With chapter 3, we are entering the beginnings of Mises’s life as scholar. There we have a very detailed account of how Mises’s outlook on matters of theory and policy were shaped, who influenced his early thinking and how it all relates to his later contributions to economics and social science in general. Mises’s formal university training was in law and government science at the University of Vienna. His first scientific work, which he began working on already in his first year of study, immediately became widely known amongst leading members of the German Historical School as a thoroughly researched historical investigation into the nature of peasant liberation in his native Galicia.
To be sure, Mises were to discover the writings of Carl Menger and other members of the Austrian school of economics, which made an economist of him, only a few years later. Nevertheless, working on his first scholarly manuscript combined with his educational background in law left an important imprint on all his subsequent contributions, most importantly of course in the realm of pure economic theory: the supreme importance of grounding all theoretical investigations into real world events.
Attending the seminars of his teachers Eugen von Philippovich, a historicist- interventionist who according to Mises was “the most thorough theorist ever of third-way policiesâ€, and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Carl Menger’s most important follower, must have played an instrumental role in shaping Mises’s variant of Mengerian “empirical theoryâ€.
It is important to note that this “empirical theoryâ€ sets the Mengerian branch of subjectivist economics apart from the other two co-founders of what has come to be known as the broader subjectivist tradition in economics — Jevons and Walras. The attempt to operate not with floating abstractions and fictious assumption that marked the work of Jevons and Walras but concepts derived from concretes actually existing in the real world â€“ this is what makes Mengerian approach unique. However, despite its explicit commitment to a greater realism, we shall find major chunks of floating abstractions and unwarranted assumption in the actual analytical content of a number of Austrian doctrines. They constitute deviations from the Mengerian ideal of realism, and sometimes quite substantial.
This theme will occupy our attention throughout those parts of the book, starting with the very next chapter, devoted to analytical details of the distinctively Austrian approach.