Sentences that Should Embarrass Any Grad Student
By Bryan Caplan
The true author of each of these sentences is a noted Nobel prize-winner. Still, if a grad student wrote any of them, he should be embarrassed. I italicize the words that make each sentence blush-worthy, and follow each with a suitable snide remark to write in the margin in red ink:
Embarrassing Sentence: These rules will achieve their intended effect of securing the formation of an abstract order of actions only through their universal application…
Snide Remark: I guess we have never had an “abstract order of actions,” because no rules have ever been “universally” applied.
Embarrassing Sentence: It is perhaps understandable that constructivist rationalists, in their pride in the great powers of human reason, should have revolted against the demand for submission to rules whose significance they do not fully understand, and which produce an order which we cannot predict in detail.
Snide Remark: Who ever objected to a rule on the grounds that he didn’t “fully” understand it, or couldn’t predict the consequences “in detail”? People normally object to a rule because they think they understand its consequences well enough to conclude that they are bad.
Embarrassing Sentence: [C]onstructivist rationalism tends to disdain any reliance on abstract mechanical rules and to regard as truly rational only behaviour such as is based on decisions which judge each particular situation ‘on its merits’, and chooses between alternatives in concrete evaluation on the known consequences of the various possibilities. It is fairly obvious that this kind of rationalism must lead to the destruction of all moral values…
Snide Remark: Well, then I guess that all moral values have already been “destroyed,” because people do this all the time!
Embarrassing Sentence: It is this flexibility of voluntary rules which in the field of morals makes gradual evolution and spontaneous growth possible, which allows further experience to lead to modifications and improvements. Such an evolution is possible only with rules which are neither coercive nor deliberately imposed…
Snide Remark: Hmm, I guess this means that evolution never happens, because every society has rules that are coercive and/or deliberately imposed.
Embarrassing Sentence: Our submission to general principles is necessary because we cannot be guided in our practical action by full knowledge and evaluation of all the consequences.
Snide Remark: Have you ever heard of getting through life using partial knowledge of some of the consequences of action? I do it all the time.
The Nobel prize-winning author of all of these sentences is, of course, Hayek. But I’d say that his stature makes these flabby, pompous sentences more embarrassing, not less.