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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5450/on-indifference/

on indifference

August 9, 2006 by

the main problem I have with Hans on indifference is that he seems to let Nozick off the hook. Nozick says that in order to define a good, you’ve got to have indifference in economics, since a good is defined as that which with regard to all members of the class, we are indifferent between them. to say this in other words, if butter is a good, then we are indifferent between all units of butter. I think that my admittedly coarse analysis succeeds in overturning Nozick, while I think that Hans’ admittedly far more sophisticated analysis does not. Also, apart from Nozick, Hans seems to think that if his analysis is correct, then mine must be incorrect. nothing I have seen so far convinces me that we cannot both be right.


Person August 9, 2006 at 4:15 pm

When I initially read Hoppe’s handling of indifference when it appeared last year as a Daily Article, I was suprised. He seemed to be accepting that *which* preference is revealed in an action depends partly on something unobservable in someone’s mind. I actually agreed with his position, but for the above reason it seems that insofar as he’s right, the Austrian position is in error. If we can’t attribute additional meaning to actions beyond that which is precisely revealed as intersubjectively observable, we cannot speak of “categories” of goods. It would be meaningless to say “demand for gasoline increases”.

Walter Block claims that each unit of a good must be truly unique in that (for the ones chosen), someone revelated a concrete preference for it. However, take the example of the 72nd butter. This grasping of it does *not* reveal a preference for it, as Block claims. It we are to adhere to only inferring from objective actions, all that that action revealed was that (like Caplan would argue) that person perfers to gesticulate his body in such a manner that his hand envelops a stick of butter. Maybe he likes that gesticulation. We don’t know. Insofar as we are to refer to his intent in taking that butter, we are accepting that we can refer to his indifference.

And what’s with Block’s tendency to make cutesy remarks? It just seems unprofessional.

Beefcake the Mighty August 9, 2006 at 4:40 pm

“And what’s with Block’s tendency to make cutesy remarks? It just seems unprofessional.”

Person, for once I’m in agreement with you.

David J. Heinrich August 9, 2006 at 5:15 pm


Please quote an example of one of Prof. Block’s “cutesy remarks” and explain how it is “unprofessional”.

I suppose you think Rothbard was also “unprofessional” because he included sardonic and humerous remarks in his works.

Beefcake the Mighty August 9, 2006 at 5:55 pm

Block’s scholarship is a mile wide and an inch
thick. His typical article goes something like
this: Neoclassicist X supports some form of
intervention Austrians oppose. Why, he’s a
socialist! As “proof”, he’s
never read the standard works by Rothbard,
Mises, Hoppe, Block, and maybe Hayek. A lengthy
bibliography then takes up half the paper. It’s
like his papers are cut and pasted.

His responses on methodology and ABCT were a
disgrace. As far as I can tell, he gets so
much attention because he knew Rothbard. He’s
famous for being famous.

I hereby dub Walter Block the Paris Hilton of

Carl Marks August 9, 2006 at 6:32 pm

Beefcake, you just made my night! I almost fell over.

No disrespect to Walter, he has taught me so much.

Person August 9, 2006 at 7:02 pm

David: What??? Are you kidding me? Did you not read this paper yet? Okay… fine, here we go, starting with the worst. Ask whether these terms are professional or not:

p.8 “I do not give two hoots about …”

p.7″How is this for a logical howler:”

p.7 “Is Hoppe a secret Nozickian? Say it is not so!”

p.6 “What are the specific problems I have with Hoppe’s stylish and graceful perspective?”

p.8 “But this latter sentence implies, nay, states full out,”

Is that enough, or do you want to stop wasting my time?

Ancalagon August 9, 2006 at 7:06 pm

Those are some pretty egregiously unprofessional lines you’ve quoted. I, for one, am all for excommunicating Block from the libertarian community in light of these grievous offenses. BURN HIM!

Beefcake the Mighty August 9, 2006 at 7:07 pm

Despite our basic agreement, Person is still the
Rob Schneider of libertarianism!

L.R. August 9, 2006 at 7:21 pm


I can scarcely believe you’re serious. Besides Rothbard, have you read, to take an example not at random, a Dr. Robert Nozick, Ph.D., late professor of philosophy at Harvard University? He was a philosopher of great good humor, and one who surely counts as a “professional.” Pray tell us what dour philosophers you’ve read who’ve lead to believe there’s no room for colloquialisms in scholarly articles.

(Incidentally, there’s not much room, anywhere, for three exclamation marks in a row, but I’ll let that slide.)

Finally, re his horrible articles: Give one example of a time where he says anything like “As ‘proof’, he’s never read the standard works by Rothbard, [etc.].”

Paul Edwards August 9, 2006 at 8:38 pm

I think anyone who has the inclination, should tear away at the logic of someone’s article or post, and if he can be polite, so much the nicer. If not, i guess no one’s perfect.

But if anyone one just wants to be nasty, i think they can find other more appropriate blogs to do this on. Go away, get it off your chest and then come back here to argue about the ideas again.

Beefcake the Mighty August 9, 2006 at 8:46 pm

Appealing to Nozick in defense of Block is like
appealing to Nicole Richie in defense of Paris

Vedran Vuk August 9, 2006 at 9:03 pm

When beefcake can get as many articles accepted in academic journals as Walter Block, he can start talking. Dr. Block’s articles are not always ground breaking but each one adds something to the libertarian cause if even only a sentence. Lots of single great sentences amount to a fabulous career and a great contribution to libertarianism.

Vince Daliessio August 9, 2006 at 9:33 pm


Very funny. What, exactly is your criteria for appropriate methodology?

More important, who the hell is Paris Hilton, and what branch of economics does she work in?!?

Vince Daliessio August 9, 2006 at 10:02 pm

To the point regarding indifference toward butter;

What if I walk up to the counter of the butter-seller and give him a dollar, then select my own stick of butter? What does this reveal about a) his indifference; b) my preference?

Now suppose, further that the butter-seller decides a vending machine will allow him to have more time for other pursuits. I now approach the machine with trepidation, put in my dollar, and in exchange I get a random stick of butter, unknown to the butter-seller and to me until after the deal is executed. It would appear, here, that both of us are indifferent, or have no preference regarding the identity of the stick of butter exchanged for the dollar. However, our preferences are very much on display here – the butter seller would rather have any old dollar than any one of his sticks of butter, while I would have any old stick of the grocer’s butter than the dollar I have.

This analysis leaves out the question of why I would use the butter-seller’s machine to provide me with butter over another seller or machine.

Bottom line – indifference may be assumable but in most cases is not observable. In reality, preferences (inverse of indifference) are gradations, not absolutes, and are dependent upon the frame of reference selected.

David J. Heinrich August 9, 2006 at 11:27 pm


Ok, understand your position. Someone can only be “professional” if they are completely dead-pan boring and serious all of the time (does Lincoln-worshipper Harry Jaffa count here? he’s certainly a boring enough windbag). Murray Rothbard clearly wasn’t professional. Nor were many other sardonic libertarians.

Oh yea, Hoppe’s dry humor is also suspect. There’s no room for any kind of laughter in the “professional discipline of economics”, and there’s certainly no room for any kind of floral language. We should all behave like robots, and speak in the Darth Vaderian voice.

I’d propose a more reasonable standard: something isn’t unprofessional in-so-far as it isn’t in poor taste, or obnoxious. Much like your comments. Also along those lines would be one of Kevin Carson’s comments in his response to Block, arguing that if his aunt had [anotomical parts], she would be his uncle.


Having read numerous papers by Block, I can say you are wrong. Block typically engages in excellent analysis and doesn’t simply say that people are wrong becuase they haven’t read Rothbard and Mises. That would perhaps be the statement of someone who hasn’t read much of Block, or has only read him very superficially. His debate with Caplan illustrates this. (the only flaw I find here with Block — and Caplan, actually, for bring up the point — is diverging from the topic of what is correct economics, to the topic of which economics better supports the free market; which is entirely irrelevant to the question of what is correct economics).

M E Hoffer August 10, 2006 at 7:57 am

I thought that this post, left on another thread, would provide much contrast:


There’s almost nothing for you to learn from reading the idea-exchanges in this blog format. In simplest terms, you don’t know enough to know what you don’t know. You’d be wading through specific arguments of outstanding acumen without the theoretical background to appreciate their validity. And, on the other hand, you’d be in no position to save yourself from wasting time on the rants of ignoramuses.

I’m with those who welcome you–it’s just that you’d do everybody–especially yourself–a favor by taking the time and effort to read the single most complete exposition of the Austrian school, HUMAN ACTION, by Mises. There’s simply no substitute.

Posted by: gene berman at August 4, 2006 7:52 AM

Beefcake the Mighty August 10, 2006 at 9:13 pm


Better to be a troll than a tool.

David Heinrich is the David Hasselhoff of

greg August 10, 2006 at 10:19 pm

The sticks of butter are assumed to be homogeneous, unless otherwise denoted. Therefore, indifference does not apply. Indifference, if the principle can possibly have a meaning, can only apply to goods of un-same character.

Buriden’s Ass is not an indifference example (as far as the hay goes) — the piles of hay are equivalent in character and mass. The “indifference,” or really lack of it, was choosing between observing longer and being hungry or walking and then eating.

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