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"Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science" Reading Group Thread

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Jargon Posted: Tue, Apr 17 2012 8:05 PM

Welcome to the reading group!

How do these normally work? I was thinking that we would agree to read a certain amount of text in regular intervals, then discuss said material while continuing to read?

 

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Sounds good ;)

How about 30 pages a week? It's 120 pages in total, which means it would take us a month. Of course, we could stretch it out longer if you prefer. You might want to link the pdf version in your OP.

Edit: Or it might be better to go by chapter (or sub-chapter).

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Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science (Mises Wiki) - Download links: EPUB; PDF; HTML

 

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Jargon replied on Tue, Apr 17 2012 8:33 PM

That sounds good. How about this reading scheme:

Week 1 (April 17-24): Read until 2nd chapter

Week 2 (April 24-May 1): Read until  5th chapter

Week 3 (May 1 - May 8): Read until 6th Chapter

Week 4 (May 8 - May 15): Finish

If there's no complaints, then - "Berichten Sie in eine woche zurück!" (report back in a week)

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cool beans -I'm in

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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ThatOldGuy replied on Wed, Apr 18 2012 11:03 PM

Just now looking at the TOC. I think I'm really going to like this book.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 3:22 AM

Intro.1 - I read him as saying that we don't need to get into philosophical problems about whether the world itself is constantly changing or eternally unchanging - the fact is that the world as we experience it as we act is constantly changing in time and the old phrase "you can't step in the same stream twice" is the case for the particular states of affairs that comprise awareness as it relates to action.

Intro.2 - The hope for Utopia has motivated people to attempt to "transcend" the limits of "mere human" action and reason and attempt to get at the "real reality" behind everything - the Absolute as he calls it in I believe Anti-Cap Mentality - and ignore the fact that knowledge is merely a category of action.

Intro.3 - The economist or praxeologist has to be a generalist of human knowledge, otherwise he is bound to confuse the means (levers, gears, antibiotics, etc.) with the ends. A broad view of human knowledge is required to be able to clearly say "these are not human ends, these are merely means to human ends".

Intro.4 - Mises identifies the shake-up of mathematical epistemology instigated by the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries as a major factor in the dethroning of the deductive method as a reliable tool of knowledge. However, he argues that the positivists have gotten carried away and thrown out the baby with the bathwater - just because the axioms of geometry are not "necessary truths" doesn't mean that praxeological axioms are in any kind of doubt - you act, you know you act and that's all you need to know to derive the rest of praxeological truth.

Intro.5 - Mises banishes the hand-wringing about whether the world is a function of the mind or vice-versa - from the point-of-view of praxeology it does not matter. Whatever the ontological relationship between the external world and the mind, the external world offers resistance to the ends which the mind seeks and it is this unalterable fact which is the concern of praxeological study.

Intro.6 - Mises basically points out that natural science is unconcerned with teleology but praxeological science is nothing but teleology. Natural science is the study of means qua means (without regard to ends) but praxeology is the study of means as they relate to their suitability to attain ends.

Intro.7 - This is my favorite part. "As among these elements of teleology is also the category of causality, the category of action is the fundamental category of epistemology, the starting point of any epistemological analysis." Basically, all knowledge is a category of action. What Mises stops short of saying (but is directly implying) is that all science - including natural science - is a category of action, that is, is properly categorized under the study of human action. Natural science is the study of means qua means (how many Newtons of force must be applied to a lever of this length to lift such-and-such a weight? etc.) but the study of means as a body of knowledge is itself a category of action! So, if there is any proper way to categorize all of human knowledge into a single book, its title would have to be "Human Action"!

Intro.8 - This is an interesting tidbit... Mises suggests that "pneumatology" (study of the spirit) would be perhaps the best word in the English language to describe the sciences of human action. This is consistent with my usage of the term "soul" to describe the self.

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ThatOldGuy replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 12:59 PM

 

What is the list of "Intro.s," Clayton? And by 'regularity,' does Mises mean to say 'time-invariantly operating causes'?

 

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 1:02 PM

@TOG: I mean each section of the Introduction, for example Introduction Section 1, Introduction Section 2, etc.

I'm not sure what cite you're referring to "regularity" from - regularities do not have to be time invariant and they do not have to be causal.

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Oh, ok.

Mises introduces the concept of regularity are in The A Priori Representation of Reality and furthers its use in Induction. Here's some context:

No thinking and no acting would be possible to man if the universe were chaotic, i.e., if there were no regularity whatever in the succession and concatenation of events. [...]

There is only one point about which there cannot be any disagreement, viz., that they all can be reduced to the a priori insight into the regularity in the succession of all observable phenomena of the external world. In a universe lacking this regularity there could not be any thinking and nothing could be experienced. For experience is the awareness of identity or the absence of identity in what is perceived; it is the first step toward a classification of events. And the concept of classes would be empty and useless if there were no regularity.

If there were no regularity, it would be impossible to resort to classification and to construct a language. All words signify bundles of regularly connected acts of perception or regular relations among such bundles. This is valid also of the language of physics, which the positivists want to elevate to the rank of a universal language of science. In a world without regularity there would not be any possibility of formulating "protocol sentences." But even if it could be done, such a "protocol language" could not be the starting point of a science of physics. It would merely express historical facts.

If there were no regularity, nothing could be learned from experience. In proclaiming experience as the main instrument of acquiring knowledge, empiricism implicitly acknowledges the principles of regularity and causality. When the empiricist refers to experience, the meaning is: as A was in the past followed by B, and as we assume that there prevails a regularity in the concatenation and succession of natural events, we expect that A will also in the future be followed by B. Therefore there is a fundamental difference between the meaning of experience in the field of natural events and in the field of human action.

 

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 1:20 PM

Chapter 1.1

There were in the early history of mankind attempts to ascribe such a faculty of thinking and purposively aiming at ends chosen to many or even to all nonhuman things. Later people discovered that it was vain to deal with nonhuman things as if they were endowed with something analogous to the human mind.

This goes to my Madame Blavatsky thread (thinking of the Universe and everything in it as an acting being) - people used to think of everything in the Universe as if it were an acting thing. The trees meant to grow and streams meant to run downhill and this was expressed in part through the assignment of deities to govern and bring order to all these acting entities.

Then the opposite tendency developed. People tried to reduce mental phenomena to the operation of factors that were not specifically human. The most radical expression of this doctrine was already implied in the famous dictum of John Locke according to which the mind is a sheet of white paper upon which the external world writes its own story.

In reaction to the animism of prior ages, people began to think of the world as a "clockwork universe" and this metaphor expanded until included the human mind itself. The denial that humans have a nature is a foundation-stone of modernism about which Steven Pinker has written an entire book.

I argue in my Madame Blavatsky thread that there is a way to salvage the concept of action with respect to what we ordinarily think of as inanimate matter - electrons, protons, etc. Mises argues in HA and this book that the correlation between human choice and "pleasure/satisfaction" is purely formal - what we mean by pleasure/satisfaction is that which a person is aiming at. There is no reason this formal correlation cannot be applied to any entity without making any kind of claim about the consciousness or complexity of the entity. It can be used as a conscientious anthropomorphism. However, what is not clear is that thinking this way is of any advantage - which is basically what Mises is saying when he says that people realized it's in vain (no use).

Discussing the role of a priori reasoning within natural sciences, Mises notes:

What the panempiricists fail to explain is how a deductive theory, starting from allegedly arbitrary postulates, renders valuable, even indispensable, services in the endeavors to describe correctly the conditions of the external world and to deal with them successfully.

He's discussing the discovery that non-Euclidean geometries are useful in theories of physics which was disconcerting at the time since Euclidean geometry had been ascribed an almost revelational status for close to two thousand years. The correspondence of non-Euclidean geometries to physical theory was like a "loss of faith" in the axioms of Euclid, as if humanity had been deluded for two thousand years and had not realized that we had chosen the "wrong" axioms. But Mises points out above that the axioms of Euclid are not wrong from the perspective of action as buildings and bridges and engines work just fine based on the axioms of Euclid.

The response of the empiricists to treat all axioms as "arbitrary choices" was a radical overreaction to this loss of faith, again motivated by the pretense to Absolute knowledge. There was only a crisis for those who had imagined that the Euclidean axioms were Absolute. The simple solution is to recognize that the axioms of Euclid described reality non-absolutely - they are subject to revision. Interestingly, Steven Pinker has something to say on this subject, as well. He has identified an "intuitive theory of physics" in human language. I think this casts a lot of light on the epistemic nature of geometry.

But the significant difference between geometry and praxeology is that geometry describes the objects of knowledge, that is, that which is known. But praxeology describes the subject, the knower himself. Hence, praxeological axioms are not provisional, they are not subject to revision and praxeology is not in danger of ever experiencing a crisis like that which occurred in geometry in the 19th century.

I want to bolt on to this discussion the fact that some important problems in epistemology (the problem of induction, the limits of human knowledge) have been solved (with mild restrictions) in the latter half of the 20th century. These resolutions are consistent with Misesean epistemology and make his arguments more rigorous.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 2:14 PM

@TOG: There is actually a way to formalize the meaning of the word "regularity" if we adopt one of several fairly natural metaphysical constructs for discretizing the world.

Basically, we say something like this: for any natural phenomenon which admits a description by a computing machine (perhaps to some degree of precision), we define its irregularity as the length of the smallest computer program which, when executed on a Universal Turing Machine, yields the description of that phenomenon.

To translate this to ordinary language, we can roughly think of this as simulation. But simulation is a little bit restrictive because perhaps the phenomenon is being exhaustively described, in which case it is not merely a "simulation". This is particularly relevant for quantum computation which can be thought of as fundamentally identical to the unfolding of physical phenomena (see Seth Lloyd's book Programming the Universe).

So, the regularity of some phenomenon is the size (in bits or bytes) of the program and initial conditions required to recreate the phenomenon in simulation. For example, only a simple simulation may be required to simulate the mechanics of levers and pullies. So the phenomena associated with these simulations can be thought of as very regular. But the simulation required to recreate aerodynamic turbulence in simulation may be very complex, both in terms of the size of the simulator itself and in terms of the size of the initial conditions required to set up the simulation. So, we can say that aerodynamic turbulence is in some sense less regular than the phenomena of levers and pullies.

To understand in a moment Mises's entire epistemological disagreement with empiricism and positivism, simply imagine trying to write a computer simulator that simulates the behavior of all human beings on Earth. This is the pretense of knowledge, the fatal conceit. Economists speak as if they have some kind of "rough simulator" of human behavior and that this model is "very high-level" kind of like a simulator of the Earth's core or its magnetic field... naturally, it abstracts away immense amounts of detail but at the scale at which the phenomena are described, the laws describing them definitely hold within the margins of error. But this metaphor simply doesn't hold when applied to humanity - those immense amounts of detail being abstracted away are all relevant to the global phenomena of human behavior. At the global scale, the laws which are supposed to describe human behavior do not hold at all because - in abstracting away details - the entire character of human behavior is altered so as to be unrecognizable.

Returning to the issue of regularity, where it becomes particularly interesting is when you neglect the physical aspect and investigate the mathematics of regularity as a purely abstract matter. What you discover is that - surprisingly - there is no finite set of mathematical axioms that encompasses all mathematical truth. The hope of early modernism in mathematics (Hilbert's initiative to formalize all of mathematics) was that we could derive a provably correct, finite set of axioms from which all mathematical truths could be derived. But Godel dashed these hopes in 1931 and Turing and Chaitin would further eviscerate any idea of encompassing all mathematical truths.

The idea of formalizing mathematics is that it should be easy, at least compared to formalizing physics. It seems that mathematical truths should have fewer exceptions or special-cases than physical truths. But if we can't even formalize all mathematical truths, how can we ever hope to formalize all physical truths? And the fact is that you provably cannot formalize all physical truths. Let any physicist come forward with a theory of everything and I will construct a device whose long-run behavior his theory cannot - even in principle - predict.

What this means to epistemology is that any set of axioms describing mathematical phenomena or phsyical phenomena is necessarily provisional. We are never dealing with the Absolute because we would have to be able to hold in our mind an infinite amount of incompressible information, that is, we would have to know the infinite axioms of mathematical truth. On every count, the modernist epistemology is DOA.

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I think this jibes with Clayton's definition, but in more layman like terms:

Regularity is when we see a recurring pattern in the Universe. For example, the sun rises and sets every day. Which makes us think we can thus predict that the sun will rise and set tomorrow. This curious human faculty, of thinking that what happened before with great regularity will happen again, is what we call inductive reasoning.

Clayton is, I think, describing one possible way of measuring how regular something is.

 

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This is more or less what I thought of Mises' use of the term, Smiling Dave.

Clayton seems to provide a broader definition of regularity and includes its applications to mathematics and physics. It's interesting that he brings up the work of Gödel (with which I'm somewhat familiar) regarding the existence of mathematical problems for which there are no solutions (his Incompleteness Theorem) and other mathematicians (with whom I am flatly unfamiliar). This proof poses a limitation on what can be known in the mathematical world and all the more so in physical and social sciences (where there are no constant variables to the degree that there are such variables in mathematics; social sciences are based on dynamic and random events amongst actors).

Originally, I thought that Mises meant, by regularity, causality. Of course, there is a paragraph in which he uses both terms in the same sentence which thrashed that idea- It wasn't an idea that I held particularly firmly anyway. In the following excerpt, Mises seems to make it clear:

In proclaiming experience as the main instrument of acquiring knowledge, empiricism implicitly acknowledges the principles of regularity and causality. When the empiricist refers to experience, the meaning is: as A was in the past followed by B, and as we assume that there prevails a regularity in the concatenation and succession of natural events, we expect that A will also in the future be followed by B.

In this excerpt, Mises links time with experience and states that empiricism, despite what it claims in regards to rationalism, nonetheless must assume a priori truths (causality and regularity, particularly). There's no other reason why B should follow A at time T2, then the knowledge that B did follow A at time T1. These two events cannot be linked by experience; they may only be linked by the human intellect and by recognition of certain phenomena that repeat (whether this is assumed by the actor in question or is in fact true) regardless of time. So by predicting that B will follow A at time Tk, once other variables are controlled and such has been the case in prior trials, the empiricist necessarily assumes a regularity in the universe between certain phenomena. This regularity cannot be observed and is therefore not empirical, but a priori.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 4:09 PM

This curious human faculty

This is one of the problems that I was alluding to as having been solved in the 20th century (under mild assumptions about the physical world). Specifically, the problem of induction (how do we know that the future will be like the past?) is basically a poor way of casting the problem. We can rephrase the problem in terms of the probability space over programs input to a Universal Turing Machine (again, under mild assumptions about the physical world) and the problem of induction simply becomes a probability statement - it is so much more likely that the Sun will rise tomorrow than that it will not because the most probable models of the Sun's behavior show the Sun rising tomorrow rather than not rising.

The theory (Solomonoff induction) has only really been worked out in detail in the mathematical realm but its applicability to physical reasoning - under mild assumptions about the physical world - is straightforward.

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Clayton,

Are you sure you aren't hiding the problem behind the words "under mild assumptions about the physical world"? Because the assumptions of course are that the world isn't random.

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This regularity cannot be observed and is therefore not empirical, but a priori.

Just to make sure we are on the same page:

When we have a pattern, it is composed of elements [blue square here, then yellow square to the left of the blue, then another blue square to the left of the yellow square etc.] and of the elements being arranged in a pattern. The pattern can be described, for example, as "each color has the different color to its left, always".

I think we can agree that the elements of the pattern can be observed [=the sun rose and set on Monday. It rose and set on Tuesday, etc]. What is a priori is grasping that there exists a pattern that the elements follow [=the sun rises and sets every day].

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Smiling Dave:
I think we can agree that the elements of the pattern can be observed [=the sun rose and set on Monday. It rose and set on Tuesday, etc]. What is a priori is grasping that there exists a pattern that the elements follow [=the sun rises and sets every day].

If that's not what I said, then that's what I meant.

 

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 5:43 PM

Clayton,

Are you sure you aren't hiding the problem behind the words "under mild assumptions about the physical world"? Because the assumptions of course are that the world isn't random.

No, we can admit randomness and still come to the same conclusion (probabilistic Turing machines admit all the same conclusions in this regard that their deterministic counterparts do). Of course, the Universe can't be completely random but any explanation by virtue of being an explanation is assuming that the Universe is not completely random, else what is the point of trying to explain anything?

In any case, the mild assumptions have nothing to do with randomness, the mild assumptions have to do with whether the Universe can be exhaustively described with discrete states. Turing basically gives a metaphysical argument for the discretization of sense perception in his foundational paper, I recommend you read his original discussion of this (see section 9.I for his argument, it is not mathematized, so it is accessible to non-specialists).

In any case, quantum computing theory may obviate the need for even these mild assumptions. The way Seth Lloyd explains it, "the universe is indistinguishable from a quantum computer" and the same conclusions that hold for Turing machines have already been extended by theorists to quantum computers. This means that we can naturally migrate the conclusions regarding the limits of knowledge, formal measures of complexity, and Solomnoff induction as directly physical theorems.

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Jargon replied on Sun, Apr 22 2012 7:55 PM

A few thoughts on the first chapter:

Mises presents the concept of regularity as an a priori truth, calling upon the example, or rather its impossibility, of ice cubes setting a glass of water on fire. Such scenarios handle positivism well enough. Here's my question though: doesn't the assertion of natural regularity somehow involve a posteriori knowledge? In parrallel, mustn't all scientific experimentation involve both a posteriori and a priori truth? Perhaps I don't understand the definitions well enough but I think that a posteriori knowledge is that that we know because we've experienced it. A Priori is that that we know ahead of time because any alternative is inconceivable. So a posteriori does not need to be proven because it only needs to be recorded whereas the case is different with a priori, is that so?

This makes the whole priori/posteriori dichotomy confusing to me, since empricist economists always bash a priori methods but isn't an experiment (even if no economic experiment is possible) also an a priori assertion, if one seeks to use it as a device of prediction?

He throws Marx away with the usual deftness, turning his own materialist philosophy against him. If I am right in understanding, the material productive forces alone decide the course of history, that there is no correct or incorrect only the march of history. This of course implies that Marx's own writings have no significance. Someone correct me if I'm wrong on this.

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Jargon:
Here's my question though: doesn't the assertion of natural regularity somehow involve a posteriori knowledge?

Not necessarily. I think, and this has been argued above, that what Mises calls regularity is equivalent to what Hoppe calls time-invariant causes (at least, this connection helped me make sense of what Mises was saying; and it seems to fit when Mises uses the word). In this sense, the law of cause and effect is a regularity implied in the action axiom (that man acts because of a felt uneasiness). Action itself would be a regularity. So there is at least one regularity that is a priori (the action axiom and all it implies: time, causality, space, profit, loss, value etc.)

Jargon:
This makes the whole priori/posteriori dichotomy confusing to me, since empricist economists always bash a priori methods but isn't an experiment (even if no economic experiment is possible) also an a priori assertion, if one seeks to use it as a device of prediction?

Maybe not in the way you phrase it, but yes: empiricism tacitly assumes a priori truths (hint: any statement regarding the existence of synthetic a priori propositions -whether they exist or not- would itself be a synthetic a priori proposition). To see explanations of this, I recommend this paper and this book by Hoppe.

Jargon:
He throws Marx away with the usual deftness, turning his own materialist philosophy against him. If I am right in understanding, the material productive forces alone decide the course of history, that there is no correct or incorrect only the march of history. This of course implies that Marx's own writings have no significance. Someone correct me if I'm wrong on this.

Seems right to me. Marx flip-flopped a lot in his life time from the inevitability of communism (seeing it as "matured capitalism") to his idea that communism can only be brought about by revolution (typically, violent revolution). Of course, the failure of the Paris Commune, often hailed as "the first assumption of power by the working class during the Industrial Revolution," was so spectacular lasting only from March to May 1871, that Marx revised his Communist Manifesto to stress that communism can only be brought about as a result of the maturity of capitalism. I wouldn't take Marx to seriously, but Mises trashes Marx in his Marxism Unmasked.

 

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Jargon replied on Sun, Apr 22 2012 9:42 PM

ThatOldGuy:

Jargon:
Here's my question though: doesn't the assertion of natural regularity somehow involve a posteriori knowledge?

Not necessarily. I think, and this has been argued above, that what Mises calls regularity is equivalent to what Hoppe calls time-invariant causes (at least, this connection helped me make sense of what Mises was saying; and it seems to fit when Mises uses the word). In this sense, the law of cause and effect is a regularity implied in the action axiom (that man acts because of a felt uneasiness). Action itself would be a regularity. So there is at least one regularity that is a priori (the action axiom and all it implies: time, causality, space, profit, loss, value etc.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the difference between a priori/ a posteriori, but isn't the fact that man acts itself an observation? One could easily construct a mental reality where such is the case, but the reason that the action axiom is a worthy basis for economics is that it is observably true in actuality, no? 

Anyways from what I understood of his writings, regularity meant the natural laws of existence (gravity and such). That they are the principles of existence and not merely happy coincidences is the a priori statement, no? Answer me this: can a priori statements not be derived directly from observation (a posteriori knowledge)?

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ThatOldGuy replied on Sun, Apr 22 2012 10:18 PM

 

Jargon:

ThatOldGuy:

Jargon:
Here's my question though: doesn't the assertion of natural regularity somehow involve a posteriori knowledge?

Not necessarily. I think, and this has been argued above, that what Mises calls regularity is equivalent to what Hoppe calls time-invariant causes (at least, this connection helped me make sense of what Mises was saying; and it seems to fit when Mises uses the word). In this sense, the law of cause and effect is a regularity implied in the action axiom (that man acts because of a felt uneasiness). Action itself would be a regularity. So there is at least one regularity that is a priori (the action axiom and all it implies: time, causality, space, profit, loss, value etc.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the difference between a priori/ a posteriori, but isn't the fact that man acts itself an observation?

No. We can observe physical phenomena, but to recognize such physical phenomena as action, we would need to conceptualize such phenomena as such; empirical observation is not sufficient, nor is it needed, to recognize the validity of the action axiom. I could easily see you lift your left arm and scratch your armpit with your right arm; this is all that can be observed. To say that you scratch your armpit (means) to relieve an itch (end) would be to place such significance on this observation as to leave the scope of empiricism and enter rational analysis. Action, as the proposition that human action is purposeful behavior, cannot be merely observed in the empirical sense. The paper and book by Hoppe I recommend above go into this more in-depth if you would like to read more.
 
Jargon:
... [T]he reason that the action axiom is a worthy basis for economics is that it is observably true in actuality, no? 
 
The reason that the action axiom is a worthy basis for economics is that economics is a category of praxeology.
 
All economic propositions reached using the praxeological methodology are necessarily true so long as the logic used (inferences made) is valid. This is to say, if one can scrutinize an economic propositions starting with the proposition and working its way back to the action axiom without detecting a logical fallacy or some other such error (such as a false assumption), then the economic proposition must be true before observation. To deny the truth of the proposition, without subjecting it to the scrutiny just described, would be "no less foolish than those seventeenth-century astronomers were who refused to look through the telescope that would have shown them that Galileo was right and they were wrong."
 
In fact, the Austrian method must be superior to the empirical method (observation) because the Austrian method tells us what must be true by definition. The empirical method, Hoppe goes over this in that book, can only tell us what would be the case in such and such a condition; empirical propositions are of such form: If A, then B. NB: If B does follow A this is a confirmation of the hypothesis; this does NOT prove the validity of the proposition because A and B are universal terms and, as such, a case can be conceived where B does not follow A. Conversely, if B does not follow A, then this is a falsification of the hypothesis: this does NOT prove the proposition false, as the empiricist is capable of saying that B did not follow A because some previously unknown variable was not accounted for. 
 
Of course, this means that empirical hypotheses can be tested an infinite amount of times while proposing nothing that is either true or false!
 
Jargon:
That they are the principles of existence and not merely happy coincidences is the a priori statement, no?
 
Yes. This is synonymous with time-invariantly operating causes. 
 
Jargon:
Answer me this: can a priori statements not be derived directly from observation (a posteriori knowledge)?
 
No- they are two distinct categories of epistemology (one being rationalism, the other empiricism).

 

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doesn't the assertion of natural regularity somehow involve a posteriori knowledge?

Yes. As Mises writes in section 4:

The first and basic achievement of thinking is the awareness of constant relations among the external phenomena that affect our senses.

Thinking of the world as posssesing regularity [which means, I now see from reading the book, that there exist A's and B's in the world such that A happening always results in B happening, which we decide to call A causes B] is an achievement, meaning you don't get it for free, it is not innate in you, you achieve it by thinking. Not only that, you acheive it by observing and thinking about the external world. All of which makes it aposteriori.

However, and there is a big however, this acheivement comes very early on, and gets ingrained so deeply in our way of looking at the world that...

1. the negation of what it asserts is unthinkable for the human mind [once it learns this lesson] and appears to it as nonsense.

2. Also, every time we approach any problem whatever, we approach it with the assumption of regularity [AKA reliable causes that produce reliable effects] in the universe [for otherwise there would be no point in trying anything, since its result would be some random thing].

Mises mentions these two things when he writes about causality, the stepchild of regularity:

Whatever philosophers may say about causality, the fact remains that no action could be performed by men not guided by it. Neither can we imagine a mind not aware of the nexus of cause and effect.

But these two things are what really matter, the important features, of a priori knowledge, as Mises writes in section 3.

"If we qualify a concept or a proposition as a priori, we want to say: first, that the negation of what it asserts is unthinkable for the human mind and appears to it as nonsense; secondly, that this a priori concept or proposition is necessarily implied in our mental approach to all the problems concerned, i.e., in our thinking and acting concerning these problems."

So that, even though regularity is a posteriori to a stickler, Mises is going to go ahead and call it a priori.

He says this explicitly when he writes:

In this sense we may speak of causality as a category or an a priori of thinking and acting.

The phrase "in this sense" always means "not in the full, strict sense of the word, but in a partial sense of the word".

In parrallel, mustn't all scientific experimentation involve both a posteriori and a priori truth?

That is exactly the point Mises is trying to get across. The posisvists apparently pride themselves on not using any apriori concepts or assumptions, and being wholly a posteriori. Mises is pointing out that they certainly assume regularity and cause and effect, which is a priori. [Not to mention the rules of logic, such as a thing cannot be both A and not A at the same time. I wonder why he is laying such heavy stress on them using regularity and cause and effect].

So a posteriori does not need to be proven because it only needs to be recorded...

That which is recorded is what we call history. A posteriori knowledge is more than that. It is a knowledge of the future based on the history we have recorded or seen. For example, the sun having risen every day that makind knows about is history. From this history, we gain aposteriori knowledge that the sun will rise tomorrow, too. This kind of knowledge is called induction. Of course it is very shaky philosophically [though I admit this is ignoring Clayton's assertion that there is some math that can prove it, mainly because of my ignorance of that math], but it works and it's all we've got, really. Again, Mises is pointing out that all a posteriori knowledge has a fat dose of a priori mixed into it, the assumptions of regularity and causality.

This makes the whole priori/posteriori dichotomy confusing to me, since empricist economists always bash a priori methods but isn't an experiment (even if no economic experiment is possible) also an a priori assertion, if one seeks to use it as a device of prediction?

See the above.

He throws Marx away with the usual deftness, turning his own materialist philosophy against him. If I am right in understanding, the material productive forces alone decide the course of history, that there is no correct or incorrect only the march of history. This of course implies that Marx's own writings have no significance. Someone correct me if I'm wrong on this.

The way I understand it is this. Say you have an adding machine. When you ask it 2+2= what, it certainly doesn't decide by itself what the answer is. The builder of the machine set it up in such a way that gives the answer 4. The builder could equally have built it to give the answer 3. In the latter case, of course, the adding machine gives the wrong answer, but of course the machine itself doesn't know it's the wrong answer.

Marx was saying that all human beings are adding machines. Whatever they think is determined not by them, but by something outside them [=materal productive forces], which are in this sense the builders of those complex adding machines, people. And since people are subjected to these forces in different ways, they will think differently, like two adding machines that have been built to give different answers to the same question.

Mises has two objections to this. First, that it is ridiculous to assume that material productive forces sit around and think and plan how to build people. He is saying that Marx seemed to be asserting in some of his writings that material productive forces actually do that, that they are sentient beings of some kind that have plans and minds and schemes. He adds that Marx himself retreated somewhat in his later writings from such a ridiculous notion.

There is a second objection Mises raises, one that applies even if we assume that material productive forces are not sentient beings. As long as we still assume that humans think what they think as a result of something outside them [=material productive forces] building them a certain way, then how do humans know what is true or false? How do we know that 2+2 is 4? Maybe it's really 3, but the material productive forces have molded our minds to mistakenly think it's 4.

For that matter, how does Marx know that what he wrote is correct? The only reason he thinks it is correct is because the material productive forces acting upon him in a certain way made him think he's right. But maybe he's one of those adding machines built to think 2+2=3, and Adam Smith was the one built correctly, who thought capitalism is great stuff?

 

 

 

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Jargon replied on Sun, Apr 22 2012 11:11 PM

ThatOldGuy:

No. We can observe physical phenomena, but to recognize such physical phenomena as action, we would need to conceptualize such phenomena as such; empirical observation is not sufficient, nor is it needed, to recognize the validity of the action axiom. I could easily see you lift your left arm and scratch your armpit with your right arm; this is all that can be observed. To say that you scratch your armpit (means) to relieve an itch (end) would be to place such significance on this observation as to leave the scope of empiricism and enter rational analysis. Action, as the proposition that human action is purposeful behavior, cannot be merely observed in the empirical sense. The paper and book by Hoppe I recommend above go into this more in-depth if you would like to read more.

Fair enough. We can't observe man 'acting', but we can observe him scratching his armpit. To act implies a means and an end, both of which are conceptualizations outside the frame of empiricism.

 
 
The reason that the action axiom is a worthy basis for economics is that economics is a category of praxeology.

Ok so let me rephrase :P. So economics is a category of praxeology because it is observably true in actuality that man acts?
 
 
All economic propositions reached using the praxeological methodology are necessarily true so long as the logic used (inferences made) is valid. This is to say, if one can scrutinize an economic propositions starting with the proposition and working its way back to the action axiom without detecting a logical fallacy or some other such error (such as a false assumption), then the economic proposition must be true before observation. To deny the truth of the proposition, without subjecting it to the scrutiny just described, would be "no less foolish than those seventeenth-century astronomers were who refused to look through the telescope that would have shown them that Galileo was right and they were wrong."
 
Agreed.
 
Jargon:
That they are the principles of existence and not merely happy coincidences is the a priori statement, no?
 
Yes. This is synonymous with time-invariantly operating causes. 
 
Jargon:
Answer me this: can a priori statements not be derived directly from observation (a posteriori knowledge)?
 
No- they are two distinct categories of epistemology (one being rationalism, the other empiricism).
 
Gonna have to call bullshit here, based on my understanding of the two forms of knowledge. A Priori is an assertion on what things will do. Praxeology is the study of the action of man. Man is not a conceptualization, but an observable actuality. Mises did not assert, apriori, that man exists. He observed it as such and founded the action axiom from there, no?

 

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ThatOldGuy replied on Mon, Apr 23 2012 12:17 AM

 

Jargon:
Ok so let me rephrase :P. So economics is a category of praxeology because it is observably true in actuality that man acts?

No- as you state earlier in this post action cannot be observed. Economics is a category of human action dealing specifically with market transactions amongst various actors. That is, unless you would like to state that economics is not a category of praxeology because it is not a science dealing with a specific type of human action ... 

Jargon:
Gonna have to call bullshit here, based on my understanding of the two forms of knowledge. A Priori is an assertion on what things will do. Praxeology is the study of the action of man. Man is not a conceptualization, but an observable actuality. Mises did not assert, apriori, that man exists. He observed it as such and founded the action axiom from there, no?

Assuming one knows the definition of "man" and understands what the action axiom states the action axiom can be understood a priori- one does not have to observe man to understood what is meant by the term "man." One can observe an animal that has two arms, hands, a head, feet, and all the other characteristics associated with the term man, but man does not need to be observed per se in order to make valid the action axiom. Of the rationalist nature of language, you can refer to A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (esp. "The Socialism of Social Engineering and The Foundations of Economic Analysis").

To clarify, a statement made a priori is a statement that is made without regard to experience. Whether the a priori statement is analytic (based in the definition of terms used in the proposition) or synthetic (implied by introspective reflection on the proposition), it has no bearing on what "will happen" per se. There are two categories of a priori propositions: analytic a priori and synthetic a priori.

The validity of the action axiom is known a priori; it is impossible for one to "observe" differently as doing so would concede the validity of the action axiom because observation itself is an action (to say as much would be as foolish as stating that one saw a bird that is colored, both, red and non-red all over its body at the same time). As such, it is not necessary for man to exist, nor is it necessary for his existence to be observed (nor is observation sufficient), for the action axiom to be validinsofar as man exists, he must act.

 

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Jargon replied on Mon, Apr 23 2012 1:42 AM

ThatOldGuy:

Jargon:
Gonna have to call bullshit here, based on my understanding of the two forms of knowledge. A Priori is an assertion on what things will do. Praxeology is the study of the action of man. Man is not a conceptualization, but an observable actuality. Mises did not assert, apriori, that man exists. He observed it as such and founded the action axiom from there, no?

Assuming one knows the definition of "man" and understands what the action axiom states the action axiom can be understood a priori- one does not have to observe man to understood what is meant by the term "man." One can observe an animal that has two arms, hands, a head, feet, and all the other characteristics associated with the term man, but man does not need to be observed per se in order to make valid the action axiom. Of the rationalist nature of language, you can refer to A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (esp. "The Socialism of Social Engineering and The Foundations of Economic Analysis").

To clarify, a statement made a priori is a statement that is made without regard to experience. Whether the a priori statement is analytic (based in the definition of terms used in the proposition) or synthetic (implied by introspective reflection on the proposition), it has no bearing on what "will happen" per se. There are two categories of a priori propositions: analytic a priori and synthetic a priori.

The validity of the action axiom is known a priori; it is impossible for one to "observe" differently as doing so would concede the validity of the action axiom because observation itself is an action (to say as much would be as foolish as stating that one saw a bird that is colored, both, red and non-red all over its body at the same time). As such, it is not necessary for man to exist, nor is it necessary for his existence to be observed (nor is observation sufficient), for the action axiom to be validinsofar as man exists, he must act.

 

"assuming one knows the definition of 'man' and under stands..."

That's the catch though isn't it? In order to speak of man, his/her existence must first be established. The assumption of man's existence is experential, no?

Lest I flounder further could you define A Priori / A Posteriori in your terms?

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Jargon:

"assuming one knows the definition of 'man' and under stands..."

That's the catch though isn't it? In order to speak of man, his/her existence must first be established. The assumption of man's existence is experential, no?

Again, the existence of man is irrelevant to the validity of the action axiom: insofar as man exists, he must act; whether he exists is besides the point (remember: observation itself is an action).

Regarding the understanding of language, the catch… isn’t. Again, Hoppe goes over the rationalist nature of language in A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism if you are interested for an in-depth treatment of the subject. The fact that one can understand what is meant by the grouping of letters implies that one is capable of attaching significance to something absent observation.

For instance, what is one to do in order to define “dog?” Short of providing a definition found in any dictionary (which an empiricist would regard as merely a tautology providing no knowledge of reality) one is forced to find a dog and point to it: dog. How does one establish the link between what is done/said with the definition of “dog?” The fact that one is capable of understanding what is meant (let alone capable of constructing an artificial means of communicating ideas called language) demonstrates that one is capable of understanding that language is a convention.

 

Conventions must be understood a priori in order to understand that “dog” means dog. The ability of one to make propositions presupposes that one understands the definition of a convention; therefore, knowledge of language must be considered a priori knowledge. One cannot understand a definition of a word merely by making an actual definition of the term without already assuming the a priori nature of language. As such, one is forced to make the sound [dog] while pointing to a dog in order to say that this means “dog.” To have this definition of a word, without constant reference to see that it still communicates the same idea as it did when one last read its definition, is to assume that there is a priori knowledge of the definition of any term; this fact alone implies that observation is not sufficient to define terms. As such, Hoppe concludes:

 

To define definition ostensively would be entirely meaningless, unless one already knew that the particular sound made was supposed to signify something whose identification should be assisted by pointing, and how then to identify particular objects as instances of general, abstract properties. In short, in order to define any term by convention, a speaker must be assumed to have a priori knowledge of the real meaning—the real definition—of “definition.”

 

Language must be considered a priori in that it must be presupposed of any speaker speaking any language, is that of how to make real conventions, how to make a proposition by making a statement (i.e., how to mean something by saying something) and how to make a real definition and identify particular instances of general properties.

Obviously, this follows for "man" as well as "dog."

Jargon:
Lest I flounder further could you define A Priori / A Posteriori in your terms?

 

Ahem: 

 

Jargon:
ThatOldGuy:
To clarify, a statement made a priori is a statement that is made without regard to experience. Whether the a priori statement is analytic (based in the definition of terms used in the proposition) or synthetic (implied by introspective reflection on the proposition), it has no bearing on what "will happen" per se. There are two categories of a priori propositions: analytic a priori and synthetic a priori.

 

A statement made a posteriori is derived from experience.

 

 

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Jargon replied on Sun, Apr 29 2012 9:08 PM

ThatOldGuy:

 

Conventions must be understood a priori in order to understand that “dog” means dog. The ability of one to make propositions presupposes that one understands the definition of a convention; therefore, knowledge of language must be considered a priori knowledge. One cannot understand a definition of a word merely by making an actual definition of the term without already assuming the a priori nature of language. As such, one is forced to make the sound [dog] while pointing to a dog in order to say that this means “dog.” To have this definition of a word, without constant reference to see that it still communicates the same idea as it did when one last read its definition, is to assume that there is a priori knowledge of the definition of any term; this fact alone implies that observation is not sufficient to define terms. As such, Hoppe concludes:

 

I'm trying to understand this so bear with me. Language is a priori because I can say "dog" and communicate to you a dog, without the presence of an actual dog as requisite, correct? Does this not depend on your foreknowledge of the existence of a dog? If neither of us had ever seen a dog, a dictionary definition like this "Furry Four legged carnivorous mammal of the canine family" would not be useful for us. A dog might as well be a bear or a tiger. Must any form of knowledge be either a priori or a posteriori?

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Jargon:
I'm trying to understand this so bear with me. Language is a priori because I can say "dog" and communicate to you a dog, without the presence of an actual dog as requisite, correct? Does this not depend on your foreknowledge of the existence of a dog?

How am I capable of knowing that "dog" still means dog, but for a priori knowledge of what the definition of dog is? Because of this necessary determinant of language, "observation is not sufficient to define terms."

Even listing that definition of dog, if that was what we were to leave it as, would presuppose the a priori nature of language- after all, if this was not the case, we would then have to define all the terms used in the definition; and even then we would have no capability of understanding that the definitions of the words have not changed from what they were just a few moments ago, but for a priori knowledge. I would not be capable of understanding that your extended index finger at this creature would signify that the noises uttered from your mouth are connected to that creature, in some way, but for the presupposition of definitions as there is no way to connect some definition of some term with a past experience with a dog, but for the understanding of the ideas represented by the words. 

Jargon:
Must any form of knowledge be either a priori or a posteriori?

Yes.

A priori: not based on experience

A posteriori: based on experience

Insofar as language is concernedwe are examining what must be classified as a priori knowledge (knowledge of what language/convention is is presupposed when one makes a proposition). Insofar as the type of propositions made, they must be categorized as stemming from a priori knowledge or a posteriori knowledge. With regards to knowledge, the two methodologies of epistemology are rationalism and empiricism; ultimately, however, every epistemological proposition is based on a priori language (after all, these propositions must be communicated somehow).

 

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Jargon replied on Wed, May 2 2012 2:33 AM

Thanks that was helpful.

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