Today it is almost heresy to suggest that scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge. But a little reflection will show that there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of knowledge of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. It is with respect to this that practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active coöperation. We need to remember only how much we have to learn in any occupation after we have completed our theoretical training, how big a part of our working life we spend learning particular jobs, and how valuable an asset in all walks of life is knowledge of people, of local conditions, and of special circumstances. To know of and put to use a machine not fully employed, or somebody's skill which could be better utilized, or to be aware of a surplus stock which can be drawn upon during an interruption of supplies, is socially quite as useful as the knowledge of better alternative techniques. And the shipper who earns his living from using otherwise empty or half-filled journeys of tramp-steamers, or the estate agent whose whole knowledge is almost exclusively one of temporary opportunities, or the who gains from local differences of commodity prices, are all performing eminently useful functions based on special knowledge of circumstances of the fleeting moment not known to others.
eremy Bentham, a younger contemporary of Smith, developed a very different moral philosophy. Whereas Smith helped put the Western natural law tradition on a secular footing, Bentham famously described the idea of natural rights as “.” The notion that there were laws of nature governing human affairs seemed ludicrous to him; rather, Bentham argued, human life is ordered by social conventions that are shaped by the forces of pleasure and pain.
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Moreover, the positivists shared with Bentham the belief that traditional deities and religions are simply myths or fictions. In their place, the positivists envisioned a new secular “religion of humanity,” one based on social and physical science. Saint-Simon dreamed of , while Comte came to think of himself as the . The high priests of French positivism were the economists and engineers.
most sciences genetic engineering is quite new to our society.
It is in many ways fortunate that the dispute about the indispensability of the price system for any rational calculation in a complex society is now no longer conducted entirely between camps holding different political views. The thesis that without the price system we could not preserve a society based on such extensive division of labor as ours was greeted with a howl of derision when it was first advanced by von Mises twenty-five years ago. Today the difficulties which some still find in accepting it are no longer mainly political, and this makes for an atmosphere much more conducive to reasonable discussion. When we find Leon Trotsky arguing that "economic accounting is unthinkable without market relations"; when Professor Oscar Lange promises Professor von Mises a statue in the marble halls of the future Central Planning Board; and when Professor Abba P. Lerner rediscovers Adam Smith and emphasizes that the essential utility of the price system consists in inducing the individual, while seeking his own interest, to do what is in the general interest, the differences can indeed no longer be ascribed to political prejudice. The remaining dissent seems clearly to be due to purely intellectual, and more particularly methodological, differences.
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Among the first of the progressive utopians was Karl Marx (although he was idiosyncratic in many ways, and early in his career had mocked an older generation of socialists for being too impractically utopian). The defining feature of progress for Marx was the historical struggle between the haves and the have-nots by which the latter perennially challenge and fight back against exploitation by the former. Capitalism had heightened the tension between the classes, Marx thought, and it had “alienated” human beings — a secular version of the corrupted condition of the Fall of Man in the Garden. The ideal state — a communist state — would finally become possible once the unpropertied proletariat had completely prevailed and established its own rule by means of a worldwide revolution. Making it all possible would be the looming end of scarcity — Marx even saw capitalism as a necessary, but only temporary, part of this final advance — that would do away with the intense economic conflicts caused by material shortage.