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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5444/block-on-indifference-working-paper/

Block on Indifference: Working Paper

August 8, 2006 by

Rejoinder to Hoppe on Indifference by Walter Block (Loyola University)The Austrian position on indifference (Rothbard 1997) is that it cannot account for or explain human action. Nozick (1977) criticized praxeologists for this viewpoint, maintaining the indifference was necessary for the concepts of supply, goods, marginal utility, all of which, he claimed correctly, Austrians relied upon. Thus, they were guilty of contradicting themselves. Block (1980) attempted to defend praxeologists against Nozick’s (1977) critique, taking the position that homogeneity and indifference were incompatible with human action. In the context of choice, indifference could not be contemplated. Hoppe (2005) takes Block (1980) to task for not fully succeeding in overturning Nozick (1977) and for errors of omission and commission in his attempt. The present essay is a reply to Hoppe (2005).



L.R. August 8, 2006 at 5:53 pm

How much does this guy WRITE? The Institute should start taking up a collection to publish his Complete Works. I’d seriously pay good money for that.

Manuel Lora August 8, 2006 at 7:39 pm

I bet that Walter has several Word windows open at any given time, and computers everywhere he goes. Also, if you have not yet co-authored something with him, then your life is not yet complete.

Beefcake the Mighty August 8, 2006 at 8:49 pm

Yeah, but does he WRITE anything worth READING?

David J. Heinrich August 8, 2006 at 9:28 pm


That’s a rather rude and uncivil response. If you think there’s a problem with his paper, then say so, and justify that. If you think the topic isn’t important, then you can also say so and support that.

Prof. Block,

I think that, in a certain context, both Hoppe and yourself are right. I certainly can see your point that it is possible that at the time of action, the goods become heterogenous goods from the point of view of the actor. However, this doesn’t seem to refute Hoppe’s point that, if we grant the alleged “indifference” between two goods — e.g., saving one son vs. another — that such isn’t an explanation of action. Rather, the explanation of action would be that the woman prefers to save one child (perhaps decided by random) than to sit around deliberating a cost-benefit-analysis of saving one versus the other.

What is relevant, I think, isn’t the physical differences between two choices, but the difference (if any) from the actor’s point of view. Maybe one son is a meter closer to the woman than another. If she’s looking at this from the shore-line, that isn’t a parameter that is relevant to her decision (she cannot gauge that difference).

Let’s say that we see an example of a woman who can save only one of her drowning children. Assume that from her perspective, they’re an equivalent distance away from her. There are no differences in current on one path vs. another. She is ambidextrous, so there is no difference in left vs. right. The children are twins. Now, if she saves one of them, one deduction from this might be that she prefers that child to the other one. However, an equally valid deduction might be that her preference wasn’t to save that child, but rather to save one child, rather than none.

However, I think that Hoppe’s basis for rejecting your work relies on the very “physics-based” interpretation of action that he’s rejecting. Hoppe thinks it’s implausible for you to say that before the action, the units of butter belonged to one homogenous class, and that at the point of action, they’re heterogenous. He argues that they remain what they were: units of butter. However, I think that this is lapsing into an understanding of things based on what they are in fact physically, vs. what the actor considers them to be.

It seems to me that, when we look at the goods from the point of view of the actor, either explanation — your’s or Hoppe’s — may be valid.

However, I do not think that Hoppe is using indifference to explain an action. I think he’s using it to explain what doesn’t explain an action. E.g., what explains the action of saving one child isn’t indifference between the two children, but rather the preference to save one child vs. none.

In any event, I think either response explains marginal utility. Either the goods are perceived of as homogenous before the point of action, then heterogenous at it (hence, explaining their treatment in actions prior to the relevant action, and their treatment in the current action); or they’re perceived of as homogenous before the point of action and at the point of action, and the relevant thing is trading “a good” vs. not trading one.

Tom Whiston August 9, 2006 at 10:25 pm

i’m indifferent to both Hoppe’s and Block’s arguements on indifference.

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