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A non sequitur in the Action Axiom

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Consumariat Posted: Thu, Jan 26 2012 11:20 AM

 

Please correct me on any misunderstanding I have of the rationale behind the Action Axiom, but my understanding is that argument goes as follows:
 
All humans act, where 'acting' is to engage in purposeful, conscious behaviour. This statement cannot be denied because in order to dispute it would in itself require purposeful, conscious behaviour. In other words, disproving the statement 'all people act' requires acting; hence acting is an undeniable a-priori truth.
 
However, it seems to me that just because it is impossible for me to disprove my own acting, it does not logically follow that other people's ability to act has been proven. A proof of my action does not simultaneously count as a proof of other's actions. 
 
The only certainty available to me is the sensory information that is presented from the environment I inhabit. However flawed, unreliable, or even false, that information may be, it is all I have.
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Autolykos replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 11:35 AM

In that case, the logical conclusion is that you consider yourself to be the only human.

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That is certainly possibility I cannot dismiss. I have no way of knowing either way.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 11:39 AM

Would you say that you know that two and two make four?

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By definition, yes. Likewise, by definition I know that all bachelors are unmarried.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 11:44 AM

Okay. So do you consider the proposition "All humans act" to be analytic or synthetic?

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I would say that it is synthetic. The statement effectively says 'there are a group of objects out in the physical world that conform to the concept of 'human', and this group, being that they are defined as 'human' are capable of acting.

 
It takes the purely definitional term 'acting man', and makes an empirical claim about the actual existence of such creatures. Using the analogy of the term 'bachelor', it is like saying 'all bachelors are unmarried and there exist bachelors out there'. Of course, whether the last half of that statement is true cannot be shown a priori.
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Accidental double post.

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banned replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 12:27 PM

So you are arguing skeptical solipsism?

Regardless, economic science is meaningless if you do not consider others to be separate and autonomous. I can reject the natural sciences by claiming that I cannot conclude whether nature is illusiory or not as well.

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  • It takes the purely definitional term 'acting man', and makes an empirical claim about the actual existence of such creatures. Using the analogy of the term 'bachelor', it is like saying 'all bachelors are unmarried and there exist bachelors out there'. Of course, whether the last half of that statement is true cannot be shown a priori.
I don't think the axiom itself contains the claim that other homo-sapiens are acting creatures, so the non-sequitor isn't included in the actual axiom.  In the grand sense, you can never know "for sure" that every other human isn't some automaton with no sentient mind to form goals and preferences.  But through introspection, the axiom confirms that you yourself are an acting human.  The emprical claims only come in assuming that other people are similar to you.  However, both in our daily lives and in the field of economics, assuming humans are acting creatures works.  So, relative to economics, the question of "are other humans sentient like me?" is sort of a pie-in-the-sky question like "What if what I see as the color red, everyone else sees as green?"  I think Mises does discuss this issue somewhere but I can't recall off the top of my head.
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So you are arguing skeptical solipsism?

If I am it's not intentionally. I had never heard the term until you used it here. I will have to get back to you on that one.

Regardless, economic science is meaningless if you do not consider others to be separate and autonomous. I can reject the natural sciences by claiming that I cannot conclude whether nature is illusiory or not as well.

You could if you wish, yes. But you need not reject anything other than a claim to absolute certainty and a-priori truth. It is a matter of faith whether or not you believe the senses. In practice it is not a particularly large leap of faith I admit.

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If you consider yourself the only existing human then you still think the axiom is true for all humans.....

Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid

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LogisticEarth:
I don't think the axiom itself contains the claim that other homo-sapiens are acting creatures, so the non-sequitor isn't included in the actual axiom. 

This is pretty much what I'd say as well and I'm pretty sure Mises never even used the term "action axiom."  Praxeology isn't so much concerned with whether or not people action - its more along the lines of "So long as humans aim at ends (i.e., act), then such and such conclusions logically follow."  The existence of a human which doesn't act, like someone in a coma, shouldn't be taken as evidence against praxeology, nor should it be seen as evidence that the person isn't really human.  All it means is that whatever behavior a non-actor exhibits can't be treated as economic behavior or any other praxeological action.

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I don't think the axiom itself contains the claim that other homo-sapiens are acting creatures, so the non-sequitor isn't included in the actual axiom. 

That is a fair point, however, the general conclusions of Praxeology are certainly intended to apply to others apart from myself. An economy according to Austrianism is, after all, a collection of individuals all acting with intent in relation to each other: in other words - acting.

The emprical claims only come in assuming that other people are similar to you.  However, both in our daily lives and in the field of economics, assuming humans are acting creatures works. 

This sounds rather similar to Milton Friedman's Instrumentalism, which kind of goes against the original intent of Praxeology, which is supposed to provide undeniable truths is it not?

 

 

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If you consider yourself the only existing human then you still think the axiom is true for all humans....

Lol. That's very true, but as I say above, an economy is meant to be a collection of acting individuals. If it isn't, then the tools of Austrian economics seem not to be valid.

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 The existence of a human which doesn't act, like someone in a coma, shouldn't be taken as evidence against praxeology, nor should it be seen as evidence that the person isn't really human.  All it means is that whatever behavior a non-actor exhibits can't be treated as economic behavior or any other praxeological action.

But this is my point. It's all very well providing me with a way of proving myself an actor, but without me then assuming others act too, I cannot say that economic behaviour extends beyond myself. If economic behaviour does not extend beyond myself, there can be no economics.

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Wheylous replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 1:26 PM

I do not deem your question to be worthy of an answer because you are a figment of my imagination.

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I do not deem your question to be worthy of an answer because you are a figment of my imagination.

Well then it's a good thing you aren't deducing any universal laws from this figment.

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Wheylous replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 1:37 PM

But for person X to disprove that he acts he must act as well. With a purpose, too, it appears. Am I wrong?

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 1:38 PM

Consumariat, 

The very idea of an "axiom", is that a self no further detail need be gone into in order to explain it. I understand your concern, it's one of the things which I had a hard time initially getting over, but what you're talking about is an additional justification, not the reason itself. If you wish to honestly question or disbelieve the action axiom then fine, go ahead, but you're not going to be able to advocate much if you do, and I think it's obvious that the Austrian conception of human action pretty obviously explains human interactions, insofar as it ever could. 

Does that make sense and answer your question?

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But for person X to disprove that he acts he must act as well. With a purpose, too, it appears. Am I wrong?

 
Yes. But 'person X' can only ever be me. I can only ever prove that I act. I cannot prove action in others, and this is what is required if I am to extend the logic of Praxeology into an analysis of multiple, interacting actors - e.g. economics.
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Consumariat:

But this is my point. It's all very well providing me with a way of proving myself an actor, but without me then assuming others act too, I cannot say that economic behaviour extends beyond myself. If economic behaviour does not extend beyond myself, there can be no economics.

The task of praxeology isn't to prove that other actors exist.  It also doesn't prove the existence of time, yet time is an integral aspect of a number of economic concepts.  If you seriously doubt that other humans act, you need to study psychology, history, anthropology, etc.

Otherwise, it isn't a leap of faith to operate under the assumption that other people, like you, are using various means to acheive a number of ends. 

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The very idea of an "axiom", is that a self no further detail need be gone into in order to explain it. I understand your concern, it's one of the things which I had a hard time initially getting over, but what you're talking about is an additional justification, not the reason itself. 

The idea of an axiom might well be a self-referential proof, but the utility of that axiom comes from extending it in order to derive further truths. This is where I feel the Action Axiom fails. It cannot be extended without adding in auxiliary assumptions that are themselves not derived a-priori.

So as soon as the Action Axiom is brought into use, further deductions lose the right to claim a priori status; these deductions rely just as much on empirical factors as they do on deductive logic.

 

If you wish to honestly question or disbelieve the action axiom then fine, go ahead, but you're not going to be able to advocate much if you do

Well I certainly could not advocate anything useful whilst claiming it's status as an absolute, a priori truth. I could however fall back on an inductive logic and empirical verification. In fact, I see no other option but to do this.

 

and I think it's obvious that the Austrian conception of human action pretty obviously explains human interactions, insofar as it ever could. 

I'm not so sure this is obvious at all. Simply because an mode of analysis has worked in the past, it does not necessarily mean it will continue to work in the future. All we have is a process of constantly checking theory against an uncertain reality.

 

 

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The task of praxeology isn't to prove that other actors exist.

Yet the fruitfulness of using it as a method relies on assuming that other people do act. So in essence, Praxeology as you are presenting it, is an Instrumentalist approach that asks us to treat the world 'as if' others act. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, btw, it just means that Praxeology doesn't hold the epistemelogical status that is sometimes attributed to it.

If you seriously doubt that other humans act, you need to study psychology, history, anthropology, etc.

All of which are empirical sciences. The point I am making here is that Praxeology as a whole is not a-priori, even if the Action Axiom in isolation is. The fact that an appeal to history, psychology, or experience is required is evidence of this.

Otherwise, it isn't a leap of faith to operate under the assumption that other people, like you, are using various means to acheive a number of ends. 

Maybe not a large leap, but it is a matter of faith. Faith in the idea that others act, and faith that this state of affairs will continue into the future. These articles of faith are perfectly reasonable - and unavoidable, but they counter the claim that Austrian Economics cannot be empirically tested. Austrianism cannot avoid being an empirical discipline, however much it tries, because at the end of the day, it rests on an acceptance of a world which we only ever encounter through the senses.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 2:29 PM

Consumariat:
I would say that it is synthetic. The statement effectively says 'there are a group of objects out in the physical world that conform to the concept of 'human', and this group, being that they are defined as 'human' are capable of acting.

Based on your later posts in this thread, you seem to be equating "analytic" with "deductive" and "synthetic" with "empirical". Would you agree?

Otherwise, I fail to see why you'd treat "all bachelors are unmarried" any differently. Shouldn't it effectively say to you that "there are a group of objects out in the physical world that conform to the concept of 'bachelor' and this group, being that they are defined as 'bachelors' are unmarried"?

I also don't see why "all humans act" can't be considered simply an analytic statement. In that case, it would effectively be saying that, "if x conforms to the concept of 'human', then x acts". Or, using a more logical symbolism, "is-human(x) -> acts(x)".

Consumariat:
It takes the purely definitional term 'acting man', and makes an empirical claim about the actual existence of such creatures. Using the analogy of the term 'bachelor', it is like saying 'all bachelors are unmarried and there exist bachelors out there'. Of course, whether the last half of that statement is true cannot be shown a priori.

It depends on how you define "truth". The proposition "all bachelors are unmarried" is "true" in the sense of "logically consistent", but it's also a tautology, since "bachelor" is presumably defined as "an unmarried man".

I think what lies at the heart of this issue is whether a priori synthetic statements are possible. Logical positivists would say no, while Kantians would say yes. Your position seems to lie with the former. (I don't mean that as a criticism, just as an observation.)

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But for person X to disprove that he acts he must act as well. With a purpose, too, it appears. Am I wrong? Yes. But 'person X' can only ever be me. I can only ever prove that I act. I cannot prove action in others, and this is what is required if I am to extend the logic of Praxeology into an analysis of multiple, interacting actors - e.g. economics.
I like this thread. The hostility towards a valid point is quite comical to say the least. How many conversations do some of the emotional responding mouth pieces claim ad hominem, red herring, etc. But here lies an argument of reason that has not been met with a reasonable response. With all this emotional response what is the difference between the Action Axiom and say.... religion? I do have a question for the OP... how do you know it's "person" X and not say... entity X or thing X?
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The point I am making here is that Praxeology as a whole is not a-priori

Praxeology is synthetic a priori, not analytic.  It can't be reduced to purely logical concepts contained in each other (tautologies).   We must appeal to a posteriori (empirical) knowledge, but only to introduce the category of action.  From that concept, we have a cluster of other dependent factors such as time, uneasiness, etc. from which we can now deduce further economic knowledge without appealing to empirical testing.

So on the one hand, you're right that praxeology "as a whole" isn't a priori, but that's not what most people mean when they talk about it.  Hope that helps.

Also, in light of this, there are Austrians who consider this as a type of empiricism in tradition of Aristotle.   

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 2:43 PM

Live_Free_Or_Die:
I like this thread. The hostility towards a valid point is quite comical to say the least. How many conversations do some of the emotional responding mouth pieces claim ad hominem, red herring, etc. But here lies an argument of reason that has not been met with a reasonable response. With all this emotional response what is the difference between the Action Axiom and say.... religion?

Where do you see hostility? Whose response(s) do you think is/are unreasonable?

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Coming from an engineer, no school of economics empirically tests their hypotheses. They are simply unable to run controlled experiments. They all use observational data. Since market processes are dynamic, the observational data is affected by whatever else is happening at the time. From what I have seen, the Austrian relies on observational data as well. There are many economic historians within the school. One may formulate hypotheses from a priori axioms but the hypotheses are not valid if they don't correspond to reality.

The axiom of 'humans act to achieve desired ends' is evidently true. Statements otherwise can be disproven by reductio ad absurdm. If humans did not act with purpose and intent, it would be only by blind luck that they sustain their existence.

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Based on your later posts in this thread, you seem to be equating "analytic" with "deductive" and "synthetic" with "empirical". Would you agree?

Not quite but close, yes. I understand synthetic statements to be ones that make empirical claims, and analytic ones to be purely tautologous. The moment one tries to apply an analytic statement to the world around us, it necessarily becomes synthetic because a secondary claim is required that the terms of the tautology refer to an actually existing object.

I think what lies at the heart of this issue is whether a priori synthetic statements are possible. Logical positivists would say no, while Kantians would say yes. Your position seems to lie with the former. (I don't mean that as a criticism, just as an observation.)

I reckon this hits the nail of the head. I am questioning whether a priori synthetic statements can exist.

 

Hopefully this answers your other questions.

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The hostility towards a valid point is quite comical to say the least
 
I didn't feel it as being hostile, tbh. Just as lively debate. The interwebs can be a rough and tumble little playground. smiley
 
I do have a question for the OP... how do you know it's "person" X and not say... entity X or thing X?
 
I'm not sure I understand the intent of the question. I'm using "person" to mean 'those entities in the world which appear to mirror the qualities I hold as an entity myself. Note the importance of the word 'appear' in that sentence though.
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So on the one hand, you're right that praxeology "as a whole" isn't a priori, but that's not what most people mean when they talk about it.  Hope that helps.

Fair enough, although I have heard people in the past making the claim that Austrian economics is a priori true.

Also, in light of this, there are Austrians who consider this as a type of empiricism in tradition of Aristotle. 

I never knew that. Which Austrians in particular? Could you recommend some reading?

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Consumariat:
I never knew that. Which Austrians in particular? Could you recommend some reading?

http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/articles/menger.html

I don't remember if he states it explicitly, but heres some quotes, emphasis mine:

"Austrian Aristotelianism as formulated above is first and foremost a doctrine of ontology: it tells us what the world is like and what its objects, states and processes are like, including those capacities, states and processes we call knowledge and science."

"Apriorism in economics, now, does not mean [...] that economic theory must be free of empirical components. Indeed, it is a difficult matter to sort out precisely what the appropriate role for empirical investigations in economics (and in related disciplines) ought to be. This itself is not something that can be decided a priori. "

Roderick Long is probably in the same camp as well.

EDIT: (another Smith Quote):

"Indeed, the idea that empirical discoveries might lead in principle to a correction of the a priori foundation of the economic discipline opens up the exciting prospect of something like a non-Euclidean Austrian economics, perhaps even to a family of such non-Euclidean disciplines, each of which could claim some degree of a priori support."

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Where do you see hostility? Whose response(s) do you think is/are unreasonable?

Hostilty was a poor choice of verbaige.  Upon a second reading of the thread I withdraw the remark.  When I initially read the thread I perceived a few responses to be more dismissive in context than definative in response.

I'm not sure I understand the intent of the question. I'm using "person" to mean 'those entities in the world which appear to mirror the qualities I hold as an entity myself. Note the importance of the word 'appear' in that sentence though.

Fair enough,  I was simply curious how you perceieved "persons."

The existence of a human which doesn't act, like someone in a coma, shouldn't be taken as evidence against praxeology, nor .

Personally, I consider it observable evidence against...   All human beings capable of action, act.

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Jan 26 2012 5:46 PM

"It cannot be extended without adding in auxiliary assumptions that are themselves not derived a-priori."

I believe that I can frame what I am saying in another way: It is irrelevant whether or not the "Action Axiom" is, can or cannot be determined a priori, but I find no compelling evidence that it is untrue, and all the evidence in the world that it is true. From this point the entirety of the economic science can be advanced upon a priori grounds. I agree with you that it is impossible to determine the action axiom a priori as such.

"Well I certainly could not advocate anything useful whilst claiming it's status as an absolute, a priori truth. I could however fall back on an inductive logic and empirical verification. In fact, I see no other option but to do this."

Agree with second sentence, don't understand first sentence in relation to what I was saying.

 

"I'm not so sure this is obvious at all. Simply because an mode of analysis has worked in the past, it does not necessarily mean it will continue to work in the future. All we have is a process of constantly checking theory against an uncertain reality."

The reality or lack thereof of the action axiom depends upon one thing: The physical nature of the minds of human beings. So long as this is constant (assuming that now and in the past it follows the current description of the "action axiom") then praxeological teachings will continue to describe the human world in which we live. You are right that the world is uncertain, but there is no evidence that humans are or ever will be changing in this way, giving us little reason to check this assumption, just as people don't expect the boiling point of water to go anywhere.

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