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Monday, November 4, 2013

Thorpe-Freeman Monthly Blog Award: The Danger of Hypostatization

This month’s Thorpe-Freeman Blog Contest Award goes to Lucy Hang La for her blog post “No More Magic,” commenting on Gian Pierro de Bellis’s Freeman article “Magic Words and False Gods.”

Lucy extends and illustrates de Bellis’s observations concerning the dangers of hypostatization: the tendency to “ascribe substance or real existence to mental constructs or concepts.” De Bellis, following Mises’s observations, reminds us that hypostatization is particularly dangerous in the social sciences because it can claim “for the collective . . . a higher dignity than for the individual,” ascribing to “the collective” a substance and existence it does not really have.

DeBellis also observes that while the left is subject to the tendency with regard to “society” and “the collective,” libertarians are subject to the same tendency when referring to “the market,” giving substance and identity to a construct that is better thought of as a process than an entity. “The market” is a system from which certain qualities emerge. It is not a conscious mind with feelings, thoughts, motivations, objectives, or intentions. It has no “rights,” can commit no violations, and can be neither punished nor rewarded.

Lucy focuses on the dangers of hypostatization to libertarians, observing that “it represents an error and a manipulation of thinking . . . . politicians hypostatize not only because it is convenient to . . . gloss over details, but also to inspire and exploit their audience’s desire for ‘a promised land.’” Her observations extend deBellis’s comments and make clearer the dangers to libertarians’ thinking.

Honorable mentions to both Russell Hasan and Shanu Athiparambath. Hasan commented on Sarah Skwire’s book review (of Studs Terkel’s Working), “Thoughts on Work and Working,” and made a series of observations about popular television shows that illustrate Skwire’s thesis. He points out that “working class jobs are not exploitation” is amusingly illustrated by “Shark Tank” and “Project Runway.” It is always helpful to have our high-falutin’ concepts brought into focus with illustrations from the life of everyman.

Meanwhile, Athiparambath’s comments regarding “On Selling Classical Liberalism” (Alberto Benegas-Lynch, Jr.) tempers Lynch’s article with the observation that “a great work of literature can have mass appeal even if the reading public disagrees with the underlying philosophy” and illustrates his point with the popularity of Ayn Rand’s works. His statement that “academics tend to believe that there is a conflict between entertainment and respectability” refers to just one of the ways in which intellectual hubris can lead us to underestimate the public’s ability to absorb and understand.

Congratulations to Lucy Hang La, this month's recipient of the Thorpe-Freeman Blog Contest Award.


Karl Borden

Professor of Finance

University of Nebraska

Chair, Thorpe Award Committee

  • Karl Borden is professor of financial economics at the University of Nebraska-Kearney and a serial entrepreneur with 11 successful business start-ups to his credit.