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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Compare and Contrast

"All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another. Nothing that men aim at or want to avoid remains outside of this arrangement into a unique scale of gradation and preference." -- Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

"But though impulse is, as it were, the foundation of all action, the hedonist is wrong in arguing--as in effect he must argue--that economic and moral acts differ in nothing essential from acts of pure impulse. The mere fact that he has to twist these types of action into conformity with his standard shows that hedonism is a dialectical tour de force rather than an unbiased statement of the facts. We may applaud his ingenuity in showing that the sweated labourer and the religious martyr are simply enjoying themselves, but even he is not really convinced by it... the hedonist's efforts to drag economic action into line with impulsive action is parallel to, and cannot succeed better than, the utilitarian's effort to drag moral action into line with economic. " -- R.G. Collingwood, "Economics as a Philosophical Science"

16 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:51 AM

    The two seem fairly compatible over all.

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  2. Gene, I am really disappointed in this one. If you want to say Mises didn't think there was any difference between materialistic and moral behavior, you will need to find a different quote. What you've done is akin to this:

    "I just talked to a physicist who said that toilet paper and drapes are made up of the same atoms. So I'm not inviting that guy to my house--he thinks there's no difference between toilet paper and drapes!!"

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  3. Bob, Beefcake, as I've noted elsewhere, Roderick Long has pointed out the exact same incompatibility that I have. And Bob, the issue has nothing to do with "materialistic" versus "moral" behaviour -- it has to do with whether all action is economic action.

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  4. So, Beefcake, to you go and read Long's paper that is making the exact same point as I am? Have you now sent Long a series of crude, insulting e-mails telling him he should have his Harvard and Cornell degrees taken away?

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  5. "Unlike Mises, however, Collingwood denies that the a priori principles of economics apply to all actio n whatsoever. For Collingwood there are three kinds of action: those in which means and end are distinct, those in which means and end are united, and those to which the concepts of means and ends do not apply. Economic principles, he maintains, apply only to the first of these..." -- Roderick Long, "R. G. Collingwood: Historicist or Praxeologist?"

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  6. I am here to clarify my position on this stuff, and then I'm leaving. I have not read Collingwood nor have I read Long, save for the quotes Gene has produced here.

    It seems to me that Collingwood is not attacking the Misesian position in the first quote, regarding the "hedonist." Mises does not qualify as the hedonist in my mind, who thinks "economic and moral acts differ in nothing essential from acts of pure impulse." That was the point of my physicist analogy. It depends what we mean by "essential."

    Now if we then look at Roderick Long's statement, it seems that Collingwood definitely is contradicting the Misesian framework. It doesn't make sense in the Misesian framework to say, "Can there be an action to which a means/end framework cannot be applied?" The things that Collingwood would put into that third category, Mises would put into his general category of action.

    Now the problem here is that Collingwood is using "economic action" to be interchangeable with the Misesian word "action" (I think).

    So anyway, here are two different ways of classifying human actions, assuming Long's description is correct. But I still maintain that the first quote from Collingwood doesn't hit Mises at all; Mises would never say, "that the sweated labourer and the religious martyr are simply enjoying themselves." Mises go out of his way to DENY such an interpretation of his position.

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  7. BTW Beefcake, I know you're my biggest fan so I hate to disappoint you, but if I were on Gene's committee I'm sure I would vote to approve.

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  8. Right, Bob, it is when he talks about the utilitarian framework that what he says conflicts with Mises.

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  9. Beefcake the Mighty9:50 AM

    "Man, you are a fucking moron."

    How rude!

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  10. Beefcake the Mighty8:19 AM

    "Bob, Beefcake, as I've noted elsewhere, Roderick Long has pointed out the exact same incompatibility that I have. "

    Does he? On p. 5 of his paper on Collingwood, Long claims that "Collingwood is an exceptionally able and important thinker whose affinities
    with Mises run deep, and who deserves to be better known in Austrian circles."

    I have no idea whether Long is correct in this assessment, but I return to my previous question: what the hell is your point, Gene?

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  11. Page 37: "Unlike Mises, however, Collingwood denies that the a priori principles of economics apply to all actio n whatsoever. For Collingwood there are three kinds of action: those in which means and end are distinct, those in which means and end are united, and those to which the concepts of means and ends do not apply. Economic principles, he maintains, apply only to the first of these:"

    I know reading is hard, Beefcake, but you might have your nanny try reading to you past page 5.

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  12. Bob Murphy, insofar as I can understand these rarified discussions, your opinions usually seem sober and logical to me, but this time you have blown it! Thanks to quantum stuff, we can never distinguish and thus identify individual atoms (although isotope tracer experiments can to some degree help out); this makes God's will oh so elegantly a matter of pure faith: but I tell you that He would never, never allow toilet paper atoms into drapes or v.v. (at least not in a Christian home)!

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  13. Wabulon wrote:

    Thanks to quantum stuff, we can never distinguish and thus identify individual atoms (although isotope tracer experiments can to some degree help out); this makes God's will oh so elegantly a matter of pure faith: but I tell you that He would never, never allow toilet paper atoms into drapes or v.v. (at least not in a Christian home)!

    You've forgotten one thing: Brownian motion.

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  14. Could you elaborate on what is meant by "economic action"? I'm not sure why Collingwood uses such a phrase with respect to hedonism and utilitarianism.

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    Replies
    1. For Collingwood, "economic action" would be action that is the result of weighing the relative benefits to oneself of different courses of action. By way of contrast, moral action would be acting upon simply one's sense of what is right, without weighing costs and benefits.

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    2. Ah. Recently I've come to an experience an aversion to economic terminology, so that makes more sense.

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