The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science
Ludwig von Mises
Some Preliminary Observations
Concerning Praxeology Instead
of an Introduction
2. On Action
Epistemology deals with the mental phenomena of human life, with man as he thinks and acts. The main deficiency of traditional epistemological attempts is to be seen in their neglect of the praxeological aspects. The epistemologists dealt with thinking as if it were a separate field cut off from other manifestations of human endeavor. They dealt with the problems of logic and mathematics, but they failed to see the practical aspects of thinking, They ignored the praxeological a priori.
The shortcomings of this approach became manifest in the teachings of natural theology as distinguished from revealed theology. Natural theology saw the characteristic mark of deity in freedom from the limitations of the human mind and the human will. Deity is omniscient and almighty. But in elaborating these ideas the philosophers failed to see that a concept of deity that implies an acting God, that is, a God behaving in the way man behaves in acting, is self-contradictory. Man acts because he is dissatisfied with the state of affairs as it prevails in the absence of his intervention. Man acts because he lacks the power to render conditions fully satisfactory and must resort to appropriate means in order to render them less unsatisfactory. But for an almighty supreme being there cannot be any dissatisfaction with the prevailing state of affairs. The Almighty does not act, because there is no state of affairs that he cannot render fully satisfactory without any action, i.e., without resorting to any means. For Him there is no such thing as a distinction between ends and means. It is anthropomorphism to ascribe action to God. Starting from the limitations of his human nature, man's discursive reasoning can never circumscribe and define the essence of omnipotence.
However, it must be emphasized that what prevented people from paying attention to the praxeological issues was not theological considerations. It was the passionate longing for the realization of the utopian chimera of the land of Cockaigne. As the science of economics, the up-to-now best elaborated part of praxeology, exploded the fallacies of every brand of utopianism, it was outlawed and stigmatized as unscientific.
The most characteristic trait of modern epistemology is its entire neglect of economics, that branch of knowledge whose development and practical application was the most spectacular event of modern history.
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