It’s a rare few who read, understand and fully appreciate ESAM. For those who already have a solid grasp of the literature I cannot recommend it enough. Those that do accept the challenge often cannot help but marvel at just how important and cutting edge this body of knowledge — praxeology — really is.
Essentially your comment touches upon what this blog is partially about — planting seeds. Further to this will follow several recent remarks and quotes that expand upon the above over the next few days.
Human Action Comics: Issue #1 - The Basics
A great graphical introduction to the science of human action, and its most developed part — economics proper — under the banner of the Austrian School. The above are some choice excerpts. The full slide show can be viewed here. Created by Danny Sanchez from the Mises Institute. The first in a series of many.
"How may praxeology be applied to forecasting, to the prediction of future historical events? The process is essentially that of a the historian, except that the difficulties are greater. Thus, using the above example the forecaster may see a considerable increase in the money supply take place. He asserts [(2)]; [(3)] he knows as a praxeological truth. In order to forecast the probable future course of purchasing power, he must make an estimate of the probable course of the demand for money in the period under consideration.
If, on the basis of his judgement, he decides that the relative change in demand will be negligible, he is in a position to predict that the purchasing power of the money unit will decline in that period. With the help of praxeology, his judgement is he best he can offer, but it is still inexact, dependent on the correctness of his estimate—in this case, of the movement in demand for money. If he wishes to make a quantitative estimate of the change in purchasing power, his estimate is still more inexact, for praxeology can be of no help in this attempt. If his prediction proves erroneous, it is not praxeology that has failed, but his judgment of the future behavior of the elements in the praxeological theorem.
Praxeology is indispensable, but it does not provide omniscience. It furnishes laws in the form of: If X, and if Y remains unchanged, then Z. It is up to the historian, and his counterpart, the forecaster, to determine the specific cases in which the law is applicable. It should now be clear that there are no praxeological laws of historical development, and that neither Mises nor myself need “reconcile” any “dilemmas” in setting forth such a law. If there were, then the task of the historian would be far easier than it is. Historical events are complex results of numerous causal factors, praxeological, psychologic, physical, chemical, biological, etc. The historian must determine which science and its laws apply, and, more difficult, the extent to which each causal factor operated in the events he is attempting to explain or predicts.”
— Murray N. Rothbard, Praxeology: Reply to Mr Schuller
Explanation of the roles of praxeological law and historical judgment or “understanding” may be provided by the following example: If the supply of a medium of exchange increases; and if the demand for that medium remains the same; then, the purchasing power of that medium will decline. This is a praxeological law.
How may an historian apply this law? He must first determine whether or not a decline in purchasing power (increase in prices) has taken place. This involves difficulties of an historical-statistical nature; it is not a problem for praxeology or that elaborated division of it known as “economic theory” or “catallatics.” Once he has determined that a fall in purchasing power of the medium has taken place, he searches for an explanation by applying the praxeological-catallatic law. He investigates the historical situation to discover whether there has been an increase in the supply of the medium. If he finds a considerable increase in the supply, he is then in a position to assert three truths:
- It is an historical fact that the purchasing power of medium X has declined to such and such an extent.
- It is an historical fact that the supply of the medium X has increased to such and such an extent.
- The praxeological law just mentioned. It is therefore concluded: that a significant cause of the decline, [(1)], was the increase in supply, [(2)].
If he finds no increase in supply, then he deduces that a fall in demand for the medium was the cause of the fall in purchasing power. Such is an example of what is involved in the work of historical explanation.
The work of the “economic theorist”, or praxeologist, is to elaborate the laws (such as ) 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. It is a praxeological law that if the government (or any other agency exercising the power of violence) intervenes in the market to establish a valuation of any commodity below what would be the market valuation, a shortage of the commodity develops. Gresham’s Law is a subdivision of this law applied to media of exchange, which, in turn, leads to the explanation of the “dollar gap”. The historian sees a shortage of dollars in relation to pounds develop in England, and using praxeological laws, explains it as the consequence of governmental over-valuation of the pound in relation to the dollar. In no way does he test or “prove” the theory.
— Murray N. Rothbard, Praxeology: Reply to Mr Schuller
Kant, in the course of his critique of classical empiricism, in particular that of David Hume, developed the idea that all our propositions can be classified in a two-fold way:
- On the one hand they are either analytic or synthetic,
- and on the other they are either a priori or a posteriori.
The meaning of these distinctions is, in short, the following. Propositions are analytic when ever the means of formal logic are sufficient in order to find out whether they are true or not; otherwise propositions are synthetic ones. And propositions are a posteriori whenever observations are necessary in order to establish their truth or at least confirm them. If observations are not necessary then propositions are a priori.
The characteristic mark of Kantian philosophy is the claim that true a priori synthetic propositions exist—and it is because Mises subscribes to this claim that he can be called a Kantian. Synthetic a priori propositions are those whose truth-value can be definitely established, even though in order to do so the means of formal logic are not sufficient (while, of course, necessary) and observations are unnecessary.
According to Kant, mathematics and geometry provide examples of true a priori synthetic propositions. Yet he also thinks that a proposition such as the general principle of causality—i.e.,the statement that there are time-invariantly operating causes, and every event is embedded into a network of such causes—is a true synthetic a priori proposition. I cannot go in to great detail here to explain how Kant justifies this view. A few remarks will have to suffice. First, how is the truth of such propositions derived, if formal logic is not sufficient and observations are unnecessary?
Rothbard on Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics
This is an excerpt where he discusses Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics.
- 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.
— Murray N. Rothbard, Beyond Is and Ought
“The attempt to disprove the action-axiom would itself be an action aimed at a goal, requiring means, excluding other courses of action, incurring costs, subjecting the actor to the possibility of achieving or not achieving the desired goal and so leading to a profit or a loss.
And the very possession of such knowledge then can never be disputed, and the validity of these concepts can never be falsified by any contingent experience, for disputing or falsifying anything would already have presupposed their very existence. As a matter of fact, a situation in which these categories of action would cease to have a real existence could itself never be observed, for making an observation, too, is an action.”
— Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Economic Science and the Austrian Method
- Libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life… Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism.
— Myth and Truth About Libertarianism
That is essentially libertarianism in a nutshell. The above definition provides the big tent perspective. As long as you are attempting to apply the non-aggression principle there can be general agreement about most conclusions. However, what one bases their justifications on does matter otherwise the agreement is merely superficial. There is no problem with fellow travelers who differ with their epistemology as long as they are radical abolitionists.
Put simply libertarianism begins from first principles with the concept of self-ownership, and original appropriation which necessarily leads to the non-aggression principle. The a priori of argumentation, or argumentation ethics offers the praxeological proof which establishes self-ownership as an axiom. It serves as a negative critique of justifiable norms. It bounds the scope of norms that can be consistently justified without pain of contradiction.
- Here the praxeological proof of libertarianism has the advantage of offering a completely value-free justification of private property. It remains entirely in the realm of is-statements and never tries to derive an “ought” from an “is.” — Hoppe, Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p345.
- My entire argument, then, claims to be an impossibility proof. But not, as the mentioned critics seem to think, a proof that means to show the impossibility of certain empirical events, so that it could be refuted by empirical evidence [such as the existence of non-libertarian societies-RPM and GC]. Instead, it is a proof that it is impossible to justify non-libertarian property principles without falling into contradictions … empirical evidence has absolutely no bearing on it. — Hoppe, p406.
Libertarianism is meta-normative, it establishes what you have a right to do. It does not say what you ought or should do. In this sense, being an axiomatic-deductive legal theory based on action it is not a part of ethics at all. , , , .
I thought I would recommend some of the not so well known but nevertheless mind-blowing journal articles that should be read by everyone in the movement, especially by those outside it. This is the third in a series of many.
"Causation and Aggression" by Stephan Kinsella and Patrick Tinsley
- Praxeology and Legal Analysis: Action vs. Behavior
- Aggression and the Implicit Concept of Causality
- Complicating the Picture: Causation, Cooperation, And Human Means
- “Mere” Speech-Acts And Aggression
- Cause-In-Fact, Proximate Cause, And Action
- Reinach and Causation
In the context of legal analysis, one important praxeological doctrine is the distinction between action and mere behavior. The difference between action and behavior boils down to intent. Action is an individual’s intentional intervention in the physical world, via certain selected means, with the purpose of attaining a state of affairs that is preferable to the conditions that would prevail in the absence of the action. Mere behavior, by contrast, is a person’s physical movements that are not undertaken intentionally and that do not manifest any purpose, plan, or design. Mere behavior cannot be aggression; aggression must be deliberate, it must be an action.
Here Stephan Kinsella clears up and clarifies some advanced aspects of libertarianism. Some questions to investigate:
- Why we should concern ourselves with A’s intent? If we objectively determine that A’s actions caused the death of B, what should it matter what A intended to do—or whether A intended to do anything at all?
- Consider the following case in which an aggressor employs an innocent human as one of his means. A terrorist builds a letter-bomb and mails it to his intended victim via courier. The courier has no idea that the package he is delivering contains a lethal device. When the addressee dies in an explosion after he opens the package, whom should we hold responsible?
- What about the defense that speech cannot be aggression since it does not actually invade others’ property borders?
- The same question is asked in a variety of situations: did the general kill people, using his troops as means to this end? Did the manager use his employee as a means to attain some end? Did the wife kill her husband by using her lover (or a hired hit-man) as the means to attain this goal? If some one votes in favor of socialism (or speaks out in favor of it), are they a cause of the ensuing acts of aggression by state agents?
This is an excerpt from Action-Based Jurisprudence: Praxeological Legal Theory in Relation to Economic Theory, Ethics, and Legal Practice by Konrad Graf, pg 44. Understanding this helps comprehend the structure of reality and its categories. Certain fields of knowledge fall within certain sectors.
Note on “objective, intersubjectively ascertainable”
The term “intersubjectively ascertainable” mentioned in Hoppe’s work and also employed by Kinsella, might appear synonymous with “objective,” with which it is often paired. However, these terms carry an important, but subtle distinction. It is helpful here to refer to Wilber’s four-quadrant model (2006, 18–26), which I will now briefly describe, relate to Misesian concepts, and apply to this distinction.
In this model, an interior–exterior axis crosses with an individual–plural axis to create four quadrants of possible perspectives. These are the interior-individual (subjective), interior-plural (cultural), exterior-individual (objective), and exterior-plural (social/natural-science/systems). Various fields of knowledge are most at home in particular quadrants, while each quadrant is associated with distinctive forms of knowledge. In this view, human beings, for example, stand as both wholes and parts (“holons”)—both individuals and components of plurals—with both exterior and interior aspects. These aspects are both discrete and inseparable—all of them must be present for us to be the kind of beings that we are.