Mises Echoing Collingwood on Exchange

When I noted that Collingwood held that all exchange is at its bottom with oneself, some readers were perplexed. But Mises (who admired Collingwood's philosophy of economics) says much the same thing:

"Action is an attempt to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory one. We call such a willfully induced alteration an exchange. A less desirable condition is bartered for a more desirable. What gratifies less is abandoned in order to attain something that pleases more. That which is abandoned is called the price paid for the attainment of the end sought. The value of the price paid is called costs. Costs are equal to the value attached to the satisfaction which one must forego in order to attain the end aimed at." (Italics mine.)

This exchange is clearly between one state of affairs for an agent ("eating the bread") and another, for the same agent ("eating the cheese"). In such exchanges, we often use other agents to help us effect them, but we can also often execute them by ourselves: I exchange my seat in the sun, where I am too hot, for one in the shade, where I feel cooler. If you are in the shady seat, and look cold, I may say, "Hey, do you want my seat here where it is warm?"

But the basic exchange I make is my sunny seat for my seat in the shade.


  1. This still seems like an absolute massacre of the English language.

    1. Philosophical analysis must never accept concepts at their face value, but must proceed to analyze them to reach their core. And we use the word this way in ordinary speech as well: I exchanged the time I used to spend in bars for time in the gym. The point here is that such intra-personal exchanges are really at the bottom of all inter-personal exchanges. It is the notion of opportunity cost.


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