But historical experience can neither establish a theorem nor refute it."
If you're like me, you must now -- despite your worldliness -- feel significantly more shocked than if someone were to suggest to you that you might someday wake up with a hang-over in a South China Sea whorehouse to find yourself in bed with a grinning orangutang -- and not a truth-table in sight! That's to say, Hoppe has suggested a notion of history no less bizarre!
So, let's put Hoppe's notion in perspective. Every science in one way or another makes use of experience to test and collaborate its hypotheses. But Hoppe is insisting that experience cannot be used to test and collaborate hypotheses in history. Why?
Well, Hoppe argues that any sequence of historical events is open to multiple, mutually exclusive interpretations, and that historical experience cannot provide a way to chose between those interpretations.
Now, if that is true -- genuinely true -- then history can tell us nothing beyond mere fact. "In the centuries following Columbus' arrival, many native Americans died from diseases of Old World origin." Presumably, Hoppe would allow that history could establish the die-off as fact.
But suppose we had an hypothesis: "The presence of Europeans in the Americas brought about a flourishing of native American well-being." According to Hoppe, no set of facts -- no matter how great their number, nor how relevant their meaning -- could ever establish that hypothesis or refute it.
That's because, for Hoppe, historical facts are always compatible with mutually exclusive interpretations of them. In other words, for his notion to be more than mere noise, Hoppe must argue that the die-off of native Americans is a fact that is just as compatible with the hypothesis, "The presence of Europeans in the Americas brought about a flourishing of native American well-being", as it is compatible with the competing hypothesis, "The presence of Europeans in the Americas brought about a decrease in native American well-being."
If he cannot show the fact of the die-off is just as compatible with the one hypothesis as it is with the other, then he cannot logically demonstrate his notion that historical experience is unable to provide a means to choose between mutually exclusive interpretations.
For that, and for other reasons, I submit that Hoppe's bizarre notion of history is mere noise.
Yet, why, if it is mere noise, does Hoppe advance his notion of history in the first place? I am largely speculating here, but I suspect Hoppe does it in order to support his political, social, and economic theories.
You see, Hoppe wants to argue that the "natural order" of humanity is a stateless society of private property owners. But what we know of history renders that notion absurd -- even more bizarre than the notion we've just discussed. So -- and here is my speculation -- Hoppe decided to redefine how hypotheses are tested in history, rather than admit his "natural order" is a joke.
Bottom Line: Regardless of his motives for them, Hoppe's ideas are bad enough that, like McDonald's "hamburgers" and Ayn Rand's "philosophy", they are bound to become popular.