whakatikatika: “some notes on economic methodology, apriorism and the synthetic-analytic hooha”
Yep, though it seems Long is bit off about something there. Rothbard rejected ‘synthetic’ a priori and the ‘synthetic-analytic’ distinction, strictly speaking (though he certainly agreed that the action theorem doesn’t rest purely on formal logic etc.). Maybe it can be made compatible with Hoppe as the referenced paper argues, but there still are significant disagreements at least in the framework.
Strictly speaking, yes absolutely. However, Rothbard wasn’t the main focus of the exchange, Mises was, so it wasn’t touched upon. As I responded to aurochz: “Whether it’s “analytic” or “synthetic” is quite frankly uninteresting.” Aurochz takes issue, “you find that distinction uninteresting but decided to include it as the start of an excerpt”? Well besides attempting to provide some context; I care about the underlying principles i.e reality. If certain words within frameworks happen to best help explain the concept, I’ll adopt them. At the core of that, is as you indicate Whakatikatika: “[Rothbard] certainly agreed that the action theorem doesn’t rest purely on formal logic etc”, as did Mises in his later years, and as does Hoppe. The “hooha” was because others take issue with that. To a large extent I could care less what academic ‘framework’ it falls under, I’m solely interested in the underlying reality. That goes with Rothbard as well.
- Is our knowledge a priori or empirical, “synthetic” or “analytic”? In a sense, such questions are a waste of time, because the all-important fact is that the axiom is self-evidently true, self-evident to a far greater and broader extent than the other postulates. For this axiom is true for all human beings and could not conceivably be violated. In short, we may conceive of a world where resources are not varied, but not of one where human beings exist but do not act. We have seen that the other postulates, while “empirical,” are so obvious and acceptable that they can hardly be called “falsifiable” in the usual empiricist sense. How much more is this true of the axiom, which is not even conceivably falsifiable! […] Whether we consider the action axiom “a priori” or “empirical” depends on our ultimate philosophical position. Professor Mises, in the neo-Kantian tradition, considers this axiom a law of thought and therefore a categorical truth a priori to all experience. My own epistemological position rests on Aristotle and St. Thomas rather than Kant, and hence I would interpret the proposition differently. I would consider the axiom a law of reality rather than a law of thought, and hence “empirical” rather than “a priori.”[…] Toohey virtually obliterates the distinctions and terms self-evident propositions “synthetic” and “a posteriori,” because, while being necessary and universals, they are derived from experience. […] All this raises the question of the usefulness of the whole “analytic-synthetic” dichotomy, despite the prominence implicitly given it in Hutchison’s Significance and Basic Postulates of Economic Theory. For a refreshing skepticism on its validity, and for a critique of its typical use to dispose of difficult-to-refute theories as either disguised definitions or debatable hypotheses, see Hao Wang, Notes on the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction,” Theoria 21 (Parts 2-3, 1955): 158ff.
I have blogged an excerpt from this great paper previously as you have also now highlighted. The above was written by Rothbard in 1956. As per Rothbard in 1988:
- “Nevertheless, by coming out with a genuinely new theory (amazing in itself, considering the long history of political philosophy) Hoppe is in danger of offending all the intellectual vested interests of the libertarian camp. Utilitarians, who should be happy that value-freedom was preserved, will be appalled to find that Hoppean rights are even more absolutist and “dogmatic” than natural rights. Natural rightsers, while happy at the “dogmatism,” will be unwilling to accept an ethics not grounded in the broad nature of things. Randians will be particularly upset because the Hoppean system is grounded (as was the Misesian) on the Satanic Immanuel Kant and his “synthetic a priori.” Randians might be mollified, however, to learn that Hoppe is influenced by a group of German Kantians (headed by mathematician Paul Lorenzen) who interpret Kant as a deeply realistic Aristotelian, in contrast to the idealist interpretation common in the United States. As a natural rightser, I don’t see any real contradiction here, or why one cannot hold to both the natural-rights and the Hoppean-rights ethic at the same time. Both rights ethics, after all, are grounded, like the realist version of Kantianism, in the nature of reality.”
This also speaks to the opening point, and paper referenced. There is no contradiction between Rothbard and Hoppe. Their conclusions are the same, they’re not incompatible, they just approach from slightly different directions. Mises also joins these gentleman when it comes to the status of economic propositions (they join him). In terms of action-based jurisprudence technically Mises does not, though I would imagine had he been exposed to the ‘a priori of argumentation and communication’ he would have changed his mind.
My own view on this subject is one of pragmatic methodological pluralism (Hayekian, neoclassical I guess) and a minimization of these philosophical debates, but I do prefer Rothbard’s terminology to Hoppe’s. And I prefer Mises when he rejects the synthetic a priori stuff too. The action axiom is a self-evident and uncontroversial empirical premise, from which we can make analytic deduction. Conscious decision expressed marginally through action reveals ordinal preference. It’s not dependent on some particular set of statistical data or anything, but it is not demonstrably prior to experience or observation.
I’m sure you’re aware that Hayek departed from praxeology. As Murray Rothbard also notes;
- “F.A. Hayek’s emphasis on spontaneous order, on the unintended rather than intended consequences of human action, on irrationalism rather than reason, is grounded on the implicit premise that human beings are not consciously acting men but rather are tropistic organisms, reacting unconsciously, in accordance with evolved rules. Hence, for Hayek, at least for the “Hayek II” of the 1940s and afterwards, influenced by the neo-positivist empiricism of Karl Popper, the sharp dualistic Misesian distinction between human action and the motion of stones, atoms, etc. falls away, and human action and the physical sciences are treated with the same epistemology.”
Hoppe’s terminology, i.e attacking “empiricism” etc. is because it is the norm, as Rothbard indicates. I prefer “empirical” as well, and I started out reading Aristotle who was a big influence, but I have no problem attacking “empiricism” and codifying that as “positivism” and “monism”. As for your last points, I don’t see how you’re saying anything at all different to that of Mises, Rothbard and Hoppe. In particular the later Mises (you said you prefer the earlier) would agree with the general thrust here as well as per Rothbard.
- “The starting point of praxeology is a self-evident truth, the cognition of action, that is, the cognition of the fact that there is such a thing as consciously aiming at ends. There is no use cavilling about these words by referring to philosophical problems that have no bearing upon our problem. The truth of this cognition is as self-evident and as indispensable for the human mind as is the distinction between A and non-A.” — Mises, Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, p.5
- “Praxeology consists of two main elements: (1) the fundamental axioms, and (2) the propositions successively deduced from these axioms. Neither the axioms or the deduced propositions can be “tested” or verified by appeal to historical fact. However, although the axioms are a priori to history, they are a posteriori to the universal observations of the logic structure of the human mind and human action. The axioms are therefore open to the test of observation in the sense that, once postulated, they are universally recognized as true. Such recognition may be accused of being “introspective”, but it is nonetheless scientific, since it is introspection that can command the agreement of all. The deductive propositions are tested according to the universally accepted laws of logic. (Laws, incidentally, which are also a priori to historical fact.) The fact that a proposition comes at the end of a “long chain of deduction” makes it no less valid than a proposition at the end of a short chain.” — Rothbard, “Mises’ Human Action: Comment”
- “It seems to be of great importance to first rid oneself of the notion that aprioristic knowledge has anything to do with ‘innate ideas’ or with ‘intuitive’ knowledge which would not have to be discovered somehow or learned. Innate or not, intuitive or not; these are questions that concern the psychology of knowledge. In comparison, epistemology is concerned exclusively with the question of the validity of knowledge and of how to ascertain validity - and, to be sure, the problem of aprioristic knowledge is solely an epistemological one.” — Hoppe, TSC, p. 108.
I don’t think the simple action premise is as broad or as singularly generative as some Misesians seem to sometimes think. Making substantive claims requires a lot of subsidiary empirical assumptions, for instance. Most such assumptions are extremely uncontroversial and can furthermore be substantiated by things like experimental econ and statistical analysis and natural experiment (e.g. historical case studies). And some people are just going to be more or less convinced by some particular method. Hence methodological pluralism.
Hülsmann is slightly at odds with Mises, Rothbard and Hoppe’s approach so I’m not sure why or how that would indicate Misesians aren’t aware of the nature of their subsidiary postulates. I suppose given the discussion it is probably apt to raise the issue, but we were specifically discussing the axiom action here. As referenced to earlier by Hoppe, the second step requires “a description of a world in which the categories of action assume concrete meaning”. Rothbard also indicates “they are a posteriori to the universal observations of the logic structure of the human mind and human action”. As indicated elsewhere,
- “It should be noted that for Mises it is only the fundamental axiom of action that is a priori; he conceded that the subsidiary axioms of the diversity of mankind and nature, and of leisure as a consumers’ good, are broadly empirical.”
— Rothbard, Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics, p.3
As well as from Rothbard here where he indicates the same thing,
- “Actually, despite the “extreme a priori” label, praxeology contains one Fundamental Axiom—the axiom of action—which may be called a priori, and a few subsidiary postulates which are actually empirical…”
— Rothbard, In Defense of Extreme Apriorism
In regards to some other people being convinced by other methods, then different illustrations might help them come to grasp the praxeological laws, though it in no way alters the methodology of those obtaining them. As indicated here,
- “The work of the “economic theorist”, or praxeologist, is to elaborate the laws (such as C) from the various axioms and according to the rules of logic. Clearly neither Mises nor myself has ever cited “facts as if they provided support for his conclusions and for the axioms, postulates, and logical procedures.” I cited facts such as “dollar gaps” not as proof or test, but as illustrations of the working of praxeological laws in (modern) historical situations.”
Your further objection misses the mark. It indicates a misunderstanding of praxeology because you seem to be adamant that step 2 is not part of the process, and yet it is — and nothing to the contrary has ever been claimed. As for the piece regarding Leeson and Boettke, they echo Hoppe’s fundamental analysis of Mises from ESAM in every way.