Discussion on Chapter 1



Date: Tue, 4 Feb 1997 20:11:08 -0800 (PST)

From: Fred Foldvary <ffoldvar@jfku.edu>

Would this be an complete definition of "human action"?:

Purposeful and willful activities performed by persons, consisting of

means to achieve ends. Action involves gain and cost.

Fred Foldvary

Date: Thu, 06 Feb 1997 12:02:09 +0800

From: Pat Gunning <gunning@cc.nchulc.edu.tw>

Fred Foldvary wrote:

> > Would this be an complete definition of "human action"?:

> > Purposeful and willful activities performed by persons, consisting of

> means to achieve ends. Action involves gain and cost.

> > Fred Foldvary



Date:

Wed, 5 Feb 1997 07:51:54 -0800 (PST)

From:

Joseph Salerno <jsale@earthlink.net>

Query to Richard Ebeling: Where in *Human Action* (or elsewhere) does Mises

characterize the logic of choice as "itself a subcategory of a more general

logic of action"? Mises (H.A., pp. 3, 127) does say:

"[M]odern subjectivist economics . . . converted the theory of market prices

into a general theory of human choice."

"The general theory of choice and preference . . . is the science of every

kind of human action. Choosing determines all human decisions."

"No treatment of economic problems proper can avoid starting from acts of

choice. . . ."

"What counts for praxeology is only the fact that acting man chooses between

alternatives."

Joe Salerno





Subject:

Re: Choice vs. Action?

Date:

5 Feb 1997 17:21:18 -0500

From:

"Richard Ebeling" <richard.ebeling@ac.hillsdale.edu>

Reply to: RE>Choice vs. Action?

Dr. Salerno asked for references to Mises suggesting that the logic of choice

was a subcategory of a wider logic of action.

I am glad Dr. Salerno has raised this point because he has made me rethink my

way of phrasing that. Because he is right; there is no passage, to my

knowledge, in which Mises expresses the relationship between "choice" and

"action" in the way I stated it.

So, with Dr. Salerno's permission, let me state the same point a little

differently.

First, please note that Mises calls his treatise "Human Action," not "Human

Choice." And I think this is not by mistake. "Action" is the broader term in

that it clearly distinguishes human activity from what in some places Mises

refers to as mere "reflex." It also emphasizes the purposeful and intentionist

quality of human conduct, as distinct from the subject matter of many of the

natural sciences.

On pages 13-14 of "Human Action" (3rd ed.), Mises specifies the prerequistes

for human action. Given that "Acting man is eager to substitute a more

satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory" one, then for an action

to occur:

1. "The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness."

2. "His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action aims at

bringing about this desired state."

3. "But to make a man act, uneasiness and the image of a more satisfactory

state alone are not sufficient. A third condition is required: the expectation

that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the

felt uneasiness. In the absense of this condition no action is feasible."

Please notice the activist qualities in these three points: First, a man

reflects upon his situation and concludes that it is less than satisfactory

(he feels "uneasiness,"); second,he fantasizes in his mind about circumstances

that he can imagine as preferable to the one he is in, or believes he will be

in, if some alternative state of affairs cannot be brought into existence;

and, third, searches for and identifies things of the world as useful means.

That it is the active human mind that identifies objects or things of the

world as possible means and categorizies and arranges them as means in a

created plan-of-action:

"A means is what serves to the attainment of any end, goal, or aim. Means are

not given in the universe; in this universe there exist only things. 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. Thinking man

sees the servicableness of things, i.e., their ability to minister to his

ends, and acting man makes them means. It is of primary importance to realize

that parts of the external world become means only through the operation of

the human mind and its offshoot, human action. . . It is human meaning and

action which transforms them into means. . .Economics is not about things and

tangible material objects; it is about men, their meanings and actions. Goods,

commodities, wealth and all the other notions of conduct are not elements of

nature; they are elements of human meaning and conduct. He who wants to deal

with them must not look at the external world; he must search for them in the

meaning of acting men." ("Human Action," page 92)

Compare this with the logic of choice as defined, for example in Lionel

Robbins' "An Essay on the Nature and Signficance of Economic Science" (2nd

ed., 1935)

""[W]hen time and the means for achieving ends are limited and capable of

alternative application, and the ends are capable of being distinguished in

order of importance, then behavior necessarily assumes the form of choice.

Every act which involves time and scarce means for the achivement of one end

involves the relinguishment of their use for the achievement of another. It

has an economic aspect(page 14). . .Here, then, is the unity of subject of

Economic Science, the forms assumed by human behavior in disposing of scarce

means(page 15). . .Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a

relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses." (page

16)

None of this is inconsistent with Mises' explanation of the prerequistes for

human action. And I in no way mean to imply that it is inconsistent.

Given the ends chosen by men and given the means at their disposal they

attempt as best they can to maximize their satisfactions.

But from whence come the given, ranked ends and the given means that are

allocated among those competing ends for maximum effect for attaining the most

highly perferred states of affairs? Mises' point is that they are themselves

created by the active human being. Man creates his own ends (imagined

preferred states of affairs) and sees usefulness in things around him (and

assigns those things a meaning as means of various sorts for the pursuit of

his ends).

Thus the logic of choice--the allocating of scarce means for the service of

ranked ends--results from the prior and preceeding mental activity that

creates the "given" ends-means framework. The logic of action is that prior

mental activity--the creation of ends, the selection of means, the designing

of plans (which involves the mental process of ranking the ends and deciding

the best uses for the selected means, in the context of the courses of action

imagined and constructed in the human mind).

Mises makes this very clear that acting man creates his ends and means, makes

his own profit opportunities and costs in his essay on "Profit and Loss"

published in "Planning for Freedom." (3rd ed. 1974):

""The fact that in the frame of the market economy entrepreneurial profit and

loss are determined by arithmetical operations has misled many people. They

fail to see that essential items that enter into calculation are estimates

emanating from the entrepreneur's specific understanding of the future state

of the market. . .It is the entrepreneurial decision that creates either

profit or loss. It is mental acts, the mind of the entrepreneur, from which

profits ultimately originate. Profit is a product of the mind, a success in

anticipating the future state of the market." (pages 120 and 126).

The entrepreneur imagines future states of affairs in the form of consumer

demands; he sees potentials in the objects around him as means of production;

and he designs plans-of-action--his chosen process and period(s) of

production. That is what makes the market ever-changing and dynamic. The

entrepeneur makes his own alternatives, creates his own trade-offs, as he

imagines future consumer wants, as he images the uses and availabilities of

means of production, and as he imagines the possible conduct of his potential

rivals in the quest for sales.

And what is true for the entrepreneur in the narrow sense, is true for each

and every acting human being, since in a world of inescapable uncertainty

there is, as Mises emphasized, the entrepreneurial element in every man's

conduct.

Choice, in the Robbinsian sense, therefore, resides "within" the wide context

of that logic of action which is the imaginings of ends, the mental making of

things in the external world into means and the designing of the plans into

which the allocational process of the ends-means framework is the next logical

step if the plans selected are to be (hopefully) brought to fruition.

I hope I've clarified what I meant.

If I may add one more thing to an already long message. And one that has

nothing directly to do with the subject under discussion. I have just read Dr.

Salerno's essay on "International Monetary Theory" in "The Elgar Companion to

Austrian Economics" ed. by Peter Boettke. I consider it the finest concise

exposition of Ludwig von Mises' contribution to the monetary approach to the

balance of payments and the purchasing power parity theory. And he not only

clearly and carefully explains Mises' arguments, he also contrasts it to

alternative approaches, such as Gustav Cassel's. Anyone interested in this

aspect of Mises' work can do no better than to begin with this superb

contribution by Dr. Salerno.

Richard M. Ebeling

Ludwig von Mises Professor

of Economics

Hillsdale College

Hillsdale, Michigan 49242

Tele: (517) 437-7341 (office)

Fax: (517) 437-3923 (office)

Tele and Fax:

(517) 439-9232

E-Mail: Richard.Ebeling@ac.Hillsdale.



Date: Tue, 4 Feb 1997 20:11:08 -0800 (PST)

From: Pat Gunning

I was planning to add to your definition of human action but Richard

Ebeling has described action with such eloquence that I cannot add much

except the following. We will probably find later in _Human Action_ that

it is wise to use the term "image" or "imaginary construction" to refer

to the actor's thoughts about a future state of removed uneasiness.

"Image" should be understood in a broad sense because blind people are

also capable of acting.

--

Pat Gunning

http://stsvr.showtower.com.tw/~gunning/welcome

http://web.nchulc.edu.tw/~gunning/pat/welcome

Date: Thu, 06 Feb 1997 08:52:53 EST

From: Steven Horwitz <SHOR@MUSIC.STLAWU.EDU>

Pat wrote:

>>I was planning to add to your definition of human action but Richard

>Ebeling has described action with such eloquence that I cannot add much

>except the following. We will probably find later in _Human Action_ that

>it is wise to use the term "image" or "imaginary construction" to refer

>to the actor's thoughts about a future state of removed uneasiness.

>"Image" should be understood in a broad sense because blind people are

>also capable of acting.

Interesting choices of words here. The "image" of course recalls

Boulding's book of the same title and the whole issue of "imaginary

constructions" for our projections of the future bring to mind people

like Shackle. My point, I think, is that it is not hard to see how

the more radical subjectivists could find much to like in Human Action,

as Lachmann's most favorable review of it suggests. Indeed, Lachmann's

JEL piece "From Mises to Shackle" seems plausible on this reading of

Mises.





Steven Horwitz

Eggleston Associate Professor of Economics

St. Lawrence University

Canton, NY 13617

TEL (315) 379-5731

FAX (315) 379-5819

EMAIL shor@music.stlawu.edu



Date: Thu, 6 Feb 1997 07:15:05 -0800 (PST)

From: Fred Foldvary <ffoldvar@jfku.edu>

To: AustrianECON@agoric.com

Subject: Re: HASG:Chap1

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On Thu, 6 Feb 1997, Pat Gunning wrote:

> Fred Foldvary wrote:

> > > > Would this be an complete definition of "human action"?:

> > I was planning to add to your definition of human action but Richard

> Ebeling has described action with such eloquence that I cannot add much

> except the following. We will probably find later in _Human Action_ that

> it is wise to use the term "image" or "imaginary construction" to refer

> to the actor's thoughts about a future state of removed uneasiness.

> "Image" should be understood in a broad sense because blind people are

> also capable of acting.

Thanks. How is this?:

Human action:

Purposeful and willful activities performed by persons, consisting of

means to achieve ends. Action involves subjective gain and cost. The

actor imagines options that remove uneasiness or improve his condition,

and chooses that option that in his judgment has the greatest net gain.

Fred Foldvary

Date: 6 Feb 1997 10:06:10 -0500

From: "Richard Ebeling" <richard.ebeling@ac.hillsdale.edu>

Subject: Re: Re[2]- HASG-Chap1

Reply to: RE>Re[2]: HASG:Chap1

On the topic of Mises' views on a uniform structure and logic to human thought

in contrast to the notion of polylogism:

Mises was influenced in this view by Ernst Cassirer. Unfortunately, several

years ago I lost a large part of my personal library, including almost all my

books by Cassirer, and I cannot remember which one of Cassirer's books in

which this is expressed. But it is one that Mises footnotes in one of the

essays in "Epistemological Problems of Economics." And I do remember that

Cassirer's emphasis on this point was in the introduction to the book.

And just a footnote to Dr. Horwitz's reference to Kenneth Boulding's book,

"The Image." The same concept and a similar use of the idea can be found in

Alfred Schutz's "Reflections on the Problem of Relevence" (Yale University

Press, 1970)

Richard M. Ebeling

Ludwig von Mises Professor

of Economics

Hillsdale College

Hillsdale, Michigan 49242

Tele: (517) 437-7341 (office)

Fax: (517) 437-3923 (office)

Tele and Fax:

(517) 439-9232 (home)

E-Mail: Richard.Ebeling@ac.Hillsdale.edu







Date: Fri, 07 Feb 1997 15:16:25 +0800

From: Pat Gunning <gunning@cc.nchulc.edu.tw>

Fred Foldvary wrote:

>

> Thanks. How is this?:

> > Human action:

> > Purposeful and willful activities performed by persons, consisting of

> means to achieve ends. Action involves subjective gain and cost. The

> actor imagines options that remove uneasiness or improve his condition,

> and chooses that option that in his judgment has the greatest net gain.

At the risk of being redundant, I would add "expected" between

"greatest" and "net." It helps us keep time in mind.

--

Pat Gunning

http://stsvr.showtower.com.tw/~gunning/welcome

http://web.nchulc.edu.tw/~gunning/pat/welcome



Date: Thu, 6 Feb 1997 11:18:05 -0800 (PST)

From: GREG RANSOM <GRANSOM@ucrac1.ucr.edu>

Notice how this current project on AustECON to provide

a definition of 'human action' mirrors the project of analytic

philosophers (and Plato!) to provide conceptual 'analyses'

of such things as 'explanation', 'knowledge', 'morality', 'causation',

e.g. In the widest sense one can tellingly describe these efforts

as constructivistic and scientistic (in the widest sense). All

of these efforts are widely recognized to have failed -- although the

career building game of analysis building and counter-example

critique continues at a geometric rate of growth. A general account

of why these efforts are bound to fail is found in the work of

Ludwig Wittgenstein (e.g. _The Blue and the Brown Book_ and _Philosophical

Investigations_). The deep structure of Wittgenstein's case against

the conceptual analysis project as a deep similarity to Hayek's

case against constructivism and scientism -- and to the Hayek/Mises

case against central planning and explanatory strategy of mathematical

economics.





Greg Ransom

Dept. of Philosophy

UC-Riverside

gransom@ucrac1.ucr.edu

http://members.aol.com/gregransom/hayekpage.htm



Date: Fri, 7 Feb 1997 06:55:41 -0800 (PST)

From: Fred Foldvary <ffoldvar@jfku.edu>

Thanks, Pat; I will adopt your suggestion to my definition.

Fred

Date: Fri, 7 Feb 1997 14:22:46 -0700

From: harms@hackvan.com (T. B. Harms)

Subject: Re: HASG:Chap1

Pat Gunning,

>What follows is a rough summary of Mises ideas in Chapter 1 (p. 11-29)

>of Human Action (1966), along with some questions for thought. These

>items may provide the basis for further discussion.

>[...]

>_On the Definition of Human Action_

>>Human action, or purposeful behavior, "is in sharp contrast to

>unconscious behavior..."(11) Unconscious behavior is a datum, like other

>facts of the external world. The study of human action (praxeology)

>differs from psychology by the fact it is a science of means, not of

>ends.(12, 15)



Here is a point where I strongly disagree with Mises. I approve of his

characterizing the distinctly human qualities of action as deliberative,

but he errs in tying deliberation so closely with consciousness. The two

are, I propose, only loosely linked, with consciousness facilitating

language and language enabling deliberation.

Human action is to my thinking not categorically distinguishable from other

vertibrate action by an immediate and peculiar quality (such as

consciousness), but rather by the qualitative difference in freedom

(flexibility in both means and ends) provided by the broad context of

language which produces and sustains intellect. Actions are not

deliberative (personal) vs nondeliberative (animal) by virtue of the frame

of mind in the moment they are realized in behavior, but rather as the

degree to which their formation is a consequence of intellectual

consideration, both real and potential. The spectrum between conscious and

unconscious is not decisive as to what makes human action special against

other animal action. The specialness is a *general* property of conceptual

knowledge, which we gain by means of language.



Tracy Bruce Harms

Lake County, California





Date: Sun, 09 Feb 1997 12:19:42 +0800

From: Pat Gunning <gunning@cc.nchulc.edu.tw>

T. B. Harms wrote:

> Here is a point where I strongly disagree with Mises. I approve of his

> characterizing the distinctly human qualities of action as deliberative,

> but he errs in tying deliberation so closely with consciousness.

Tracy, let me begin with some quotes from H.A.

"Action...is a person's the conscious adjustment to the state of the

university that determine his life."(11)

"The field of our science is human action, not the psychological events

which result in action...Whether an action stems from clear

deliberation, or from forgotten memories and suppressed desires which

from submerged regions, as it were, direct the will, does not influence

the nature of the action."(11)

"The term 'unconscious' as used by praxeology and the terms

'subconscious' and 'unconscious' as applied by psychoanalysis belong to

two different systems of thought and research."(H.A., 11)



I don't see any conflict between (1) your views stated here as well as

those stated in your subsequent report of Paul Munz's work and (2)

Mises's description of "acting man." Perhaps you can conceive of Munz

and Mises as complementary. Or perhaps you can use your knowledge of

Munz to embellish praxeology.

---



I suspect that the statement that provoked your remarks is the

following:

On 2-2, Pat Gunning wrote (HASG:Chap1):

> "What distinguishes man from beasts is precisely that he adjusts his

> behavior deliberatively."(H.A., 17) Man is not a puppet of his appetites. When

> we interpret animal behavior, we think otherwise.(16)

If we read the context of the first passage in H.A. more carefully we

see that Mises should have, or meant to, write on p. 17 that "What

distinguishes man from beasts [_given that_ we interpret animal behavior

based on the assumption that the animal yields to the impulse which

prevails at the moment] is precisely that he adjusts his behavior

deliberatively." Note that the last full paragraph on p. 16 begins with

"We interpret..."

It seems to be a challenge to find out how Mises would have dealt with

Munz's specific interpretation of the difference between human and

animal. But I don't think that the issue is fundamental to the

praxeological system and to the definition of "conscious" in praxeology.

Conscious behavior, from the viewpoint of the subject, implies a

subject's awareness that she is the chooser of the behavior. Unconscious

behavior, from the viewpoint of the subject, means that the behavior is

not chosen and must be taken as a datum, like the prevailing wind. An

example of unconscious behavior may be a reflex, or a tendency stemming

from one's childhood to associate a particular physical characteristic

with some personality trait -- such as looking old with being senile.

Do animals perform conscious behavior? To the extent that they do, they

are human actors. We're talking here about the definition of action, not

of the distinction between humans and animals. Mises writes about that

distinction in an effort to clarify what is evident intuitively, or

apriori. I am not convinced that Mises's strategy is either wise or

effective. But I think that is what he is aiming at.

--

Pat Gunning

http://stsvr.showtower.com.tw/~gunning/welcome

http://web.nchulc.edu.tw/~gunning/pat/welcome





Date: Fri, 7 Feb 1997 18:15:35 -0800 (PST)

From: Fred Foldvary <ffoldvar@jfku.edu>

> ... with consciousness facilitating

> language and language enabling deliberation.

> ...

> (flexibility in both means and ends) provided by the broad context of

> language which produces and sustains intellect.

> ... The specialness is a *general* property of conceptual

> knowledge, which we gain by means of language.

Can you tell us how this propostion regarding language is warranted,

i.e. briefly what is the reasoning and evidence for it?

Fred Foldvary





Date: Sat, 8 Feb 1997 04:29:44 -0700

From: harms@hackvan.com (T. B. Harms)

>> ... with consciousness facilitating

>> language and language enabling deliberation.

>> ...

>> (flexibility in both means and ends) provided by the broad context of

>> language which produces and sustains intellect.

>> ... The specialness is a *general* property of conceptual

>> knowledge, which we gain by means of language.

>>Can you tell us how this propostion regarding language is warranted,

>i.e. briefly what is the reasoning and evidence for it?

>>Fred Foldvary



My strongest inspiration on this has been from Peter Munz; see esp. the

Introduction to _Philosophical Darwinism_, where he writes:

I will propose a completely different theory of the func-

tioning of consciousness in its relation to language and the

reasons for its selection and adaptive retention. The theory

is based upon the consideration that animals -- and I am here

including the human animal -- can manage perfectly well without

consciousness. Goal-directed behavior can be produced by neural

systems of various levels of complexity without consciousness

and without conscious representation of the goal or of the

stimulus which triggers the behaviour toward the goal. (p 17)

In parallel I have been studying perceptual control theory, a well-defined

branch of cybernetics which greatly amplifies this claim that

goal-directedness is a property of basic neural systems and not privileged

to humans nor dependent upon consciousness.

On the same page Munz continues:

[...] Consciousness without language is neither here nor

there [...]

The case of the human animal is different. [...] Once

[consciousness] is linked to language, it plays an entirely

novel role. To start with, it produces inhibitions and

scepticism as to triggered responses and delays actions and

goal-directed behaviour. Such language-linked consciousness

makes the human animal less adaptive, not more adaptive.

[Note from Harms: following Cziko I'd here prefer "adapted"

over "adaptive".] The question then arises why it has been

selected for and retained in spite of the fact that initially

it retards responses and appears to be a disadvantage. The

answer to this question is to be found in the peculiar way

in which it is linked to language. Inchoate consiousness,

I propose to argue, is a consciousness which we share with

many other animals; but in human beings it becomes the cause

of the evolution of a specifically human form of language

which is qualitatively different from all other pre-human

forms of communication.

The heart of Munz' argument is too lengthy to quote, and I'm too tired to

undertake a summarization. I hope that these passages give a bit of the

flavor of the thinking behind my previous posting.

While I follow Munz in emphasizing that there is a basic and enormous

difference between this philosophy and that of Wittgenstein, I agree with

Greg Ransom that thanks to Wittgenstein and Kuhn (heck -- I'll even add

Derrida) we have an improved understanding of language, specifically in

regard to the structural impossibility of intellectually comprehending it

as an item in its completeness. This inability to contemplate language

"from outside" is close kin to Hayek's assertion that no mind can

comprehend a structure more detailed than it itself is, and to the broadly

Austrian insight that the knowledge embodied in the market is fundamentally

distributed and thus in its details beyond the scope of any analyst *even

in theory*. These patterns contribute to my thoughts being contrary to

Mises on the point in question: Language is highly parallel to money in

being intractibly cultural, and whatever makes language possible also

shares this extendedness and fuzziness.

I can agree with Mises that "action is a manifestation of man's will", and

I especially endorse his insistence on methodological dualism. But I

cannot accept his conceptualization of will as it comes across to me in

_Human Action_, the basic reason being that I see *all* behavior falling on

the same side of the methodological dualism. The difference between

distinctively human action (including economic action) and non-deliberative

action cannot be an absence of *purpose* in the sense which makes

methodological dualism required. I agree with Mises that we need a

different methodology for dealing with purpose-laden subjects, and I agree

with him that the study of human action is rightfully distinct from the

life science in general, but I disagree that the former is the demarcation

required by the latter.

I have gone on far longer than I planned, and must end this now no matter

whether it is composed well enough or not.



Tracy Bruce Harms

Lake County, California