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Human Action Under Your Fingertips

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Human Action Under Your Fingertips

This resource has no own new content. It is simpy a combination of Mises Inst. resources, i.e. the Human Action html version, portions of the Study Guide to Human Action by Robert P. Murphy, Nationalökonomie, the audio book by Jeff Riggenbach, and useful links to other resources which could be of interest in any lesson.

It is a first pilot stage. Thus, we have only the first chapter of part I. I think that this full screen format is (in the Mises Wiki or in the standard sheet of mises.org) not as easy to realize as here.



Chapter I. Acting Man

Why It Matters Many times in Human Action the modern reader may be puzzled by the pains Mises takes in critiquing particular views that seem obviously fallacious, or by the lengths to which Mises defends particular views that seem obviously correct. The reader must understand that Mises is not inventing straw men or being paranoid; respected thinkers really did advance the views he attacks, and really did attack economics with weak criticisms.

Mises takes care in the very beginning (pp. 11–13) to distinguish rational action (a term he considers redundant, since action by definition is rational) from reflexive behavior. This is necessary because a very popular objection (pp. 15–16) to the enterprise of praxeology is the claim that people do not always behave "rationally," and that men often behave like other animals. To the extent that economics allegedly explains all human behavior as the product of sober deliberation, these critics think it is obviously unrealistic. By carefully limiting the scope of praxeology to human actions (rather than the more general class of all human behavior), by definition Mises has defused this particular criticism. (In subsequent chapters, Mises will have much more to say on the role of reason in human affairs.)

The passages concerning happiness (pp. 14–15) relate to the evolving doctrine of utilitarianism. In its original Benthamite form, the criterion for goodness was that which caused more (net) pleasure than (net) pain. Even here the utilitarians recognized that certain pleasures (such as fine art or literature) provided a longer duration of enjoyment than others (such as tobacco or wine). However, much of the literature did seem to be a sophisticated version of hedonism. Moreover, economists in the late 19th century tended to think of "utility" as a measurable quantity of psychic satisfaction. As Mises explains in this section, when he says that man acts to increase his happiness, this is a purely formal statement with no physiological assumptions. Both the bank robber and missionary act to increase their utility. What praxeology has to say about the actions of the former are just as valid for those of the latter, because praxeology concerns action as such.

  1. Purposeful Action and Animal Reaction (p. 11)
  2. The Prerequisites of Human Action (p. 13)
  3. Human Action as an Ultimate Given (p. 17)
  4. Rationality and Irrationality; Subjectivism and Objectivity of Praxeological Research (p. 19)
  5. Causality as a Requirement of Action (p. 22)
  6. The Alter Ego (p. 23)

See also:

Murray Rothbard in MES, chp. 1, "FUNDAMENTALS OF HUMAN ACTION".

Mises Wiki. Action.

Der Apriorist Links, Methodology

John M. Cobin. A Primer on Modern Themes in Free Market Economics and Policy. S. 208

Praxgirl: Praxeology - Episode 1 - Introduction (Video)

Praxgirl: Praxeologie: Episode 1 - Einführung (Video)

Technical Notes

* There is some ambiguity in the discussion of ultimate givens. On the one hand, Mises clearly states that human action is an ultimate given; it is the title of section 3 (p. 17). On the other, praxeology has much to say on the necessary prerequisites for action; this is the title of section 2 (p. 13). One possible solution to this apparent contradiction is to recall that action is not simply the outward behavior of the actor; the action as such necessarily includes the subjective motivations of the actor as well. In this sense, it would be inappropriate to say that someone's value judgments "caused" an action; action is still an ultimate given and cannot be reduced to antecedent constituents. (For an imperfect analogy: the homicide is not simply caused by the killer's hatred of the victim; without the intention it wouldn't be murder in the first place.)

* At times, Mises is not careful to distinguish limits on praxeology versus limits on reason itself. For example, Mises says that "it is vain to pass judgment on other people's aims and volitions. No man is qualified to declare what would make another man happier or less discontented" (pp. 18–19). Now it is true that praxeology as such does not analyze the content of people's values or preferences; it simply takes them as given. However, this alone doesn't mean "it is vain to pass judgment on other people's aims." Surely Mises himself disagreed passionately with, say, advocates of socialism, and one could infer that Mises did indeed condemn their aims. By the same token, parents all the time declare what would make their children happier, and surely these claims are not always incorrect (whatever the children might think at the time). To be on solid ground, one can say that no man can ever tell another man what his preferences are. Even so, there is nothing in praxeology that rules out a critique of another's preferences; it is simply that praxeology itself cannot fashion such a critique.




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