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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4878/doubt-the-action-axiom-try-to-disprove-it/

Doubt the Action Axiom? Try to Disprove It

April 5, 2006 by

At the core of praxeology lies the incontrovertible proposition that humans act. Action is the purposeful employment of means to achieve ends in accord with the actor’s values. The existence of action is axiomatic; the very attempt to deny it will result in its affirmation. Here, G. Stolyarov defends this validation of the action axiom — a validation that has been criticized as a self-referential statement. FULL ARTICLE

{ 104 comments }

Geoffrey Allan Plauche April 5, 2006 at 6:44 pm

I forgot to add that the action axiom just IS an axiom because it is irrefutable, a primary, basic, ‘prior to’, and its denial is not imaginable.

Again, I think this comes down to our differing philosophical traditions.

Konrad Swart April 5, 2006 at 8:10 pm

Dear Geoffrey Alan Plauché.
“Konrad, you state the following: "praxeology is a categorical system of grammatical rules that make the understanding of action explicit, and completely clear" and "But the truth of an axiom is not something you understand, but is something you assume."
It is just this that I am disputing, two distinct but related claims that you make actually. I dispute your claim that praxeology is merely a categorical system of grammatical rules. And I dispute your claim that we merely assume the truth of the action axiom.”
You are still not reading me very well. I am stating, that what you call: ‘the action axiom’ is not an axiom. The truth of an axiom is not what is at stake here, but what I protest against is that what is called ‘the action axiom’. This is not an axiom, but something else. I call it an understanding.
What I tried to explain is how a logician looks at praxeology. An axiom is a statement that defines a domain of validity within a context. And an understanding is that context itself. That is the essence of my story. The rest is just ‘logical language’. Important, because logic, in particular modern logic (after Boole) makes certain things very precise. In particular, it shows that there is a distinction between truth and understanding. The logical denial of understanding is nonsense. The logical denial of truth is falsity. This is because if you deny understanding, you get  ‘not understandable’ = ‘nonsense’.
The piece did not make a distinction between these two concepts. It argues that because ‘action cannot be denied’ because its logical denial is unintelligible, it is therefore an axiom. But this confuses the distinction between falsity and nonsense.
“We don’t just assume the truth of the action axiom; we KNOW it is true and we can know this via negative demonstration (a la Aristotle).”
Yes. You base yourself on Aristotelian logic. But I base myself on Boolean logic, and later logics. These were vast improvements on the modal logic of Aristotle. In particular Boolean logic has demonstrated that Aristotle himself has overlooked some cases. This is because Aristotle was confined to ordinary language, while Boole succeeded in first lifting logic to the precision of arithmetic, and later to algebra.
According to Boolean logic there are two kinds of negative demonstrations. One within a context, and that is what is the basis of the idea of axiom. And there is the negative demonstration of the context itself. And that is exactly the way the article argues. The negative demonstration within a context leads to the concept of falsity, and the negative demonstration of a context leads to the concept of ‘nonsense’.
So what I present here, is basically something entirely new. At least in this community.
“There is a good essay in JLS by Douglas Rasmussen entitled "A Groundwork for Rights: Man’s Natural End" (http://mises.org/journals/jls/4_1/4_1_4.pdf) that makes this case well.
Praxeology is not merely a set of grammatical rules; its axiom and propostions have at once ontological and epistemological status. They are both laws of thought and laws of reality. They are true AND meaningful, and not merely assumed to be true.”
Again, that is not what I disputed. I can very well see, that action exists. Just like I can see that freedom exists. (I have even an exact logical derivation of this fact.) Moreover, I dare even to say more. I dare to say, that the very fact that we can become conscious of action, i.e., that we are not only capable of action, but even understand the concept of action, is what makes us so much distinct from animals that we are a completely new form of existence.
What I mean is this. Living matter is not only essentially different from dead matter, but even fundamentally different. The difference is, that dead matter is only susceptible to the present, and therefore you can know everything there is to know about dead matter by the concept of causality as formulated by Newton. In particular Newton has invented a new mathematics, which enabled him to make the concept of causality precise. (The differential equation with time derivatives.) The surprise was, that all laws of nature contained time as a second derivative. Since a squared = (-a) squared, this means that for dead matter only the present exists. So for dead matter only the present exists.
Not so with life. Life is based on the DNA molecule, an information carrier. This means, that it is not enough to know the laws of physics to be able to derive all forms of life, and to predict what will happen if you put life forms together in some experiment. So with life a new structure forming force comes into existence, embodied in the DNA molecule. To explain the particular forms of animals fully you might need events into account that took place billions of years ago. This means that the difference between dead matter and living matter is a fundamental difference connected to time. Living matter is based on laws of nature and information carriers. They are a fusion of the present and the past. This is also, why animals are subjected to evolution. Dead matter is the environment. Animals survive by a process of random mutation and selection. They survive by adapting themselves to the environment.
There exist an equally big difference between Man and other life forms. Human beings have another way to deal with information. They do not only carry it, but they process it. Not only that, their very existence is built on their capacity to process information. This is because of the extensive neocortex they have
Mammals also have a neocortex. But it is something extra. Man is distinct from other animals because the neocortex has taken over. It is dominant. This manifests itself in the following way. We can, with our neocortex, imagine things that exist nowhere, and figure out how to make it real. We do this by processing information.
What this capability does is ‘turning the tables completely around’. We do not survive by adapting to the environment, but by adapting the environment to ourselves. We do this by the very capacity of imagining how things might be, and then designing actions that change our imaginations into actual experiences. In other words, we are future directed. And that is why we have stepped out of evolution. In fact, we can make use of evolution itself as one of the laws we understand.
So only for human beings the present, the past and the future exist. For dead matter only the present exist. And for animals only the present and the past exist. Animals lack the symbolic capability to imagine the future.
“Moreover, they are not PRE-scientific but fully scientific in the classical sense (obviously not in the modern positivist-empiricist sense, but it is just this latter sense that Austrians reject in the social sciences).”
I did not find these rejections convincing. Especially because I see a lack of understanding of the more powerful modern logic, which simply gives a deeper understanding in thinking than Aristotelian logic does.
“Philosophy is also not pre-scientific but is itself a science in the same way. Granted philosophy has spun off many disciplines that used to be branches of it, but philosophy is not thereby relegated to merely correcting the now independent special sciences and establishing their foundations. Philosophy still has its own content and is still a science of that content even while it draws on the work of its "children" in many ways.”
To begin with, historically speaking there was first philosophy, and then science. The very first true philosopher was Thales, (624 – 547 BC) who stimulated independent thinking. The very first scientist was Aristotle, (384 – 322 BC). So philosophy existed before science.
“Again, to emphasize where we differ, I and most Austrians don’t buy into the positivist and post-positivist conceptions of philosophy, logic, science, etc. We think it is fundamentally mistaken, especially with regard to the social sciences.”
Probably that is why even Austrians failed to convince so much, that they became some kind of consensus. Indeed, within economy no theory has reached the level of acceptance like logic has within mathematics, the experimental method within physics and chemistry, and Darwin’s theory of evolution within biology. It does not have a test to differentiate between true and false statements. Economy, including Austrian economy has not yet an epistemology. That is why it is not a science. Astrology has lots of content. Psychology has lots of content. But they are not sciences either. More is needed to qualify as a science than content. What is needed is an epistemology. Some method we can use to make a distinction between true and false statements. That is why Aristotle was the first scientist, because he invented modal logic. That is, a test you can use to discriminate between true and false statements.
In other words, it is not content that determines whether a body of knowledge is science. What you need is a method you can use to distinguish true and false statements. It does not need to be the experimental test. Logic is enough to make mathematics a science. Physics needs the experimental test and logic. And biology needs evolution. So I do not subscribe to the vision that the empirical experimental test determines whether something is a science or not. But something is definitely not a science if it lacks an epistemology.
To be more precise, I have a lot of admiration for Rothbard. For I think that the connection he made between possession and rights is enough to make law into a full fledged science. The epistemology is then as follows: ‘whenever something is in violation with property rights, it is a form of injustice. Whenever some social measure is consistent with property rights, it is a form of justice. De Soto’s book is a beautiful illustration of this principle. Increasing the money supply goes against property rights, and therefore is a form of injustice, which has consequences. In other words, we can use Rothbard’s discovery to test social rules to see whether they are just or not.
But, again, such a clear epistemology is lacking within economy. In particular, economy revolves around value. And that is still an unsolved problem. Marginal utility is very close, but it is not it. Not yet at least. And that is why economy is not a science, although Austrian economics is the closest we have. At least the questions are now clear.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche April 5, 2006 at 8:35 pm

Konrad,

I did not argue, or did not intend to seem to argue, that philosophy is a science merely because it has a content of its own. I would argue that Aristotle (not Hegel or Husserl) made philosophy scientific or made philosophy into a science.

I must not understand what you mean when you say that Austrian economics lacks an epistemology. If anything, it has too many: Kantian/Misesian/Hoppeian, Mengerian, Rothbardian/Aristotelian-Thomist, and probably at least a couple more. I’m not satisfied with the Kantian/Misesian/Hoppeian variety and Rothbard did little more than refer us back to Aristotle and St. Thomas, but there are still epistemologies here. Roderick Long and I have been working on developing a better epistemological foundation for praxeology and Austrian economics. He’s published a few things on this but I haven’t yet.

You say that Boolean and other later logics are more powerful and precise than Aristotelian logic. That may be true, but I don’t know enough about them to say. In any case, even if this is true it does not automatically follow that they are appropriate for use in social science in general or praxeology and economics in particular. (If I’m not mistaken I think Rothbard wrote something on this in one of his methodological pieces.) Aristotelian logic seems to work just fine for these fields and in Aristotelian logic the action axiom is indeed an axiom. I don’t think social science is ever going to be as neat and simple (in terms of complexity and precision) as mathematics and the natural sciences. These sciences don’t have to deal with vast numbers of interacting volitional beings. Further, there is a distinction to be made between meaningfulness and truth of praxeological propositions on the one hand and their thymological application on the other. It is particularly with the latter that things get messy, but as Aristotle would say…this is just the limitations of the subject matter. Also, one of the reasons that Austrian economics and praxeology have not caught on is because their metaphysical and epistemological foundations are not in favor right now because of the reigning popularity of positivism-empiricism-historicism; this doesn’t in and of itself prove that the methods are somehow weak, wrong, or imprecise, or worse not yet a science. There may be some weak areas in Austrian economic theory, and even some dispute on some issues, but I don’t think this makes Austrian economics not yet a science.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche April 5, 2006 at 8:54 pm

Granted that a distinction can be made between understanding and truth and between nonsense and falsity, the article would seem to at least implicitly argue that in the case of the action axiom understanding and truth coincide. Why is this a problem? Aside from the fact that axiom is defined differently in Boolean logic, that is. I still don’t see why we should accept the definition of Boolean logic in place of what is accepted usage in the Austrian tradition.

Ike Hall April 5, 2006 at 9:44 pm

Iceberg and Benjamin,

I would suppose that purely rational and possibly immortal (minus the occasional smelting accident) beings would have some interesting social relations, at least as compared to humans. Assuming that the robots are in fact individuals, with varying subjective preferences, natural(?) abilities and interests, I would imagine that, given action as a starting point, they would be able to deduce economic laws and rights quite easily. (How an entity like this would be a “robot” I’m not sure–perhaps I should be calling it an “AI”.) Will they obey these postulates, vis-a-vis each other and other rational beings (meaning us)? I imagine so, unless they’re threatened, in which case they would correctly postulate the right of self-defense.

My hope is that for the most part they’ll probably act in concert when it suits their needs, make mutually-beneficial exchanges with other rational beings, and do things they find interesting. Y’know, mining Jupiter, stuff like that.

Paul,

I didn’t say the axiom was flawed. “Humans act” merely ignores the possibility of other acting beings, that we haven’t met or invented yet. :)

Graeme Bird April 5, 2006 at 10:56 pm

DID SOMEBODY SAY AXIOM? Say the word and they will come. Philosphy-boy 101 here to grind the conversation down to a halt.

Benjamin Marks April 5, 2006 at 11:15 pm

Paul:

You have not yet addressed whether our innate ideas are being messed with. I propose that they might be, though I do not know. You propose that they most certainly are not – which is what you need to do to maintain that human action is an a priori synthetic truth – yet you give no reason. Nothing I have said here is contradictory. You failed to address the argument. The burden of proof is not on me, for all I claim is a possibility, it is on you, for you claim absolute certainty.

Once you admit (as you already have) that when/if the alien does appear, that it may become apparent that we do not act, then you no longer consider it a synthetic a priori truth. You need to retract your admission of possibility to continue to claim that human action is a synthetic a priori truth.

Mathematics being analytical does not mean that it has no application in the real world, it just means that the real world is not necessary for the truth of its propositions.

Regarding my comments about religion. What I was trying to do was show the ridiculousness of your argument. I should have given a more concrete example. Austrians believe in free-will, behaviourists do not. They both consider any attempt to convince the other as further proof of their own position. Do you believe we can prove free-will as well through argumentation ethics?

Regarding the specific excerpts from the article you quoted: “any logical analysis of action already presupposes its existence” etc. Why is this, logically speaking, any better than the behaviourist position: that any argument attempting to disagree with the behaviourist position is itself a confirmation of it, for no one could do anything if they were not determined to do so by their environment, genes, etc?

You claim that I am arguing like so, “I will act to argue that humans don’t act”. This is incorrect, never have I claimed that humans do not act, only its possibility. My position should be rephrased this, “I will ‘act’, even though I may actually not be in control, to argue that humans might not act.” How is this contradictory?

Brian:

Regarding Rothbard’s methodology. I agree that he was not a strict Misesian, but his method is still subject to the same objections as I have raised againt Mises and Hoppe. Rothbard claimed the axiom of action was apodictic, even though he admitted like Mises and Hoppe that we cannot know if our innate ideas are being messed with, yet he did not acknowledge that this ignorance may mean that the axiom of action is false. Rothbard, like Mises and Hoppe, gives no reason for this.

Roy W. Wright April 5, 2006 at 11:27 pm

zombie,

All of this is irelevant. Said “axiom” (platitude) might be true (well, yes, it is!) but it lacks any meaning. You cannot derive anything of interest from it without introducing definitions and further axioms, and there is the problem.

Which of the further axioms put forth by Austrian economists do you consider to be problematic?

The fact alone that it is so easy to assert the truth value of this axiom should make anyone suspicious. There is nothing of value in it.

I fail to see how the obvious truth of an idea bears on its usefulness.

P.M.Lawrence April 6, 2006 at 1:11 am

Consider, by way of illustration and example (not proof), programming as it is usually carried out in imperative programming style – a sequence of actions. It is already established that imperative and functional programming styles are equivalent, in that anything that can be done one way can be rewritten the other way. Yet functional programming has no actions.

So it could very well be that the universe – in a cosmic, four or maybe more dimensional sense – just “is”, and there is no such thing as action except as an illusion or a convenient fiction, a construct. Indeed, the Hamiltonian “principle of least action” works with the universe in just this sense, making its specialised term “action” mean an abstraction drawn from a static universe looked at more broadly than we are accustomed to look at it.

In such a universe and worldview, any “action” seeking to disprove or prove itself is merely a fiction applied to a fiction, and reveals nothing about the underlying nature of things but only about the nature of the construct.

This is where purely self-regarding arguments tend to fall down, by lacking any purchase on anything wider to establish the actual existence of their subject matter. But my brain still hurts when I look at the Ontological Argument.

Peter April 6, 2006 at 6:16 am

Whenever a well-formed formula can be derived from an axiom, or a set of axioms, it is called true. And whenever a well-formed formula cannot be derived from an axiom or a set of axioms, it is false.

The second sentence above is false. (Gödel is best known for showing that arithmetic (actually, any suffiently powerful system) has well-formed formulae that cannot be derived from an axiom or a set of axioms, but which are not false). I think your final assertion about what is and is not an axiom derives from this error.

Once you admit (as you already have) that when/if the alien does appear, that it may become apparent that we do not act,

He said the alien could show up and say “no, you humans don’t act! You’re all just puppets in our hands. Hahahaha(evil laugh)!”; the alien can meaningfully say that, since it is not human, therefore there’s no performative contradiction, but that doesn’t mean it would “become apparent” that we do not act. What would it even mean for it to be apparent (to us) that we do not act? If I want to raise my left arm, I can do so; that is acting. Now, you could say that the alien is in control of “my” will, and can make me want to raise my left arm – but if alien controls me that way, I can’t determine that I’m being controlled (i.e., it can’t “become apparent” to me), because what I think of as “my mind” is really the controlling alien’s; there’s no “me” to become apparent to. On the other hand, if the alien is only in control of my physical body or something, so there’s something (an “I”) there to witness the alien’s control, to which that control can be apparent, then in what way is it “me” that the alien is controlling? The alien is in control of the alien’s (remotely-operated) body, which happens to carry my awareness around with it, but that’s not a refutation of the action axiom (the human – body – certainly acts; it’s just under the alien’s control, not mine), merely a refutation of my assumption that I am human. If humans are not things independent of their bodies, your arguments are meaningless (and if they are, your arguments are pointless)

Konrad Swart April 6, 2006 at 7:23 am

Geoffrey Alan Plauché.

“I did not argue, or did not intend to seem to argue, that philosophy is a science merely because it has a content of its own. I would argue that Aristotle (not Hegel or Husserl) made philosophy scientific or made philosophy into a science.”

Your argument sounds to me like: ‘because in living beings the full complexity of chemicals is revealed, Darwin has made chemistry into biology’.
This disregards the fact, that chemistry is based on a more wide epistemology, namely that of the experimental test. Biology requires something entirely different. Something that is not of a chemical nature at all. It requires that it is not in contradiction with the theory of evolution.
In the same manner, the focus on philosophy is different. It was Socrates who was most explicit in stating the most fundamental principle of philosophy, when he said:’ the only certainty I have is that nothing is certain’. In this statement he made a major shift from religion to philosophy.
Logically speaking, there are four most basic approaches with which human beings can deal with their faculty of self-formation, on which their lives depends. It all revolves around questions and answers.
Whenever somebody disregards both questions and answers, and considers them both to be unimportant, he is a mystic. Such a person uses his feelings, and his feelings alone as the guidance of his actions. (Many people have some mystique in them, when they assert: ‘this sounds good, but I have the feeling that something is missing’. Such a statement is an appeal to mysticism.)
Whenever somebody considers answers as the ‘sine qua non’, then he is a religious person. He wants a ‘Holy Book’ full of truths that enable him to ‘look up the solutions to any problem’, or at least a solution in principled form. Anything that goes against statements in this ‘Holy Book’ is considered to be ‘blasphemy’, which is tantamount to: ‘questions should be restricted to only those that make the statements in the Holy Book clear. All other questions are forbidden. That is why religious people are against questions, questioning, and therefore against thinking. It does not matter which book they consider as ‘beyond any question’, i.e., Holy. So you can have religions based on the Bible, the Thorah, The Bhagavat Gita, the Tao, but also on Mein Kampf, or on the Communist Manifest, and even on Human Action of von Mises himself. The book does not matter, but the impossibility of looking beyond the book is the issue. If you cannot doubt some book you accept as true, you are religious. If you can doubt anything, and have the guts to think through anything and everything, then you are a philosopher.
Philosophy is a complete breach with religious thinking. It dethrones answers as the ultimate, and places questions in its place. This is a major advance on religious thinking, because, typically, religious texts contain many contradictions, and therefore, from a logical perspective, they cannot be made comprehensible as a whole. They are not instances of understandings. In fact, the awareness of this point caused philosophy.
Understanding is the primary focus of philosophy, not truth. Before you can accept something as true, you must first know what it means. You must understand it. Moreover, even early philosophy has pointed to the danger that lies in accepting a truth. The basic statement is: Any answer can be transformed into a question. So whenever you accept something as truth, you deny that that statement can be transformed into a question, and therefore it stops thinking. By realizing this, philosophy has introduced a totally new approach to life. Before philosophy you were either a mystic, floating on emotions alone, a Believer, that is, somebody who accepted a certain body of knowledge as being true, or, if you had not yet found a body of knowledge you trusted, you were a seeker. The issue was certainty. And you could find it in some book, or some system. It is exactly this what Socrates went against.
Philosophy represents a totally different approach to ‘the human condition’. You could try to bear uncertainty. The price was constant uncertainty. The hero was Socrates. The gain was the ability to question everything, which led to ever deeper understandings and understanding. So truth had to make way for understanding.
So a real philosopher does not accept anything as true, and strives to find rest in extreme uncertainty. Courage replaces knowledge, something Socrates showed when he accepted to be poisoned for his position. He showed, in his action, that uncertainty itself can be a guidance.
And then there is the fourth approach. Science. It accepts both questions and answers. Science is the extreme opposite of mysticism, because mysticism denies both questions and answers. It is in contradiction with the religious approach, because it accepts questions, and it allows questioning of anything and everything. It is also in contradiction with philosophy, because philosophy declares that certainty is impossible. Only understanding is possible. Science asserts, that answers to questions are possible. But you can only arrive at this understanding, if you see that truth and certainty are distinct things. On another blog I have explained this matter. (See link below.) By denying the identification with truth and certainty, science allows both the acceptance of answers and the continuation of questions.

“I must(??) not understand what you mean when you say that Austrian economics lacks an epistemology. If anything, it has too many: Kantian/Misesian/Hoppeian, Mengerian, Rothbardian/Aristotelian-Thomist, and probably at least a couple more. I’m not satisfied with the Kantian/Misesian/Hoppeian variety and Rothbard did little more than refer us back to Aristotle and St. Thomas, but there are still epistemologies here. Roderick Long and I have been working on developing a better epistemological foundation for praxeology and Austrian economics. He’s published a few things on this but I haven’t yet.”

And that is exactly the point. Several answers to a question is tantamount to not having answered it. Moreover, you can even define the idea of‘question’ by being equivalent to ‘a set of answers containing more than one member’. For example, if I make the statement: ‘either it rains or it does not rain’, then this statement is equivalent to the question: ‘does it rain?’ It shows every possible answer to this question, and for this very reason it is not answering the question.
So your statement that there is not a single epistemology, but an abundance of them shows exactly my point. (This example also demonstrates, that a question is, logically speaking, a tautology. For ‘it rains or it does not rain’ is an instance of (p or not p) and that is a tautology. This is why Wittgenstein asserted that his Tractatus is the total clarification of clarification itself, and therefore the end of philosophy.) Logic is the ultimate clarification of the concept of question. Questions are tautologies. And tautologies are sets of several answers defining a complete domain of understanding.
So by your very own words, Austrian economy does not have an epistemology, but a question about epistemology. What it has is a set of possible answers, none of which have gained dominance over the others. And that is, logically speaking, the same as saying that the question about what is the proper epistemology for Austrian economics is not answered.
However, not all is lost. What it does have is a tautology. The tautology of Human Action. This represents an understanding.
Only when an economy has a single epistemology that is acknowledged as the method to use to distinguish true statements from false one’s, it is both scientific and it defines the particular science. This does not mean that there has to be only one epistemology, but it has to have an epistemology unique to its field.
Only mathematics has is a single epistemology. It is logic. Within physics there is logic, and a single method you can use to distinguish problems of physics from pure mathematical problems. It is the experimental method. So although all of physics has to be logical, logic does not define its field. The experimental method does.
Within biology there is a single method that distinguishes its field from physics. Biology must not be in contradiction with physics, and therefore you can make use of the epistemology of physics and also that of logic (as far as it is applicable). But it is more than just logic and physics, for it has an epistemology of its own, that defines and delineates its own particular field of investigation. The epistemology which statements are acceptable both as belonging to the field of biology and as true statements. It is Darwin’s theory of evolution. And as I stated before, I think that Rothbard’s connection between rights and property is a basis of  an epistemology of justice. This means, that a theory of justice has to be logical, not in contradiction with physics and not in contradiction with biology. But the connection between right and property defines the unique demarcation between all of these other fields and the field of justice proper.
Economy also must satisfy logic, must not be in contradiction with physics, biology and also not with justice. But still these four epistemologies are not enough to define economy as a science. This is because it has no epistemology of its own. An epistemology that allows us to recognize statements as belonging to the field of economy, and also to make a distinction between true and false statements within this field.

Let me show you that there is even within Austrian economics a very important contradiction.
Economy revolves around value. That much is clear. (At least to me.)
But the concept of value is not completely clear. Not even the Austrians succeeded in making it completely clear. We still do not know what the statement ‘money has value’ means. In a logical strict sense you can even prove this in the following way. Money is one thing. (It used to be one commodity.) It obtains its value from everything offered in exchange for it. The problem is that all the products offered in exchange for money are so diverse, that no single characteristic has been found that they all have in common, and can therefore be used as the ‘defining characteristic of value’.
The problem is more serious than the ‘cardinal versus ordinal’ issue. Logic tells why. For all things that can be offered in exchange for money consists of a total set of possible answers to the question of value. Since they lack a single characteristic, this set is a multitude of answers, and therefore not a single answer. And therefore it is a question. (Note, that I apply the above insight into what questions are.) Only when all things offered in exchange for money have a single attribute in common, which can be recognized as the essence of value, the question about value has a single answer, and therefore is answered. When there is a multitude of answers, as is now the case, then you still have a question. For, as I said before, a question is equal to a set of answers. What you need to solve it is finding one characteristic that everything that has value has in common. Moreover, this must be cardinal, because money itself is cardinal. The best von Mises could do was putting an ordinal measure of value against a cardinal magnitude (the amount of money). This in itself shows confusion.
The problem of value still exists, despite the fact that many have tried to solve it. The Socialists have attempted it. They tried to connect it to labor, and labor alone. In particular they connected it with labor time. Since time is cardinal, labor time, as an instance of time,  is also cardinal. But the wine cellar example of Eugen von Böhm Bawerk is such a clear counterexample, that this vision is totally refuted. (E.g. Wine matures, and therefore its value increases with interest, despite the fact that the maturation takes place, to paraphrase Eugen von Böhm Bawerk, without anyone lifting a finger. So the maturation of wine, the source of its increase of value is not labor. In fact, it is caused by leaving the wine alone, the very opposite of labor.) The same applies to wheat growing in the fields, or the steam engine running on fuel. If you want to explain value, labor fails. Forces of nature have to be taken into account too. Capital is more than just ‘the embodiment of labor’.
And even that is not the whole problem. For what to think about having the luck to find a precious diamond? Does this mean that coincidence has to be part of a universal explanation of value, too?
The connection of value with use also failed. It is the well-known value paradox, as explained by Menger. Some things that have a very limited use, like diamonds, have a lot of value. Other things that have a lot of use, like bread or the air we breathe do not have any value at all. So use and value are totally different things. Menger has made an important step in the solution of this problem, but he is not yet there. He is almost there. He does this by a fusion between utility and scarcity, the concept of marginal utility. This was an important breakthrough.
Marginal utility comes, I think, very close to a truly scientific solution to the problem of value. But there are difficulties with this too. Why? Because of yet another unsolved problem, the interest problem.  In particular the time preference theory is not it. For it disregards the effect of production.
For assume, that money in the future has less value than money now, as is the point of departure of the time preference theory.
Now it is mentioned several times, beginning with Eugen von Böhm Bawerk, and taken over by other Austrians, that if you invest money in ever longer periods of time, then the production lines become longer. This means that more roundabout methods of production are then possible, which either lead to more products or to products of greater quality. So the longer a certain amount of money is invested, the more you can buy with it in the future, when you get it back. And this is tantamount to the assertion that money in the future, when invested is worth more than money now. This is the exact opposite of the time preference theory, which tries to explain interest by seeing it as a compensation of the loss of value due to the statement that money in the future is less valuable than money now.
I think this argument explodes the whole time preference theory of Eugen von Böhm Bawerk, and therefore refutes von Mises himself! The phenomenon of interest therefore is still an open question. It is not yet solved. Not by Eugen von Böhm Bawer, not by von Mises, who just asserts that time preference is a fundamental characteristic that follows directly from the ‘axiom of action’. It does no such thing! I consider this is a severe shortcoming within Austrian economics!
Mises tries to ‘wriggle himself out of this problem’ (which shows some awareness of it) by stating that Eugen von Böhm Bawerk is mistaken. He accuses Eugen von Böhm Bawerk of ‘falling back to the production vision on value’. (The famous third reason Eugen von Böhm Bawerk gives for the time preference concept.) But it is von Mises himself who is mistaken here. For he overlooks the argument of Eugen von Böhm Bawerk, although Eugen von Böhm Bawerk himself was in contradiction with himself, too.
Moreover, von Mises’ accusation misses every ground. I have studied Eugen von Böhm Bawerk extensively, and have seen that he asserts several times in his books, that the fact that more roundabout production leads to more physical production does not mean that it leads to more production of value.  He even gives several examples, and is very careful in his wording whenever there is a danger of this particular misunderstanding of him. So Eugen von Böhm Bawerk was very well aware of the difference between the increase of physical production and the increase of value. In fact, he was more subtle than von Mises.
So there is no ‘falling back into the productivity theory of value’ within Eugen von Böhm Bawerk’s vision. Contrary to von Mises, Eugen von Böhm Bawerk knew that value and physical production could not possibly be totally independent. There had to be a connection. He sensed this, but he could not make it clear. Ludwig von Mises, on the other hand, just disregarded the whole problem by his statement, that time preference follows directly from ‘the axiom of action’. Von Mises ‘defined the problem away’. 

“You say that Boolean and other later logics are more powerful and precise than Aristotelian logic. That may be true, but I don’t know enough about them to say. In any case, even if this is true it does not automatically follow that they are appropriate for use in social science in general or praxeology and economics in particular.”

Yes it is. This is because Aristotelian logic is incorporated in Boolean logic. There is no essential difference. There is only a difference in both precision and power. Just like algebra is more powerful than arithmetic, and allows for a greater precision in definition, but both deal with the concept of magnitude. Regularities that you cannot become conscious of with arithmetic can become known with algebra.

“(If I’m not mistaken I think Rothbard wrote something on this in one of his methodological pieces.) Aristotelian logic seems to work just fine for these fields and in Aristotelian logic the action axiom is indeed an axiom.”
Let me give another counterexample. You cannot deny existence, because if you try to deny existence, then the denial exists! And therefore you need existence to deny existence. But does that imply that existence is an axiom? Does this make that ‘the axiom of existence’ is a new science? I do not think so. It is far better to call existence a tautology, and therefore a question. Furthermore, it is legitimate to talk about the philosophy of existence, dealing with the clarification of the existence of existence. This field exists. It is that subdomain of philosophy called ‘metaphysics’.
Or take consciousness. You cannot deny consciousness. Because if you try to deny consciousness you must make yourself conscious of the denial, and therefore you need consciousness to deny it. But does this mean, that consciousness is an axiom? Moreover, does this clarify consciousness? Does it make ‘the axiom of consciousness’ to be a basis for a science?
Logically speaking it is far more precise, and also far more clear to say that consciousness is a tautology, and therefore a question. Furthermore, it is legitimate to talk about the philosophy of consciousness, dealing with the implications of consciousness itself. This is also a subfield of philosophy. It is called ‘existentialistic phenomenology’. Here, in Holland, professor Luijpen was one of its most distinguished representatives.

 “I don’t think social science is ever going to be as neat and simple (in terms of complexity and precision) as mathematics and the natural sciences. These sciences don’t have to deal with vast numbers of interacting volitional beings.”

Such statements are always dangerous. At one time people said it would be impossible for us to be able to fly, or to go to the moon. They were wrong. The television was declared to be impossible, because the magnetic field of the earth was so omnipresent and so irregular, that the precision needed could never be reached. They were wrong. At one day solid state physics was declared to be impossible because of the complexity of matter. Steady progress has been made in that area also.
Any argument based on ‘it is too complex, therefore it is unsolvable’ has been regularly refuted. I mention Chaos theory, Complexity theory, Fractal theory. Within the computer world there is even a revolution going on. It is understood that there is a fundamental difference between understanding and calculation. Therefore present day computers calculate, but are unable to understand. But slowly it becomes clear how a truly understanding device might look like. This means, that although you cannot make a computer that replaces, say, a taxi driver, it will become possible to make some other device, based on an entirely different principle, that might embody genuine understanding, and is able to do so.

“Further, there is a distinction to be made between meaningfulness and truth of praxeological propositions on the one hand and their thymological ?? application on the other. It is particularly with the latter that things get messy, but as Aristotle would say…this is just the limitations of the subject matter.”

Do you mean ‘etymological’? The term ‘thymological’ does not exist. Etymology is about the origin of words, and therefore using it in a sentence together with ‘application’ is gibberish. In other words, I cannot make heads or tails from this statement.

“”Also, one of the reasons that Austrian economics and praxeology have not caught on is because their metaphysical and epistemological foundations are not in favor right now because of the reigning popularity of positivism-empiricism-historicism; this doesn’t in and of itself prove that the methods are somehow weak, wrong, or imprecise, or worse not yet a science. There may be some weak areas in Austrian economic theory, and even some dispute on some issues, but I don’t think this makes Austrian economics not yet a science.”

In other words, Austrian economics fails to convince. Arguments like ‘the reigning popularity’ are instances of a logical fallacy, called the Ad Hominem error. (By von Mises himself.) As I demonstrated in the above example of the interest problem, there are still problems within Austrian economics itself. It is because even Austrian economics has failed to solve these problems, or, worse, even denies some very important one’s by defining them away, why Austrian economics has not caught on. At least that is what I think.
Moreover, the acceptance of positivism-empiricism-historicism is not just because they are popular, but also because they have proved their worth. In particular positivism, as explained by Popper, has shown how, exactly, the connection between existence and thinking occurs. In particular, Popper has demonstrated that the so-called induction problem is a wrong question. He has, with his white swan example, explained exactly what the problem is.
For more on this, see my previous participation in another blog.
http://blog.mises.org/archives/004806.asp

 

Konrad Swart April 6, 2006 at 7:52 am

“Whenever a well-formed formula can be derived from an axiom, or a set of axioms, it is called true. And whenever a well-formed formula cannot be derived from an axiom or a set of axioms, it is false.”

“”The second sentence above is false. (Gödel is best known for showing that arithmetic (actually, any suffiently powerful system) has well-formed formulae that cannot be derived from an axiom or a set of axioms, but which are not false). I think your final assertion about what is and is not an axiom derives from this error.””

Ah! A logician! Very good! I already wondered whether there were people who would notice this on this blog.

I did not want to go into this depth, and therefore I simplified it somewhat. But to answer you, it is not as simple as you say. You are right as far as first order systems is concerned. Those consisting of only a finite number of axioms. Indeed, what Gödel showed is that there are systems of first order logic that are not complete. This means, that there are statements that are true within the system, but that cannot be derived from the axioms. That is his famous incompleteness theorem.

However, it has been proved that any second order system of propositional logic can be made complete and consistent. With this proof you can construct propositional logic, consisting of a number of axiom schemes (one being the minimum) that has an infinite number of instances. If you add the modus ponens rule to that, you can produce all tautologies. If you add to this system any wf, you get an incomplete system. This second order incomplete system can be made complete by a procedure consisting of an infinite number of steps. This procedure is used in the proof that this system produces all tautologies. In other words, that the set of all theorems (logical deductions) and the set of all tautologies are the same.

It was Gödel himself that proved, that something similar can be done with predicate logic. So if you extend the above system to second order predicate logic, it can be made complete. The system does no longer consist of tautologies, though. It now consists of something more general, called logical truths. The system is then no longer decidable.

My assertion about what is and what is not an axiom does not arise from this error, because I had a second order system in mind. In particular the second order system of propositional logic, consisting of an infinite number of axioms. For this system my second statement is valid.

 

Francisco Torres April 6, 2006 at 10:06 am

Konrad wrote:

This is the exact opposite of the time preference theory, which tries to explain interest by seeing it as a compensation of the loss of value due to the statement that money in the future is less valuable than money now.

You totally misunderstand the concept of Time Preference. It is not used to explain the interest rate as compensation due to money being less valuable in the future (What money? Fiat or hard currency? Why money?). Time Preference is the totally human attitude of wanting something NOW rather than later, and the interest rate is how much a person is willing to give to have something sooner than later. It does not apply to money only.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche April 6, 2006 at 11:09 am

Konrad,

“Your argument sounds to me like: ‘because in living beings the full complexity of chemicals is revealed, Darwin has made chemistry into biology’.”

That’s not what I’m trying to say and I think it is a stretch to interpret what I did write as meaning that. Konrad, your conception of philosophy is one conception among several, if not many. Not everyone accepts that philosophy is only about questioning and asking the right questions. Certainly, Aristotle did not. A philosopher seeks answers as well. I’m not saying, of course, that all answers in philosophy will be universalizable or as certain and constant as physical laws and constants discovered by physics. Radical skepticism (in the classical sense) is only one approach to philosophy and a very un-Aristotelian one. You talk about mystics as rejecting questions and answers but on other accepted definitions of mysticism Plato and maybe Socrates as well qualify as mystics, as would many religionists. Some conceptions of mysticism is that it is a contemplation of the ineffable. Other conceptions see the essence of mysticism as the alleged possession of un-rational, un-empirical, privileged knowledge from a divine source. You are trying to impose your conceptions of these subjects on us without attempting to see whether we accept them, hold different views, or giving us good reasons to accept your view of the matter over ours.

I argue, and others will as well, that all knowledge and science ultimately rest upon and presuppose at least a few axioms (in the Aristotelian sense) that are meaningful, make possible and constitute our understanding, and are true and a criterion of truth. To be more precise I think Aristotle can be viewed as a negative coherentist/broad neoclassical foundationalist on knowledge and justification, and a narrow neoclassical foundationalist on scientific demonstration/explanation/understanding. While Aristotle’s views of exact science and scientific demonstration may not be wholly justified for the natural sciences, I think they are still appropriate for philosophy and the social sciences. If you doubt the truth of certain basic axiom, first principles, or laws (such as existence, identity, consciousness, action, non-contradiction, causality, excluded middle) then you are doing neither philosophy nor science (insofar as these are distinct) because all knowledge and scientific understanding presuppose their validity.

“And that is exactly the point. Several answers to a question is tantamount to not having answered it.”

Not necessarily. That’s like Alasdair MacIntyre arguing that because there is no current agreement on moral principles, then there is no way to rationally justify our moral beliefs. Some answers are better than others and it is quite possible in today’s political and educational environment and given the difficulty of the subject matter for wrong answers to co-exist side by side with correct or at least more correct answers.

Your standards for what counts as science, Konrad, seem to be unrealistically high. Moreover, those high standards seem to conradict your forceful insistence on eschewing certainty. You want correct answers or it doesn’t count as science. Well, that would rule out a good deal of what passes even as natural science.

“In other words, Austrian economics fails to convince. Arguments like ‘the reigning popularity’ are instances of a logical fallacy, called the Ad Hominem error. (By von Mises himself.)”

Citation? This is not a logical fallacy or, to be more precise, an ad hominem. It is quite true and relevant and reflects an understanding of history and human psychology. I’m not attacking anyone in general or in particular.

” “I don’t think social science is ever going to be as neat and simple (in terms of complexity and precision) as mathematics and the natural sciences. These sciences don’t have to deal with vast numbers of interacting volitional beings.”

Such statements are always dangerous.”

Dangerous? Or good ol’ Socratic ignorance?

“Do you mean ‘etymological’? The term ‘thymological’ does not exist. Etymology is about the origin of words, and therefore using it in a sentence together with ‘application’ is gibberish. In other words, I cannot make heads or tails from this statement.”

Have you not read Mises? Or other prominent Austrian economists? Thymology is the counterpart of praxeology; in short, it is hermeneutical psychology or understanding. As Roderick Long has pithily stated: “Praxeology without thymology is ‘empty’. Thymology without praxeology is ‘blind’.” Check out Human Action or Theory and History, or Roderick Long’s “Anti-Psychologism in Economics: Wittgenstein and Mises” (http://praxeology.net/antipsych.pdf).

“Only when all things offered in exchange for money have a single attribute in common, which can be recognized as the essence of value, the question about value has a single answer, and therefore is answered. When there is a multitude of answers, as is now the case, then you still have a question.”

I’m beginning to suspect you haven’t read the Austrians very carefully and have failed to understand their most important insights and points about praxeology in general and value in particular. You’re still operating under many of the mistaken prejudices of the Enlightenment, which while it resulted in many great advances in the natural sciences set back hundreds of years the social sciences. The conception of value in Austrian economics is just fine; insofar as it needs any correction at all it is along lines Roderick Long and I have been pointing to. You’re never going to find a single common attribute among all the things people value aside from this: that value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The reason is that value is agent-relative and, moreover, a trilateral relationship between the valuer and two alternatives. There is no common denominator in the value of things because of this. (Under the (neo-)Aristotelian ethics I support, each of us has both universal and particular aspects. The universal aspect, or among the universal aspects, is our univeral human nature. While this limits the scope of what can be considered an objective value for each of us, value is still agent-relative and this univeral human nature won’t get you what you want.)

“Moreover, the acceptance of positivism-empiricism-historicism is not just because they are popular, but also because they have proved their worth.”

They haven’t proven their worth in the social sciences. If anything, they have proven their (near) worthlessness. And this won’t change.

Reactionary April 6, 2006 at 11:11 am

David C,

“Another axiom is scientific method. If you deny the premise that existence is rational, and don’t just assume it, then your argument is irrational by definition and shouldn’t be listened to.

The only other one I know if is inherent goodness. If you deny that individuals are inherently good (eg their liberities and free will need to be minimized by the state) then you are yourself being inherently bad, and thus are not worth trusting.”

Q.E.D., existence is not perforce rational and people are not perforce inherently good.

Konrad Swart April 6, 2006 at 11:16 am

Francesco Torres.

The problem is not that I do not understand it. But the problem is that I do not blindly accept it, as you apparently do. From my texts you should know better. I definitely do understand time preference. Only von Mises is not sacrosanct to me. I do not blindly accept him. I am an independent thinker.

To quote von Mises: Time preference is a categorical requisite of human action. Satisfaction of a want in the nearer future is, other things being equal, preferred to that in the farther distant future. Present goods are more valuable than future goods.  No mode of action can be thought of in which satisfaction within a nearer period of the future is not –  (ceteris paribus = )other things being equal – preferred to that in a later period. The very act of gratifying a desire implies that gratifying at the present instant is preferred to that at a later instant.”

So far Ludwig von Mises. He just states it, and you are asked to blindly accept it. He gives no argument whatsoever why this is so. Only a logical contradictory argument why the converse is unthinkable. That argument is somewhat like this. “If there is preference of  satisfaction tomorrow over satisfaction today, then when tomorrow comes this will still be so. So this will be a universal property of action. This will lead to a situation whereby you cannot act to reach goals. And therefore the logical denial of time preference is in violation with the concept of action.”But the assumption here is, that action has as time preference as a universal property, and therefore it is unchangeable. This is, again, only stated, but not proved.

It is thinkable, that time preference is not a universal property of action. This means, that action can be deliberately directed at achieving a certain goal at a particular moment. Somebody who wants to participate in the Olympic Games is an example of this.  Therefore this argument is not valid. Time preference is not an universal attribute of action.

Eugen von Böhm Bawerk was far more broad minded. He gave reasons why people preferred goods and services in the present over goods and services in the future. His famous three reasons. He did not ask of you to blindly accept it. He did even more. He gave a counterexample. He pointed at people who were aware of the fact, that they would lose their productivity when growing older, and therefore in that case they would prefer consumption in a more remote future over present consumption, even if that consumption would be less than now. He then went out of his way to demonstrate, that this still would not constitute an attack on time preference. In order to refute this case he showed that the difference between somebody making his future safe by investing and somebody keeping the money in the bank was that money that you can get from the bank gives you more service than money you have no access to, and therefore is worth more. He also overlooked the simple possibility, that you might direct action to achieve a goal at a particular moment, and not sooner or later. Above I mentioned Olympic games. Pensions are another example of this.

Eugen von Böhm Bawerk was aware that there might be exceptions. He was far less dogmatic than Ludwig von Mises. This is why Eugen von Böhm Bawerk did not say that time preference is a universal that follows from action, but he used the term ‘usually’. He allowed for exceptions, and thus showed to be a more subtle thinker than von Mises.

Besides, you show not to understand my argument. Both Eugen von Böhm Bawerk and Ludwig von Mises used time preference to explain interest. It is the core explanation of Eugen von Böhm Bawerk. Ludwig von Mises has taken over just a part of Eugen von Böhm Bawerk’s argument, and hence knew to avoid the logical contradiction.

So I did not say that they explained time preference from interest, as you mistakenly assume. My counterexample shows, that this causes within Eugen von Böhm Bawerk’s vision a contradiction. And Ludwig von Mises avoids this contradiction by denying the rôle of production in interest. What I point out, is that both are wrong, and von Mises more than Eugen von Böhm Bawerk.

I have a totally different explanation of interest, from which I can become aware of such contradictions/omissions. I shall explain it in my book.

Konrad Swart April 6, 2006 at 12:00 pm

Geoffrey Alan Plauché

I have read the Austrians carefully. In fact, I study them daily. Only I do not accept them blindly as sacrosanct.

I am an independent thinker. Therefore I do not care what the definitions of others are. How many people agree with each other and thus disagree with me is irrelevant. Understanding has nothing to do with democracy. Whether thinking causes clarification is what I consider important, not the number of people who agree with each other. Those who have other definitions of philosophy must show to me that they give greater clarification. "Others see it differently", the argument you constantly use, is no argument for me whatsoever.

About unrealistic high standards. I can meet them myself, and therefore I demand of others talking about the same subjects nothing less. If they don’t, then their visions are simply inferior.

This is particularly relevant concerning the concept of value. Eugen von Böhm Bawerk has two definitions of value, which he calls objective and subjective value. He defines objective value as our estimate of the capacity of a good to bring about some definite extrinsic objective result. He defines subjective value as the significance which a good or a quantity of goods possesses for the well-being of a certain subject. This definition is virtually identical to that of Menger.

I am quite aware of the Randian approach to value, which I accept. Rand integrates the two definitions of Eugen von Böhm Bawerk, or at least tries it, by stating that value ‘is that which one acts to gain and/or keep”, and that it presupposes two questions, of value for what and of value to whom.
My point is, that these definitions do not explain the relation between value and money. Menger is close, with his marginal utility, but it still contains something very important he overlooks. And then there is also the matter of cardinality.
I have found a way to connect the above definitions of value with economy, and which is, on top of this, cardinal. Something the Austrians have repeatedly said to be impossible.
Therefore I consider it the next step in Austrian economics. Without von Mises I would never have found it. I found it when I studied Human Action about 10 years ago, and saw that von Mises had something to say about value, which was intuitively clear, but was nonsense from a mathematical perspective. After some months of struggling I found a way to reformulate it in a way that made sense mathematically, and to my surprise it was definitely cardinal.
I shall not explain it here, though. I rather explain it in the book I am writing now about money. I can only say, that my definition was printed once in a newspaper in an article which slandered me when I defended capitalism, and showed a little about some of my discoveries, to ‘show how ridiculous they were’. Nevertheless, because it apparently was so clear, I discovered that a writer of a bookkeeping course has taken it over, and it is now part of his course. Apparently people who think for themselves recognize instantly that it is very significant, even without a thorough epistemological explanation.

David J. Heinrich April 6, 2006 at 12:43 pm

Konrad,

The error of Bawerk, and yourself apparently, is thinking about goods in the sense of physical tangible things, rather than economic goods, which are subjectively evaluated in the actor’s mind. The same physical thing — say, a cane — is considered by me to be a different good now than in the future when I’m 120 years old. Thus, if I would rather have the same physical thing — a cane — at some point in the future, as opposed to now, such does not contradict time-preference.

I disagree that Mises simply asserted time-preference. Rather, he set it on firm praxeological ground. Bawerk’s psychological reasons for time-preference are all well and good, but they suffer from his consideration of goods. Mises stated that the very existence of action — by anyone — demonstrates time-preference. Any acting person is demonstrating time-preference.

Talking about an Olympic runner wanting to do something at a specific date, rather than sooner, does not in any way disprove time-preference. What they want to do, presumeably, is win an Olympic event. Now, to some extent, they can’t choose to engage in the Olympics earlier. On a broader scale (choosing between year 4, 8, 12, 16, etc), the fact that someone chooses to participate in the olympics 8 years from now, rather than 4, does not in any way contradict time-preference. Rather, we would deduce that they choose to participate later so they have a better chance of winning (e.g., longer time to train, mature, etc, if they are currently in adolescence).

Paul Edwards April 6, 2006 at 1:36 pm

Hi Benjamin,

“You propose that they [our innate ideas] most certainly are not [being messed with]”

I am proposing that action, including the act of participating in this discussion presupposes that our innate ideas are not being messed with. That is: you, I, and everyone forming and expressing an opinion, even only in our own minds, presuppose it is our own selves which are reasoning, and forming thoughts and arguments. The ACT of proposing that our ideas ARE being messed with presupposes that our ideas are NOT being messed with.

I cannot and do not need to prove this is the case. I merely point out that you yourself presuppose the very proposition you are trying to cast doubt on, and you do so in every action you take, including the very act of attempting to cast that doubt.

“Once you admit (as you already have) that when/if the alien does appear, that it may become apparent that we do not act, then you no longer consider it a synthetic a priori truth. You need to retract your admission of possibility to continue to claim that human action is a synthetic a priori truth.”

Yes Benjamin, very true! When the alien appears who can dispute that humans act, then “humans act” immediately becomes disputable. (I do still view this as the same as speculating on what would happen if and when 1 + 1 = 2 is shown to be sometimes false.)

However, in the meantime, “humans act” remains indisputable. Furthermore, “humans act” remains an a priori synthetic truth because that is the nature of our minds, our physical reality with which we interact and interfere with, and in fact, of what we call truth.

“never have I claimed that humans do not act, only its possibility.”

If you have never claimed that humans do not act, and this is to your credit. Is the reason you do not make this claim because you realize it would be a performative contradiction to do so? If so we agree. Do you also recognize that no other human is in a position to dispute it for the same reason? If so we agree. And finally, if you recognize that “humans act” is therefore indisputable, again for the same reason (at least by any human), we again, agree once more.

The only other thing that I will re-iterate is that you also happen to presuppose the truth that humans act, even though you are able to hypothesize that perhaps we actually may not (due to an external and hidden controller). Regardless of what scenarios you create in your mind, you cannot escape the fact that in all of your musings, you inherently presuppose they are indeed your very own musings!

Graeme Bird April 6, 2006 at 4:51 pm

“Because the elucidation of a context is not what science is about, but what a philosophy is about.”

Sez who? You merely describe a failing of many scientists if this is a representative statement.”

“Philosophy is about understanding questions, not answering them.”

This is entirely arbitrary at best. The philosopher who wrote this or told you this is making a confession of sorts. We must find a way to find a way to get such people off the public tit.

Graeme Bird April 6, 2006 at 4:55 pm

“I didn’t say the axiom was flawed. “Humans act” merely ignores the possibility of other acting beings, that we haven’t met or invented yet. :)”

No that is flat wrong.

francisstp April 6, 2006 at 5:22 pm

Quote Paul Edwards : It is still indisputable, just as the article lays out. And the contrary proposition that humans don’t act is a performative contradiction and incoherent. End quote.

Still the point in debate is not whether humans act purposefuly or not. Only nihilists would claim that humans do not use means to achieve ends.

What the detractors of the human action axiom claim is that purposeful action is not the only form of human action. They do not claim, however, that purposeful action does not exist at all. Then we’d be laughing our assed off.

Arson April 6, 2006 at 5:53 pm

Interesting post.

However, I suppose that you don’t mean that the fact that acting humans cannot concistely deny the statement that humans act proves that ALL human acts. After all, if the case were that some humans didn’t act, it’s not like they would be there to argue against you. Their attempt to argue against human action would not be a failure nor a victory because there could not be such an attempt. But their “truth” would still lie in their passitivity, I guess.

So if ones goal was to disprove human action, I suppose the best (nearest thing to victory) one could come would be stop acting (therefore giving up any attempt on doing anything, not employing any means whatsoever (apart from non-action, if you could call that a means)).

But what does it matter, it’s not like non-thinking individuals need (or can make use of) guidelines for thinking.

Arson April 6, 2006 at 5:59 pm

Pardon my english.
And it should be “proof” and not “truth” in my last post.

Benjamin Marks April 6, 2006 at 6:35 pm

Paul:

You have not understood the ramifications of the point I made, that to agree that if the alien (or thing controlling our thoughts) can appear is to cease to claim apodictic certainty. You cannot claim to be absolutely certain of something with the disclaimer, “Unless I am wrong.” Yet that is exactly your position.

You say, “‘humans act’ [is] an a priori synthetic truth because that is the nature of our minds, our physical reality with which we interact and interfere with, and in fact, of what we call truth.”

Where is this mind you speak of? How do you know it is ours? Mind is a verb not a noun. It has no structure; we can mind our step, but we cannot measure its nature. You do seem to admit that our minds do not have any “physical reality”. Why, then, talk about its nature?

I have not claimed that humans do not act, because I believe that they in fact do. I thought I made it clear that all I am arguing is that we cannot be apodictically certain that humans act, and even you, when you admitted that a thought-controlling thing could possibly appear, conceded the point.

Paul Edwards April 6, 2006 at 6:40 pm

Hi francisstp,

“Still the point in debate is not whether humans act purposefuly or not… What the detractors of the human action axiom claim is that purposeful action is not the only form of human action. They do not claim, however, that purposeful action does not exist at all.”

I think that at least some detractors of the indisputability of the proposition “humans act” oppose it because of the implications it has for praxeology, and the study of economics.

The thing about Austrian economics that bugs some of them is that its truths are of an a priori synthetic nature. That means its truths are indisputable and yet have practical meaning and application to human pursuits. These truths are subjectable to rigorous deductive logical inspection and are therefore logically provable and disprovable (if wrong). They are necessarily not ever subject to disproof via empirical observation. This is similar to the a priori truth that one will never find in the real world an instance of parallel lines that meet. And what’s best: all these great things are founded on the single indisputable presupposition humans necessarily must always make: humans act.

Some people just don’t like this level of concrete knowledge mixed with their economics.

Carey Closs April 6, 2006 at 9:14 pm

The alien that controls my actions wanted me to pass a message to Benjamin………Phone home

averros April 6, 2006 at 10:04 pm

Actually, the “axiom of action” is not an axiom in a true sense (i.e. an arbitrary statement declared true for the purpose of exploration of logically derived statements).

Axioms cannot be proved or disproved. They are assumed.

The “axiom of action” is, basically, an empirical law, the consequence of the fact that humans exist as a biological species.

Particular forms of living creatures (in a broad sense… inclusionary of replicators of all kinds) are like what they are because they were selected to be good fits to the conditions of their environments. Because acting to achieve desireable ends (i.e. genetic reproduction, and, in case of humans – genetic plus cultural reproduction) with available means is a radical way to improve fitness nearly all living organisms have that ability.

Even bacteria can make purposeful (i.e. serving a definite purpose we can recognize) actions using resources they can control.

The “purposefulness” depends on the ability to select desireable goals, the ability to generate alternative courses of action, the ability to foresee the consequences (and thus to compare) the courses of action, and the ability to select and perfom the actions.

The high value of improved purposefulness is what has driven the evolution of more and more sophisticated chemical signalling networks, central nervous system, improving body plans, etc.

This empirical fact of capability of living organisms (including humans) to purposeful action is then taken as an “axiom” by the Austrian economy.

Ignoring the logical consequences of this axiom (i.e. the praxeology) amounts to the denial of the fact that humans are alive.

The apriori synthetic truths of the Austrian economics only *appear* to be such if one stays within the boundaries of the field. For a biologist, they are well-estabilshed empirical facts and the products of reasoning based on these facts.

Actually, any zoologist would immediately recognize the notion of property as ritualization of aggression (in ethological sense), the non-aggression imperative as strongly reciprocial evolutionary-stable strategy, the kleptocracy as a form of parasitism, and free market as a form of symbiosis.

Biologists also recognize the lack of fundamental difference between the organism and the products of its purposeful actions, calling them “the extended phenotype” – and so, essentially, formulate the libertarian axiom of self-ownership.

Unlike the insular mainstream economics which has no ties to other fields of natural science (I don’t think the willful misuse of mathematics counts), the Austrian economics is firmly embedded into the fabric of the natural sciences – even if Austrian economists often fail to appreciate that :)

This suggests an interesting course of action for advancement of the field – to seek allies not among the mainstream economists, but rather among the scientists in the natural science. Unfortunately I see an understandable reluctance to do so because earlier attempts to make economics a natural science were seriously flawed – mostly because of the “organic” view of the society, which failed to take into account the simple biological fact that all cells in organisms have the same DNA, while economical actors are all different and so have different interests, meaning that a society cannot behave in the same ways as an organism. (It could… if everyone were a clone of each other, like ants, – thus the collectivist agenda of standartizing education, medical care, incomes, etc – even if they themselves fail to recognize the root cause of their obsession with literal equality).

Walt D. April 6, 2006 at 10:41 pm

All proponents of the Austrian School of Economics are argumentative.

Have you stopped beating your wife?

The following starement is true. “If 5=4, then Hans Hoppe is the Pope”.

Incidentally, denying the Axiom of Action is not the same as denying that 1+1=2 in a formal arithmetical system.
1+1=2 is a theorem that can be proven from the other axioms. (You can find a proof of the theorem 1+1 =2, using the axioms of set theory in “Principia Mathematica’.)

Question. What is wrong with the following summary of neuropsychological theory of human behavior: Human beings have not only a brain and a body, but also a mind.
A mind is different from a brain – it is a user interface that allows one brain and body to communicate and influence what is going on in another brain and body. (Daniel Siegel). The brain controls certain actions of the body without input from the mind. The mind is able to take control over the brain and body and make rational, purposeful or ethical decisions and choices. However, under conditions of extreme stress and danger, the brain is able to take over and act without the input or veto control of the mind; these actions of the brain can produce actions by the body that may not be ethical or rational.
The Axiom of Action appears to to be an invalid disjunctive syllogism. Either Human act puposefully or they don’t. The middle ground that human beings are capable of both purposeful (explicit) and implicit (non-purposeful in the sense that the mind makes no deliberate or deliberated decision) seems to be excluded.

Paul Edwards April 7, 2006 at 1:15 am

Walt,

If i were smarter, i could avoid asking you to be more explicit in respect to what conclusions you considered to be justified through the analogies you seem to be presenting. But i’m not, so i cannot.

Was the above an attempt at disputing that humans act?

Incidentally, I’ve heard from time to time the term axiom defined in this or some similar way: as “an arbitrary statement declared true for the purpose of exploration of logically derived statements”

Is this the sense of the term axiom you mean when you say that “You can find a proof of the theorem 1+1 =2, using the _axioms_ of set theory in “Principia Mathematica’.” Are these axioms of the “arbitrary” type? Or are they more of the presupposed kind of thing? I’m learning lots as I go here.

The thing I am often reminded of as I argue this intriguing issue with people is that the article is explicit: the statement “humans act” cannot be proved; nor is a proof required. It is simply and necessarily presupposed by all thinking human beings, and is also indisputable. That is really the long and the short of it.

Paul Edwards April 7, 2006 at 1:43 am

Benjamin,

“You have not understood the ramifications of the point I made, that to agree that if the alien (or thing controlling our thoughts) can appear is to cease to claim apodictic certainty. You cannot claim to be absolutely certain of something with the disclaimer, “Unless I am wrong.” Yet that is exactly your position.”

But, Benjamin, I can agree that if someone shows me that 1+1=2 is sometimes false, that I must then concede that 1+2=3 can also sometimes be false. That doesn’t mean I concede that 1+1=2 will ever be shown to be false.

“You say, “‘humans act’ [is] an a priori synthetic truth because that is the nature of our minds, our physical reality with which we interact and interfere with, and in fact, of what we call truth.”"

Yes.

“Where is this mind you speak of?”

You’ve got me there, somewhere in our brains I’m guessing.

“How do you know it is ours?”

You’ve got me again. But this is also unimportant. What is important is that all thinking humans presuppose they have a mind and that it is theirs. You do, I do, and all thinking humans do. No matter how clever we are, we all presuppose our thoughts are our own (when we’re not debating the “humans act” issue). We live our existence knowing it to be true, as much as we know anything at all to be true. If we do not know this truth, we know absolutely no truth at all.

“Mind is a verb not a noun. It has no structure; we can mind our step, but we cannot measure its nature.”

I’ve heard this before, maybe from you though. This strikes me as an amazing statement. People change their minds, loose their minds, boggle their minds, develop their minds and pollute their minds. I’m almost certain “mind” is also a noun.

“You do seem to admit that our minds do not have any “physical reality”. Why, then, talk about its nature?”

I don’t recall conceding this, but if I did, I would certainly still argue that its existence has many physical manifestations. We think and reason with our minds and we use our minds to interpret our environment, identify causation, our minds value certain ends, and choose to use means to achieve those ends. Our mind is pretty real, despite what we may perceive its physical nature to be.

“I have not claimed that humans do not act, because I believe that they in fact do.”

And rightly so.

“I thought I made it clear that all I am arguing is that we cannot be apodictically certain that humans act, and even you, when you admitted that a thought-controlling thing could possibly appear, conceded the point.”

But it’s an “if then” agreement: if impossibility X then impossibility Y may follow. If the truth of our own self ownership in our mind is unknown, nothing is known.

averros April 7, 2006 at 3:42 am

Walt D. -
The Axiom of Action appears to to be an invalid disjunctive syllogism. Either Human act puposefully or they don’t. The middle ground that human beings are capable of both purposeful (explicit) and implicit (non-purposeful in the sense that the mind makes no deliberate or deliberated decision) seems to be excluded.

Well, human beings are not perfect, and are not omniscient, neither they are omnipotent. Hence, they do rational and irrational decisions, and carry them out or fail to do so due to limited skills, agility, or strength.

The way the decision is made (deliberately-consciously vs instinctive or unconsciously) is totally irrelevant, and so is the entire dualism/physicalism issue. Praxeology treats the mind as a black box.

What the axiom of action says is that humans are capable of making purposeful actions. It does not say that all actions are purposeful.

This statement is not tautological, cyclically self-referential, or trivial. It tells that people are not automatons, that they have free will, and that they do excercise that free will to their own advantage.

It also implies existence of purposes intrinsic to humans, not some externally imposed goals; and that also means that humans act individually.

What it does not define is the structure of the human utility function, and does not define the mechanism for choosing specific movements based on it.

However, the Austrian analysis is incomplete, because besides their own purposes humans appear to act for the benefit of their memetic symbionts and parasites – their cultures. Note that the only purpose of a culture is to propagate itself, not to serve interests of its carriers, as most humanitarians falsely assume.

Benjamin Marks April 7, 2006 at 6:04 am

Paul:

If mind is a noun then it is an abstract rather than concrete one. What is the nature of an abstraction? What is the mind an abstraction of? You answer the brain. If this is true wouldn’t mind and brain be synonymous? Why are they used differently? Where can thoughts be found in bodily organs?

You say, “Our mind is pretty real, despite what we may perceive its physical nature to be.” What if we perceive its physical nature to be in the posession and under the control of a non-human?

You say, “If the truth of our own self ownership in our mind is unknown, nothing is known.” This has no relevance to the validity or truth of my argument.

Previously you considered the appearance of thought-controlling things a possibility (however remote and ridiculous), now you call it an impossibility. Why?

You have continued to claim that maths and praxeology are equally apodictic. Maths involves propositions that are true be definition. Praxeology does not. If it did then human action would be called an analytic rather than synthetic proposition.

Peter April 7, 2006 at 7:19 am

Incidentally, I’ve heard from time to time the term axiom defined in this or some similar way: as “an arbitrary statement declared true for the purpose of exploration of logically derived statements”

The OED says:

axiom /’aksI@m/ noun. L15
  [French axiome or Latin axioma from Greek = what is thought fitting, a self-evident principle (Aristotle), from axios worthy]
  1 An established or generally accepted principle; a maxim; a rule L15.
† 2 LOGIC. A proposition (true or false). L16-M18
  3 MATH. A self-evident truth; a proposition on which an abstractly defined structure is based. L16.

(but with IPA pronunciation, which I can’t type, and mises.org is stripping <small> tags for some reason…)

I’m almost certain “mind” is also a noun.

Of course it is.

Peter April 7, 2006 at 7:22 am

(sorry about all the blank lines. Looked good on the preview!)

Paul Edwards April 7, 2006 at 9:35 am

Averros,

“However, the Austrian analysis is incomplete, because besides their own purposes humans appear to act for the benefit of their memetic symbionts and parasites – their cultures.”

I think what you are really observing is that economics is not psychology. Economics doesn’t analyze how or why we arrive at the ends we value most. It merely deals with the fact that given we chose ends, we also choose and use means to obtain them.

Paul Edwards April 7, 2006 at 10:07 am

Benjamin,

“You say, “If the truth of our own self ownership in our mind is unknown, nothing is known.” This has no relevance to the validity or truth of my argument.”

Are you serious? We are here debating about what is true and what is not or what may not be true. At the same time, you say that it is not relevant that your proposition implies we can know nothing at all.

If we take your premise and accept its implication that we really may know nothing at all, then this debate is nothing more than an intricate exercise in futility. I know neither of us believes this, however, therefore, implicitly, neither of us believes “thought-controlling things a possibility.”

So I’m not exactly saying they are not possible (although it is true I am certain they are not). I’m just saying that even you implicitly presuppose they are not. Why? Because you argue about truth, implying truth can be known, implying it is true that we control and own our own minds. It’s all about arguing consistently with our necessary implicit presuppositions.

Peter:

By those definitions, then, Humans act is an axiom.

Through-out all of my schooling, I managed to avoid learning the definitions of these terms as they arose in geometry and math and engineering, only to finally have to learn them studying economics! How strange is that?

“Of course it is.”

I have always found understatement to be funny. I hope in this case, it didn’t obscure that I didn’t doubt mind is a noun.

Benjamin Marks April 7, 2006 at 10:25 am

Paul and Peter:

What I meant, as I explained above, is that the mind has no concrete existence as a noun. If it has no concrete existence, then it can have no structure. You (Paul) claimed that the mind has a structure, I made this argument in response. It has not been addressed.

Paul:

I said your comment was irrelevant because you were trying to make deductions from it to show that the results were not to your liking, not that they were wrong on logical grounds. You were evading my argument. And, anyway, your deductions were incorrect (but now we’re digressing): My proposition does not imply that we cannot know anything at all. What I argue is that we cannot be absolutely certain of any synthetic arguments, because of the mind-body problem. That is all.

None of my other points were addressed.

Paul Edwards April 7, 2006 at 11:26 am

Benjamin,

“None of my other points were addressed.”

Here goes then:

“If mind is a noun then it is an abstract rather than concrete one. What is the nature of an abstraction? What is the mind an abstraction of? You answer the brain. If this is true wouldn’t mind and brain be synonymous? Why are they used differently? Where can thoughts be found in bodily organs?”

I don’t really get the point of this question, but let me answer as best I can: Thoughts are a feature of the existence of the mind. Thoughts do exist regardless of the fact that I can’t point to where in our brain our minds conceive them. We cannot dispute the existence of a mind and thoughts on this basis, especially when we reveal their existence in every word we express.

“You say, “Our mind is pretty real, despite what we may perceive its physical nature to be.” What if we perceive its physical nature to be in the posession and under the control of a non-human?”

As my kid said in reference to a similar question put to her at the dinner table last night: “that’s a big ‘what if’”. LOL. But seriously, and quite simply, Benjamin, we don’t. You don’t, despite what you say, you have demonstrated that by engaging in debate about truth with me. All arguments that propose we are not in control of our minds are inconsistent and incoherent.

“You say, “If the truth of our own self ownership in our mind is unknown, nothing is known.” This has no relevance to the validity or truth of my argument.”

I guess I attacked this one previously. I thought your reply was on the weak side.

“Previously you considered the appearance of thought-controlling things a possibility (however remote and ridiculous), now you call it an impossibility. Why?”

Previously, for sake of argument, I went along with the premise to see where it would take us. The arrival of the alien that could express the thought that “humans don’t act” would render “humans act” finally disputable without contradiction (but only for the alien). That never changed the fact that “humans act” remains indisputable because there exists no such alien to put up such an argument.

“You have continued to claim that maths and praxeology are equally apodictic. Maths involves propositions that are true be definition.”

A is A is true by definition. It is analytic, tautological, and a priori true. But most maths are comprised of more than (I think) tautologies. At least that’s what most engineers will tell you (once you explain to them what a tautology is. LOL). Whether that means it is synthetic or still analytic is beyond me, but that’s not strictly important to me. “Humans act”, on the other hand, is also a priori true, but it is synthetic. It says something useful about humans and how they interact with reality.

“Praxeology does not [involve propositions that are true be definition]. If it did then human action would be called an analytic rather than synthetic proposition.”

This statement is very close to the point we are debating. I am claiming that praxeology involves (is founded on) the proposition that “humans act”. I claim everyone including you presupposes its truth (it is axiomatic), and that it is furthermore indisputable. Therefore, I am claiming that it is true _a priori_, and because of its practical application in the science of praxeology, it is a synthetic proposition.

I think we are just going to have to disagree because I sense that I am repeating myself now.

zombie April 7, 2006 at 3:50 pm

“Humans act”, on the other hand, is also a priori true, but it is synthetic. It says something useful about humans and how they interact with reality.

It says nothing of value, let alone anything useful. It only says that they act. The rest of the axiom (the one with means and values and blah blah) is at least debatable on the grounds that the “axiom” (platitude) does not specify frequency, and only works in combination with a terribly unnatural definition of means and values.

What is left, the “action” part, is truly worthless. You could get anyone who disagrees with you in a great variety of different ways to say, “yeah, that axiom is true.”

Ironically, those logically inclined will recall that if A implies B, and “not B” holds, then “not A” holds too. Given the many claims made by “austrian” economists which simply do not correspond to evidence, one would have to conclude that your axiom is false.

Or, and that is the by far most plausible explanation, that your “economics” is nothing but an algebra of falacies.

averros April 10, 2006 at 2:58 am

Paul –
I think what you are really observing is that economics is not psychology. Economics doesn’t analyze how or why we arrive at the ends we value most. It merely deals with the fact that given we chose ends, we also choose and use means to obtain them.
Unfortunately mass psychology does have economical consequences. Saying that humans act in their subjective interests is valid, and defines the envelope of valid outcomes – and that is what Austrian economics is all about.
On the other hand, the envelope is really wide, and the hidden assumption that the individual choices are uncoordinated tends to lead to the logically invalid conclusion that individuals excercising subjecive choices in a free-market framework will prosper.
Unfortunately, the overlay of the culture which does to a significant degree coordinate choices of individual people leads societies to impoverish themselves and sometimes to suicide.
An extended economical approach would recognize the self-serving nature of the cultures, as a kind of creatures distinct from biological humans and able to control human behaviour to a some extent, and take that into account. Like humans, cultures are subjects to the laws of economics, and that two-tier interaction of different actors produces very rich dynamics.

averros April 10, 2006 at 3:01 am

zombie –
Given the many claims made by “austrian” economists which simply do not correspond to evidence…
Specific example, please. I don’t think you can offer any.

Alan Dunn April 13, 2006 at 6:04 am

I am not an Austrian economist, but even I think that only a fool would question the action axiom.

From my understanding the Austrian School is unique because they have a demonstrated interest not so much in equilibrium conditions but in the actions of man which tend towards acheiving equilibrium conditions.

Thus the Austrians reason towards equilibrium conditions and orthodox economics reasons from equilibrium conditions.

So correct me if I am wrong here but I think the Austrians are concerned with a dynamic process whereby humans act to meet / obtain objectives.

The orthodox economics ideology on the other hand assumes equilibrium exists out of thin air and is not the product of entreprenurial efforts.

ok maybe not – but I tried to keep things informal.

fabio July 7, 2006 at 3:07 am

would Mises say that action = reaction is a valid indentity? i am asking because i do not believe it is… to keep this short, reaction belongs more to a darwinian view of the world, therefore it itself could form the basis for a SEPARATE axiom to Mises’ ‘homo agens’ postulate.

nothing wrong here, if mathematics and logic are any guide, it is possible to construct as many separate axiomatic-based theories as one wishes. and then, possible to find applications for some (perhaps all) of those theories to acquiring an ever-better understanding of ‘the real world’.

however unless someone proves or even postulates the afore-suggested action = reaction identity, or suggests, better, proves that ‘homo reactens’ is a false premise, isn’t the whole theory of praxeology missing a big chunk of the… action?

how about a new theory recognizing that action reaction in profound ways, and having both ‘homo agens’ and ‘homo reactens’ as axioms… a yin yang type framework if you will?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_yang

fabio July 7, 2006 at 3:11 am

would Mises say that action = reaction is a valid indentity? i am asking because i do not believe it is… to keep this short, reaction belongs more to a darwinian view of the world, therefore it itself could form the basis for a SEPARATE axiom to Mises’ ‘homo agens’ postulate.

nothing wrong here, if mathematics and logic are any guide, it is possible to construct as many separate axiomatic-based theories as one wishes. and then, possible to find applications for some (perhaps all) of those theories to help acquiring an ever-better understanding of ‘the real world’.

however unless someone proves or even postulates the afore-suggested action = reaction identity, or suggests, better, proves that ‘homo reactens’ is a false premise, isn’t the whole theory of praxeology missing a big chunk of the… action?

how about a new theory recognizing that action differs from reaction in profound ways, and having both ‘homo agens’ and ‘homo reactens’ as axioms… a yin yang type framework if you will?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_yang

fabio July 13, 2006 at 8:41 am

would Mises say that action = reaction is a valid indentity? i am asking because i do not believe it is… to keep this short, reaction belongs more to a darwinian view of the world, therefore it itself could form the basis for a SEPARATE axiom to Mises’ ‘homo agens’ postulate.

nothing wrong here, if mathematics and logic are any guide, it is possible to construct as many separate axiomatic-based theories as one wishes. and then, possible to find applications for some (perhaps all) of those theories to help acquiring an ever-better understanding of ‘the real world’.

however unless someone proves or even postulates the afore-suggested action = reaction identity, or suggests, better, proves that ‘homo reactens’ is a false premise, isn’t the whole theory of praxeology missing a big chunk of the… action?

how about a new theory recognizing that action differs from reaction in profound ways, and having both ‘homo agens’ and ‘homo reactens’ as axioms… a yin yang type framework if you will?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_yang

am only reposting because i don’t exactly know how this board functions / haven’t received an answer… holidays?

fabio July 17, 2006 at 8:03 pm

would Mises say that action = reaction is a valid indentity? i am asking because i do not believe it is… to keep this short, reaction belongs more to a darwinian view of the world, therefore it itself could form the basis for a SEPARATE axiom to Mises’ ‘homo agens’ postulate.

nothing wrong here, if mathematics and logic are any guide, it is possible to construct as many separate axiomatic-based theories as one wishes. and then, possible to find applications for some (perhaps all) of those theories to help acquiring an ever-better understanding of ‘the real world’.

however unless someone proves or even postulates the afore-suggested action = reaction identity, or suggests, better, proves that ‘homo reactens’ is a false premise, isn’t the whole theory of praxeology missing a big chunk of the… action?

how about a new theory recognizing that action differs from reaction in profound ways, and having both ‘homo agens’ and ‘homo reactens’ as axioms… a yin yang type framework if you will?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_yang

am only reposting because i don’t exactly know how this board functions / haven’t received an answer… holidays? also tried to start a blog on this but getting no answer whatsoever!? lazy administrators?

fabio July 24, 2006 at 1:38 pm

PRAXEOLOGY IS ONLY HALF THE STORY, AT THE VERY BEST…

would Mises say that action = reaction is a valid indentity? i am asking because i do not believe it is… to keep this short, reaction belongs more to a darwinian view of the world, therefore it itself could form the basis for a SEPARATE axiom to Mises’ ‘homo agens’ postulate.

nothing wrong here, if mathematics and logic are any guide, it is possible to construct as many separate axiomatic-based theories as one wishes. and then, possible to find applications for some (perhaps all) of those theories to help acquiring an ever-better understanding of ‘the real world’.

however unless someone proves or even postulates the afore-suggested action = reaction identity, or suggests, better, proves that ‘homo reactens’ is a false premise, isn’t the whole theory of praxeology missing a big chunk of the… action?

how about a new theory recognizing that action differs from reaction in profound ways, and having both ‘homo agens’ and ‘homo reactens’ as axioms… a yin yang type framework if you will?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_yang

am only reposting because i don’t exactly know how this board functions / haven’t received an answer… holidays? also tried to start a blog on this but getting no answer whatsoever, been 2 weeks!? lazy administrators?

Paul Edwards July 24, 2006 at 2:19 pm

Fabio,

There’s a proverb out there somewhere that covers persistence, and so I thought I’d confirm it by answering you. :)

“PRAXEOLOGY IS ONLY HALF THE STORY, AT THE VERY BEST…”

At best. But when it comes to political economy and political philosophy, it’s the whole story.

“would Mises say that action = reaction is a valid indentity?”

Action in the manner in which we use it here is where humans interact with their physical reality, use scarce means in a purposeful way to achieve their desired ends. So if you come at it from that context, if a human reacts to something by acting, then the two are the same. On the other hand, when you bonk someone on that funny part of the knee and it kicks up, if you mean that as reaction, then that falls outside of action, and is irrelevant to the field of praxeology.

“i am asking because i do not believe it is… to keep this short, reaction belongs more to a darwinian view of the world, therefore it itself could form the basis for a SEPARATE axiom to Mises’ ‘homo agens’ postulate.”

You got me there.

“nothing wrong here, if mathematics and logic are any guide, it is possible to construct as many separate axiomatic-based theories as one wishes. and then, possible to find applications for some (perhaps all) of those theories to help acquiring an ever-better understanding of ‘the real world’.”

Praxeology isn’t based on arbitrary postulates or axioms. It is based on a priori truths about the nature of acting man with a few other matters of objective empirical fact added in. Its entire foundation is on indisputable truths, and the conclusions it reaches are also indisputable, provided they are shown to be arrived at through valid logic.

“however unless someone proves or even postulates the afore-suggested action = reaction identity, or suggests, better, proves that ‘homo reactens’ is a false premise, isn’t the whole theory of praxeology missing a big chunk of the… action?”

In the study of praxeology, economics and ethics, there’s nothing more to it than human action; that is, what your find in Mises’s “Human Action” is to a very large extent, the great foundation of economics. In other words, there’s no missing chunk.

“how about a new theory recognizing that action differs from reaction in profound ways, and having both ‘homo agens’ and ‘homo reactens’ as axioms… a yin yang type framework if you will?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_yang

To the extent that action differs from reaction, reaction is irrelevant to economics and ethics. To the extent that reaction is relevant, it is subsumed by action.

“am only reposting because i don’t exactly know how this board functions / haven’t received an answer… holidays? also tried to start a blog on this but getting no answer whatsoever, been 2 weeks!? lazy administrators?”

LOL! If only I had a dime for every time someone didn’t respond to one of my crazy posts.

Brian Drum July 24, 2006 at 3:04 pm

Hey everyone,

Before the next ‘action’ or ‘apriori’ brouhaha, I would recommend that any interested parties take a look at an excellent work, IMHO, by Roderick Long:

Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action

Cheers,

Brian

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