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What's the action axiom?

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Izzy,

TL;DR is creeping up. Could you quote the bit from Mises and or Hayek that addresses Laotse's point?

 

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That's absolutely right, Daniel. I don't think most people understand that empirical methods must make radical suppositions in order to even begin to do their work. Nevertheless, there are a host of other non-empirical things that Hoppe points out we have rational warrant to hold to.

To restrict the domain of knowledge to things that can be discovered empircally is inherently self-contradictory. Why is it so hard to see that? 

Irrelevant.  We can wax philosophically on the nature of the cogito or the sum, but the fact is, the world acts as if there is an objective basis for it.  As such there are certain laws we can derive for things that always hold, no matter where you are in this possible illusion.

To do this will require a priori reasoning, yes.  And that is good.  But a priori alone cannot verify anything, other than on how to discuss certain things that have been verified emprically.  It is, in my opinion, faulty to start with a priori reasoning. 

On the topic of the action axiom, is it not just saying "actors act?"  And is that not the definition of circular reasoning?

In States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it. ... In short, a law everywhere and for everything!

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MrSchnapps replied on Wed, Mar 30 2011 12:23 AM

You need to read more Hume and Bertrand Russell to realize the full extent of the problem of the uniformity of nature and the move from particulars to universals.

However, I do think you've struck something that is difficult to solve for those that follow Kant. Austrian Economics is a curious blend between Aristotle and Kant, and when you see the Kantian side emerge over the Aristotelian, you tend to see these sorts of difficulties arise.

After all, wasn't it Kant's position that reality is but a reflection of the internal structures of our minds? Reality, then, is not intelligible in and of itself. Or if it is, then it certainly cannot be known in that sense. After this is acknowledged it is tremendously difficult to show how these tautologies have any consequence whatsoever on reality. This is the difference between impositionist and reflectionist views, of which Barry Smith delves into very nicely. I don't have time to look for his article, but it's available on mises.org as a PDF in one of the journals. 

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Laotzu del Zinn:

That's absolutely right, Daniel. I don't think most people understand that empirical methods must make radical suppositions in order to even begin to do their work. Nevertheless, there are a host of other non-empirical things that Hoppe points out we have rational warrant to hold to.

To restrict the domain of knowledge to things that can be discovered empircally is inherently self-contradictory. Why is it so hard to see that? 

Irrelevant.  We can wax philosophically on the nature of the cogito or the sum, but the fact is, the world acts as if there is an objective basis for it.  As such there are certain laws we can derive for things that always hold, no matter where you are in this possible illusion.

To do this will require a priori reasoning, yes.  And that is good.  But a priori alone cannot verify anything, other than on how to discuss certain things that have been verified emprically.  It is, in my opinion, faulty to start with a priori reasoning. 

On the topic of the action axiom, is it not just saying "actors act?"  And is that not the definition of circular reasoning?

I addressed this already.  The "action axiom" is not circular reasoning (although it is indeed unhelpful, and not Misesian); it's a pleonasm (saying the same thing twice).

And I'm not referring to solipsism.  I'm referring to the a priori of causality.

Really, if you'd just read my paper (assuming you're not going to read Mises' works themselves), this would be a lot easier.

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AJ:

Micah71381:

Why is the same not true for humans?  Psychology and neuroscience have allowed us to start looking at humans from the structural perspective and because of that we can better predict human action.  Should we not try to do away with our purposeful view of humans much like we did away with our purposeful view of the earth?

If you would read Danny's latest blog post, that would help ensure we are all on the same page here. If it's too long to read now, you could just skip to the segment titled Radical Anti-Teleology, which seems tailor-made for the questions you are asking.

Reading through that blog it seems that Mises asserts what I am suggesting:

We may fairly assume or believe that they are absolutely dependent upon and conditioned by their causes.  But as long as we do not know how external facts–physical and physiological–produce in a human mind definite thoughts and volitions resulting in concrete acts, we have to face an insurmountable methodological dualism.

What makes humans special is not some metaphysical system of free will, soul, ghost in the shell, etc. but rather the fact that science cannot predict human action.  Therefore, the planet with it's ecosystem, it's geology, natural disasters, etc. would also fall into the category of methodological dualism since we similarly can't predict it's actions.  We cannot predict if a human will turn right or left at an intersection and we cannot predict whether it will rain.  The reason we can't predict both is largely the same, too many variables to account for.

The author of that blog (Daniel James Sanchez) also seems to agree with Mises on this topic and based on his interpretation of things (as he has explained it) the planet, and other unpredictable complex objects, would all be methodologically dual (not sure if I can use the term that way, but I am going to anyway).

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Micah71381:

AJ:

Micah71381:

Why is the same not true for humans?  Psychology and neuroscience have allowed us to start looking at humans from the structural perspective and because of that we can better predict human action.  Should we not try to do away with our purposeful view of humans much like we did away with our purposeful view of the earth?

If you would read Danny's latest blog post, that would help ensure we are all on the same page here. If it's too long to read now, you could just skip to the segment titled Radical Anti-Teleology, which seems tailor-made for the questions you are asking.

Reading through that blog it seems that Mises asserts what I am suggesting:

We may fairly assume or believe that they are absolutely dependent upon and conditioned by their causes.  But as long as we do not know how external facts–physical and physiological–produce in a human mind definite thoughts and volitions resulting in concrete acts, we have to face an insurmountable methodological dualism.

What makes humans special is not some metaphysical system of free will, soul, ghost in the shell, etc. but rather the fact that science cannot predict human action.  Therefore, the planet with it's ecosystem, it's geology, natural disasters, etc. would also fall into the category of methodological dualism since we similarly can't predict it's actions.  We cannot predict if a human will turn right or left at an intersection and we cannot predict whether it will rain.  The reason we can't predict both is largely the same, too many variables to account for.

The author of that blog (Daniel James Sanchez) also seems to agree with Mises on this topic and based on his interpretation of things (as he has explained it) the planet, and other unpredictable complex objects, would all be methodologically dual (not sure if I can use the term that way, but I am going to anyway).

Don't forget my own argument that I added after explaining Mises':

 

I would also add that the reason we study human action in the first place is that we have certain questions which have are inextricably bound up with the human purposes that anti-teleologists dismiss as ‘mentalist fictions.’  For example, people are vitally interested in economics largely in order to discover the legal and institutional arrangements by which humans can prosper.  How can one explain “how humans prosper” when the teleological, “mental fiction” of ‘prospering’ is dismissed as nonsense at the outset?  I would challenge any anti-teleological economist to even define (let alone explain) “goods”, “money”, “profit”, “loss”, “income” without using the teleological, “mentalist” language they deride as “folk psychology”.
 
There is nothing wrong with neurobiology and neurochemistry; indeed these sciences are achieving wonders for us.  But the social sciences can never be resolved into these natural sciences, because our finite minds can never resolve teleology into causality without abandoning teleology altogether, and to study human affairs without considering purpose and intentionality is not to study human affairs at all.

Humans are not special for science just because they are complex.  They are not basically on the same scientific ground as weather patterns.  They are special for science because the very questions we want answered about them are teleological in nature.  

Inquiries into the causes and nature of the wealth of nations are fundamentally different from inquiries into the causes and nature of the humidity of trade winds.  

If we had precise enough instruments and powerful enough computers, we could explain every single thing about a trade wind.  

But no matter how precise your instruments, no matter how powerful your computers, all you will find in the brain are chemical, electrical, subatomic and other physical patterns and processes.  You will never find preferences, purposes, costs or proceeds.

This is not to say the former does not cause the latter.  It is rather that the terms in which our minds grasp causality and teleology are fundamentally different, and simply don't translate into each other.

The most thorough-going radical anti-teleologists are actually right insofar as, in the language of causality, there is no such thing as teleology.  That is why they don't want to explain teleology in terms of causality; instead they want to abandon teleology altogether.  They're ridiculous, because they don't realize what that entails (the abandonment of all economic, sociological, ethnographic, and historical questions), but at least they're more consistent and clear than people who think they can answer teleological questions with causality answers.

We have many causality-related questions about our bodies (including our brains), because our bodies are useful to us.

But we also have many teleological questions about choice, success, failure, prosperity, and poverty.

Once you abandon teleological language, you've effectively changed the question.  So, as long as we are still asking teleological questions, we need to continue providing teleological answers.

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Micah:
This brings me back to my original suggestion that purpose be defined by predictability.

Yeah, I think predictability in the sense that you are using it is a dead end.  You're trying to label objects as either 'consious' / 'purposeful' or not, when these words really refer to a way of perceiving or analysing something. 

Micah:
We can predict everything a plant will do so it has no purpose.  We can predict very little of what a human will do so it has purpose. 

Well I'm not sure this is true (are there not regular discoveries in the botanical / biological sciences, that are improving our knowledge of and predictions of the behavior of plants?).  But nonetheless, the reasoning here doesn't work.  Suppose neuroscience does progress to the point of our being able to predict with near certainty what humans will do.  Will that then mean humans have no purpose?  If being consious or purposeful is something inherent in the nature of an object, why would the nature of that object change when our knowledge of it increases? 

Micah:
Though, by this definition the earth has purpose.

True.  That is part of why that definition is poor.

Micah:
and I am guessing that most here will argue that it does not

I am arguing that purposefulness/consiousness is not something inherent to objects.  It is a word that denotes objects that we find useful to analyse using a certain mode: the perspective of intent, desire, action.

Micah:
I will go back to the suggestion that purpose be defined as "what humans have" and leave it at that

I think this definition is needlessly limiting the applicability of praxeology.

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AJ replied on Wed, Mar 30 2011 6:11 PM

Micah71381:

What makes humans special is not some metaphysical system of free will, soul, ghost in the shell, etc. but rather the fact that science cannot predict human action.  Therefore, the planet with it's ecosystem, it's geology, natural disasters, etc. would also fall into the category of methodological dualism since we similarly can't predict it's actions.  We cannot predict if a human will turn right or left at an intersection and we cannot predict whether it will rain.  The reason we can't predict both is largely the same, too many variables to account for.

Even if we believe the reasons we can't predict weather and human action are the same (too many variables), the reasons we can predict them differ. As trulib wrote above, a special thing about other humans is that it turns out to be useful to model their actions on the example of my own consciousness. If this method worked for weather analysis that would be one thing, but it doesn't seem to.

Danny replied that the questions we want to answer necessarily entail a teleological perspective. I think the more general point is that whatever questions we're trying to answer (about anything!) are never just free-floating; it always matters why we want to know the answer. For what purpose do we want to know? At the deepest level, it would be incoherent to speak of "knowledge for knowledge's sake."

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William replied on Wed, Mar 30 2011 7:11 PM

 For what purpose do we want to know? At the deepest level, it would be incoherent to speak of "knowledge for knowledge's sake."

Bingo.  This can't really be done.  It is more of a poetic expression of the reason/catagory as to why someone is studying something for their own sake.  This is kind of why a free market mentality has difficulty discussing the greater good, society, and things of that nature.  It can't really acknowledge such structures other than contextualizations that are convienent within certain contexts of a telelogical entity that can catagorize facts, which is at odds with the thought of just about the entire rest of the planet.

In so much as this nature exists, it can't be reduced any further, this is the atomic fact.   If the nature, or any part of it, can be reduced  it simply isn't what is being discussed by it's own nature and it is into the realm of biology or something.  There is no amount of biology, physics, psychology or whatever that can explain this away as none of these subjects are being discussed.  It simply can not be done, it is beyond their realms by their own definition to not be able to explain such narratives.  At all times the individual is the one creating, answering, and validating such questions and answers that don't actually exist on their own...the universe is not a mechanistic "thing", it is a word of convienence and custom that we use to manipulate our ends.  The previous subjects can not have anything to do with the discussion, we are looking at the beings that are the one that create, value, and contextualize the subjects and finds them useful in the first place. 

 

"I am not an ego along with other egos, but the sole ego: I am unique. Hence my wants too are unique, and my deeds; in short, everything about me is unique" Max Stirner
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Concerning Sanchez's point on "radical anti-teleology," I think it needs to be stressed that methodological dualism then, is a provisional approach, and not necessarily incompatible with other methods.

I would contend that, as presented by Sanchez, Misesian economics is a form of epistemological desperation: since materialistic explanations are too complex for human inquiry, we are methodologically committed to dualism. If the former had sufficient data sets and algorithmic compression, we could abandon methodological dualism.

When I encounter Austrian economists, they are absolutely hostile to more empirical approaches; for instance, the field of neuroeconomics has made inroads to better understanding economic action, but Austrians dismiss it outright. I'm not sure Mises, from his own premises, could categorically prohibit such intellectual inquiry.

When discussing "mathematical catallactics," Mises is implicitly assuming that better (i.e., more realistic) models can never be developed, but that's simply not true. Frankly, let's look at what businesses do: in the pursuit of profit, they generate models to help maximize revenue, etc. Are we to trust Mises or the market? Is Google leaking profit by hiring "Chief Economist" Hal Varian?

P.S. To claim that "the intellect" precedes empirical input (cf. Leibniz) is, at least to me, obviously correct; however, that does not give us epistemological sanction to trust what we natively believe.

P.P.S. Sanchez, if you can, please correct me where I've misunderstood you or Mises, or where I've outright ignored your arguments. I have much respect for your informed opinion on these matters.

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AJ replied on Wed, Mar 30 2011 7:59 PM

StrangeLoop:
I would contend that, as presented by Sanchez, Misesian economics is a form of epistemological desperation: since materialistic explanations are too complex for human inquiry, we are methodologically committed to dualism. If the former had sufficient data sets and algorithmic compression, we could abandon methodological dualism.

You say "as presented by Sanchez," but your response here reads like you didn't even look at his post above. You seem aware of the fact that you may have "outright ignored" some arguments, but if so it is just bizarre that you would post while being cognizant of that. It is not that I think you are necessarily wrong, but this is starting to seem like an intellectual merry-go-round.

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I. Ryan replied on Wed, Mar 30 2011 8:28 PM

StrangeLoop:

I would contend that, as presented by Sanchez, Misesian economics is a form of epistemological desperation: since materialistic explanations are too complex for human inquiry, we are methodologically committed to dualism. If the former had sufficient data sets and algorithmic compression, we could abandon methodological dualism.

I find it very useful to model other people on the example of my own consciousness, and I assume that you do too. In our everyday life, we hardly make the model very rigorous or explicit, but in praxeology that's the whole point. There's absolutely no difference between modeling other people on yourself in your everyday life and doing praxeology, except that the first is loose and mostly subconscious, whereas the second is supposed to be rigorous and completely conscious.

But you could also try to model other people as 3D objects (e.g., something in their brain doing whatever seems to always occur before their arm moving in some way or whatever). If you find that more useful in some or all situations (for prediction!), that's great. Maybe we'll be interested in how we could predict that way too. But that wouldn't destroy the methodological dualism or something. There will always be at least two ways to proceed: (1) model them on your own consciousness, or (2) model them as 3D objects. If we totally forget about one of them because it totally blows in comparison to the other, the other doesn't disappear or something. It's just useless.

If I wrote it more than a few weeks ago, I probably hate it by now.

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AJ:

Even if we believe the reasons we can't predict weather and human action are the same (too many variables), the reasons we can predict them differ. As trulib wrote above, a special thing about other humans is that it turns out to be useful to model their actions on the example of my own consciousness. If this method worked for weather analysis that would be one thing, but it doesn't seem to.

I like this definition that consciousness and purpose are defined by things similar to ourselves and the more dissimilar they are the less conscious and purposeful they are.  This makes the world not conscious yet mammals more conscious then reptiles which are more conscious than insects.  It seems to fit the desired set of objects very nicely.

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I. Ryan replied on Wed, Mar 30 2011 10:08 PM

MrSchnapps:

You need to read more Hume and Bertrand Russell to realize the full extent of the problem of the uniformity of nature and the move from particulars to universals.

About the problem of the move from particulars to universals, where exactly would I find that in Hume and Russell?

If I wrote it more than a few weeks ago, I probably hate it by now.

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StrangeLoop:
P.P.S. Sanchez, if you can, please correct me where I've misunderstood you or Mises, or where I've outright ignored your arguments. I have much respect for your informed opinion on these matters.

Hi StrangeLoop,

As AJ said, you don't seem to have addressed my last post at all.

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The teleological perspective is a lower-resolution of reality. I would claim we can (and should frequently) take the intentional stance when explaining human action; however, this is fundamentally for economical and heuristic reasons, not for more precisely approximating truth.

To prohibit anti-teleological explanations from economics is to privilege a particular methodology arbitrarily. A more pluralistic approach (e.g., neuroeconomics) can be illuminating.

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StrangeLoop:

The teleological perspective is a lower-resolution of reality. I would claim we can (and should frequently) take the intentional stance when explaining human action; however, this is fundamentally for economical and heuristic reasons, not for more precisely approximating truth.

To prohibit anti-teleological explanations from economics is to privilege a particular methodology arbitrarily. A more pluralistic approach (e.g., neuroeconomics) can be illuminating.

You still seem to be missing my point.  By undertaking the effort of "explaining human action" or looking for explanations in economics, you are already taking the intentional stance.  I posted an edit list for my paper, which includes a more refined statement of my position that will hopefully make it more clear...

 

 Some claim that "methodological dualism" is a provisional stance, resorted to only because we do not yet have the technology to fully explain the complexity of the human brain, and that this stance can eventually be dropped once we do achieve that level of technology.  However, to add an argument of my own, complementary to Mises', humans are not special for science just because they are complex.  They are not basically on the same scientific grounds as weather patterns.  They are special for science because the very questions we want answered about them are teleological in nature.  The reason we study human action in the first place is that we have certain questions which have are inextricably bound up with the human purposes that anti-teleologists dismiss as ‘mentalist fictions.'
 
For example, people are vitally interested in economics largely in order to discover the legal and institutional arrangements by which humans can prosper.  How can one explain "how humans prosper" when the teleological, "mental fiction" of ‘prospering' is dismissed as nonsense at the outset?  I would challenge any anti-teleological economist to even define (let alone explain) "goods," "money," "profit," "loss," "income" without using the teleological, "mentalist" language they deride as "folk psychology."

Inquiries into the causes and nature of the wealth of nations are fundamentally different from inquiries into the causes and nature of the humidity of trade winds.  If we had precise enough instruments and powerful enough computers, we could explain every single thing about a trade wind.  But no matter how precise your instruments, no matter how powerful your computers, all you will find in the brain are chemical, electrical, subatomic and other physical patterns and processes.  You will never find preferences, purposes, costs or proceeds.

This is not to say the former does not cause the latter.  It is rather that the terms in which our minds grasp causality and teleology are fundamentally different, and simply do not translate into each other.

The most thorough-going radical anti-teleologists are actually right insofar as, in the language of causality, there is no such thing as teleology.  That is why they don't want to explain teleology in terms of causality; instead they want to abandon teleology altogether.  Their position is ridiculous, because it would involve the abandonment of all economic, sociological, ethnographic, and historical questions, but at least it is more logical than that of people who think they can answer teleological questions with causality answers.

We have many causality-related questions about our bodies (including our brains), because our bodies are useful to us.  But we also have many teleological questions about choice, success, failure, prosperity, and poverty.  Once you abandon teleological language, you've effectively changed the question.  So, as long as we are still asking teleological questions, we need to continue providing teleological answers.

 
There is nothing wrong with neurobiology and neurochemistry; indeed these sciences are achieving wonders for us.  But the social sciences can never be resolved into these natural sciences, because the human mind can never resolve teleology into causality without abandoning teleology altogether, and to study human affairs without considering purpose is not to study human affairs at all.

 

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AJ replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 10:57 AM

StrangeLoop:

I would claim we can (and should frequently) take the intentional stance when explaining human action; ...

Dennett's intentional stance seems to be exactly the same as the teleological/praxeological one:

"Here is how it works: first you decide to treat the object whose behavior is to be predicted as a rational agent; then you figure out what beliefs that agent ought to have, given its place in the world and its purpose. Then you figure out what desires it ought to have, on the same considerations, and finally you predict that this rational agent will act to further its goals in the light of its beliefs. A little practical reasoning from the chosen set of beliefs and desires will in most instances yield a decision about what the agent ought to do; that is what you predict the agent will do." (Daniel Dennett, The Intentional Stance, p. 17)

The only difference I see in phrasing as that while Sanchez mentions explaining human action, Dennett speaks in terms of predicting what actor will do. Explaining vs. predicting. Now it seems to me that Danny's points just now apply to the endeavor of explaining human action, but do they apply to the endeavor of predicting it? Your "more pluralistic approach (e.g., neuroeconomics)" may be helpful for that perhaps?

Also note that Dennet's three levels of abstraction are almost exactly what trulib posted above:

Dennett defines three levels of abstraction:

  • The most concrete is the physical stance, which is the domain of physics and chemistry. At this level, we are concerned with such things as mass, energy, velocity, and chemical composition. When we predict where a ball is going to land based on its current trajectory, we are taking the physical stance. Another example of this stance comes when we look at a strip made up of two types of metal bonded together and predict how it will bend as the temperature changes, based on the physical properties of the two metals.
  • Somewhat more abstract is the design stance, which is the domain of biology and engineering. At this level, we are concerned with such things as purpose, function and design. When we predict that a bird will fly when it flaps its wings on the basis that wings are made for flying, we are taking the design stance. Likewise, we can understand the bimetallic strip as a particular type of thermometer, not concerning ourselves with the details of how this type of thermometer happens to work. We can also recognize the purpose that this thermometer serves inside a thermostat and even generalize to other kinds of thermostats that might use a different sort of thermometer. We can even explain the thermostat in terms of what it's good for, saying that it keeps track of the temperature and turns on the heater whenever it gets below a minimum, turning it off once it reaches a maximum.
  • Most abstract is the intentional stance, which is the domain of software and minds. At this level, we are concerned with such things as belief, thinking and intent. When we predict that the bird will fly away because it knows the cat is coming and is afraid of getting eaten, we are taking the intentional stance. Another example would be when we predict that Mary will leave the theater and drive to the restaurant because she sees that the movie is over and is hungry.

Compared with trulib (order reversed):

trulib:

1. We can analyse objects as having a purpose.  This works very well for humans, and it also works for animals.  When a saber tooth tiger is running towards you, a quick analysis is required.  The analysis is: 'that tiger intends to eat me'.  We think of the tiger as having intent.  There is no time to analysis the design or structure of the tiger.  In theory, there is no reason that we can't view plants or rocks as having a purpose, except that it is not useful for us to do so.

2. We can analyse objects as having a design.  This can be useful, for example, when trying to understand a leaf.  We analyse it as the part of a plant designed to capture light.  We think of the leaf as having a function.  We can understand a leaf better by taking the design perspective than any other.  It is not useful to think of a leaf as "wanting" or "intending" to capture light.  We also analyse human-produced objects from the design perspective, thinking of them in terms of their function.

3. We can analyse the structure, the physical properties of all objects.  In some cases, where the above two perspectives are not useful at all, it is our only way of getting an understanding of the object.  To understand a rock means to understand its structure; there is no additional usefulness from thinking of the rock from either the design perspective or the purpose perspective.

In other words, if I may try to strengthen StrangeLoop's argument, what if there are non-teleological questions we want to ask about humans, such as what they are likely to do in a given situation? Like I said above, I can use psychology or even statistics to better predict whether a chick will come home with me. Does that type of reasoning have any use for economics? (I haven't thought this through, but I am a little tired of seeing this particular gridlock, so I am leaping without looking in hopes of mixing things up.)

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I. Ryan replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 11:15 AM

StrangeLoop:

The teleological perspective is a lower-resolution of reality. I would claim we can (and should frequently) take the intentional stance when explaining human action; however, this is fundamentally for economical and heuristic reasons, not for more precisely approximating truth.

So modeling other people on yourself isn't as useful as modeling them strictly as 3D objects?

StrangeLoop:

To prohibit anti-teleological explanations from economics is to privilege a particular methodology arbitrarily. A more pluralistic approach (e.g., neuroeconomics) can be illuminating.

The AE people use the word "economics" to refer to a specific branch of praxeology (the science of modeling other people on yourself), but if you want to use it to refer to something else (such as the science of modeling other people in general), that's fine.

They aren't "privileging" a particular method (modeling other people on yourself) over another one (modeling them strictly as 3D objects); they're simply making sure to keep the two separate.

If I wrote it more than a few weeks ago, I probably hate it by now.

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AJ replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 11:18 AM

So basically, it's not that neurobiology necessarily can't help us predict human behavior, it's just that we wouldn't want to call that type of prediction "economics"?

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I. Ryan replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 11:30 AM

AJ:

So basically, it's not that neurobiology can't help us predict human behavior, it's just that we don't want to call that type of prediction "economics"?

The classic mistake in trying to scientifically model other people (e.g., economics, linguistics, neuroscience) is to mix up the two methods (one being modeling other people on yourself, and the other being modeling them strictly as 3D objects).

Mises tried to avoid that error. He referred to "praxeology" as "the science of human action" (not simply movement or behavior!), and he called "economics" a branch of praxeology. He simply tried to say, "Look, I'm over here doing this, and you're over there doing that. I think that what I'm doing is more useful at this point in history, but maybe some day that will change."

So yeah, I wouldn't want to call that type of prediction "economics". Calling them both "economics" would probably lead down a long path to making it much harder to keep the two methods separate from each other.

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Micah71381 replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 11:43 AM

StrangeLoop:

The teleological perspective is a lower-resolution of reality. I would claim we can (and should frequently) take the intentional stance when explaining human action; however, this is fundamentally for economical and heuristic reasons, not for more precisely approximating truth.

To prohibit anti-teleological explanations from economics is to privilege a particular methodology arbitrarily. A more pluralistic approach (e.g., neuroeconomics) can be illuminating.

This is the first time I have heard of the intentional stance and I like it.  It very closely mirrors how I go about analyzing objects.  You use the most appropriate method available but don't presume that anything is special.

When I look at a human I am interested in predicting their actions (the only thing I ever care about with regards to other humans) I usually take the intentional stance and this usually meets my needs.  However, I do find it useful to sometimes dig a bit deeper and take the design stance so I can better understand how the human works and therefore predict their behavior.  This is where cognitive psychology, sociology and anthropology come into play in my opinion.  On very seldom occassions I will dig even deeper for the answer which requires the physical stance (neurobiology).

It does seem that this is quite similar to what others are saying in this thread but I definately like the wording here better since it acknowledges that humans are not special while still explaining why we treat them differently in some cases than other objects we interact with.

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AJ:

So basically, it's not that neurobiology necessarily can't help us predict human behavior, it's just that we wouldn't want to call that type of prediction "economics"?

I don't think you can predict events with a different framework than the framework you use to explain them.  The neurobiological processes in the men whose actions lead to one drop in an interest rate will be hugely different from the neurobiological processes in the men whose actions lead to another drop in an interest rate, even if the two interest rate rises have largely the same economic causes, because the particular emotional states and reasonings that lead different men to pursue basically the same economic actions (saving more, expanding the money supply, etc) will be hugely different from case to case.  Only the teleological reasonings of entrepreneurs and other forecasters (which can actually understand the notion of economic causes) can even begin to predict teleological events.

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AJ replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 11:47 AM

 

I. Ryan:
AJ:

So basically, it's not that neurobiology can't help us predict human behavior, it's just that we don't want to call that type of prediction "economics"?

The classic mistake in trying to scientifically model other people (e.g., economics, linguistics, neuroscience) is to mix up the two methods (one being modeling other people on yourself, and the other being modeling them strictly as 3D objects).

Mises tried to avoid that error. He referred to "praxeology" as "the science of human action" (not simply movement or behavior!), and he called "economics" a branch of praxeology. He simply tried to say, "Look, I'm over here doing this, and you're over there doing that. I think that what I'm doing is more useful at this point in history, but maybe some day that will change."

So yeah, I wouldn't want to call that type of prediction "economics". That would probably lead down a long path to making it harder and harder to keep the two methods separate from each other.

Makes sense. So it's like:

but with the "Economics" in scare quotes? 

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I. Ryan replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 11:49 AM

AJ:

Makes sense. So it's like:

but with the "Economics" in scare quotes? 

Yes, excellent diagram!

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Micah71381 replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:05 PM

I disagree with the assertion that cognitive neurscience/psychology does not provide a benefit to macroscopic human prediction.  Understanding how humans work individually can give us a better understanding of how they "tend" to work which leads to statistically more accurate assumptions.

While I will not claim that the dictator game applies directly to real economics (you can't model an economy in a lab), I will suggest that it gives incite into human behavior which can be beneficial when applied to economic predictions.  In the case of the dictator game it shows us that framing effects how humans react.  If they believe that a figure of authority has suggested a particular action is not the "most mean" action they will react differently than if such a suggestion is not provided.

This means that when a president (someone many people think of as a figure of authority) suggests that "things could be worse" economists can take that into consideration when attempting to predict market performance.

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AJ replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:06 PM

Daniel James Sanchez:
I don't think you can predict events with a different framework than the framework you use to explain them.

It seems to me, just from experience, that we can predict events without even explaining them at all. Predicting from neurobiological processes seems far fetched to me, but simply by statistics I can predict how someone will act. I don't need to know why or how a rock falls when I let go of it, to predict that it will fall with high accuracy. I also don't need to know why or how a store clerk will decide to sell me a candy bar in order to accurately predict that he will. 

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Micah71381 replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:09 PM

An analogy for my above post is that of particle physics.  When we are looking to understand how to most effectively build a bridge we generally don't care about the interactions between quarks, atoms or molecules.  However, by having a strong understand of particle physics we are better able to understand the more abstract concepts surrounding various materials, friction, erosion, etc. which all combine to allow us to build more effective bridges.

Also, particle physicists discover things that are used by chemists who are then able to discover things used by bridge builders.  So even if there is not a direct link between two disciplines it does not mean that they do not indirectly effect each other.  Neurscientists may discover things that allow psychologists to discover things which economists can use to better predict human action.

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I. Ryan replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:16 PM

Micah71381:

An analogy for my above post is that of particle physics.  When we are looking to understand how to most effectively build a bridge we generally don't care about the interactions between quarks, atoms or molecules.  However, by having a strong understand of particle physics we are better able to understand the more abstract concepts surrounding various materials, friction, erosion, etc. which all combine to allow us to build more effective bridges.

Also, particle physicists discover things that are used by chemists who are then able to discover things used by bridge builders.  So even if there is not a direct link between two disciplines it does not mean that they do not indirectly effect each other.  Neurscientists may discover things that allow psychologists to discover things which economists can use to better predict human action.

Chemistry is a higher level of description than physics, while economics is a completely different kind of description than neurobiology.

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Micah71381 replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:18 PM

Perhaps I am still not understanding how you define economics then.  Would it be possible to sum up your definition in a sentence or a paragraph?

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I. Ryan replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:22 PM

Micah71381:

Perhaps I am still not understanding how you define economics then.  Would it be possible to sum up your definition in a sentence or a paragraph?

Yes, I would define economics as modeling other people on yourself to explain or predict market phenonema.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:25 PM

StrangeLoop:
The teleological perspective is a lower-resolution of reality. I would claim we can (and should frequently) take the intentional stance when explaining human action; however, this is fundamentally for economical and heuristic reasons, not for more precisely approximating truth.

As Danny Sanchez has pointed out, the notion of "human action" presumes the notion of "intentionality".

Just because the teleological perspective is a lower-resolution view of reality does not make it useless. When astrophysicists model the behavior of galactic clusters, do they necessarily model every atom in every star in every galaxy under analysis?

StrangeLoop:
To prohibit anti-teleological explanations from economics is to privilege a particular methodology arbitrarily. A more pluralistic approach (e.g., neuroeconomics) can be illuminating.

"Illuminating" in what way(s), exactly? Do you mean such approaches can provide insight into the underlying mechanisms behind human action? For example, my understanding is that goal-seeking behavior in humans is correlated with relatively high levels of dopamine in the brain, whereas satiation behavior is correlated with relatively high levels of serotonin in the brain. While I personally find such information to be very interesting and insightful, I don't see how it renders concepts like "means", "ends", and "utility" as useless or invalid. Just because a solid object is actually composed of untold numbers of separate atoms doesn't mean we should abandon the concept of "solid object"!

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To bring back in the original topic of this thread, here is a footnote I'm adding to my paper, in which I present my case against the action axiom more fully:

 

Many followers of Mises have characterized praxeology as deductions from an "action axiom".  And some say that this "action axiom" is "humans act" or "action is purposeful behavior".  It is important to note that Mises never used the term "action axiom".  Mises used "human" basically as a synonym for "actor".  So saying "humans act" is tantamount to saying "acting beings are acting beings".  Furthermore, "purposeful behavior" means nothing more and nothing less than "action".  Therefore saying "action is purposeful behavior" is tantamount to saying "action is action".  Thus both "axioms" are pleonastic, and nothing useful can be deduced from them.  Praxeology is the unbundling of the implications of a conception, not of a proposition.  Praxeology stems from the conception we think of when we hear the single term "action" (or any of its translations or synonyms), not from the proposition "action is purposeful behavior".  When Mises wrote "action is purposeful behavior", he introduced "purposeful behavior" as a clarifying substitute for "action", just in case readers are thinking of another meaning of the word "action", not as the second half of non-pleonastic proposition from which to derive theorems.  Mises derived praxeology from the a priori category of action, not the "action axiom".  The propositions immediately implied by the category of action might be considered axioms (e.g., "Action always involves the passing of time."), because they are actually propositions, and thus can be used for edifying deductions.  But terms ("action") and pleonasms ("action is action") cannot be so used.

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AJ replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:39 PM

It seems there is a word-thought overwrite to watch out for, in that someone who doesn't want to label "human action not analyzed teleologically" as "human action," will say to themselves, "You can't predict human action [Austrian sense] with neuroscience." But later, or immediately, they might turn around - remembering the words - and say to themselves, "You can't predict human action [casual sense of "any body movement a human will make"] with neuroscience." That is, they store the words interpreting them in one sense, but when they go to recall the words they are interpreted in a different sense.

But since you trust your past judgment about what you were certain of before, and since you are totally sure that those words represented your thought, you seemingly have no choice but to believe them. Yet if you didn't notice the different interpretations between when you recorded the words into memory and when you recalled them, you end up believing that you believed something different. And whatever you believe you believe, you, well, tend to believe. And viola, you ended up thinking you are quite certain of some well-reasoned judgment that, in fact, is different from the real conclusion you actually came to and were certain of. 

(By the way, this is just an example. I'm not saying anyone is doing this specific one. It's an extremely important concept in general because it is the actual mechanism by which most of the semantic dust gets created that we can see in almost any debate, so I am taking this opportunity to introduce it.)

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:45 PM

Daniel James Sanchez:
Inquiries into the causes and nature of the wealth of nations are fundamentally different from inquiries into the causes and nature of the humidity of trade winds.  If we had precise enough instruments and powerful enough computers, we could explain every single thing about a trade wind.  But no matter how precise your instruments, no matter how powerful your computers, all you will find in the brain are chemical, electrical, subatomic and other physical patterns and processes.  You will never find preferences, purposes, costs or proceeds.

While I definitely agree with you about economics (and praxeology in general) presupposing teleology, I think that at least some teleological phenomena are embodied in patterns and processes found within the brain. For example, I think preferences and purposes are embodied in this way. One could say that they're emergent on intra-individually. Costs and proceeds, on the other hand, seem to be emergent inter-individually.

Daniel James Sanchez:
This is not to say the former does not cause the latter.  It is rather that the terms in which our minds grasp causality and teleology are fundamentally different, and simply do not translate into each other.

Ah, apparently I misunderstood you up above. It seemed to me that you were saying that preferences and purposes (at least) are not caused by brain patterns and processes. Certainly I agree that our minds intuitively grasp teleology in a fundamentally different way from causality.

Daniel James Sanchez:
The most thorough-going radical anti-teleologists are actually right insofar as, in the language of causality, there is no such thing as teleology.  That is why they don't want to explain teleology in terms of causality; instead they want to abandon teleology altogether.  Their position is ridiculous, because it would involve the abandonment of all economic, sociological, ethnographic, and historical questions, but at least it is more logical than that of people who think they can answer teleological questions with causality answers.

I think teleological concepts could be explained in terms of causality alone, but those explanations would be incredibly complex. It would be like trying to explain how an airplane flies solely in terms of individual atoms.

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The "Austrian sense" is the everyday sense.  Most people don't think of epileptic seizures as human action.

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I. Ryan replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:47 PM

AJ:

It seems there is a word-thought overwrite to watch out for, in that someone who doesn't want to label "human action not analyzed teleologically" as "human action," will say to themselves, "You can't predict human action [Austrian sense] with neuroscience." But later, or immediately, they might turn around - remembering the words - and say to themselves, "You can't predict human action [casual sense of "any body movement a human will make"] with neuroscience." That is, they store the words interpreting them in one sense, but when they go to recall the words they are interpreted in a different sense.

But since you trust your past judgment about what you were certain of before, and you are totally sure that those wordsrepresented your thought, you seemingly have no choice by to believe them. Yet if you didn't notice the different interpretations between when you recorded the words into memory and when you recalled them, you end up believing that you believed something different. And whatever you believe you believe, you, well, tend to believe. And viola, you ended up thinking you are quite certain of some well-reasoned judgment that, in fact, is different from the real conclusion you actually came to and were certain of. 

(By the way, this is just an example. I'm not saying anyone is doing this specific one. It's an extremely important concept in general because it is the actual mechanism by which most of the semantic dust gets created that we can see in almost any debate, so I am taking this opportunity to introduce it.)

That's what happens when you record a definition ("human action" used in the AE sense) in the form of an assertion ("you can't predict human action with neuroscience").

If I wrote it more than a few weeks ago, I probably hate it by now.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:49 PM

AJ:
It seems there is a word-thought overwrite to watch out for, in that someone who doesn't want to label "human action not analyzed teleologically" as "human action," will say to themselves, "You can't predict human action [Austrian sense] with neuroscience." But later, or immediately, they might turn around - remembering the words - and say to themselves, "You can't predict human action [casual sense of "any body movement a human will make"] with neuroscience." That is, they store the words interpreting them in one sense, but when they go to recall the words they are interpreted in a different sense.

This. I think what you describe above is due to people being used to ascribing certain meanings to certain words or phrases. So it can be very difficult for them to use wildly different meanings instead. "Action" in a physical sense vs. "action" in an economic sense seems to be a good example of this phenomenon.

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It's pretty obvious when even the anti-teleologist is talking about neuroeconomics that all parties are talking about human action in the "economic" sense..

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AJ replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 12:57 PM

Danial James Sanchez:
The "Austrian sense" is the everyday sense.  Most people don't think of epileptic seizures as human action.

But not every human action is analyzed teleologically. I can analyze someone throwing his fist in the air as being elated - an experience I can model after the example of my own - or I can analyze it as something that that person is simply "doing" (simply a way that their body is moving for no reason I can fathom). My point is that even if I see a "human action" as nothing more than a movement of an bunch of atoms, and even if I think nothing of teleology, I will still have cause to call that human action (but not in an Austrian sense).

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