Get it right or pay the price

2012-01-15 (Sunday) § Leave a comment

I’m reading The Worldly Philosophers by Robert L. Heilbroner, a summary of the lives and ideas of a sequence of European and American men who had a big influence on economics.  Right now I’m on the part about Karl Marx.  I’ve never attempted his epic tome, Capital, but the excerpts and summary that Heilbroner gives make the dude sound like kind of a bad thinker in some ways.  Not in his attention to detail or his efforts at a thorough examination of consequences, but in his lack of zeal in correcting his own blind spots and looking for where he might have been wrong.  I’m almost ready to say that those intellectual virtues are more important than the detail and thoroughness.  As long as we can take correction from each other, we can cover each other’s areas of ignorance.  A brilliant thinker can still be wrong and can even be wrong where a less brilliant thinker is right.  It’s less likely than the reverse, but we’re all fallible enough that anybody who’s unenthusiastic about being shown to be wrong is asking to make serious mistakes.  I don’t know if the USSR, the PRC, Hoxha’s regime in Albania, etc. would have arisen even if Marx had never written any of what he wrote, but if his intellectual career really was a necessary cause of those regimes, and if the leaders of those regimes were acting out of a sincere conviction of Marx’s ideas, then his intellectual mistakes can be credited with the terrible suffering of millions of people.  And he was no lord or statesman with political power to push his ideas – he was a random German dude who published some indie rags.  Ideas matter.

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