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Friday, December 30, 2011

Praxeology: It's Not Just About Mises!

While posting yesterday about the praxeological nature of Paramahansa Yogananda's writing, I realized that many people associate praxeology solely with Mises and Rothbard and their followers. That is a misconception. The term simply means the study of action, and while the term itself has never been in widespread use, it dates back to the 1600s and was used by many people besides Misesians. But the discipline has existed at least since the writings of Aristotle, who, as Roderick Long has made clear in his work, engaged in the activity that Mises would later call praxeology. In more recent times, R.G. Collingwood famously gave an account of "philosophical economics" closely resembling Mises's, and, as I have argued in a paper that appeared in The Independent Review, Michael Oakeshott reflections on action closely resemble those of Mises. Even more recently, the noted analytical philosopher Donald Davidson has analyzed action in a way much like Mises did. And Long cites Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, and Elizabeth Anscombe as other prominent, recent philosophers working engaged in praxeological studies.

In short, there is nothing eccentric about praxeology. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some praxeologists, such as those who have been having at the Wikipedia entry on the topic. Check out the gem with which the article opens:

"Praxeology is the study of human action. Praxeology rejects the empirical methods of the natural sciences for the study of human action..."

A subject is, of course, not capable of "rejecting" anything. ("Biology has rejected metallurgy, crushing the feelings of the latter.") And there is no reason for anyone engaged in praxeology to reject empirical methods; Mises certainly did not! (In fact, he headed an institute devoted to the empirical study of the Austrian economy.) That action can be analyzed philosophically certainly does not mean that it can't also be studied empirically.

We can also find this in the same entry:

"Another conclusion that von Mises reached was that decisions are made on an ordinal basis. That is, it is impossible to carry out more than one action at once, the conscious mind being capable of only one decision at a time—even if those decisions can be made in rapid order."

OK, I think what the writer was trying to get at in the first sentence is that Mises says our scale of values is ordinal. But what the hell that has to do with how many actions we can perform at once is completely beyond me. If we could perform multiple actions at once, would that make our value scale cardinal?!

Attention Bob Murphy: Your boy is being embarrassed on Wikipedia by someone invoking his name during a fit of glossolalia. Someone from LVMI should clean that up.

4 comments:

  1. What! Praxeology without economics, or the other way round?

    What next? Separation of church and state? Or Soviets without Bolsheviks?

    "Professor [Janos] Kornai has elegantly formulated this important distinction by differentiating between economics and the logical theory of consistent choice" -- Thomas Balogh, The Irrelevance of Conventional Economics (1982), 229 note.

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  2. Hey, Joe, I heard you shot your old lady down -- oops, wrong "hey joe"!

    Great to see you here commenting on my humble blog. I appreciate the humor in your post.

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  3. Your humble servant here is quite happy to comment on a humble blog.

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  4. WTF, man, how I supposed to out humble you now?

    ReplyDelete