Praxeology: The general theory of human action.
Source: Human Action Scholars Edition, pg 40, http://mises.org/books/humanactionscholars.pdf
Source: Human Action Scholars Edition, pg 40, http://mises.org/books/humanactionscholars.pdf
Praxeology, as conceived by Mises, articulates the logical implications of the concept of action.
Note: This page is intended as a summary, or introduction, to the basics, or essential components, of Praxeology. Two rather large texts have been devoted to the details: Mises' Human Action, and Rothbard's Man, Economy and State.
Table of contents
The Axiom of Praxeology:
Praxeology is built upon the axiom of action:
The axiom of action: There exists a set of humans with the capacity of action, which necessarily involves presuppositions and logical implications.
The Preconditions of Praxeology:
There are three conditions that must be present before an actor will act:
1. A felt uneasiness
2. "the image of a more satisfactory state"
3. "the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness."
Source: Mises, HA, pg 51, http://mises.org/books/economicsethics.pdf).
The Laws (Categories) of Praxeology:
For every act, there are categorical presuppositions and logical implications which necessarily exist. Some of these first order deductions have second order deductions. These necessary categorical presuppositions and implications are the laws of action. A proposition is a law of action when it can be said that X is necessarily required for any and every action to occur. The following are the categories, or laws, of actions:
1. Ends: Every action aims at an end. The result sought by an action; the relief from a felt uneasiness. (Mises, HA, pg 129)
2. Means: Every action uses a means to attain an end. what serves to the attainment of any end. A thing becomes a means when human reason plans to employ it for the attainment of some end and human action really employs it for this purpose. Means are necessarily always limited, i.e., scarce with regard to the services for which man wants to use them. (Mises, HA, pg 129-130)
3. Value: Every action demonstrates that the action chosen has importance and therefore value. Value is the importance acting man attaches to ultimate ends. Only to ultimate ends is primary and original value assigned. Means are valued derivatively according to their serviceableness in attaining an end. (Mises, HA, pg 133) Valuing means to prefer a over b.
a. Price: Every action has a price. That which is abandoned is called the price paid for the attainment of the end sought (Mises, HA, pg 134)
b. Cost: Every action has a cost. 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. (Mises, HA, pg 134)
c. The Law of Cost: All costs are opportunity costs, the true cost being what is given up to get something.
4. Choice: Every action demonstrates a choice. Action takes place by choosing which ends shall be satisfied by the employment of means. Time is scarce for man only because whichever ends he chooses to satisfy, there are others that must remain unsatisfied. When we must use a means so that some ends remain unsatisfied, the necessity for a choice among ends arises.â€ (Rothbard, MES, pg 70)
5. Preference: Every action demonstrates preference. Acting man chooses between various opportunities offered for choice. He prefers one alternative to others. (Mises, HA, pg 131) Action takes place by choosing which ends shall be satisfied by the employment of means. (Rothbard, MES, pg 70)
6. Uncertainty: Uncertainty is a component of every action. Another fundamental implication derived from the existence of human action is the uncertainty of the future. This must be true because the contrary would completely negate the possibility of action. If man knew future events completely, he would never act, since no act of his could change the situation. Thus, the fact of action signifies that the future is uncertain to the actors. This uncertainty about future events stems from two basic sources: the unpredictability of human acts of choice, and insufficient knowledge about natural phenomena. Man does not know enough about natural phenomena to predict all their future developments, and he cannot know the content of future human choices. (Rothbard, MES, pg 72)
a. Profit: The presence of uncertainty means that every action involves the possibility of profit. The difference between the value of the price paid (the costs incurred) and that of the goal attained is called gain or profit or net yield. Profit in this primary sense is purely subjective it is an increase in the acting man's happiness, it is a psychical phenomenon that can be neither measured nor weighed. (Mises, HA, pg 134)
b. Loss: The presence of uncertainty means that every action involves the possibility of loss. But it can happen that the action produces a state of affairs less desirable than the previous state it was intended to alter. Then the difference between the valuation of the result and the costs incurred is called loss. (Mises, HA, pg 135)
7. Time: Time is a component of every action. The notion of change implies the notion of temporal sequence. (Mises, HA, pg 136) He who acts distinguishes between the time before the action, the time absorbed by the action, and the time after the action has been finished (Mises, HA, pg 136). His time is scarce. He must economize it as he does other scarce factors. (Mises, HA, pg 138)
a. Therefore time is a means that man must use to arrive at his ends. (Rothbard, MES, pg 70)
b. Acting man distinguishes between period of production, duration of serviceableness, and period of provision
i. Period of production: Every action has a period of production. the total expenditure of time required; working time plus maturing time (Rothbard, MES, pg 79)
ii. Duration of serviceableness: Every action has a duration of serviceableness. the length of time in which the consumers' good will satisfy the wants of the consumer (Rothbard, MES, pg 81)
iii. Period of provision: Every action has a period of provision. the length of future time for which each actor plans to satisfy his wants (Rothbard, MES, pg 82)
c. Time Preference: Every action demonstrates time preference. Other things being equal, satisfaction in a nearer period of the future is preferred to satisfaction in a more distant period; disutility is seen in waiting. (Mises, HA, pg 517)
i. His choices regarding the removal of future uneasiness are directed by the categories sooner and later. (Mises, HA, pg 517)
ii. Time Preference: All other things being equal at the time of decision, the actor makes a comparison of the value of a satisfaction of a want against the opportunity cost of waiting (Cwik, CDAIT, pg 34)
iii. Every action demonstrates a positive time preference of the act chosen over the opportunity cost of waiting to take that action
8. Causality: Every action presupposes the existence of causality. Man is in a position to act because he has the ability to discover causal relations which determine change and becoming in the universe. Acting requires and presupposes the category of causality. Only a man who sees the world in the light of causality is fitted to act. In this sense we may say that causality is a category of action. The category means and ends presupposes the category cause and effect. (Mises, HA, pg 59)
9. Knowledge: Every action uses knowledge as a tool to match ends with appropriate means. (Mises, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, pp. 35-36)
10. Exchange: Every action is an exchange. All action is an attempt to exchange a less satisfactory state of affairs for a more satisfactory one. (Rothbard, MES, pg 84)
11. Space: Space necessarily exists in order for any action to take place.
The Branches of Praxeology:
According to Adam Knott, a contemporary Praxeologist, the branches of Praxeology match the forms of action that are possible. There are 4 forms of action possible:
1. Mental Actions: "A third and important class of actions is the class of mental actions: ”actions such as thinking, deliberating, reasoning, hoping, wishing, etc." (Knott, Praxeology and The Rothbardians) The following quotes illustrate how this class is conceptualized:
"Man's inability to accomplish this makes thinking itself an action, proceeding step by step from the less satisfactory state of insufficient cognition to the more satisfactory state of better insight."
"If, for example, I think of a chair, my mental action is not a picture of the chair. Thinking is an action, a mental "doing", as it were."
"Some actions don't seem to involve physical movement, e.g., thinking."
2. Physical Actions: "Physical actions are those actions in which an actor interacts with physical nature, including his own body. Lifting one's arm is an action, running is an action, making a cup of coffee is an action, building a house is an action, etc." (Knott, Praxeology and The Rothbardians)
3. Catallactics: "...those actions conducted based on monetary calculation." (Knott, Praxeology and The Rothbardians)
4. Interpersonal Actions: "Next, as indicated by Graf, there is a class of actions that can be designated broadly as the class of social actions. This class of actions is comprised of all actions in which an individual acts toward another actor. This class of actions includes actions we may term "ethical" or "moral" actions (lying, cheating, coercing, etc.), and it includes actions we may term "political" actions (acts of government). We may also designate this class of actions "interpersonal actions." The name we give to these actions is not important. What is important is that in an interpersonal action, one actor acts toward another actor." (Knott, Praxeology and The Rothbardians)
According to Hoppe and the Langen school, there is a whole series of a prioristic sciences that are not only rooted in action, but they must be assumed before any of the purely experimental sciences can get started. In a purely formal sense, the a prioristic scientific disciplines must be branches of praxeology. The following illustrate this line of reasoning:
1. Arithmetic is a branch of praxeology:
Arithmetic and its character as an a priori-synthetic intellectual discipline is rooted in our understanding of repetition, "the repetition of action". More precisely, it rests on our understanding the meaning of "do this”and do this again, starting from the present result. Also, arithmetic deals with real things: with constructed or constructively identified units of something. It demonstrates what relations hold between such units because of the fact that they are constructed according to the rule of repetition. As Paul Lorenzen has demonstrated in detail, not all of what presently poses as mathematics can be constructively founded, and those parts then should of course be recognized for what they are: epistemologically worthless symbolic games. But all of the mathematical tools that are actually employed in physics (i.e., the tools of classical analysis), can be constructively derived. They are not empirically void symbolisms but rather true propositions about reality. They apply to everything insofar as it consists of one or more distinct units, and insofar as these units are constructed or identified as units by a procedure of "do it again, construct or identify another unit by repeating the previous operation". (Hoppe, EEPP, pg 297)
2. Protophysics is a branch of praxeology:
"Following the lead of Hugo Dingler, Paul Lorenzen and other members of the so-called Erlangen School have worked out a system of protophysics, which contains all a prioristic presuppositions of empirical physics, including, apart from geometry, also chronometry and hylometry (i.e., classical mechanics without gravitation, or rational mechanics)." (Hoppe, EEPP, pg 300, note 23)
"Geometry, chronometry and hylometry are a priori theories which make empirical measurements of space, time and material possible. They have to be established before physics in the modern sense of an empirical science, with hypothetical fields of forces, can begin. Therefore, I should like to call these disciplines by a common name: protophysics." (Lorenzen, Normative Logic and Ethics, p. 60) (Found in Hoppe, EEPP, pg 300, note 23)
A. Geometry is a branch of protophysics:
Spatial knowledge is also included in the meaning of action. Action is the employment of a physical body in space. Without acting there could be no knowledge of spatial relations and no measurement. Measuring relates something to a standard. Without standards, there is no measurement, and there is no measurement which could ever falsify the standard. Evidently, the ultimate standard must be provided by the norms underlying the construction of bodily movements in space and the construction of measurement instruments by means of one's body and in accordance with the principles of spatial constructions embodied in it. Euclidean geometry, as again Paul Lorenzen in particular has explained, is no more and no less than the reconstruction of the ideal norms underlying our construction of such homogeneous basic forms as points, lines, planes and distances which are in a more or less perfect but always perfectible way incorporated or realized in even our most primitive instruments of spatial measurements such as a measuring rod. Naturally, these norms and normative implications cannot be falsified by the result of any empirical measurement. On the contrary, their cognitive validity is substantiated by the fact that it is they that make physical measurements in space possible. Any actual measurement must already presuppose the validity of the norms leading to the construction of one's measurement standards. It is in this sense that geometry is an a priori science and must simultaneously be regarded as an empirically meaningful discipline because it is not only the very precondition for any empirical spatial description, but it is also the precondition for any active orientation in space. (Hoppe, EEPP, pg 299)
3. Epistemology is a branch of praxeology: Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Yet, as discussed above, knowledge is presupposed as a category of action. Therefore, epistemology must be seen as a branch of praxeology. (Epistemology: What is knowledge? )
4. Metaphysics is a branch of praxeology: Metaphysics is the study of the one thing that must exist. Space is yet another category, or presupposition, or logical necessity for action. Therefore, even metaphysics is a branch of praxeology. (Metaphysics: What is the one thing that necessarily exists? )
5. Catallactics (Austrian Economics) is a branch of praxeology: The analysis of those actions which are conducted on the basis of monetary calculation. The theory of exchange ratios and prices. The theory of the market economy. Despite these contrasts, a commonality between Reisman's and Rothbard's definitions is that economics deals with the production of goods. The difference is in how goods are defined. I suggest that while praxeology is defined as the deductive consideration of the categorical concept of action and its implications, economics is the field that applies these insights to the production of goods, whether tangible or intangible. (Graf, ABJ, pg 10) (Catallactics (Austrian Economics))
6. Deontology is a branch of praxeology: While Mises specifically defines Praxeology as a study of means, not ends, it's necessarily true, however, that studying ends is an action. Deontology is the study of choosing ends in isolated circumstances (morality), or when ends conflict in society (ethics). Therefore, deontology is a branch of praxeology (Deontology: What is right and wrong action? ).
My working theory of the branches of praxeology is to add Hoppe's examples to Adam's forms. For example, Hoppe's characterization of arithmetic could be listed under the form of mental action. That said, I think I've seen one other writer out there, can't find the link, and think it's possible for a "better" understanding of praxeological branches to emerge.