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The Other Fields of Praxeology: War, Games, Voting… and Ethics?; and Extreme Praxeology

Below are three related posts, preceded by some useful definitions from the “Mises Made Easier” glossary:

Praxeology, (from the Greek, Praxis, action, habit or practice; logia, doctrine, theory or science). The science or general theory of (conscious or purposeful) human action. Mises defines action as “the manifestation of a man’s will. Accordingly, he considers the use of the adjectives “conscious or purposeful” to be redundant. Praxeology is a manifestation of the human mind and deals with the actions open to men for the attainment of their chosen ends. Praxeology starts from the a priori category of action and then develops the full implications of such action. Praxeology aims at knowledge valid for all instances in which the conditions exactly correspond to those implied in its assumptions and inferences. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience, but are antecedent to any comprehension of historical facts. EP. (Praxeology translated as “sociology”), viii, 68-124; HA. 1-3,30-36,47,51,57,64-71,174,646,648,651; UF. 14, 41-45, 64-65, 70-72.

Economics. A theoretical science which provides a comprehension of the meaning and relevance of purposive (conscious) human actions. It is not about things and material objects; it is about the meanings and actions of men. Economics is a science of the means men must select if they are to attain their humanly attainable ends which they have chosen in accordance with their value judgments. However, the valuation and selection of ends are beyond the scope of economics and every other science. Economics enables men to predict the “qualitative” effects to be expected from the adoption of specific measures or economic policies, but such predictions cannot be “quantitative” as there are no constant relations in the valuations which determine, guide and alter human actions.

For Mises’ comments “On Some Popular Errors Concerning the Scope and Method of Economics,” including Macroeconomics, see Chapter 5 of The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science.

HA. 1-3,6-10,64-69,92-93,647-48,651,653-54; TH. 203; UF. 67-69, 73; also PLG. 1-20, 23.

Catallactics, n. catallactic, adj. The theory of the market economy, i.e., of exchange ratios and prices. It analyzes all actions based on monetary calculation and traces the formation of prices back to the point where acting man makes his choices. It explains market prices as they are and not as they should be. The laws of catallactics are not value judgments, but are exact, objective and of universal validity.

EP. 88-89, 149, 208; HA. 234,327-28,646,650,652.

And three older, inter-related Mises posts:

The Other Fields of Praxeology: War, Games, Voting… and Ethics?

August 5, 2006 1:23 AM by Stephan Kinsella | Other posts by Stephan Kinsella | Comments (25)

Update: see this post for more on this.


I asked recently of some colleagues if anyone recalled where Mises said that economics or catallactics is the most developed or highly elaborated branch of praxeology, but that someone was working (at the time) on applying praxeology to the study of conflict, or war. Sudha Shenoy pointed me to the answer: in Mises’ Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science Mises writes:

Up to now the only part of praxeology that has been developed into a scientific system is economics. A Polish philosopher, Tadeusz Kotarbinski, is trying to develop a new branch of praxeology, the praxeological theory of conflict and war as opposed to the theory of cooperation or economics.[6][6] T. Kotarbinski, “Considérations sur la théorie générale de la lutte,” Appendix to Z Zagadnien Ogólnej Teorii Walki (Warsaw, 1938), pp. 65-92; the same author, “Idée de la methodologie générale praxeologie,” Travaux du IXe Congrés International de Philosophie (Paris, 1937), IV, 190-94. The theory of games has no reference whatever to the theory of action. Of course, playing a game is action, but so is smoking a cigarette or munching a sandwich. See below, pp. 87 ff.


Update: I stumbled across Adam Knott’s working paper, Rothbardian-Randian Ethics and The Coming Methodenstreit in Libertarian Ethical Science. Knott writes,

Specifically, praxeology has not succeeded to date, in arriving at cause and effect laws in the social-ethical realm. In the strictly scientific sense as understood by praxeology, there are no known laws of ethical phenomena akin to the various economic laws established since the beginning of economic science several centuries ago.

Not sure why Knott does not mention (if only to criticize) Hoppe’s work on extending praxeology to the field of ethics.

I’m not sure if Kotarbinski or anyone else ever completed this, or any other systematic study of a field of praxeology outside economics (and wouldn’t Mises’ and Rothbard’s analysis of intervention in the market be a type of application of praxeology to conflict?). I did find this unusual paper by Alexander Mosely, Praxeology and Cultural Convergences in the Rules of War, but this does not seem to be apropos.

Interestingly, in his Reply to Schuller, Rothbard writes:

The categories of praxeology may be outlined as follows:
Praxeology–the general, formal theory of human action:
A. The Theory of the Isolated Individual (Crusoe Economics)
B. The Theory of Voluntary Interpersonal Exchange (Catallactics, or the Economics of the Market)
1. Barter
2. With Medium of Exchange
a. On the Unhampered Market
b. Effects of Violent Intervention with the Market
c. Effects of Violent Abolition of the Market (Socialism)
C. The Theory of War–Hostile Action
D. The Theory of Games (e.g., Von Neumann and Morgenstern)
E. Unknown
Clearly, A and B–Economics–is the only fully elaborated part of praxeology. The others are largely unexplored areas.

See also MESPM, p. 74, where Rothbard writes: “What is the relationship between praxeology and economic analysis? Economics is a subdivision of praxeology—so far the only fully elaborated subdivision. With praxeology as the general, formal theory of human action, economics includes the analysis of the action of an isolated individual (Crusoe economics) and, especially elaborate, the analysis of interpersonal exchange (catallactics). The rest of praxeology is an unexplored area. Attempts have been made to formulate a logical theory of war and violent action, and violence in the form of government has been treated by political philosophy and by praxeology in tracing the effects of violent intervention in the free market. A theory of games has been elaborated, and interesting beginnings have been made in a logical analysis of voting.”

Rothbard’s mention of games apparently contradicts Mises’s disparagement of games as a possible field of praxeology; and Rothbard’s mention of the logic of voting seems a bit like public choice economics, but I am not sure. What other possible fields are there?

Arguably Hoppe’s extension of praxeological type reasoning to the field of ethics might fit under Rothbard’s category E, as Rothbard himself hinted at: regarding Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics defense of libertarian rights, about which Rothbard wrote:

In a dazzling breakthrough for political philosophy in general and for libertarianism in particular, he has managed to transcend the famous is/ought, fact/value dichotomy that has plagued philosophy since the days of the scholastics, and that had brought modern libertarianism into a tiresome deadlock. Not only that: Hans Hoppe has managed to establish the case for anarcho-capitalist-Lockean rights in an unprecedentedly hard-core manner, one that makes my own natural law/natural rights position seem almost wimpy in comparison.

Rothbard, Beyond Is and Ought; see also Rothbard, Hoppephobia. Especially interesting in the context of this post, Rothbard concludes his piece,

A future research program for Hoppe and other libertarian philosophers would be (a) to see how far axiomatics can be extended into other spheres of ethics, or (b) to see if and how this axiomatic could be integrated into the standard natural law approach. These questions provide fascinating philosophical opportunities. Hoppe has lifted the American movement out of decades of sterile debate and deadlock, and provided us a route for future development of the libertarian discipline.

Interesting how Rothbard talks about possible extensions of praxeology as well as “axiomatics,” the logical-deductive approach of Hoppe that is compatible with, if not a type of, praxeology.

Notice that two of Rothbard’s books are Ethics of Liberty and The Logic of Action. Mayhap Hoppe’s use of praxeology to investigate political ethics is a case of the Ethics of Action: a unification of Austrian economics and epistemology with libertarian justice. It is no wonder that, in drawing from the economic and methodological insights of Misesian-Austrian economics, Austro-libertarian theory is so powerful and sound.

The Nature of Economic Analysis

August 19, 2006 9:18 PM by Stephan Kinsella | Other posts by Stephan Kinsella | Comments (5)

I’ve been Hoppe-ing my brains out lately. Take this cool, pithy statement about the nature of economic analysis:

Essentially, economic analysis consists of: (1) an understanding of the categories of action and an understanding of the meaning of a change in values, costs, technological knowledge, etc.; (2) a description of a situation in which these categories assume concrete meaning, where definite people are identified as actors with definite objects specified as their means of action, with definite goals identified as values and definite things specified as costs; and (3) a deduction of the consequences that result from the performance of some specified action in this situation, or of the consequences that result for an actor if this situation is changed in a specified way. And this deduction must yield a priori-valid conclusions, provided there is no flaw in the very process of deduction and the situation and the change introduced into it being given, and a priori—valid conclusions about reality if the situation and situation-change, as described, can themselves be identified as real, because then their validity would ultimately go back to the indisputable validity of the categories of action.

A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, p. 118-19.

This formulation highlights the distinction between the method appropriate to economic science and that applicable to the study of causal phenomenon (natural science).

Moreover, in view of this, what other fields of praxeology could there be that are not covered by this broad conception of economics? This type of economic analysis does not study only “cooperation,” and it of course does include the study of “conflict”–economics concerns the consequences of human action and social interaction both under a free market and on the hampered market. Wouldn’t a study of “war,” say, have to be a subset of economics itself?

Extreme Praxeology

January 19, 2007 10:30 AM by Stephan Kinsella | Other posts by Stephan Kinsella | Comments (2)

Two of my favorite pieces are Rothbard’s In Defense of “Extreme Apriorism” and Hoppe’s In Defense of Extreme Rationalism. Also of great interest to me is the idea of extending praxeology–e.g., as Hoppe does in his argumentation ethics–and The Other Fields of Praxeology: War, Games, Voting… and Ethics?. This post mentions Adam Knott’s interesting working paper, Rothbardian-Randian Ethics and The Coming Methodenstreit in Libertarian Ethical Science; Knott has various praxeology sites too.

A couple of older works I’ve been wanting to get around to for some time are John M. McTaggart’s Nature of Existence and other works, and Leonard Nelson’s System of Ethics. David Gordon long ago mentioned McTaggart to me, who apparently tried to deduce the nature of the universe from the proposition “something exists”; he also argued that it can’t be false that something exists. Gordon also told me Nelson has a very interesting Kantian-style ethic which relies on self-refutation arguments. Of course these are not praxeology but given Hoppe’s argumentation ethics extension of praxeology these seem to be very interesting.

Update: Praxeology and Ethics: Three Philosophers Considered–Rothbard, Hoppe, Searle

(In this regard Per Christian Malloch is worth noting, e.g. his interesting Amoralism in One Lesson, a defense of a hypothetical approach to ethics.)

There’s also Conrad Schneiker’s The Supreme Scientific Method Of (Universal Value Logic) Praxeology which, he notes, “is the Universally-Supreme Logical-Value System of (Axiomatic, Reflexive, Praxeological, Intensional) Logic, Which is the Provably-Universal Ethical-Logic of All Genuinely Realistic Thinking and is “the Logical Telescope of the Second Scientific Revolution”. Ahem. And, shades of Mises, Schneiker’s The Provably Ultimate Foundation of Science. And of cousre, there are others, such as the Axiomatic Theory of Economics.

Some others worth noting here are Steven Yates’s De-Kanting Mises and Hoppe: Notes Toward an Austrian-School Metaphysics; Jude Chua Soo Meng’s Hopp(e)ing Onto New Ground: A Rothbardian Proposal for Thomistic Natural Law as the Basis for Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Praxeological Defense of Private Property; and Barry Smith’s In Defense of Extreme (Fallibilistic) Apriorism.

Food for thought.

Update on the praxeology of war: see Joseph Salerno, Imperialism and the Logic of War Making.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Bob Kaercher July 23, 2009, 9:21 am

    “Food”??? That’s practically an all-you-can-eat buffet!

  • Belle January 23, 2013, 3:25 pm

    Hi, the whole thing is going nicely here and ofcourse every one is sharing
    facts, that’s actually good, keep up writing.

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