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The relationship between Praxeology and Thymology: A Restatement

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Adam Knott posted on Fri, Sep 14 2012 2:12 PM

Since Steve Horwitz's recent article has spurred discussion of Mises's conceptions of economics and praxeology, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the relationship between Praxeology and Thymology, the two disciplines in the Misesian conception of the social sciences.

We can conceive 'praxeology proper' as "the complete formal analysis of human action in all its aspects." (MES, 258)

As Austrians know, Mises held that economics is a branch of praxeology, implying that there are other branches of praxeology not yet fully elaborated.  This aspect of Mises's vision has been a source of confusion.  It has been unclear exactly what other "branches" of praxeology might exist or might be constructed aside from economics.  For example, Roderick Long writes:

"The official view is that economics is just one branch of praxeology; but considering how broadly the Austrians define economics, it's not clear what other branches of praxeology there could be." (Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action [work in progress], p.3, fn)

The key to solving this riddle is actually very simple.  Action is goal-directed conduct, irrespective of the concrete form or content of such conduct.   Conduct (action) undertaken on the basis of monetary calculation is a particular form or type of action, and this is the form of action Mises conceives as the subject matter of economics in the narrow sense, what he terms 'catallactics.'   "Economics" in the wider sense is identical to praxeology.  Economics in the narrow sense is the study of market phenomena.   Thus, catallactics (economics in the narrow sense) is a branch of praxeology.

"Catallactics is the analysis of those actions which are conducted on the basis of monetary calculation." (Human Action, p. 234)

We are justified then in conceiving of a class of "catallactic actions."  The formal structure of these "catallactic actions" will be the same as the formal structure of all other forms of action.  They will be differentiated from other forms of action by their content.

We can easily discern at least three other classes or types of action:

1.  Interpersonal actions (actions directed by one actor toward another actor.

2.  Mental actions (actions such as thinking, deliberating, imagining, etc.)

3.  Physical actions (actions in which an actor interacts with physical nature including his own body)

As soon as we realize that there are other classes of actions aside from catallactic or market-directed actions, it becomes clear that the various branches of praxeology correspond to the various classes of actions. 

It is important to realize that with respect to these other classes of actions (interpersonal, mental, physical), when we conceive them as branches of praxeology, this doesn't mean that study in these areas isn't already being undertaken.  What it means is that the study of these classes of actions may be proceeding utilizing approaches other than praxeology.   To study these classes of action as branches of praxeology does not mean to study areas of life that no one has yet studied.  It means to study these areas of life from the point of view of goal-directedness, i.e., from the point of view of means and ends. 

This implies a reconception of the relationship between the existent realms of study and the method or approach of study.   We conceive the subject matter of traditional or present-day psychology as mental actions, and study these actions as a branch of praxeology.  We conceive the subject matter of traditional or present-day moral studies, ethics studies, and political science, as interpersonal actions, and study these actions as a branch of praxeology.   We conceive the subject matter of traditional or present day physics as physical actions, and study these actions as a branch of praxeology.

The self-conscious expansion of praxeology does not entail the discovery of new realms of experience.  It entails the discovery of a new scientific approach to experience.

"Bewildered, people had to face a new view of society. They learned with stupefaction that there is another aspect from which human action might be viewed than that of good and bad, of fair and unfair, of just and unjust. In the course of social events there prevails a regularity of phenomena to which man must adjust his actions if he wishes to succeed. It is futile to approach social facts with the attitude of a censor who approves or disapproves from the point of view of quite arbitrary standards and subjective judgments of value. One must study the laws of human action and social cooperation as the physicist studies the laws of nature. Human action and social cooperation seen as the object of a science of given relations, no longer as a normative discipline of things that ought to be--this was a revolution of tremendous consequences for knowledge and philosophy as well as for social action." (Human Action)

*****

From the above, we can begin to see that a comprehensive conception of praxeology entails the analysis of any and all phenomena of consciousness from the point of view of what Mises called the "category of action."   The various classes of action subsume every area of conscious life.  Thymology, as distinct from praxeology then, does not refer to a separate realm of conscious life, but to a different "approach to cognition" to the same realm studied by praxeology.  We can trace the distinction between praxeology and thymology back to Carl Menger's distinction between the exact and empirical approach to cognition.

The realistic-empirical orientation of theoretical research, as we saw, offers us in all realms of the world of phenomena results which are formally imperfect, however important and valuable they may be for human knowledge and practical life.  They are theories which give us only a deficient understanding of the phenomena, only an uncertain prediction of them, and by no means an assured control of them.  From the very beginning, too, the human mind has followed another orientation of theoretical research beside the one discussed above.  It is different from the latter both in its aims and in its approaches to cognition.

The aim of this orientation, which in the future we will call the exact one, an aim which research pursues in the same way in all realms of the world of phenomena, is the determination of strict laws of phenomena, of regularities in the succession of phenomena which do not present themselves to us as absolute, but which in respect to the approaches to cognition by which we attain to them simply bear within themselves the guarantee of absoluteness.  It is the determination of laws of phenomena which commonly are called "laws of nature," but more correctly should be designated by the expression "exact laws."

(Investigation into the Method of the Social Sciences)

If the subject matter of praxeology, properly conceived, is the entire field of intentional consciousness, and if praxeology entails the formal analysis of intentionality (action), then how may we conceive thymology in contrast to praxeology?

The answer is that while praxeology is concerned solely with the formal analysis of action, thymology may consider a number of actions in sequence or in spatial relationships, or it may consider the content of action (for example, the study of the institutions of money, language, education, etc.), or it may consider a singular category of action in a concrete sense (for example, whether object or situation X is an appropriate means).

Thus, we may understand the close relationship between thymology and history in the Misesian conception of social science.  Thymology is the wider and more universal concept since it is defined negatively as that which is not the concern of praxeology.   History in the common-sense meaning (the description or interpretation of past events) is a more narrow concept than thymology.   For example, we consider forecasting as something different from history proper.  But in the Misesian conception, I believe that both history and forecasting would be subsumed by thymology.

******

Tying this back to Horwitz's recent article, it is worth recalling that what differentiates the Misesian and Hayekian positions is the Hayekian proposition that study of the market can only be empirical and cannot be a priori.  This must also mean, using Menger's terms, that with respect to market phenomena, the Hayekian believes only empirical laws are possible and not exact laws.

"What I see only now clearly is the problem of my relation to Mises, which began with my 1937 article on the economics of knowledge, which was an attempt to persuade Mises himself that when he asserted that the market theory was a priori, he was wrong; that what was a priori was only the logic of individual action, but the moment that you passed from this to the interaction of many people, you entered into the empirical field." (Hayek on Hayek, p. 72)

With regard to the distinction between praxeology and thymology, this means the Hayekian position is that market study can only be thymological and can never be praxeological.

 

 

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

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Adam,

It would be really helpful for me if you could draw (or just describe) a Venn diagram showing how the different classes of action relate to one another.  If the four classes of action you describe represent four different branches of praxeology, then it should not be difficult to find examples of actions which sit on one branch and not on any of the others.  I don't feel that your last response to me in the other thread addressed my question/concern, or maybe I just didn't understand your response.  I would like to hear what you consider an example of a non-catallactic action, i.e. an action not conducted on the basis of monetary calculation, an example of an action that has no effect on the market, and an example of an action which is non-physical.

Could you also give an example of an exact law which is neither 1) a law coming from general praxeology (i.e. sitting above all the branches), nor 2) comes from the branch most fully elaborated so far (i.e. catallactics)?  Such as an exact law that applies to mental actions but not catallactic actions.

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Hi Graham

In my opinion you want to talk about physics.  When you ask for an example of an action that has no effect on the market, I believe you are speaking in terms of physical effects.  You are asking for an account in material terms.

Regarding the effect that an electron would have on a game of billiards, an author on mathematics and physics writes:

"The same calculation as before shows that an electron located at the edge of the known universe, say 10 to the tenth light-years away, makes its influence felt from the fifty-sixth [billiard ball] impact on."

I'm not talking about physics, but the intentions of the acting person:

"...whenever we interpret human action as in any sense purposive or meaningful, whether we do so in ordinary life or for the pruposes of the social sciences, we have to define both the objects of human activity and the different kinds of actions themselves, not in physical terms but in terms of the acting persons..."  (Hayek, "The Facts of the Social Sciences")

I believe this is why you aren't accepting my proposed classifications.  It's the difference between the intention the actor had in performing his action, versus the effects, in physical terms, of the movement of the actor's body.

"If I am going for a walk to Hyde Park, there are any number of things that are happening in the course of my walk, but their descriptions do not describe my intentional actions, because in acting, what I am doing depends in large part on what I think I am doing.  So for example, I am also moving in the general direction of Patagonia, shaking the hair on my head up and down, wearing out my shoes, and moving a lot of air molecules. However, none of these other descriptions seems to get at what is essential about this action, as the action it is." (Searle, Minds, Brains and Science, p. 58)

*******

Here are two examples of exact laws that I would consider neither general praxeological laws, nor catallactic (economic) laws:

1.  If I "have" four (having is an action), and I "subtract" two (subtracting is an action), then I will "have" two.

2.  If I walk toward a location, I must walk away from a location.

Both of these are examples of exact laws of physical action, one in numerical terms, and the other in non-numerical terms.

I should mention here that I believe I disagree with Mises that economics is the most elaborated branch of praxeology.  I believe that mathematics is the most elaborated branch of praxeology.  I conceive mathematics/geometry as an exact science of physical action.

"We have seen that every item of physical knowledge, whether derived from observation or theory or from a combination of both, is an assertion of what has been or would be the result  of carrying out a specified observational procedure." (Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science)

An observational procedure is an action or a series of actions.  Eddington is saying that physical knowledge is knowledge of the results of a specified series of actions.

*****

Searle's Minds, Brains and Science is an important work on human aciton, and Hayek's "The Facts of the Social Sciences" is important for understanding praxeology.   Eddington's The Philosophy of Physical Science is important for understanding subjectivism.

 

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

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I don't really understand what you're saying in the first half of your post.  Let me try and put what I think you're saying in my own words.

Let's take an example of an action - the one you brought up before: a guy using a vending machine.  I (the observer) watch Bob drop a coin into the machine, press a button, and then the coin drops and a bottle of coke comes out.  How can I make sense of what has just happened? 

First, I may not consider Bob an acting being at all.  I may consider Bob's behavior to be purely reflexive or instinctual; he could be a robot.  But this doesn't help me much in making sense of what happened.  A more fruitful way of interpreting what just happened is that Bob was indeed acting: he had a purpose in mind when he behaved as he did.

Now at this point I can put on any one of a number different 'hats'.  I could put on my 'physicist hat', or my 'mathematician hat', or my 'psychologist hat', or my 'catallactian hat'... in fact there are 8 hats, each one defined by a class of action and an approach to cognition.

Catallactic actions (exact): Catallactics, i.e. economics

Catallactic actions (empirical): 'Economic' history or forecasting

Mental actions (exact): Evolutionary psychology?

Mental actions (empirical): "Traditional" psychology

Interpersonal actions (exact): ???

Interpersonal actions (empirical): History?  Ethics?

Physical actions (exact): Mathematics / geometry

Physical actions (empirical): Physics

And then depending on which hat I'm wearing, I can describe the event in different ways.  I could talk about the role of gravity in what took place (physics); I could talk about how there was one less coke bottle in the machine afterwards (mathematics); I could say that Bob valued the coke bottle higher than he valued the coin (catallactics).  So it's not that certain actions belong to certain classes, but that an observer could think of any action as being in any class, and then describe it accordingly.  And he has the choice of explaining the action in terms of either the exact laws that were operating, or the empirical laws.

Is that anything close to what you mean?

 

Adam Knott:
Here are two examples of exact laws that I would consider neither general praxeological laws, nor catallactic (economic) laws:

1.  If I "have" four (having is an action), and I "subtract" two (subtracting is an action), then I will "have" two.

2.  If I walk toward a location, I must walk away from a location.

Both of these are examples of exact laws of physical action, one in numerical terms, and the other in non-numerical terms.

I should mention here that I believe I disagree with Mises that economics is the most elaborated branch of praxeology.  I believe that mathematics is the most elaborated branch of praxeology.  I conceive mathematics/geometry as an exact science of physical action.

Those two statements don't seem like they are exact laws per se, but rather exact laws applied to (or pertaining to) action.  I could make two similar statements that don't pertain to action...

1. If a plant has four leaves, and two fall off, then it will have two remaining.

2. If I move toward a location, I must move away from a location.

These may be called exact laws of physical behavior, which is a more general concept than physical action.  So even if I could agree that part of mathematics/geometry is a branch of praxeology, I can't see how mathematics/geometry could ever be considered wholly a branch of praxeology.

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Hi Graham

As I've been maintaining, and as I'll repeat.  You are talking about physics.  You want to study "purposes" as things that exist out there in nature, like behind a tree or inside that car over there.  You are implying that "purposes" have locations and move about from place to place.   So you want to consider them as an aspect of physical nature.  You can't (I believe, and I will argue) treat spatially located and moving objects without implicitly or explicitly introducing the premises (axioms, concepts, etc.) of spatiality and movement, which are some of the root concepts of physics.

Praxeology does not begin with any assumptions about physical nature.  It does not begin by locating various objects in space and guessing or assuming what is "inside" them.   It does not begin with a distinction between "over here" and "over there" or between "faster" and "slower."

"...in discussing what we regard as other people's conscious actions, we invariably interpret their action on the analogy of our own mind: that is, we group their actions, and the objects of their actions, into classes or categories which we know solely from the knowledge of our own mind."

"We thus always supplement wha we actually see of another person's action by projecting into that person a system of classification of objects which we know, not from observing other people, but because it is in terms of these classes that we think ourselves."

"...we can derive from the knowledge of our own mind in an "a priori" or "deductive" or "analytic" fashion, an (at least in principle) exhaustive classification of all the possible forms of intelligible behavior."

"If we can understand only what is similar to our own mind, it necessarily follows that we must be able to find all that we can understand in our own mind."

(Hayek, "The Facts of the Social Sciences")

"The scope of praxeology is the explication of the category of action.  All that is needed for the deduction of all praxeological theorems is knowledge of the essence of human action.  It is a knowledge that is our own because we are men....The only way to a cognition of these theorems is logical analysis of our inherent knowledge of the category of action.  We must bethink ourselves and reflect upon the structure of action.  Like logic and mathematics, praxeological knowledge is in us; it does not come from without."  (Human Action, 3rd rev. p. 64)

 

 

 

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

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Adam Knott:
As I've been maintaining, and as I'll repeat.

I'd rather you stop repeating yourself and just responded to what I'm saying.  I know quoting other posts here can be a pain, but I don't think you repeating yourself and throwing out more quotes from Mises and Hayek is going to help me understand what you are trying to communicate. 

You are talking about physics.

You are going to have to explain where I am doing that.

You want to study "purposes" as things that exist out there in nature, like behind a tree or inside that car over there.

All I want here is to understand what you're are saying.  You've got my attention.  What you're saying sounds strange and wrong to me, but you're clearly an intelligent guy who has thought this through thoroughly, so I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that it is me just not understanding what you're saying.  If you have think you have a sounder conception of the structure of knowledge than me, I'm willing to hear why you think that way, and I'm open-minded enough to change my mind if you can convince me.  But right now I feel like you're not effectively communicating with me and you're not really trying to help me understand you.

You are implying that "purposes" have locations and move about from place to place.   So you want to consider them as an aspect of physical nature.  You can't (I believe, and I will argue) treat spatially located and moving objects without implicitly or explicitly introducing the premises (axioms, concepts, etc.) of spatiality and movement, which are some of the root concepts of physics.

Praxeology does not begin with any assumptions about physical nature.  It does not begin by locating various objects in space and guessing or assuming what is "inside" them.   It does not begin with a distinction between "over here" and "over there" or between "faster" and "slower."

If I'm doing any of that, I'm not aware of it, so please show me where I'm doing that.

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Hi Graham

OK  I think I can explain the difference.   Here is what you wrote above:

Let's take an example of an action - the one you brought up before: a guy using a vending machine.  I (the observer) watch Bob drop a coin into the machine, press a button, and then the coin drops and a bottle of coke comes out.  How can I make sense of what has just happened? 

First, I may not consider Bob an acting being at all.  I may consider Bob's behavior to be purely reflexive or instinctual; he could be a robot.  But this doesn't help me much in making sense of what happened.  A more fruitful way of [my] interpreting what just happened is that Bob was indeed acting: he had a purpose in mind when he behaved as he did.

Now at this point I can put on any one of a number different 'hats'.  I could put on my 'physicist hat', or [put on] my 'mathematician hat', or [put on] my 'psychologist hat', or [put on] my 'catallactian hat'... in fact there are 8 hats, each one defined by a class of action and an approach to cognition.

And then depending on which hat I'm wearing, I can describe the event in different ways.  I could talk about the role of gravity in what took place (physics); I could talk about how there was one less coke bottle in the machine afterwards (mathematics); I could say that Bob valued the coke bottle higher than he valued the coin (catallactics).  So it's not that certain actions belong to certain classes, but that an observer could think of any action as being in any class, and then [he/she could] describe it accordingly.  And he has the choice of explaining the action in terms of either the exact laws that were operating, or the empirical laws.

In these passages you have referred to at least 18 instances of your own actions. 

Here is a defintion of action proposed by David Gordon, a Rothbardian:

"Any conscious behavior counts as action--an action is anything that you do on purpose."

You could, if you wanted, take those 18 actions of yours, and all the other actions you are consciously aware of performing, and begin classifying them according to various criteria.   This is what I'm referring to as the various classes of actions.

Now, for each of these actions (the 18 actions you performed above, as well as all your actions), what is the exact law that applies to those actions, meaning:  what consequence X, must happen to you when you perform action type 1?  What consequence Y, must happen to you when you perform action type 2?   What consequence Z, must happen to you when you perform action type 3?  And so on....

This is what I'm talking about.

*******

What you keep referring to is a person in front of you (spatially related to you) Bob, who is located over there next to that tree.  And you want to describe that person's "action" from your, the observer's, point of view.  Thus, you are talking about objective meaning (the meaning of "external" events) and you are referring to the same events that are referred to by physical science (objects and events of the "external" world).   But praxeology does not deal with objective meaning, it only deals with subjective meaning, the meaning of the actor himself.

You can see the difference in this passage from Schutz:

"For it is obvious that an action has only one subjective meaning: that of the actor himself.  It is John who gives subjective meaning to his action, and the only subjective meanings beging given by Jerry and Julie in this situation are the subjective meanings they are giving to their own actions, namely, their actions of observing John." (The Phenomenology of the Social World, p. 32)(I replaced X, F, and S in Schutz's passage with John, Jerry, and Julie)

I'm talking about the laws of subjectivity, not the laws of objective nature.

Here is a post that elaborates a bit more:

http://mises.org/community/forums/t/31575.aspx

Adam

 

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

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Adam Knott:
You could, if you wanted, take those 18 actions of yours, and all the other actions you are consciously aware of performing, and begin classifying them according to various criteria.   This is what I'm referring to as the various classes of actions.

I do want to classify my 18 actions into the various classes of actions.  Can you show me how?

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How do you think praxeology relates to practical reason? Is praxeology simply the study of practical reason?

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Fool on the Hill:

Here is what you linked to:

Practical reason is the general human capacity for resolving, through reflection, the question of what one is to do. Deliberation of this kind is practical in at least two senses. First, it is practical in its subject matter, insofar as it is concerned with action. But it is also practical in its consequences or its issue, insofar as reflection about action itself directly moves people to act. Our capacity for deliberative self-determination raises two sets of philosophical problems. First, there are questions about how deliberation can succeed in being practical in its issue. What do we need to assume—both about agents and about the processes of reasoning they engage in—to make sense of the fact that deliberative reflection can directly give rise to action? Can we do justice to this dimension of practical reason while preserving the idea that practical deliberation is genuinely a form of reasoning? Second, there are large issues concerning the content of the standards that are brought to bear in practical reasoning. Which norms for the assessment of action are binding on us as agents? Do these norms provide resources for critical reflection about our ends, or are they exclusively instrumental? Under what conditions do moral norms yield valid standards for reasoning about action?

Here is Menger:

The aim of this orientation, which in the future we will call the exact one, an aim which research pursues in the same way in all realms of the world of phenomena, is the determination of strict laws of phenomena, of regularities in the succession of phenomena which do not present themselves to us as absolute, but which in respect to the approaches to cognition by which we attain to them simply bear within themselves the guarantee of absoluteness.  It is the determination of laws of phenomena which commonly are called "laws of nature," but more correctly should be designated by the expression "exact laws."  (emphasis added)

What you refer to doesn't seem to be concerned with regularities or scientific laws.  

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

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Is Menger really talking about praxeology in that quote? It's not clear to me.

For Kant, though, practical reason involves regulative principles as opposed to constitutive principles. I'm not sure if Menger is using regularities in the same sense, but it seems like he might be. I'm just starting on Kant's 2nd critique, so I'm still evaluating the connection.

From the SEP article: "But it is also practical in its consequences or its issue, insofar as reflection about action itself directly moves people to act." That sounds like it pertains to laws determining phenomena.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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