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Means and Ends

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Adam Knott posted on Wed, Aug 18 2010 2:07 PM

This post continues a discussion begun in another thread:

http://mises.org/Community/forums/p/19009/357420.aspx#357420

 

mgmcintyre replied on Wed, Aug 18 2010 8:27 AM

 

Thanks for the good reply.  Still absorbing the Hoppe stuff but had one comment about your second post.

 

Adam:
The means are perceptually present, while the end is never perceptually present, but rather perpetually sought.  In this definition and conception then, means would be "physical" and ends would be "imaginary."  But this wouldn't mean imaginary as in "an imagined image" (since that would be perceptually present), but rather, imaginary as in "non-perceptible."

This is fine, but I feel we still need to distinguish the "type" of end.  Once the end arrives, it can still be either material or not.

"I sought and then found food." -vs- "I sought and then found a good story on which to base my screenplay."

 

******

Mgmcintyre:

Thank you for your reply.

I think you missed the subtle point.

In both instances above, you write "I sought and then found X."

When you found X, it then became no longer something sought (and end), and became instead something "present" or "at hand" (means).

Thus, you are not distinguishing between types of ends, but rather types of means

I can distinguish between things that are present or at hand.  I cannot distinguish something I am seeking, for it is not yet present to me or at hand for making distinctions in regard to.

Here are some passages from Mises that reinforce this same notion of things:

"As soon as people venture to question and to examine an end, they no longer look upon it as an end but deal with it as a means to attain a still higher end.  The ultimate end is beyond any rational examination.  All other ends are but provisional.  They turn into means as soon as they are weighed against other ends or means."(Theory and History, p.14)(emphasis added)

"As soon as we start to refute by arguments an ultimate judgment of value, we look upon it as a means to attain definite ends.  But then we merely shift the discussion to another plane.  We no longer view the principle concerned as an ultimate value but as a means to attain an ultimate value, and we are again faced with the same problem."(Theory and History, p.23)

"In fact, he who passes judgement of an alleged end, reduces it from the rank of an end to that of a means.  He values it from the viewpoint of an (higher) end and asks whether it is a suitable means to attain this (higher) end."(Money, Method, and the Market Process, p. 22-23)(emphasis added)

"Strictly speaking, only the increase of satisfaction (decrease of uneasiness) should be called the end, and accordingly all states which bring about such an increase means.  In daily speech people use a loose terminology.  They call ends things which should be rather called means.  They say: This man knows only one end, namely, to accumulate more wealth, instead of saying: He considers the accumulation of more wealth as the only means to get satisfaction.  If they were to apply this more adequate mode of expression, they would avoid some current mistakes."(Money, Method, and the Market Process, p.22)

"Happiness—in the purely formal sense in which ethical theory applies the term—is the only ultimate end, and all other things and states of affairs sought are merely means to the realization of the supreme ultimate end.  It is customary, however, to employ a less precise mode of expression, frequently assigning the name of ultimate ends to all those means that are fit to produce satisfaction directly and immediately."(Theory and History, p.13)

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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So do you see IP as an unrelated issue to that of scarcity.  Are we just talking definitions here are is there some specific implications of the subjective description of scarcity?  Does your perspective undermine any Austrian insights?

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Mgmcintyre:

As I understand it, the arguments advanced against IP are essentially normative arguments.  The idea is that since object X isn't scarce, there ought not be laws preventing everyone or anyone from using object X.

Possibly a Hoppean might phrase this differently, and say that since X isn't scarce, laws preventing the use of X are "unjustified."  This phrasing complicates things, but the program is still essentially a normative one.

"It follows that intersubjectively meaningful norms must exist."

"...norms must indeed be assumed to be justified as valid."

"The answer, then, to the question of which ends can or cannot be justified is to be derived from the concept of argumentation."

(A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, p.130-131)

The idea is to construct a rational basis for a normative program, and/or to construct a system for the rational ranking of ends--i.e., ascertaining the goals people should aim at, but do not necessarily always aim at.

However one may choose to phrase it, this is still trying to bridge Hume's is-ought gap, and establish prescriptive conclusions from descriptive premises.   This is still an attempt to overcome Hume's and Mises's challenge or admonition essentially stating that there cannot be a "science of the ought."

The implications of a subjective conception of scarcity is, or would be, the explicit abandoning of the attempt to arrive at normative prescriptions by means of this concept.    The attempt to conceive scarcity as something objective implies and entails the quest for a rational basis for ethical or legal norms.

"Does your perspective undermine any Austrian insights?"

I'm not sure whether I understand your question.  Do you mean to suggest that the argument against IP laws is an Austrian insight ?

If so, this would have things precisely upside down.

Austrian school social thought goes back to Menger, and the quest for exact laws of human action.  (see: Investigations Into the Method of the Social Sciences, Book 1, chapters 1 through 5)  Such exact laws state the necessary accompaniments or consequences of a given phenomenon (the idea that if A happens, B must necessarily happen), and this approach is not normative.  It does not say anything about what thing X a person should do, but only instructs about the implications of what will happen if a person does do X.

The subjective conception of scarcity belongs to this Mengerian/Misesian Austrian approach to social phenomena.  Here, we conceive that if an actor strives to attain some good or state of affairs (X), then said good or state of affairs is scarce for him (Y). 

There are no normative prescriptions here, because we are talking in formality and without reference to content.

In this sense, the arguments against IP laws are not "Austrian" insights.  Austrian social theory in the Mengerian/Misesian conception does not legislate on ethical or legal norms, but only instructs on the apodictically necessary consequences or accompaniments to a given or supposed event or action.

If you meant to ask whether a conception of scarcity that arises out of the Austrian theoretical approach based on methodological individualism and theoretical subjectivism undermines the ideas being advanced by various libertarian normative schools of thought, I believe the answer is yes.

And that may be one reason why the normative scholars haven't been in any hurry to address the point about the subjective conception of scarcity, even though it has been brought up on several occasions.

 

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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One of the most important conceptual distinctions in praxeology is the distinction between means and ends.  This post seeks to clarify something important about the distinction that seems not to be widely recognized or acknowledged.

As a back-drop, consider this passage from Sir Arthur Eddington in his book The Philosophy of Physical Science p. 122:

It is clear that the concept of analysis as applied in physics must have been specialised according to some guiding principle; otherwise there would not be the same general agreement as to the products of analysis of the physical world, namely molecules, atoms, protons, electrons, photons, etc.  There is another engrained form of thought which has selected the system of analysis to be applied in physics.  I will call this specialisation of the concept of analysis the atomic concept, or for greater precision the concept of identical structural units.

The new conception is, not merely that the whole is analysable into a complete set of parts, but that it is analysable into parts which resemble one another.  It is the opposite pole from the analysis, say, of a human being into soul and body, in which the two parts belong to altogether different categories of entities.  I will go farther, and say that the aim of the analysis employed in physics is to resolve the universe into structural units which are precisely like one another.

In this passage Eddington makes a distinction between two modes of analysis:

1.  The mode of analysis which seeks to explain phenomena in terms of the arrangement (position in space and time) of identical structural units.

2.  The mode of analysis which seeks to explain phenomena in terms of two classes of entities, each class of a fundamental and categorically different nature.

I will argue that there is a tendency in Austrian-influenced social thought to treat means and ends more along the lines of #1 (treating them as essentially similar) rather than treating them according to a conceptual scheme such as #2, in which means and ends would be considered essentially and fundamentally dissimilar.

This happens when we read for example that acting man "chooses ends and means" or that acting man "chooses what ends he wants to pursue" and similar notions.  In this vision or analysis, means and ends are considered similar or identical in the sense that both are open to acting man's choosing, considering, pondering, and philosophizing about.

As we know, Mises held that the end(s) of action are beyond rational examination.  This implies, I believe, a conception of "end" or "ends" which is fundamentally different in a categorical sense from the category of means.

This difference may lie at the center of the difference between the approach of natural science and the approach of the moral sciences, or praxeology.

As I have expressed this difference before, we can conceive natural science as concerned with the relationship between objects or states of affairs, and this belongs to conceptual analysis method #1.   Praxeology is concerned with the relationship between an object or state of affairs that exists for an individual actor, and this actor's desire for a different object or state of affairs than the one he is confronted with.  In this mode of analysis, the "desire" for another state of affairs will be considered as fundamentally different in nature than the "object" or "state" of affairs confronting the actor, and thus this mode of analysis belongs to #2.

(if we conceive of the actor's desire for another state of affairs itself an "object" or "state of affairs", then we revert back to #1, and we are forced to conceive a relationship between two "objects":  object 1, the actor's desire, and object 2, the state of affairs the actor is confronted with.  Thus, we cannot conceive the actor's "desire" as an object or state of affairs.)

Generally, in the proposed analysis, the object or state of affairs confronting the actor will coincide with the concept of means, while his desire for a different object or state of affairs will coincide with the concept of end(s).

In other words, all the things that the actor is confronted with (all things "present" to the actor)----objects, states of affairs, perceptions, sensations, imagined images, etc....----are, by virtue of their presence to the actor, and by virtue of the actor being "confronted" with them (i.e., the actor is aware of them), means of the actor's activity or action.

By contrast, all phenomena of desire: aiming, striving, valuing, demanding, etc...(i.e., all the phenomena that in Austrian analysis, we conceive as logically opposed to the object of the actor's activity), we conceive as ends of the actor's activity.  That is, "desire," "aiming," "striving," "valuing," "demanding," etc., all belong to the category of ends.

Moreover, the category of ends, as the category of ends, is of a fundamentally different nature than the category of means, and its fundamental difference consists in that the "objects" or "entities" of this category are non-perceptible.   And thus we can conceive of the category of ends as the category of "unobservables whose unobservability is a matter of epistemological principle." (passage taken from Human Action)

Here is a simple illustration which I have used previously.

A hiker points to a pair of hiking boots and states: "Those are my means"

Then, he points to a far away mountaintop and states: "And that is my end"

If we reflect on this a little, it becomes apparent that the meaning of the hiker's statement "that is my end" is that his goal or aim is to be on top of the far away mountain he is pointing to.  But this state of affairs (the hiker on top of the mountain) is not "perceptually present" or "at hand".  That is, the goal implied by the hiker's statement is not the perception that the actor is currently confronted with.

From the point of view of the hiker, what is "perceptually present" is something like: his arm raising up into his visual view with the mountain and surrounding space also in view.

From the point of view of the person the hiker addresses, what is "perceptually present" is something like: another person pointing toward a mountain.

Those are the kinds of things "perceptually present" for the actors concerned.  What is indicated by the hiker's statement "that is my end" (the hiker on top of the mountain) is not perceptually present.  And this same principle, I will argue, applies equally to all ends.

Ends are not perceptually present, only means are perceptually present.  In our example, we consider the hiker's pointing to various objects as means:  means of indicating what boots he will wear, means of indicating what he hopes to accomplish, etc...

In this conception, to each means supposed or utilized corresponds, by logic, an end.  But the end in this conception is not another kind, form, or structure of a means.  Rather the end is categorically different than the means.  The end is non or un-perceptible.

If we look back at the two modes of analysis sketched by Eddington, it may be more apparent now that in Austrian-related social theory, there is a tendency to treat means and ends both as objects that have the same mode of existence.  There is a tendency to consider the mountain which the hiker points to as his "end."  I think this conception is a mistake, and I believe it is evident from numerous passages in Mises that this is not the conception of ends he is using.  Here are two passages from the post(s) above:

 

"Strictly speaking, only the increase of satisfaction (decrease of uneasiness) should be called the end, and accordingly all states which bring about such an increase means.  In daily speech people use a loose terminology.  They call ends things which should be rather called means.  They say: This man knows only one end, namely, to accumulate more wealth, instead of saying: He considers the accumulation of more wealth as the only means to get satisfaction.  If they were to apply this more adequate mode of expression, they would avoid some current mistakes."(Money, Method, and the Market Process, p.22)

"Happiness—in the purely formal sense in which ethical theory applies the term—is the only ultimate end, and all other things and states of affairs sought are merely means to the realization of the supreme ultimate end.  It is customary, however, to employ a less precise mode of expression, frequently assigning the name of ultimate ends to all those means that are fit to produce satisfaction directly and immediately."(Theory and History, p.13)

Here is it clear that Mises is using a conceptual distinction between means and ends in which all states of affairs utilized toward increasing the actor's satisfaction are considered means.  He explicitly states that it is only a loose and less precise mode of expression whereby one uses the term "ends" to signify some of these states of affairs.

The reason this distinction---and a more precise and consistent conception of it---is important, is that if we conceive both means and ends are  "present" to the actor, we cannot escape the implication of this conception, which is that there are two objects present having some relationship to one another.

But if the relationship between objects is the starting point of, or one and the same with, natural-scientific reasoning, then in conceiving means and ends as two kinds of objects (two objects relating to one another in some way) we are conceiving things according to a natural-scientific world-view.

And, if we try to claim, as Austrians do claim, that the method of the social sciences is different than the method of the natural sciences, we may be asserting something at fundamental odds with our underlying epistemology.

Thus, I argue that it is a mistake to conceive means and ends as objects that are both perceptually present or both capable of perceptual apprehension by the actor.  I will argue that we must conceive one category of action as denoting that which is present or presently utilized in action, and we must conceive another category which is of a fundamentally different nature.  This second category is the category of "unobservables whose unobservability is a matter of epistemological principle."   In keeping consistent with Mises's usage, we would call the category of presently utilized objects or states of affairs means, and the category of unobservables the category of ends.

Paraphrasing Mises, if we were to apply this more adequate mode of expression, we would avoid some current mistakes

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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Adam, do you have anything to say about IP?

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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Liberty Student:

http://mises.org/Community/forums/p/19375/361009.aspx#361009

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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AJ replied on Sun, Aug 29 2010 12:20 PM

Adam, 

On means: 

"He considers the accumulation of more wealth as the only means to get satisfaction."(Money, Method, and the Market Process, p.22)

Here the "means" is an action, not a state of affairs, not an object, not a perceptual presence. Is this just a misleading use of English; did he really mean "the state of having accumulated more wealth" or perhaps "an accumulation of more wealth"?

On ends:

 But this state of affairs (the hiker on top of the mountain) is not "perceptually present" or "at hand".

Don't you mean, "not for very long"? Doesn't he have to imagine himself on top of the mountain for some brief moment to know that it would satisfy him to be up there? 

By contrast, all phenomena of desire: aiming, striving, valuing, demanding, etc...(i.e., all the phenomena that in Austrian analysis, we conceive as logically opposed to the object of the actor's activity), we conceive as ends of the actor's activity.  That is, "desire," "aiming," "striving," "valuing," "demanding," etc., all belong to the category of ends.

These are phrased as actions, but apparently they are not because they are "of the actor's activity." Also, above Mises calls "satisfaction" an end. And desire is of course a presently felt sensation (whether the pain of not having or the pleasure of anticipation), so it must be a means...I'm pretty confused - is there a typo somewhere?

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Hi AJ:

You wrote:

On means: 

"He considers the accumulation of more wealth as the only means to get satisfaction."(Money, Method, and the Market Process, p.22)

1 )  Here the "means" is an action, not a state of affairs, not an object, not a perceptual presence. Is this just a misleading use of English; did he really mean "the state of having accumulated more wealth" or perhaps "an accumulation of more wealth"?

On ends:

 But this state of affairs (the hiker on top of the mountain) is not "perceptually present" or "at hand".

2)  Don't you mean, "not for very long"? Doesn't he have to imagine himself on top of the mountain for some brief moment to know that it would satisfy him to be up there? 

By contrast, all phenomena of desire: aiming, striving, valuing, demanding, etc...(i.e., all the phenomena that in Austrian analysis, we conceive as logically opposed to the object of the actor's activity), we conceive as ends of the actor's activity.  That is, "desire," "aiming," "striving," "valuing," "demanding," etc., all belong to the category of ends.

3)  These are phrased as actions, but apparently they are not because they are "of the actor's activity." Also, above Mises calls "satisfaction" an end. And desire is of course a presently felt sensation (whether the pain of not having or the pleasure of anticipation), so it must be a means...I'm pretty confused - is there a typo somewhere?

*****

On #1, try "the action considered as a means."   That is, the totality of the actor's activity, considered as a means toward his end.  The idea is that any supposed thing (process, activity, etc.) that is present to the actor is considered a means of the actor. 

Question:  How will you make money?   Answer:  I'll open a lemonade stand.

Then, we consider "opening a lemonade stand" as a means to making money.

There are only two categories in the theory; means and ends.  Something supposed is supposed as belonging to one of the categories.

Objects that are conceived to exist, as objects, processes, or states of affairs, but independent of individual action, are objects of the natural sciences or objects of objective theories of social thought.  Or said differently, the conception of a "really existing" or "objectively existing" object, process, or state of affairs, that is independent of the action or consciousness of an individual actor is considered a concept of natural science or of objective social science, but not one of theoretically subjective praxeology...  In the latter theory, there are only the means or ends of action.  A third category of "objective" entities is superfluous:

"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. External objects are as such only phenomena of the physical universe and the subject matter of the natural sciences. [such objects do not enter into the conceptions of praxeological theory]  It is human meaning and action which transform them into means. [any objects treated, are treated as means of individual action] Praxeology does not deal with the external world, but with man's conduct with regard to it. Praxeological reality is not the physical universe, but man's conscious reaction to the given state of this universe. [praxeology is not concerned with the relationship between objects, but rather with the relationship between the objects or states of affairs of an individual's action and his desire for a different object or state of affairs]  Economics is not about things and tangible material objects; it is about men, their meanings and actions. Goods, commodities, and 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)(bold & italics added, bracketed comments by AK)

In other words, praxeological theory is not concerned with objects per se, but only with the objects of individual action.

 

On #2, you've referred to a state of affairs "actor imagining himself on top of a mountain" which is not identical to the perceptual presence I referred to which is "hiker on top of mountain."   "I'm on top of a mountain" and "I'm imagining myself on top of a mountain" are not the same perceptual presences for me.

On #3, I'm proposing a conception of action comprised of 2 notions: perceptual presences, and the attempt to change the perceptual presence.  I'm proposing a change in the conception of the things: desire, wanting, striving, etc.,  from "actions in themselves" to a circumscribed component of action.  I'm proposing a change in conceptions.  To do this, I need to refer to the conception in question: desire, wanting, striving, etc., and then try to indicate the change in conception I intend.

In other words, I'm proposing the conceptual separation of the binary phenomena:  satisfaction/dissatisfaction, means/ends, presence/desire, etc. into two categories, each of a fundamentally different nature.  In this conception, satisfaction, means, presence, etc., all belong to the category of perceptual presence (let's call it category 1).  And dissatisfaction, ends, desire, etc., belong to the category of ....whatever we choose to call it: desire, ends, unhappiness, etc. (we can call it category 0) The latter category (0) then is conceived as fundamentally non-perceptible.  If we suppose something is perceptible in action, we suppose it to belong to the category of the perceptible, category 1.

Thus, we do not conceive both members of the binary pair as objects of a similar nature, in which case the question naturally arises as to the "relations of the two objects."  Rather, we conceive one category as the category of perceptible objects, and the other category as fundamentally non-perceptible.

"And desire is of course a presently felt sensation..."

Here you are considering both members of the binary pair (presence/desire, means/ends, satisfaction/dissatisfaction) as perceptible objects.

Then we will naturally treat the two objects with respect to their relationship to one another, a procedure I'm arguing is the basis of natural science.

I think you are missing my proposed change in conceptions.  I did mention it in my post:

"As I have expressed this difference before, we can conceive natural science as concerned with the relationship between objects or states of affairs, and this belongs to conceptual analysis method #1.   Praxeology is concerned with the relationship between an object or state of affairs that exists for an individual actor, and this actor's desire for a different object or state of affairs than the one he is confronted withIn this mode of analysis, the "desire" for another state of affairs will be considered as fundamentally different in nature than the "object" or "state" of affairs confronting the actor, and thus this mode of analysis belongs to #2."

"(if we conceive of the actor's desire for another state of affairs itself an "object" or "state of affairs", then we revert back to #1, and we are forced to conceive a relationship between two "objects":  object 1, the actor's desire, and object 2, the state of affairs the actor is confronted with.  Thus, we cannot conceive the actor's "desire" as an object or state of affairs.)"

One final note:  I will argue that the conception I am proposing is essentially consistent with Mises's conception, not that the two are identical.  I'm proposing what I consider to be an extension of the Misesian conception that results in a conception of the means/ends distinction that is more comprehensive.  This happens when we remove the internal/external distinction (spatial location) and substitute the presence/desire conception (satisfaction/dissatisfaction, means/ends, supply/value, etc.).  But then, the two concepts in question cannot be conceived as two objects in spatio-temporal relation.  Thus, one of the concepts must be conceived as fundamentally "non-objective," meaning, the category of unobservables whose unobservability is a matter of epistemological principle.  One of the categories, means or ends, must be conceived as fundamentally un-perceptible.  In keeping with Mises's usage, I propose that ends be considered the category of that which is not perceptually present in action.  When something becomes perceptible in action, it becomes thus a means of action.  This, I suggest, is already indicated in Mises's conception:

As soon as people venture to question and to examine an end, they no longer look upon it as an end but deal with it as a means to attain a still higher end.  The ultimate end is beyond any rational examination.  All other ends are but provisional.  They turn into means as soon as they are weighed against other ends or means.(TH-14)

As soon as we start to refute by arguments an ultimate judgment of value, we look upon it as a means to attain definite ends.  But then we merely shift the discussion to another plane.  We no longer view the principle concerned as an ultimate value but as a means to attain an ultimate value, and we are again faced with the same problem.(TH-23)

In fact, he who passes judgement of an alleged end, reduces it from the rank of an end to that of a means.  He values it from the viewpoint of an (higher) end and asks whether it is a suitable means to attain this (higher) end.(MM-22-23)

The idea is to consider this state of affairs as saying something fundamental about human action.  When something is "treated" or "examined" in action---i.e., "present"---it is, by virtue of this, a means of action.

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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AJ replied on Sun, Aug 29 2010 3:29 PM

Adam Knott:
There are only two categories in the theory; means and ends.  Something supposed is supposed as belonging to one of the categories. 

Holding off for the moment on the question of how actions can be perceptually present, I'll instead ask why there are only two categories in the theory. For example, why isn't it three categories: means, actions, and ends?

Adam Knott:
On #2, you've referred to a state of affairs "actor imagining himself on top of a mountain" which is not identical to the perceptual presence I referred to which is "hiker on top of mountain."   "I'm on top of a mountain" and "I'm imagining myself on top of a mountain" are not the same perceptual presences for me.

Since we're remaining agnostic about any real world, if I'm imagining X (the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sensation of the air, etc.), isn't X (being in fact those very same sensations) then by definition among my perceptual presences? 

Adam Knott:

And dissatisfaction, ends, desire, etc., belong to the category of ....whatever we choose to call it: desire, ends, unhappiness, etc. (we can call it category 0) The latter category (0) then is conceived as fundamentally non-perceptible.

...

In this mode of analysis, the "desire" for another state of affairs will be considered as fundamentally different in nature than the "object" or "state" of affairs confronting the actor, and thus this mode of analysis belongs to #2."

"(if we conceive of the actor's desire for another state of affairs itself an "object" or "state of affairs", then we revert back to #1, and we are forced to conceive a relationship between two "objects":  object 1, the actor's desire, and object 2, the state of affairs the actor is confronted with.  Thus, we cannot conceive the actor's "desire" as an object or state of affairs.)"

If desire and unhappiness are fundamentally non-perceptible, what possible relation could these words have to their original meanings? If you are conceiving of unhappiness in such a way that it is something that it is impossible to perceive, then it seems it might be clearer to say you are completely redefining the word, to the point that I have to wonder why you would want to use the original words at all.

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AJ:

"Holding off for the moment on the question of how actions can be perceptually present, I'll instead ask why there are only two categories in the theory. For example, why isn't it three categories: means, actions, and ends?"

I'm resolving the concept of action into two essential notions.  Action is means and ends.

"Since we're remaining agnostic about any real world, if I'm imagining X (the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sensation of the air, etc.), isn't X (being in fact those very same sensations) then by definition among my perceptual presences?"

Yes, as I understand it.

"If desire and unhappiness are [conceived as] fundamentally non-perceptible, what possible relation could these words have to their original meanings? If you are conceiving of unhappiness in such a way that it is something that it is impossible to perceive, then it seems it might be clearer to say you are completely redefining the word, to the point that I have to wonder why you would want to use the original words at all."(bracketed added by AK)

I'm redefining the concept, from a natural scientific concept, in which both members of the binary pair are conceived as objects that can relate to one another spatially and temporally, to a praxeological concept, in which it is impossible for the members to relate to each other in this way, since one member or category is of a fundamentally different nature.

I provided the quote from Eddington to show the contrast between these two fundamentally different modes of analysis---the natural scientific and the praxeological:

"The new conception is, not merely that the whole is analysable into a complete set of parts, but that it is analysable into parts which resemble one another.  It is the opposite pole from the analysis, say, of a human being into soul and body, in which the two parts belong to altogether different categories of entities.  I will go farther, and say that the aim of the analysis employed in physics is to resolve the universe into structural units which are precisely like one another."

I will also argue that the notion of quantum indeterminancy, the notion that there are unobservables whose unobservability is a matter of epistemological principle, lends support to a category of action that is fundamentally nonperceptible.

Again, I'm proposing a change in conception of a generally accepted phenomenon (the binary pairs of means/ends, satisfaction/dissatisfaction, presence/desire).  That such a binary phenomenon presents itself to us, is largely accepted, but I argue that the binary pair is mis-conceived.

So I'm trying to show how something we're conceiving as perceptible (desire, striving, valuing, unhappiness, etc.) needs to be conceived as nonperceptible in order to make the theory of action consistent.

I'm arguing for a change in conception of a generally accepted notion, the generally accepted notion that there is something in our action corresponding to means/ends, satisfaction/dissatisfaction, supply/value, presence/desire.  My argument is that if the theory of action be consistent, it is a mistake to conceive each member of the binary pair as a perceptual object, since doing so starts us on the path to a natural-scientific-like theory of action.  Instead, I argue that one category of the binary pair must be conceived as fundamentally "non-object."  That is the category of ends, dissatisfaction, value, etc.   (the category traditionally associated with the "attitude" of the actor toward the object he is confronted with)

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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AJ replied on Sun, Aug 29 2010 5:29 PM

Adam Knott:
I'm resolving the concept of action into two essential notions.  Action is means and ends.

The way you've defined it, everything - all of human experience - is action. Pleasure and pain are action. All sensations perceived are action. All sensations not perceived are action. Again, why use the original word if it's going to bear no resemblance whatsoever to its usual meaning?

Adam Knott:
"Since we're remaining agnostic about any real world, if I'm imagining X (the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sensation of the air, etc.), isn't X (being in fact those very same sensations) then by definition among my perceptual presences?"

Yes, as I understand it.

So again, it's in my perceptual presences, just not for very long.

Adam Knott:
I'm redefining the concept, from a natural scientific concept, in which both members of the binary pair are conceived as objects that can relate to one another spatially and temporally...

Wait a minute, who thinks that pain and pleasure are related spatially or temporally? Sure, they are both sensations if that counts as being in the same "category(which could mean just about anything) but all of human experience is sensations - otherwise it would not be "experience." To posit non-perceptibles while at the same time remaining agnostic about anything outside my perceptions would be incoherent, and then to posit "non-objects" seems Platonic, or at least it begs for further elucidation of the underlying epistemic assumptions.

Adam Knott:
I will also argue that the notion of quantum indeterminancy, the notion that there are unobservables whose unobservability is a matter of epistemological principle, lends support to a category of action that is fundamentally nonperceptible.

Again, how can you believe that "there are" unobservables (in either theory) while remaining agnostic about reality? In what sense "are" these unobservables?

Adam Knott:
So I'm trying to show how something we're conceiving as perceptible (desire, striving, valuing, unhappiness, etc.) needs to be conceived as nonperceptible in order to make the theory of action consistent.

You're speaking of these words as if they are themselves concepts, but until they are interpreted they are just strings of letters. I presume that "unhappiness," for example, is interpreted by most people as corresponding to a particular type of sensation, which is of course by definition perceivable and perceived. You have said that you are reconceiving or redefining these "concepts," but the usual "concept" corresponding to the words unhappiness or pain is just a sensation. You can't reconceive or redefine a sensation. It is what it is. Whatever you choose to call it, you are redefining the words. I am not saying that is all you are doing, but that is indeed one of the things you are doing, and you are doing it to such an extent that I have to again wonder what the point of using the original words is.

Adam Knott:
I'm arguing for a change in conception of a generally accepted notion, the generally accepted notion that there is something in our action corresponding to means/ends, satisfaction/dissatisfaction, supply/value, presence/desire.  My argument is that if the theory of action be consistent, it is a mistake to conceive each member of the binary pair as a perceptual object, since doing so starts us on the path to a natural-scientific-like theory of action.  Instead, I argue that one category of the binary pair must be conceived as fundamentally "non-object."

And in any case, I don't see how you can get to a "natural-scientific-like theory of action" (if by natural you mean dealing with a "real world") with the constraints of strict methodological individualism, subjectivism, and the entailed agnosticism about "real worlds." 

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AJ:

I feel I can answer or attempt to answer questions that point out an apparent conflict in my theory or ideas.  But I'm less able and less willing to argue about whether the grounding assumptions are to be defined in terms of your theory or my theory.

If you set the grounding assumptions and definitions, of what sensations "are" or how they are to be conceived, or what words "are" or how they are to be conceived, etc., I concede that problems will immediately appear in my theory.

When things get to this point of debate or discussion, as they have in the past, I will insist that you are employing your own grounding notions in appraising my grounding notions, and finding them incompatible.

I believe I can answer questions about apparent conflicts or contradictions in my own ideas, and even questions about apparent conflicts between Mises's theory of action and the theory I am working on.

But at this point, I don't feel it is fruitful for me to try to argue with you about the formulations and conceptions you are employing, compared to which, you are finding my ideas unsatisfying.

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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AJ replied on Sun, Aug 29 2010 11:20 PM

There seem to be some basic epistemic assumptions you're not mentioning. I do think my assumptions are correct, but I could possibly be convinced otherwise. You can take my comments as meaning that I do not think I can accept or reject the main conception you are laying out until I understand its underlying assumptions.

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Perhaps AJ

But it's also possible that you are insisting on a standard of logical clarification that it is not possible for you or anyone else to meet.  When I read Mises for example, I do not insist on complete logical clarification of every sentence.  Rather, I look to the essential meaning of his argument and the implications of that.

Here is what Mises writes on page 12 of Human Action:

A)  "He who only wishes and hopes does not actively interfere with the course of events and with the shaping of his own destiny.  But acting man chooses, determines, and tries to reach an end."

B)  "To express wishes and hopes and to announce planned action may be forms of action in so far as they aim in themselves at the realization of a certain purpose."

Here is what Mises writes on page 20:

C)  "When applied to the means chosen for the attainment of ends, the terms rational and irrational imply a judgment about the expediency and adequacy of the procedure employed. The critic approves or disapproves of the method from the point of view of whether or not it is best suited to attain the end in question. It is a fact that human reason is not infallible and that man very often errs in selecting and applying means. An action unsuited to the end sought falls short of expectation. It is contrary to purpose, but it is rational, i.e., the outcome of a reasonable--although faulty--deliberation and an attempt--although an ineffectual attempt--to attain a definite goal."

In A, Mises implies that wishing and hoping are not actions.  In B, he implies that they are or may be actions to some extent. 

In C, he writes that a critic (CR) can approve or disapprove of the method chosen for the attainment of ends by the actor (AC), and he writes that the actor (AC) often errs in selecting and applying means.

From the totality of what Mises writes, I conclude that in writing A, Mises has inadvertently and mistakenly taken the position of a critic, and expressed his personal judgment that AC's wishing or hoping for a certain state of affairs is an ineffectual method or means to bring about that state of affairs. 

I arrive at this conclusion not by insisting on the perfect logical soundness and consistency of every idea expressed in Human Action, but rather by making a judgment myself as to when Mises contradicts his own system of ideas.  I take an active role in understanding Mises's system. 

 

Here is a relevant passage from Heisenberg, one of the top, if not the top, natural science philosopher of the twentieth century:

"The philosophic thesis that all knowledge is ultimately founded in experience has in the end led to a postulate concerning the logical clarification of any statements about nature.  Such a postulate may have seemed justified in the period of classical physics, but since quantum theory we have learned that it cannot be fulfilled.  The words "position" and "velocity" of an electron, for instance, seemed perfectly well defined as to both their meaning and their possible connections, and in fact they were clearly defined concepts within the mathematical framework of Newtonian mechanics.  But actually they were not well defined, as is seen from the relations of uncertainty.  One may say that regarding their position in Newtonian mechanics they were well defined, but in their relation to nature they were not.  This shows that we can never know beforehand which limitations will be put on the applicability of certain concepts by the extension of our knowledge into the remote parts of nature, into which we can only penetrate with the most elaborate tools.  Therefore, in the process of penetration we are bound sometimes to use our concepts in a way which is not justified and which carries no meaning.  Insistence on the postulate of complete logical clarification would make science impossible.  We are reminded here by modern physics of the old wisdom that the one who insists on never uttering an error must remain silent."  (Physics and Philosophy, p.85/86)

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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A brief note on the notion of a category of unobservability or un-perceptibility.

(In providing passages from Mises, the main idea is to substantiate that he was working along a certain conceptual path or working inevitably according to a certain vision.  He continues to refer to the concept of action, and this action is the purposive activity of the individual actor.)

Regarding time, here are a few brief sentences:

"It is action that provides man with the notion of time and makes him aware of the flux of time.  The idea of time is a praxeological category." (HA, 3rd rev. p.100)

"The uncertainty of the future is already implied in the very notion of action."  (p.105)

The idea is simply that the notion or phenomenon of time in praxeology (at least in Misesian praxeology) arises from the notion or phenomenon of action.  In this conception, time is not an independently existing thing, but a function of, or feature of, or category of.....action (goal directed activity).

The way this may be seen to relate to a category of unobservability is the following:

Consider that we often and naturally refer to the future even though there is a sense in which we can maintain that we never experience the future.

Here, remaining neutral with respect to the ontological question of whether the future"really exists" or will "really happen," etc....we can approach the future as something inferred from present action, or, something required of a consistent conceptualizing of present action.

I can conceive that I experience the present while "aiming" for the future.  In this conception, I do not experience, or observe, or perceive the future.  But yet I or we do refer to it.  Thus, I refer to something I do not observe: the future.   The future is fundamentally unobservable in the conception of the future arising out of the phenomenon or conception of action.

This conception would have its counterpart in natural science in the concepts 1 and 0, where I might hold that I have observed a unit of something, but I have never "observed" the absence of "something."

Whatever the complications may be in extending this line of reasoning, the main point is that there are grounds for attempting to construct a category of unobservability as part of the theory of action, and, this category has its counterpart in the natural sciences, perhaps both in the concept of "0" (as absence, null, void, nothing, etc.) and in the concept of quantum indeterminancy.

That quantum theory supports, implies, or constitutes a notion of unobservability is the argument of Niels Bohr in his philosophical writings, especially in Atomic Theory and the Decription of Nature, Volume I.   In the course of these essays, Bohr repeats the idea over and over, that quantum mechanics entails an element of fundamental unvisualizability.  Quantum mechanics as Bohr understands it is dealing with a phenomenon that cannot be fully comprehended by means of "mechanical pictures."   He repeatedly speaks of a "renunciation as to visualization in the ordinary sense."

As evidence that Mises was working along a similar path, consider this important passage from Epistemological Problems of Economics:


 

4
On the Development of the Subjective Theory of Value

2. Preferring as the Basic Element in Human Conduct

"All conscious conduct on the part of men involves preferring an A to a B. It is an act of choice between two alternative possibilities that offer themselves. Only these acts of choice, these inner decisions that operate upon the external world, are our data. We comprehend their meaning by constructing the concept of importance. If an individual prefers A to B, we say that, at the moment of the act of choice, A appeared more important to him (more valuable, more desirable) than B."

"We are also wont to say that the need for A was more urgent than the need for B, This is a mode of expression that, under certain circumstances, may be quite expedient. But as an hypostatization of what was to be explained, it became a source of serious misunderstandings. It was forgotten that we are able to infer the need only from the action. Hence, the idea of an action not in conformity with needs is absurd. As soon as one attempts to distinguish between the need and the action and makes the need the criterion for judging the action, one leaves the domain of theoretical science, with its neutrality in regard to value judgments. It is necessary to recall here that we are dealing with the theory of action, not with psychology, and certainly not with a system of norms, which has the task of differentiating between good and evil or between value and worthlessness. Our data are actions and conduct. It may be left undecided how far and in what way our science needs to concern itself with what lies behind them, that is, with actual valuations and volitions. For there can be no doubt that its subject matter is given action and only given action. Action that ought to be, but is not, does not come within its purview."  (emphasis added)

It is important to realize that this passage indicates the clear reason why such things as wishing and hoping are definitely actions, though Mises struggles with this in the early pages of Human Action.  As Mises writes, we infer the need (for what a person is wishing or hoping for) only from the action (of wishing or hoping).  Hence, the idea that wishing or hoping are not in conformity with the need is absurd.  As soon as we attempt to distinguish between the need (what the actor is hoping or wishing for) and the action (his hoping or wishing for it), and make the need the criterion for judging the action, we leave the domain of theoretial science, with its neutrality in regard to value judgments. 

In other words, hoping and wishing are means to ends, and thus actions.  We are concerned with given action only, not action as it should be or could be if the actor acted differently than he did.

******

As I interpret Mises here, and as I believe this passage shows, when he writes that the need is inferred from the action, he is speaking of a logical inferrence as opposed to a perceptual observation.  The need is logically inferred.  The need is implied

We might also say it this way:  The system that Mises was constructing is one in which the requirements of value-neutrality and theoretical consistency require that the need be conceived as inferred from or implied by the action, as opposed to considering the need as a separate entity that can serve as a criterion for judging the action.

The relevance here is that we can conceive of action as consisting of a present that is observable and a future that is fundamentally nonobservable, and these may constitute two separate categories of action.

This is indicated in Mises's system when he writes that the need is inferred from the action.  The need is inferred from the action, not observed in relation to the action.

This passage and this conception, and the difficulties surrounding them, are an important key to understanding Mises's analytical approach.

Again, whatever complications or epistemological problems may be entailed in extending this line of reasoning, the main point is to suggest a certain theoretical path that Mises was walking along; the path that tries to conceive all phenomena from the point of view of individual action.  This is the methodological individualism or methodological subjectivism at the center of Mises's praxeology.

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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