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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6480/acting-man/

Acting Man

April 6, 2007 by

  1. Purposeful Action and Animal Reaction
  2. The Prerequisites of Human Action
  3. Human Action as an Ultimate Given
  4. Rationality and Irrationality
  1. Causality as a Requirement of Action
  2. The Alter Ego

Human action is purposeful behavior, wrote Ludwig von Mises. Or we may say: Action is will put into operation and transformed into an agency, is aiming at ends and goals, is the ego’s meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its environment, is a person’s conscious adjustment to the state of the universe that determines his life. Such paraphrases may clarify the definition given and prevent possible misinterpretations. But the definition itself is adequate and does not need complement of commentary. Conscious or purposeful behavior is in sharp contrast to unconscious behavior, i.e., the reflexes and the involuntary responses of the body’s cells and nerves to stimuli. FULL ARTICLE

{ 15 comments }

josh m April 7, 2007 at 3:15 pm

I once recall reading somewhere that the statement (or some such similar statement) “the individual always acts in his best interest” is redundant (or possibly a tautology) since all purposeful behavior serves a subjective benefit.

Does anyone know where this was from? It was possibly Mises, or Hoppe (or perhanps another author).

Thanks.

Angelo Mike April 7, 2007 at 5:37 pm

That’s a basic tenet of praxeology, so there are many Austrians who have made such statements.

Axel Riemer April 8, 2007 at 12:13 pm

But what about the redundant part?

I don’t know that redundant is the right word for it though. Action implies a purpose. A purpose must be driven by some subjective value. I don’t know – in order for the statement to be false, it might contradict itself, thereby it must be true?

If I discern all the value I may get from some action, and then take only actions that give me negative value, then “negative” valued actions are more valued than “positive” valued actions. That is, we always mean to take the action that we take – and only in retrospect may we discern whether we acted in our best interest.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Angelo Mike April 8, 2007 at 12:23 pm

It’s not redundant, but self-referential. We cannot possibly think of or point to an action that isn’t conducted to maximize the welfare of the actor who carries it out.

josh m April 8, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Thanks for all your responses.

Actually, the answer I was looking for is addressed by Mises this very excerpt–I overlooked it.

“The term ‘rational action’ is therefore pleonastic and must be rejected as such.”

“It’s not redundant, but self-referential.”

I think Mises is clear that a phrase such as “acting in one’s best interest,” while self-referential, is nevertheless indeed redundant–a ‘pleonasm’ in his words.

Angelo Mike April 8, 2007 at 10:20 pm

Indeed “rational action ” is redundant and misleading, since it implies there can be some non-rational action. That would entail trying to refute the axiom of action, which is unrealizable since you must acknowledge the rational nature of action in trying to refute it.

That’s different from what you said in your first comment, though, which is perfectly valid.

josh m April 9, 2007 at 2:11 am

Do you think the phrases “all action is ‘rational’ ” and “all action is ‘in one’s self-interest’ ” are, from a semantical point of view, practically interchangeable?

Your (valid) reasoning which you applied to the phrase ‘rational action’ equally applies to the phrase ‘self-interested action’, does it not? Isn’t this latter phrase equally redundant since it implies the existence of non self-interested action?

josh m April 9, 2007 at 2:25 am

“That’s different from what you said in your first comment, though, which is perfectly valid.”

Excuse me, I just realized now what I think you meant with this statement, and I didn’t take it into account while writing my previous post. But so this doesn’t get too confusing, I’ll wait until you comment on my previous post before my commenting further.

Angelo Mike April 9, 2007 at 9:22 am

“Self-interested action” and “rational action” are indeed redundant and can be misleading. But sentences such as, “All action is rational,” or, “All action is conducted with self-interest,” are perfectly valid and useful since they steer one away from the errors implied in adding the word “rational” next to “action”, presupposing the existence of non-rational action as well.

Mises iterates many times sentences such as the two sentences I stated above defining action as both rational and self-interested in order to describe the universally true implications of action. That’s consistent with all valid economic science.

josh m April 9, 2007 at 5:23 pm

Ok, good.

I’m changing the subject somewhat, if I may. Does praxeology have anything to say about someone who is delusional and, say, drinks a glass of bleach believing it is delicious orange juice, other than the observation that this individual nevertheless acts in his own ‘self-interest’?

Larry N. Martin April 9, 2007 at 6:33 pm

Yeah, it says that he was mistaken, BIG Time!!
;-)

josh m April 9, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Exactly. So isn’t it somewhat absurd to say that since value is subjective, that such an action would be in that person’s ‘best interest’?

gene berman April 10, 2007 at 8:45 am

Mises simply makes the point (and in many other cases as well) that ordinary speech is insufficient to convey certain ideas precisely and, in fact, may introduce misunderstanding.

Ordinary speech (and we’ll leave aside whether it’s correct or incorrect) equates “rational” with other descriptors (“judicious,” “logical,” and, especially, “sane”), when, at its core definition relates it to the concept, “based on reason.” Mises points out (and we may easily observe, ourselves) that the wider, more commonplace usages introduce opportunity for error. Indeed, the process of learning itself is enormously complicated by these frequent (mis)usages, to the point where even educated speakers frquently refer to actions by others of which they disapprove (or even do not understand) as “irrational.”

The matter might seem merely an opportunity for pedantic quibbling. But, when it is reflected that the very-frequent propagandistic technique of “demonizing” other parties or peoples frequently consists in convincing as many as possible that such others hold beliefs utterly unamenable to reason, that they are, in fact, irrational, insane, beyond productive argument or negotiation, the damage-potential of such inapt language can be seen more clearly.

This is not a problem restricted to uneducated ignoramuses. They don’t come much smarter (and educated) than some of the commentors over at Gene Expression (gnxp.com) but very much the same confusion arises repeatedly, no matter how often a narrower, more accurate use of language is suggested (and argued for).

talkpc June 21, 2010 at 3:22 am

We always mean to take the action that we take – and only in retrospect may we discern whether we acted in our best interest.

website June 21, 2010 at 3:23 am

But, when it is reflected that the very-frequent propagandistic technique of “demonizing” other parties or peoples frequently consists in convincing as many as possible that such others hold beliefs utterly unamenable to reason, that they are, in fact, irrational, insane, beyond productive argument or negotiation, the damage-potential of such inapt language can be seen more clearly.

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