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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4607/synthetic-apriori-truths-and-mind-structure-a-nominalist-perspective/

Synthetic Apriori Truths and Mind Structure: A Nominalist Perspective

January 27, 2006 by

I have been discussing the nature and truth of the proposition that humans act with a nominalist. I have not been able to respond to his criticism of the truth of synthetic a priori categories, ideas, concepts, etc. It seems to me to be perfectly valid criticism, but I am interested to hear what other people think.

Mises says, “The a priori categories are not innate ideas. What the … child inherits from his parents are not any categories, ideas, or concepts, but the human mind that has the capacity to learn and to conceive ideas, the capacity to make its bearer behave as a human being, i.e., to act.” How does Mises know this, and what does he mean by the mind?

Mises rightly criticised treating imaginary things (collectives, analogies, metaphors, etc.) as real and warns us to be very cautious when using fictitious auxiliary constructs to explain things, but has he not himself committed the fallacy of treating the mind as a real thing? The mind does not exist; it has no existence as a noun. We can “mind” our step, but this “mind” has no structure; it is a verb. Yet Mises talks of the structure of the mind repeatedly and it is central to his claim that the proposition that humans act is true a priori.

Is Mises not mistaken in talking about synthetic things being true a priori and is it not due to his incorrect use of the mind as a real thing? Comments appreciated.


Benjamin Marks February 6, 2006 at 2:30 am

Paul: I still do not know why you call the proposition that humans act a synthetic a priori truth, because you cannot be certain that our innate (a priori) ideas will not change.

What you are arguing is that “given” our current innate ideas, we cannot argue against them. I do not disagree with this axiomatic-deductive method. What I am arguing over is what “given” means. There is no way of knowing if there is a superior being putting innate ideas in our mind (Hoppe, Mises, et. al. admit this), therefore we cannot be sure of the truth of synthetic a priori propositions. Hoppe, Rothbard, Mises, et. al. give no argument against the possibility of these superior beings changing our innate ideas.

If you cannot explain this “given” then the deductions are only true “given” that the axiom is. But then it is an analytic rather than synthetic argument, and there are no synthetic a priori truths. There are, of course, synthetic propositions; I am not denying their existence, I am just saying that they might be false.

Paul Edwards February 6, 2006 at 9:43 am


I’ll give your comments a think! :)

Marenics John February 18, 2006 at 3:44 am

I’ve mentioned empirical evidence. :))
The same reasoning proves the argumentation axiom. You cannot argue that you cannot argue (without contradiction). But still man doesn’t necessarily argue, eg. during lunch.

Benjamin Marks February 18, 2006 at 7:21 am

I have dealt with this above, what was wrong with my responses?

Something else (the thing controlling my “mind”) can argue that I cannot argue, and leave me helpless to respond having changed/deleted my innate ideas.

Supposing that this thing controlling my “mind” does not exist will not do, for a synthetic a priori truth means apodictic certainty not mere “supposing”.

Peter February 18, 2006 at 10:16 pm

The thing controlling your “mind” cannot argue that it (the thing controlling your mind) cannot argue. And the “thing controlling your mind” is, by definition, your mind (if it’s “controlling your mind” at all times, it can’t be distinguished from your mind – that would require at least periods where your mind was free; but you’re trying to argue that there is no mind independent of the controller, anyway, which is to say your “controller” is identical with your “mind”; so your argument is meaningless)

Benjamin Marks February 18, 2006 at 11:29 pm

I never argued that “there is no mind independent of the controller”. My argument is that we don’t and cannot know. There may be periods of freedom from the controller, there may be total freedom for all we know. The key point is: We do not know what shapes our thoughts, because our thought are not yet there.

The argument is not meaningless. The thing controlling our mind might have different innate ideas to us and be playing with us and capable of changing our own innate ideas.

Paul Edwards February 19, 2006 at 1:31 pm


If i were to concede, for sake of argument at least, that we cannot be sure that “The thing controlling our mind might have different innate ideas to us and be playing with us and capable of changing our own innate ideas.” what can we infer from this? I am assuming for a moment that our ability to infer in the first place is not just a delusion.

Is it that we in fact do not know if we are actually delusional and that we really may not be acting, that causation may not be not real, and that the interaction that we think we do with our environment may not be real, and that this discussion we are having might not be what we think it is: you and i engaged in argumentation between ourselves for the purpose of determining if it could in fact be a third party secretly muddling our minds and our ability to act. Could we infer, if inference has any meaning at all in this case, that we may not act, and therefore, as you say, synthetic a priori propositions are a figment of our imaginations?

On the other hand, are we not just pushing back the problem on some hypothetical superior creature or entity that we know must act, even if we cannot? In this case, synthetic a priori propositions must exist after all, even though we all in this realm remain in a semi-delusional state.

Emily Collins August 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm


I think your original question may be answered by understanding that we know our mind exists and that it has a structure because we act on things we deduce through our minds. Read this excerpt from Economic Science and the Austrian Method by Hoppe. This is pp. 8-9 and preceding this was an explanation of Kantian Philosophy of true, synthetic, a priori propositions.

“In all this Mises follows Kant. Yet, as I said earlier, Mises adds one more extremely important insight that Kant had only vaguely glimpsed. It has been a common quarrel with Kantianism that this philosophy [i.e. sythetic a priorism] seemed to imply some sort of idealism. For if, as Kant sees it, true synthetic a priori propositions are propositions about how our mind works and must of necessity work, how can it be explained that such mental categories fit reality? How can it be explained, for instance, that reality conforms to the principle of causality if this principle has to be understood as one to which the operation of our mind must conform? Don’t we have to make the absurd idealistic assumption that this is possible only because reality was actually created by the mind?…

“Mises provides the solution to this challenge. It is true, as Kant says, that true synthetic a priori propositions are grounded in self-evident axioms and that these axioms have to be understood by reflection upon ourselves rather than being in any meaningful sense “observable.” Yet we have to go one step further. We must recognize that such necessary truths are not simply categories of our mind, but that our mind is one of acting persons. Our mental categories have to be understood as ultimately grounded in categories of action. And as soon as this is recognized, all idealistic suggestions immediately disappear. Instead, an epistemology claiming the existence of true synthetic a priori propositions becomes a realistic epistemology. Since it is understood as ultimately grounded in categories of action, the gulf between the mental and the real, outside, physical world is bridged. As categories of action, they must be mental things as much as they are
characteristics of reality. For it is through actions that the mind and reality make contact.”

If you haven’t read “Economic Science and the Austrian Method” I strongly recommend you download the pdf from this website.

To respond to your latest argument, I would have to say that this “given” you speak of is reality. We cannot refute it because it is reality and as Austrian Economics is strongly based in reality we must first consider whether things occur in reality. Could it be proven through reality that superior beings are controlling our minds? By my experience it seems that (A) I control my mind because I can act according to what I judge to do and (B) outside influences affect my mind because my actions may show signs of these outside influences. Notice that in each of these cases, the actions predicate and reveal the workings and influences of the mind. Perhaps you could argue that a superior being influences our mind by creating the innate curiosity and cognizance which distinguishes us from the beasts (since our curiosity and cognizance are shown through actions), but I wonder to what end you argue that we cannot know things innately or that innate ideas may be changed. We must work with what we are given in reality in our minds. Are you perhaps questioning whether reality is true? Because that, I think, is a question entirely unrelated to the question of the mind and synthetic a priorism.

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