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Human Action Home Page

Chapter by Chapter Summary of

Ludwig von Mises's Human Action

As a member of a discussion group on Austrian economics and as leader of a discussion group on Human Action, I began in 1997 to summarize the chapters of this highly respected book, one by one. The purpose was to provide a focal point for discussion. The book is about the foundations of praxeology (the science of human action) and economics. Mises defined human action as purposeful, conscious behavior. If we want to study distinctly human action, wrote Mises, we must begin by recognizing that there is a distinct form of knowledge, different from natural science and evolutionary biology, that we can discover and elucidate by using our knowledge of ourselves combined with the natural reason and logic that resides within the our minds, as normal human beings. We call the definitions and mental constructs that we form in this way praxeology. When we elucidate the implications of these definitions and constructs under the assumption that people interact in a pure market economy (a system of private property rights, specialization, freedom to exchange, and use of money); we can derive the theorems of economics. Such theorems are necessary in order to make informed judgments about the arguments that people often make that the pure market economy would be helpful in enabling ordinary people to gain more of the material goods that they want than some alternative system. They are also necessary in order to evaluate the arguments for government intervention in the market economy. In this book, Mises aimed to describe praxeology and economics, as he defined them, and to defend his belief that these were special branches of knowledge which mainly developed after the work of the early political economists, Richard Cantillon, David Hume, Adam Smith and others.

It is recommended that participants in the study group pick up a copy of Percy Greaves's Mises Made Easier (Free Market Books), 1974 and Bettina Bien Greaves's Ludwig von Mises: An Annotated Bibliography: 1983-1993. The best edition of Human Action is the 1996 edition. These are all available at Laissez Faire Books (LFB) at http://www.lfb.org/ by clicking through "Economics" and "Mises." LFB's toll-free order number by phone is: 1-800-326-099


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