August von Hayek and the Social Sciences ConceptJune 27, 2021
Hayek compares real values with relative values, while explaining the distinguishing feature of social sciences from natural sciences. For example, money cannot be defined in terms of physics or chemistry. The fact is that it is of no interest to the economist whether money is usually made of printed paper or round metal discs. The economist is only concerned with the value that people attach to money and the various goods and services that can be made differently with him.
The raw materials we have to channel in economics or any other social science are not physical objects that can be objectively defined without reference to human ends. The raw materials of the social sciences are people and things as they appear to people. Therefore, any attempt to explain the behavior of people in the group without relating them to their motives and attitudes is doomed to failure.
To understand the inadequacy of statistics in the field of social sciences, we have to look at actual applications. Statistics summarize the characteristics of the body of individuals.
Hayek soon separated from his colleagues in the ‘Austrian School of economics and social sciences’. The traditional Austrian thought is that it is impossible to predict any social event, and that the claim to be scientific in economics and other social studies is therefore deceptive. However, in his later work, Hayek states that while social or economic events (such as price levels in the securities market) cannot be predicted, other – more general – patterns of events (such as shortages in the event of price control) can of course be predicted. For this reason, social sciences can be called real sciences, although their theorizing fields are limited.
In this respect, no economist has been able to become rich by buying and selling goods and services based on scientific predictions of future prices. According to Hayek, the social sciences were therefore never aimed at predicting specific events. But these sciences can help us to explain and understand the mechanisms that would produce a certain order or pattern.
It should be noted that Hayek’s analysis is not entirely satisfactory. For Hayek does not draw clear lines on the boundary between correct theorizing and distrustful, baseless speculation.
What Hayek is doing is reminding social scientists that scientific knowledge of society has a line and a boundary somewhere, and asks them to be modest about the nature of the predictions they hope to make.