Rothbard: What is the Proper Way to Study Man?

The key to scientism is its denial of the existence of individual consciousness and will

The realization that ideas, freely adopted, determine social institutions, and not vice versa, illuminates many critical areas of the study of man. Rousseau and his host of modern followers, who hold that man is good, but corrupted by his institutions, must finally wither under the query: And who but men created these institutions? The tendency of many modern intellectuals to worship the primitive (also the childlike—especially the child “progressively” educated— the “natural” life of the noble savage of the South Seas, and so on) has perhaps the same roots. We are also told repeatedly that differences between largely isolated tribes and ethnic groups are “culturally determined”: tribe X being intelligent or peaceful because of its X-culture; tribe Y, dull or warlike because of Y-culture. If we fully realize that the men of each tribe created its own culture (unless we are to assume its creation by some mystic deus ex machina), we see that this popular “explanation” is no better than explaining the sleep-inducing properties of opium by its “dormitive power.” Indeed, it is worse, because it adds the error of social determinism.

It will undoubtedly be charged that this discussion of free will and determinism is “one-sided” and that it leaves out the alleged fact that all of life is multicausal and interdependent. We must not forget, however, that the very goal of science is simpler explanations of wider phenomena. In this case, we are confronted with the fact that there can logically be only one ultimate sovereign over a man’s actions: either his own free will or some cause outside that will. There is no other alternative, there is no middle ground, and therefore the fashionable eclecticism of modern scholarship must in this case yield to the hard realities of the Law of the Excluded Middle.

If free will has been vindicated, how can we prove the existence of consciousness itself? The answer is simple: to prove means to make evident something not yet evident. Yet some propositions may be already evident to the self, that is, self-evident. A self-evident axiom, as we have indicated, will be a proposition which cannot be contradicted without employing the axiom itself in the attempt. And the existence of consciousness is not only evident to all of us through direct introspection, but is also a fundamental axiom, for the very act of doubting consciousness must itself be performed by a consciousness. Thus, the behaviorist who spurns consciousness for “objective” laboratory data must rely on the consciousness of his laboratory associates to report the data to him.

The key to scientism is its denial of the existence of individual consciousness and will. This takes two main forms: applying mechanical analogies from the physical sciences to individual men, and applying organismic analogies to such fictional collective wholes as “society.” The latter course attributes consciousness and will, not to individuals, but to some collective organic whole of which the individual is merely a determined cell. Both methods are aspects of the rejection of individual consciousness.

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