By popular demand, here is a place to discuss Human Action by Ludwig von Mises.
The Mises Institute has a great page set up for this book here: http://mises.org/resources/3250
It includes links to purchase or download the book in many formats, including a free MP3 audio download (with an excellent narrator). You will also find some supplemental material there, such as the study guide by Robert P. Murphy.
I'm only 90-100 pages into the book but I have two questions which I think were touched on in the forums but for me, inadequately.
1) Did Mises's definition of action run into contradictions since it seems even not acting, physically, is an action yet in the first 100 pages Mises makes distinctions between acting and not acting vis-a-vis praexology (which doesn't need to take account of the physical) and yet he applies these distinctions to instances of physically not acting. Is it a category mistake?
2) I wonder why Mises would define teleology and causality as meaning consciously purposed action and mechanical programmed action respectively. The definitions just strike me as being unique to him and not in use anywhere else.
Im a bit confused by your questions. I didn't get hung up on the action axiom or anything else. Most of it was contextually relevant I thought. Mises uses lots of analogies, LOTS, to get his points across.
Perhaps if you could provide what pages specifically?
fakename:1) Did Mises's definition of action run into contradictions since it seems even not acting, physically, is an action yet in the first 100 pages Mises makes distinctions between acting and not acting vis-a-vis praexology (which doesn't need to take account of the physical) and yet he applies these distinctions to instances of physically not acting. Is it a category mistake?
action is understood teleologically; mere behaviour which is not action is explained causally.
not physically behaving is an action if it falls into an actors teleological framework of means and ends. if sitting still has been decided upon, acted upon, then despite no outward signs of 'action' this is definitely and unambiguously an Action. The difficulty for understanding Mises is that in common parlance, both the teleological concept of action and the behaviouralistic/mechanistic concept of action share the same word. All Mises contributes is a rational assignment (for the purpose of conducting study in praxeology) of mechanical change embodied by homosapien bodymatter unrelated to the conscious mind (i.e. bereft of teleology) as mere behaviour/causality and not action. whereas the word action is reserved for the teleological understanding. This allows for analysis and praxeology to have a place.
fakename:2) I wonder why Mises would define teleology and causality as meaning consciously purposed action and mechanical programmed action respectively. The definitions just strike me as being unique to him and not in use anywhere else.
The definitions made sense to me immediately.... Teleology from the Aristotle tradition and causality from the Newtonian (for want of a better icon).
There are two ways to answer the question 'why?'
why did it rain? causality - because cloud density was this, and air pressure was that, and temperature rose, etc. etc.
why did it rain? teleology - because the rain god is angry with you.
why did joe kill sam? causality - because his brain fire nerve impulses towards muscles, which responded by contracting, thereby applying pressure to the trigger of a firearm. this causes an explosion which projected a missile at force through the weak barrier of air that separated joe and sam; the bullet at such high speed and kinetic energy; and of a hard material penetrated sam's weak tissue membranes .... and so on...
why did joe kill sam? teleology - self defence, joe feared for his life etc.
it is not that there are two kinds of actions some teleological and some causal. it is that there is only two ways to asses 'behaviour' , 'material changes'.
they are causal explanations and teleological explanations. i hope it is clear from the above that only the teleological explanation is conducive to the study of purpusive behaviour. (of course the teleological explanation will refer to causal relations).
i.e. a man acts so as to get up early and farm; he puts aside the alternative of laying in bed and relaxing.
this is a teleological explanation for the behaviour and concerns purposive action. obviously causal explanations still have their place deeper in the analysis as the teleological motive for farming is the food to be gained. and of course this relies on causal relations between the performance of farming behaviour and the growth of crops.
let me know what you think
Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid
Fools! not to see that what they madly desire would be a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring
Thank you for those clarifications. Teleology and Praxeology aren't words I used prior to beginning this book. I have just starting part 3. I simply assumed while reading the earlier sections that Mises was building a rationale for assertions that would come later in this voluminous book so I just kind of slogged through it. I did, however, get the general idea of what you describe but with out the precision and clarity you've just brought. So thanks again.
GREAT post, Nir.
Just one minor nitpick...
nirgrahamUK:Teleology from the Aristotle tradition and causality from the Newtonian (for want of a better icon).
"Newtonian" causality can just as well be associated with Aristotle as teleology. Both kinds of causation were included in his Four Causes, the former termed "the efficient cause", the latter termed "the final cause".
nirgrahamUK:why did it rain? teleology - because the rain god is angry with you.
still, I think this is closer to efficient cause whereas the final cause (the teleological one) would be that one needs rain to live.
Causality for me means a general idea of change which can include but is not limited to, the teleological cause. So I figured, why make a distinction between causality and teleology but with your definitions in mind i think I can have a better understanding of mises.
fakename: (the teleological one) would be that one needs rain to live
this is a minor point but the teleological analysis is not simply looking around at things that help or hurt you; assessing them functionally from that standpoint. i.e. what do i like about clouds raining; they do this for me; hence clouds are 'functionally for' this purpose. I understand that may be confusing since teleology is often used to mean that. the function of a knife is to cut, teleology. but this simply won't do for the project of praxeology. You wont find an explanation of why a knife was cutting meat in the platitude that thats what knives are used for by intentional beings. the meaningful approach is to find an intentional being and look for a teleological explanation for why they chose to use the knife in that instance (in its 'traditional function'). The teleological explanation is not . 'knives are for cutting' but 'so and so wanted something cut for reason X, and he understood that knives are a good technical method for cutting, so to achieve X he cut with the knife.
The, teleological analysis that Mises has in mind is useful only, and uniquely, in understanding 'acting beings', beings with 'intentionality', whose every action pre-supposes a telos to be understandable as such. hence to provide a Misesian teleological explanation for the propensity of clouds to rain, one must ascribe intentionallity and an action mind-frame to the cloud. this example is an obvious absurdity, and just underlines that Mechanical-causal explanations have their proper place (they are intelligable and useful) in the natural sciences; whereas teleology finds its place in praxeology and human history.
fakename:Causality for me means a general idea of change which can include but is not limited to, the teleological cause.
I think I understand your point. Its not as though teleological causes are not causes, they are causes too!
Both Teleology and Causality are types of causality. This is confusing only because its shorthand. Lets expand the shortened terms:-
Teleological Causes and Mechanic/physical Causes are both Causes.
I don't know if I can say why exactly Mises used Causality as a short-hand for 'mechanical/physical causality' apart from expedience, and that it is a common use.
fakename:So I figured, why make a distinction between causality and teleology but with your definitions in mind i think I can have a better understanding of mises.
I hope it did help, feel free to ask more questions. Trying to answer is always a good test of ones own knowledge I find.
This is a little off topic, but I found it pretty interesting.
I came across a passage in a book that is completely lifted from HA.
The book is Mining Economics and Strategy by Ian Charles Runge. It's the first full paragraph on this page.
Here it is in HA.
Great minds think alike??? Or maybe Runge is channeling Mises and is being told what to write?
Wow. They do seem pretty similar don't they?
A cult is a religion with no political power. - Tom Wolfe
Life without music would be an error. - Nietzsche
We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
- Edward R. Morrow
Finished Part 3 today. I enjoyed learning more about the subjective theory of value and how the classical economists failed to realize this. Mises sited a book on the topic that pre-dated the Austrian work on this called A Critical Dissertation on the Nature, Measures and Causes of Values. I found a free copy of this text on the B&N ebook store. Very cool. Any way, I really enjoyed his discussion about public debt and the fallacy of domestic debt issuance being dismissed as 'borrowing from ourselves.' I wish all members of the house of reps, senate, executive and judiciary were required to read this when taking office. I also wish free-market economics was part of elementary and HS education in our schools. But that would undermine the statist worldview of the public school system...
Ok, I'm up to only the mid 50s in this book and have read other Mises books and I'm a fan, but he's speaking regarding the lack of objectivity in every historian and seems to be saying that a 'true' historian can lack certain bias by sticking with scientific methods and even that then disagreements can be narrowed to different proponents of different methods. If you have ever read Karl Popper, particularly 'Open Society' and Poverty of Historicism, he shows that because of biases we really can not rely on history to forecast. Any opionions?
Christopher M. Mahon
I hope it did help, feel free to ask more questions. Trying to answer is always a good test of ones own knowledge I find.
Alright I'll try to ascertain the accuracy of my definitions.
Is conceptual realism the doctrine that denotes the existence of physical manifestations regarding abstract concepts?
Could you comprehensively elaborate what tautology and apriorism are?
What is Geist?
What were Mises's main qualms with positivism?
The Mises made easier Glossary, is a real wealth of info:
Conceptual realism. The theory that abstract universals, unobservable general classes or ideal types (q.v.) have a reality that is independent, equal and sometimes superior to the reality of their individual parts or specific examples. For instance, conceptual realists consider the abstract term "capital" as something real concrete and permanent with different uses and characteristics from those of the "capital goods" of which it consists. Another example would be "national income." The philosopher A. N. Whitehead (1861-1947) called this the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
Tautology. Repetition of the same idea in different words.
A priori, (Latin). Literally, from the former or preceding. Self-evident knowledge known by reason alone without any appeal to experience or sensory perceptions. Nonempirical. Opposed to a posteriori (q.v.).
An a priori statement is one which the human mind can neither question nor contradict and which cannot be further analyzed, diagnosed, broken down or traced back to a logically prior cause. It is thus the original datum or premise which forms the starting point for deductive reasoning.
Apriorism. The doctrine that there is knowledge that is logically prior to experience (or sensory perceptions).
Geist, (German). Indwelling spirit of man; guiding mind or conscious intelligence. In the, philosophy of Georg Hegel (1770-1831), only Geist?not matter?is reality. Hegel believed that Geist revealed to him the "truths" which he spoke and which became the official doctrines of the Prussian state and universities.
Thanks, but I already use the glossary for reference. I'm hoping
though you can expound on those yourself, or else I'm doomed to an
existence of using the words tautology and apriori flippantly.
i don't know what to tell you... sorry
In Section 3 of the Introduction, Mises writes:
"What is commonly called the "industrial revolution" was an offspring of the ideological revolution brought about by the doctrines of the economists."
This doesn't seem to be supported by the evidence of history. Richard Cantillon is considered to be the first full economist. His treatise was published in 1755. That is hardly early enough to have had a profound enough impact on policy for economics to have spawned the industrial revolution which started in England only 5 years later. Perhaps Mises is referring to the "Second Industrial Revolution" which centered on Germany and the United States?
You pose an interesting question.
I suppose the 'full' economist is maybe skewing things, what about all those that started to advocate laissez-faire and studying political economy even if they were not the 'real deal?'. Even so, Cantillon's book was published in France many years before that English publication date.. the physiocrats were laissez-faire and aware of Cantillon. Adam Smith stood on the shoulders of these people etc....his treatise wasn't out of the blue, laissez-faire was in the air.
According to historical folklore, the phrase stems from a meeting c. 1680 between the powerful French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbertand a group of French businessmen led by a certain M. Le Gendre. When the eager mercantilist minister asked how the French state could be of service to the merchants, Le Gendre replied simply "Laissez-nous faire" ('Leave us be', lit. 'Let us do').
Earlier Mises wrote:
" The general theory of choice and preference goes far beyond the horizon which encompassed the scope of economic problems as circumscribed by the economists from Cantillon, Hume, and Adam Smith down to John Stuart Mill." So there's another mention of Cantillon, but also Hume who lived from 1711 – 1776
I'm sure educated Englishmen of the mid 18th century would be familiar with both the revolutionary political ideas of John Locke, and with the laissez-faire ideas promoted across the channel by the Pyshiocrats etc. here is Turgot http://mises.org/about/3244
nirgrahamUK:Even so, Cantillon's book was published in France many years before that English publication date.. the physiocrats were laissez-faire and aware of Cantillon.
But the Industrial Revolution which started soon after these events was in England, and it didn't reach France until much, much later (at which time the fruitfulness of liberalism had already been demonstrated to the Frenchman in facts, and not in ideas, by the miraculous economic growth of England.)
nirgrahamUK:So there's another mention of Cantillon, but also Hume who lived from 1711 – 1776
Hume's writings were a flop in England (and famously so) throughout his early career. And anyway, his economic writings still come too late to have had much of an impact on policy early enough to aid the initiation of the Industrial Revolution.
nirgrahamUK:I'm sure educated Englishmen of the mid 18th century would be familiar with both the revolutionary political ideas of John Locke
John Locke was influential as a philosopher, not in his sparse economic writings.
nirgrahamUK: Pyshiocrats etc. here is Turgot
Tableau économique (the prime early physiocratic work): 1759
Turgot's Réflexions: 1760
Both far too late.
I think liberty in England was won in the battles of the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution by people who simply did not want to be trod upon, and had the means to do something about it. The economic growth that resulted from the liberalism they established inspired the economists to figure out how such growth came to be.
ideas are propounded one place, and take root in another, its interesting not perplexing...
at least to me anyhows
Locke's Second Treatise also points towards the heart of the anti-mercantilist critique: that the wealth of the world is not fixed, but created by human labor (represented embryonically by Locke's labor theory of value).
There's Dudley North?
All I can say is that when Mises writes 'economists' in that phrase you quoted, to me he is referring to the Phsyiocrats succession over the Mercantilists.
Even so the Industrial Revolution, as you say, lasted a long stretch. no doubt things could have stagnated if the intellectual support for the great changes wasn't kept up by the English classical economists that came during the Revolution.....
nirgrahamUK:Even so the Industrial Revolution, as you say, lasted a long stretch. no doubt things could have stagnated if the intellectual support for the great changes wasn't kept up by the English classical economists that came during the Revolution.....
Oh, certainly. I do not think economic ideas had no impact. They've had a huge impact. I just think Mises overrates it (as does Rothbard). Elsewhere in HA (I'm having trouble finding it), he says something to the effect that ideology changes history, and not the other way around. I think that is perhaps an overreaction against Marxist materialism, and perhaps a bit of a bias on Mises' part as an intellectual himself. Of course to an intellectual it's a nice idea that it is intellectualism that makes the world go 'round. But history is an interplay of both ideology AND brute, accidental facts. It's not JUST a saga of intellectual heroes lifting up the sword of truth against intellectual villains and saving the day, as Rothbard seems to characterize it.
Okay here's another question. Mises writes of action as an effort to alleviate a "felt uneasiness". Given that Mises rightly tries to carefully distinguish praxeology from psychology, isn't such terminology misleading? Wouldn't "achieving a goal" or some such phrase be less psychological sounding?
you would need to coin a phrase which had in it the notion of 'alleviatable deficiency'
plus one needs the motivation to act on it. i.e. not to be indifferent vis the prospect of employing means to fix the deficiency.
one can understand Mises phrase by the easy way in which everyone of us recognises that if we feel uneasy about the way things are to us, that is explanation and motive for our action
nirgrahamUK:plus one needs the motivation to act on it
Right! I think I know why this terminology is sound. You might not like the idea, though, depending on how much you share Rothbard's dislike of Hume's philosophy.
Like you say, there must be some source of motivation for any action, whether that action is performed by a being with the psychology of a human or not. What can we call that motivating factor? A thought? No, because, as Mises wrote, thinking is an act itself. (If an act is motivated by thinking, and thinking itself is an act, then that thinking itself must have an end, and we're back where we started from.) A "that-which-motivates" which resides WITHIN the agent then must be a feeling, because we can conceive of no other factor within an agent other than thoughts and feelings. (Which makes sense given the etymology of "e-motive" and "e-motion".) If it is fundamentally feeling (felt uneasiness) that moves thought (which as Mises says, is an action), and not the other way around, then Hume's dictum, "Reason is slave to the passions", would seem to be a category of action.
Do feelings come from your heart or your leg or are they produced by the brain. The Brain I think, they are products of the Mind. Does the mind produce things that are not thoughts?
Why are feelings not thoughts?
(p.s. I don't know the answer)
nirgrahamUK:Does the mind produce things that are not thoughts?
Well, it depends on your definition of "thought" and "mind". If you define "thought" as an episode of "thinking", and define "thinking" in accord with Mises' characterization of thinking as an action, and "mind" as that factor which generates psychic phenomena, then the answer would be yes, the mind does produce things that are not thoughts. This is because not all psychic phenomena are actions. Emotions and sensations, while they are produced by the mind, are not actions, and therefore, according to Mises' characterization of "thinking", are not thoughts.
Is it perhaps a simple issue of semantics? concious thoughts Mises calls actions, and unconscious thought mises does not call action (they are mere data like instinct/reflex etc) and these we conventionally call 'feeling'
nirgrahamUK:concious thoughts Mises calls actions, and unconscious thought mises does not call action (they are mere data like instinct/reflex etc) and these we conventionally call 'feeling'
So if, like you said, action, including conscious thought, must be principally motivated by something within the agent, what is that something? Conscious thought? No, because again, that would bring us to a regressus in infinitum. The only thing left is unconscious thought, that which we refer to when we say "feeling" (ie, "felt uneasiness"). If feeling is necessarily the prime mover of conscious thinking, that is just another way of saying, "reason is slave to the passions".
there is no primacy, they are mutual phenomenon that affect each other. your conscious and unconscious collaborate in the project of you. they are merely different facets of you. there is no human action without them both. there is no human action without the concious thoughts and with only the unconcious. but there is still behaviour with only the unconscious. do you disagree?
nirgrahamUK:there is no human action without them both.
Indeed, but, to maintain the Misesian practice of process analysis, taking any given human action, for that particular action, one thing had to come first right?
no, they are synchronous or as good as.
no, they are synchronous or as good as.
But you yourself said that a notion of "felt uneasiness" (which is a feeling) is necessary in praxeology, because something needs to motivate the action. How can one phenomenon (feeling) motivate another (an action, like, for example, thinking) if the former does not precede the latter in time?
it is possible for two inputs to be necessary to create a certain output, and one needn't come before the other, they might come together.