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Do all men have the same end (telos)?

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Physiocrat Posted: Wed, Nov 14 2012 7:06 AM

Is it true to say that all men seek in all their actions their own happiness? If so is possible to extract the internal state from the means in the external world or do they collapse into synonyms? 

For example I eat an apple. Do I do this because it causes me happiness or do I eat because I like the flavour and it curtails hunger pains in my stomach? If it's the latter then it would seem at that moment  eating an apple= happiness rather than eating an apple causes happiness.

Consquently would it be more proper to state the ends of man with reference to particular external objects rather than the end of man in an abstract sense?

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AJ replied on Thu, Nov 15 2012 12:43 AM
It depends on the purpose of your analysis. If it's for economics, for example, you'll want to incorporate objects. Or are you asking whether action is (or is motivated by) pain or pleasure (happiness or unhappiness, etc.)?
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Is it true to say that all men seek in all their actions their own happiness?

I think, in all actions, that it is untrue.  Happiness is clearly the goal that most strive for in an overall sense.  But at what point do we delineate, for instance, the happiness we derive from eating junk food and candy all day everyday versus being fit, healthy, and attractive?  We contradict our parameter for seeking happiness in the long term if we simultaneously think that we derive happiness from being healthy and fit and buy junk food which produces our ends opposite.

If so is possible to extract the internal state from the means in the external world or do they collapse into synonyms?

Deriving the internal state (I'm assuming you mean an intentioned disposition at any given time) is a matter of causal chains for actions taken in the external world.  Donald Davidson has a classic example in Actions, Reasons, and Causes:

I flip the switch, turn on the light, and illuminate the room. Unbeknownst to me I also alert a prowler to the fact that I am home.  Here I need not have done four things, but only one, of which four descriptions have been given.

From the example, can you infer the mental state of the agent through the actions in the external world?

For example I eat an apple. Do I do this because it causes me happiness or do I eat because I like the flavour and it curtails hunger pains in my stomach?

Do hunger pains cause happiness? Or unhappiness?  Ultimately we have one end and weak wills.

(Donald Davidson, How is Weakness of the Will Possible)

If it's the latter then it would seem at that moment  eating an apple= happiness rather than eating an apple causes happiness.

Happiness is not a state or disposition.  It is a fleeting feeling and by its nature you resolve yourself to it after you grow used to conditions.

(See: Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents)

Consquently would it be more proper to state the ends of man with reference to particular external objects rather than the end of man in an abstract sense?

What particular external objects?  Pie?  Sex?  Beauty?

Happiness, likely, is to be interpreted as an abstract end (although neuro-philosophers and psychologists may argue).

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I don't think it's (necessarily) a contradiction. The problem, as I see it, is that we tend to use the word happiness in colloquial speech for some kind of an ultimate state of pleasure and well-being - in that respect, no, not every. single. action is necessarily performed to bring about (even partially) that kind of state. When you eat an apple, presumably you don't normally reason about that single action in the broad context of "attaining happiness".

However, to basically paraphrase Mises - you do act, and an action is by definition guided by some purpose, which lies in an uneasiness you're trying to alleviate - because that's a prerequisite of an action, otherwise you wouldn't act, because if you were in a perfect state (literally perfect, something that's complete in all of its parts and has no need for action of any sort because it has no goals to attain or changes it wants to bring about), an action would be a contradiction in terms. So, your small mundane action is guided by a desire to replace a state of things you prefer less with a state of things you find more satisfactory and in that respect, you *are* aiming at "happiness", in a sense of a preferable state of things. When you're hungry, it's preferable to eat and you're motivated by hunger, and other times you may be motivated to eat, say, out of boredom - but in all of those cases, you're looking into increasing your well-being and changing something that you find less comfortable with something that you find more comfortable. So think of that "happiness" not in a sense that there's this Big Idea Of Ultimate Happiness that somehow "guides" all of your actions towards an Ultimate Goal, but in a sense of an expectation of a future better state of things that's at the core of your every action, and action as such, and that wouldn't happen without your interference.

So, it's one and the same - you eat an apple because you prefer "eating an apple" and a future "having eaten an apple and alleviated hunger", which is the expected source of "happiness" for you in that particular case.

Let's say you don't eat an apple. If the apple is in front of you and you don't eat it, you see your expected source of "happiness" in something else - for example, a personal accomplishment, say you're on diet, in having resisted the temptation, so however you look at it, you always end up going for "happiness", i.e. for what you deem to be the most satisfactory choice for you. Or may have a poor self-control and beat yourself up after, so succumb to the temptation, and realize that in most states of mind not eating an apple would be preferable and would make you "happier" in the long run, but in that very moment when the decision was done, your priorities were different and you did prefer eating an apple to a feeling of accomplishment in not having done so. Unless you're physically coerced, i.e. unless somebody shoves it down your throat against your will or a physical possibility to prevent it, whatever you did or didn't do, you did make a choice that at the time of action you felt would make you "happy".

Different men are in different circumstances, and desire different things, and sometimes in same circumstances desire different things for a number of reasons, from individual disposition to feeling societally constrained or "obligated" to act in certain ways, and at the end of the day, it doesn't even matter what the "ultimate" reason for doing something was. People can make choices that they philosophically disagree with, and they can make choices that are uncomfortable for them, just like they can make choices that are congenial to them - but in all of those cases, they choose from the options they have the ones they believe would bring about a more satisfactory state of things.

A person on a diet will not be "comfortable" with the choice to forgo the apple, and may even grieve it, but the fact alone that they chose to do it means that they valued something else above their (current) comfort level, and that - paradoxally perhaps - constitutes their "happiness" in that act.

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AJ replied on Thu, Nov 15 2012 9:25 AM
GoldenRetriever's covered the time preference confusion well, but there are several other confusions that need to be cleared away before action can be understood clearly. Now I might have a better idea what OP is asking: "is action happiness"? My answer is that, in the Misesian conception, as far as I can follow, action is in fact synonymous with pain.

Yes, you read that right. This is merely a matter of definition: since to Mises, the essence of action is in the decision to act (not the physical action itself - in fact, Mises says even wishing counts as action), and the decision (not to be confused with any deliberation process leading to the decision) is itself only recognizable consciously as a desire, which is synonymous with felt uneasiness, which is just another word for pain in the most general sense. Action is an attempt to substitute a less favorable state of affairs for a more favorable one, but in fact even a wish or desire for that change to take place counts as an attempt - in fact is the very essence of it. Action is an attempt to remove felt uneasiness, yes, but action itself IS felt uneasiness. I see no way to distinguish the two, once the incidental/nonessential aspects have been swept aside.

A rephrasing to make this sound clearer by looking only at the essence of action: the pain and the wishing for it to go away are one and the same. Unease = desire = wishing = action.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Nov 15 2012 8:02 PM

It is useful to define - tautologically - the purpose of all action as "satisfaction" or "happiness" or whatever-you-want-to-call-it. Similarly, it is useful to define action in terms of "ends" and leave open the matter of whether these are all, ultimately, the same end. This is the approach that Mises takes in HA and it is useful for economics because we don't really need a psychological theory in order to have an economic theory, so you get some separation of concerns.

You can study your own ends merely as a matter of introspection. The results of such study are final; they are not hypothetical. If you perceive your own ends to be X, Y and Z, then that is what they are as far as anybody can know since you certainly know your own state of mind better than anyone else. But as soon as we begin to speak of the ends of "men", then introspection is no longer sufficient. Here, you must actually go out and study in the field what sorts of ends people pursue. Complicating this is the fact that people are often not consciously aware of what ends they are pursuing or, even worse, are actively concealing the ends they are pursuing. So, there is just a subset of human ends which can be discovered by simply walking up to people and asking "what is your purpose?" To get a more comprehensive list, you have to be more clever.

All men have the same end in the tautological sense. All men do not have the same ends in the more limited sense of "whatever they're trying to accomplish at the moment."

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AJ replied on Thu, Nov 15 2012 8:51 PM
+1 to Clayton's final paragraph. We all strive to remove felt uneasiness, but what unease we feel differs among us.
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For clarification:

By happiness I mean a contented internal state (a intentioned disposition) towards life not a rush of pleasure such as in sex for example.

My purpose of this analysis isn't strictly confined to economics but is universal since all men act. However since we are constrained beings we must use means to achieve our ends.

NB. I don't think action implies uneasiness. It is perfectly possible to act to avoid an undesirable state of affairs arising in the future. At the point of action I don't need to have felt uneasiness. For example before I long journey I will attempt to wee to avoid the potential pain caused by holding it in the actual journey. At the point weeing however it would be facile to state I had genuine sense of felt uneasiness however it would demonstrate preference. Further the only thing that causes action is the will (I treat it as basic), not uneasiness or anything else. To state otherwise condemns one to determinism which I believe to manifestly wrong.

Consequently I am trying work out whether the justication, not the cause,  for all actions can be abstracted as happiness or is there a seperate justification for each individual action. For example do I eat a Mars Bar because I want to be happy or because I like the flavour. It is clear that eating demonstrates preference but what is the reason for the action?

In the back of my head I have Long's arguments regarding constituitive means. I don't know how or why but it might be related.

Does that clear my thoughts up even if you may disagree with it?

 

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Clayton replied on Fri, Nov 16 2012 11:56 AM

By happiness I mean a contented internal state (a intentioned disposition) towards life not a rush of pleasure such as in sex for example.

My purpose of this analysis isn't strictly confined to economics but is universal since all men act. However since we are constrained beings we must use means to achieve our ends.

Yeah, we have to be careful because we can quickly end up going in pointless circles. Epicurus defined happiness as the absence of uneasiness (and nothing more, such as positive pleasures from eating or sex). Aristotle investigates happiness in the Nicomachean Ethics Book I and concludes that it is the final end that lies behind all other ends. I think Aristotle's discussion is quite enlightening:

Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for self and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

I think this is the correct litmust test - is this end chosen for its own sake or for the sake of something else? And I think it can probably also be stated that no end is ever happiness-itself. In other words, the idea of happiness/ataraxia/satisfaction is a purely formal one, which is why I think it is dangerous to intertwine anything to do with psychological states into the definition because as soon as we do this, we are no longer dealing with a purely formal concept.

That said, I think we can certainly talk about the psychological correlates of this formal concept - in other words, how does the "wetware" of the human brain actually influence our decision-making in terms of what it deems to be "happiness" or not. On the basis of personal experience of stress, I believe that the brain's "subconscious" influence on our behavior (through manipulation of our conscious sense of well-being) is vastly more subtle and sophisticated than might be first suspected.

NB. I don't think action implies uneasiness. It is perfectly possible to act to avoid an undesirable state of affairs arising in the future. At the point of action I don't need to have felt uneasiness. For example before I long journey I will attempt to wee to avoid the potential pain caused by holding it in the actual journey. At the point weeing however it would be facile to state I had genuine sense of felt uneasiness however it would demonstrate preference. Further the only thing that causes action is the will (I treat it as basic), not uneasiness or anything else. To state otherwise condemns one to determinism which I believe to manifestly wrong.

 

Absolutely and I think that's why we have to integrate the human capacity to anticipate the long-run consequences of various courses of action. In fact, this is the whole crux of my theory of morality - "wrong" is nothing more or less than a failure to correctly anticipate the long-run consequences of one's actions, a definition that is perfectly in line with Buddhism as expounded by the Dalai Lama. Since no conscious being ever knowingly chooses its own pain, it is ignorance, he says, which is the cause of all suffering. And if we have taken "suffering" as the antipode of "satisfaction" (the formal poles of choice), then it is easy to see that morality is nothing more or less than enlightenment regarding the long-run consequences of one's choices.

Consequently I am trying work out whether the justication, not the cause,  for all actions can be abstracted as happiness or is there a seperate justification for each individual action. For example do I eat a Mars Bar because I want to be happy or because I like the flavour. It is clear that eating demonstrates preference but what is the reason for the action?

In the back of my head I have Long's arguments regarding constituitive means. I don't know how or why but it might be related.

Does that clear my thoughts up even if you may disagree with it?

I'm not familiar with Long's constitutive means. As for why you eat a Mars Bar, I think it is not difficult to say that eating something that tastes good makes you happy, that Mars Bars taste good, and thus, you eat the Mars Bar in order to be happy. I'm not being glib, the point is expounded in Aristotle above, that means and ends are linked in a "chain" of "sakeness", so to speak... we do X for the sake of Y, which we do for the sake of Z, which we do for the sake of happiness (that is, no further "sake of" can be given).

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Can I add a question?

AJ - you say that according to Mises even a wish or desire for a change to take place counts as an attempt, i.e. as a fully-fledged action. I'm confused by this, because I understood action to be a manifestation of one's will, and I thought Mises contrasted it to a wish? In HA 1.1 he says:

"Action is not simply giving preference (...) He who only wishes and hopes does not interfere actively with the course of events and with the shaping of his own destiny. But active man chooses, determines and tries to reach an end (...) To express wishes and hopes and to announce planned action may be forms of action in so far as they aim in themselves at the realization of a certain purpose. But they must not be confused with the actions to which they refer. (...) Action is a real thing. (...) Action means the employment of means for the attainment of ends."

I looked this up because when I read your reply I thought I may have misunderstood Mises' idea, but it seems to be in accordance with what I thought - that he does distinguish action from "just a wish" and there seems to be a prerequisite of employing some means (and that alone would take an acting man outside the purely mental realm, no?) to attain a definite goal for something to count as an action? Or am I getting something wrong? I understand the decision to act as the constitutive moment of action, but I thought it had to be a decision embodied, manifested in some way, rather than action being also the internal state?

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Clayton replied on Fri, Nov 16 2012 1:53 PM

@GR: I think AJ's point is that even "choosing not to do anything" can be action... and Mises states precisely this in HA. It is true that wishes/preferences do not constitute action... Mises mentions the weather, in the very paragraph you quoted, as an example where men have preferences but clearly they do not act. But it is incorrect to understand action in some kind of physical sense of "motion". Action may consist as much in sitting still and doing nothing as it does in moving. The key ingredient is the "employment of means to bring about an end", whether that employment is visible to the external observer or not.

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Roderick Long:

However, there's a distinction which Mises doesn't consider which might complicate this. It's the distinction between instrumental means and constitutive means. And here's a way of thinking about this. Suppose that I want to play the Moonlight Sonata; and so I save money to buy a piano, and to buy sheet music, and to take piano lessons and so forth, so that I'll be able to play the Moonlight Sonata. These are all means to the end of playing the Moonlight Sonata; if you ask me why am I saving this money, why am I buying a piano, etc., I would say these are all means to my ultimate goal, which is to play the Moonlight Sonata.

But now suppose you come upon me in the middle of playing the Moonlight Sonata, and I'm hitting a particular note. And you ask me: "Why are you hitting that particular note? Is it just that you find that note valuable in and of itself?" And I would answer: "No, I'm playing that note because I want to play the Moonlight Sonata, and I can't play the Moonlight Sonata without playing that note at that point." Well, in a sense, then, playing that note is a means to playing the Moonlight Sonata; but it's not a means in the other way. It's not a means that's external to the end; it's a means that's part of the end.

When a means is external to or merely instrumental to an end, then it would make sense to say, "I wish I could have the end without having to go through all these means." I wish I could be at the top of the mountain without having to climb all this way up, or I wish I could play the Moonlight Sonata without having to save all this money to buy a piano. But it doesn't make any sense to say, "I wish I could play the Moonlight Sonata without having to play all these notes" — because the Moonlight Sonata just is those notes in that order.

So there are cases where a means can be a constitutive part of the end rather than being an external means to it. And a lot of things that Mises considers ultimate ends you might think are really means, but they're constitutive means rather than instrumental means. So then the question is: well, can we deliberate about constitutive means? How do we determine whether something is a constitutive means to an end? It seems it's not a matter of cause and effect any more; it's more a matter of logical or conceptual analysis.

http://mises.org/daily/2103

What do you make of the above?

If true it would mean those actions such as eating a chocolate bar would be internal to the end of attaining happiness rather than just a means towards it. It would be constituitive rather than instrumental. Thinking about this it does seem to ground action more in reality without removing the formal end of happiness.

 

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Physiocrat,

Although I agree with Long, I'm not sure that such a distinction works with your example of eating chocolate in reference to hapiness (in the formal sense).  I think we might be able to say that eating chocolate is instrumental to bringing about pleasure, and pleasure is constitutive of happiness.  But eating chocolate in itself isn't part of happiness.

Where Long's distinction really shines is with morality.  Once we treat morality as part of happiness, the good life, eudaimonia, etc., we can bypass those problems where immoral actions lead to good consequences.  That is, even though stealing might make me better off in some sense, I cannot truly pursue my own hapiness while rejecting justice because justice is simply part of my own hapiness.  This is where praxeological analysis ends and conceptual analysis begins by way of constructing a coherent picture where no one part conflicts with another.

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AJ replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 11:18 AM

Physiocrat:
NB. I don't think action implies uneasiness. It is perfectly possible to act to avoid an undesirable state of affairs arising in the future. At the point of action I don't need to have felt uneasiness.

When faced with the prospect of something bad happening in the future unless you do Action X now, don't you automatically feel uneasy not doing Action X now?

Say you just downed a 64-oz. of Mountain Dew and got on a bus that you know you won't be able to get off of for 5 hours (and has no restroom). Of course if you have your wits about you you'll realize this could end in disaster, despite you feeling (otherwise!) fine right now. Isn't the terror you feel at that future outcome a felt uneasiness?

You might reply that you could simply "note" that if you don't get to a bathroom before the bus trip it will be disastrous. But that just changes the timing: if you actually start to set foot on the bus while realizing that you haven't wizzed and there's no turning back if you take one more step, I'd say you're going to experience some massive uneasiness right then. 

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Clayton replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 11:23 AM

@Phys: Thanks for the link. I think that the Misesean view of happiness (he uses the term "satisfaction") is not any particular physical state. Rather, it is a hypothetical mental state of complete absence of suffering, complete absence of fear (about the future) or regret (about the past) and so on. The reason we hold this mental state to be hypothetical is precisely because the means which are consistutive of such a mental state are not physically realizable - only in a Garden of Eden where there is no scarcity, where your wishes materialize without instrumentality, etc. can such happiness exist.

Now, this is not to say that every form of scarcity or instumentality must be anhedonic; for example, the hunter relishes the challenge before him precisely by virtue of the scarcity of the game. If game were too abundant, the hunt would have no challenge and, thus, no pleasure. Similarly, playing the piano or swimming a race are situations where the instrumentality is part of the pleasure.

But this is why it's key to not confuse pleasure itself with satisfaction. Satisfaction is the result of pleasure. In other words, the end of playing the Moonlight Sonata is the enjoyment of hearing it played (by yourself) - else you could wear earplugs and gain just as much pleasure from the playing.

Finally, things get more complex when you enter satisfaction that arises from social dynamics (that is, applause). I think a lot of the complications that arise from thinking about pleasure are the result of the fact that we enjoy doing things (even, for example, working) in part because of the social rewards. In any case, we can always properly orient the discussion by clearly noting that satisfaction is a hypothetical mental state to which all action is, ultimately aiming.

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AJ replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 11:45 AM

GoldenRetriever:

Can I add a question?

AJ - you say that according to Mises even a wish or desire for a change to take place counts as an attempt, i.e. as a fully-fledged action. I'm confused by this, because I understood action to be a manifestation of one's will, and I thought Mises contrasted it to a wish?

Mises was a bit confusing on this point. Adam Knott clarifies this well here:

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

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

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

Here is what Mises writes on page 20:

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

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

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

From the totality of what Mises writes, I conclude that in writing A, Mises has inadvertently and mistakenly taken the position of a critic, and expressed his personal judgment that AC's wishing or hoping for a certain state of affairs is an ineffectual method or means to bring about that state of affairs.
Regardless of whether Mises was confused or just speaking at different levels of detail in different passages, I contend that once the distracting aspects are cleared away it will be noncontroversial that the essential characteristic of action is wishing.
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Clayton replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 11:49 AM

the essential characteristic of action is wishing

Hmm, I think that you have to include both the wish (the imagined end) and the choice (the "psychokinetic" motion of the body). Both ends and means are bound together in action. Choice unguided by a telos is not action and wishes without the mediation of realizable means are not action.

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AJ replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 12:01 PM

Is it even possible to wish, for instance, to move your finger without actually choosing to move it? I recommend taking a few seconds to try this now.

Alternatively, suppose you awaken one morning and find that your hand is uncomfortably hot. You notice the Sun is shining on it. Imagine two scenarios:

  1. You wish to move it (and choose to move it, and do move it) out of the sunlight.
  2. You wish to move it (and choose to move it), but you find it doesn't initially respond - perhaps you were sleeping on your stomach with your arm under the pillow and you whole arm has been temporarily paralyzed (happens to me sometimes).

If we say that no action occured in (2), we would seem to be saying that only successful actions count as actions. This seems like it will lead to a dead end, doesn't it?

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Clayton replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 12:46 PM

Is it even possible to wish, for instance, to move your finger without actually choosing to move it? I recommend taking a few seconds to try this now.

But you are arbitrarily restricting the analysis of means to the body, that is, the part of the world over which you have psychokinetic control. You can wish to move a one-ton boulder but it will not move. Nevertheless, with the appropriate application of a fulcrum and lever, it can be moved. Hence, wishes (preferences) and means are inextricably linked. In the case of control of the body under normal circumstances, I think you're roughly correct that wishes and action are coextensive (but what if you wish to leap a 10-story building? Or wish to pause your heartbeat for 10 seconds?)

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AJ replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 2:50 PM

That's the point of the paralyzed arm example, where you don't have psychokinetic control. 

For any instance of an actor engaging in wishing, there are only two possibilities: The actor either (1) believes that his wishing could set in motion a process that will remove some of his felt uneasiness, or (2) he doesn't. It is key that we avoid taking the position of the critic (third-party observer), lest we forget that what matters in praxeology is not whether the wishing "really could" result in a betterment of his conditions, but whether the actor himself believes it could.

If what I wrote in the previous paragraph makes sense, then if the actor is wishing to leap a 10-story building psychokinetically, aren't we then proposing that it counts as action if and only if he believes he really could do it? (And, is it really possible to wish for something to happen while simultaneously believing it is completely impossible? - as opposed to a moment later when you come to your senses)

--

As for the example of using a lever to move a boulder, it seems to be more complicated but the same in principle. That is, pick a stage in the setting up and using the lever - then we'll be able to show that wishing=action at that stage. If, for example, there's already a lever set up, your hand is already on it, and you know how a lever works, all you have to do is push (by wishing your hand down). 

If we rewind, it seems we will simply find a succession of mini-applications of that same wish-motion, except for the thought components - but in the purely mental realm (psychological actions; cognition) it is surely even harder to find any difference between wishing and action (can you wish to make a choice without making that choice? Can you wish to imagine what that wooden 2x4 will do when placed in the position of a lever for the boulder and pushed, without imagining it? (Can you wish to imagine a pink elephant without imagining it??)). 

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Clayton replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 3:12 PM

@AJ: I think you're neglecting the role of time and uncertainty. The goal of action (an expressed preference) is only reached upon completion of the application of the chosen means. That is, the passage of time is an ineradicable aspect of action. Second, the choice of means may or may not be correct (uncertainty). Perhaps you chose too short of a lever or placed the fulcrum too far from the weight to be lifted. All of these impedances create a very real distinction between preference (wish) and choice (applied means).

This is why ignorance (in concert with ineradicable scarcity) can be properly said to be the essential cause of all suffering. If you actually knew the correct choice to attain your own happiness, you would necessarily choose it. (Only a few minutes of omniscience would be required to become filthy rich... imagine being granted omniscience for an hour by a genie and then going down to the PowerBall machine to buy tickets).

Praying, in Mises's view, is not action. Any man can pray that the rain will cease. What is missing here is causality. If you push a rock with a stick, the rock will roll. You understand causality from direct experience. If you send an email to a friend, they will receive it even though you don't understand the first thing about electromagnetism, digital logic or coding theory. Nevertheless, you understand cause and effect in the gross sense required for action... "click Send... email received by friend." The acting man does not merely wish or pray for things to come about, he applies his understanding of cause-and-effect within the bounds of uncertainty, of course, to bring about a desired end.

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gotlucky replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 3:22 PM

Praying, in Mises's view, is not action. Any man can pray that the rain will cease. What is missing here is causality. If you push a rock with a stick, the rock will roll. You understand causality from direct experience. If you send an email to a friend, they will receive it even though you don't understand the first thing about electromagnetism, digital logic or coding theory. Nevertheless, you understand cause and effect in the gross sense required for action... "click Send... email received by friend." The acting man does not merely wish or pray for things to come about, he applies his understanding of cause-and-effect within the bounds of uncertainty, of course, to bring about a desired end.

I just wanted to chime in here. Praying is an action. In terms of causality, you are correct that praying will not cause anything (with the one exception of praying for your own psychic benefit). But that doesn't stop anyone from believing that praying will cause something. Raindances are actions. They may be mistaken or misguided actions, but they are actions nonetheless.

I think what you are talking about is the daydreamer (and no, I'm not quibbling over words, I'm just using a synonym to make sure we are on the same page), but daydreaming is still an action. It's just not an action that will achieve whatever you are daydreaming about. If you simply wish that it was the case that rain would fall, then you are not acting to cause the rain to fall. But you are still acting: you are choosing to daydream about how nice it would be if the rain fell.

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AJ replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 3:25 PM

Clayton:
I think you're neglecting the role of time and uncertainty. The goal of action (an expressed preference) is only reached upon completion of the application of the chosen means. That is, the passage of time is an ineradicable aspect of action.

But the goal of action is not itself the action. 

Clayton:
All of these impedances create a very real distinction between preference (wish) and choice (applied means).

Let's keep it verb-y; nouns tend to obscure what's going on in action. If we do so, prefer=wish=choose=apply means (apply means the actor deems at least potentially effective)=strive=act.

I'm not sure what Mises said, but prayer to a theist who believes that prayers are answered (has had the direct experience he interprets as "having my prayers answered") is exactly the same as sending email: he doesn't know how God or email works, but he knows* how to get them to do what he wants. 

*From his point of view, not the critic's. Praxeology only deals with action within the context of what the actor himself believes and perceives. (Methodological individualism)

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Clayton replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 3:37 PM

@AJ: But the theist's beliefs are beside the point because praxeology is a science. In other words, we (the praxeologists) are the ones defining preference (wish) and action (application of means to attain an end), and so on. Hence, while genuine religious conviction definitely exists, praxeology is not a psychological theory nor does it admit theological claims which are patently unscientific. All that is left, then, is real cause-and-effect and people's real (though often mistaken) beliefs about cause-and-effect.

The praying man does not act because he is not utilizing causal reality to bring about a state of affairs. He is making an appeal to a deity which even the believer admits will not necessarily be granted. The probabilistic effects of such behavior have been studied inconclusively. In other words, prayer remains in the realm of theology. Nevertheless, it clarifies the distinction between merely wishing and acting.

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gotlucky replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 3:42 PM

Clayton:

Nevertheless, it clarifies the distinction between merely wishing and acting.

You should be more clear about this, as it's quite obvious that a praying man is praying, which is a verb, which is an action. If I prefer to daydream about how I could be a rich man with a mansion, a yacht, a porche, and so on, I am still acting. I am just not acting to achieve those particular goals. I am just satisfying my urge to dream about living a certain lifestyle.

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Clayton replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 3:46 PM

@gotlucky: Of course, that's what I mean - the man who prays the rain will stop is not actually acting to stop the rain. Or fill in the blank. I'm not trying to marginalize prayer or any religious activity... but its true purpose may be nonobvious.

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AJ replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 4:59 PM

Praxeology admits as relevant to the actor whatever beliefs the actor himself has. This is the very essence of methodological individualism; everything is based on the perceptions of the actor. I wasn't even aware this was controversial.

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Clayton replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 6:35 PM

 everything is based on the perceptions of the actor

Everything isn't based on the perceptions of the actor, else we fall into the abyss of pure logical relativism. Valuation (preference) and purpose (ends) are relative to the actor's perceptions, that is, they are subjective. However, time, uncertainty, causality... these are not relative, they are facts about the real world that are independent of the perceptions of the acting individual.

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There's a difference between praying and "wishing" in that, in a prayer, an actor utilizes means to reach an end - from that point of view, it's the same as the Mises' example with raindancing. To the actor, what he is doing (raindancing / praying) is meaningful in the context of their end, a means to reach it. To somebody else, the act of praying may be rooted in an application of false logic, of false connections between things, as he (the outsider) may not share a convinction that there is a causal type of relationship between the prayer itself and bringing about whatever the prayer aims to accomplish, but to the actor it is meaningful.

On the other hand, I don't think simple daydreaming can always be classified as an action, because the state of daydreaming isn't always something willfully induced to reach a certain end - most of the time it's more like a side-effect (of being bored, tired, etc.) than a premeditated activity specifically employed to reach an end. (At least for me.) I think it can be specifically employed for some end (e.g. deciding to zone out during a boring lecture by purposely pursuing other thoughts than focusing them on the lecture?), but isn't necessarily so (e.g. I may wish to focus on the lecture, but I'm still bored out of my mind so I zone out not because of my wish to do so and specifically arranging my thoughts to pursue that goal, but in spite of my wish to remain focused on it?).

Is it correct to consider every more or less willful changing and directing of one's mental states (to the extent to which it is possible) as an action, as long as the causality means->ends for the actor is respected?
Also, now it comes to mind that there is some research showing that for sportsmen training mentally "counts", i.e. that it has actual physical effects even though they're only imagining their training in their mind? In that sense, something that's happening within one's mental reality alone would possibly be an action, with actual observable results.

I don't know what to make of the situation with paralysis - I think of sleep paralysis, and if I attempt to move in that state, I have no idea whether it would be consistent to consider that an action, but then again I do "act" a movement, it's just that the body doesn't respond.
But if I just "wish" to make a physical movement, without actually trying, it's not an action. For example if I wake up in the middle of the night and figure out I'm paralyzed, then think "God, I wish I could move my hand now", but without actually attempting to (although I already know the attempt is futile), that's not an action in my mind, just like it's not an action when nothing impedes my movement, yet I laze around "wishing" I would move, but without actually moving. Would that be a difference between "wishing" and "acting" even though an action may pass unobservable because it's not successful?

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AJ replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 9:21 PM

Clayton:

Everything isn't based on the perceptions of the actor, else we fall into the abyss of pure logical relativism. Valuation (preference) and purpose (ends) are relative to the actor's perceptions, that is, they are subjective. However, time, uncertainty, causality... these are not relative, they are facts about the real world that are independent of the perceptions of the acting individual.

Well the devil is in the details. I still don't see any explicit connection of these factors to the result that wishing is different than action, or why wishing differs from a bona-fide "attempt." If I understand your previous examples, you already seem to allow that, say, trying to lift a boulder by leveraging a strand of uncooked spaghetti will be an action, even though it is pretty much bound to fail. I don't get the criteria you're using to judge whether an action qualifies as a serious attempt or just a wish or a prayer. If it were something like, "As long as legitimately scientific causality is considered somehow, it counts as action," that would seem pretty arbitrary, especially since what is legitimately scientific is open for debate.

And who's really to say there's no Q-like character around listening to my wishes and waiting for me to wish for something that interests him? Is that different than randomly swiping in the air - psychokinetically - hoping to find a hidden wormhole? I just don't see where the lines are that you want to draw that would separate wishing from action.

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AJ replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 9:30 PM

GoldenRetriever:
But if I just "wish" to make a physical movement, without actually trying, it's not an action. For example if I wake up in the middle of the night and figure out I'm paralyzed, then think "God, I wish I could move my hand now", but without actually attempting to (although I already know the attempt is futile), that's not an action in my mind, just like it's not an action when nothing impedes my movement, yet I laze around "wishing" I would move, but without actually moving. Would that be a difference between "wishing" and "acting" even though an action may pass unobservable because it's not successful?

I suspect that when you just "laze around wishing" without actually "attempting," you're actually making extremely brief attempts and then immediately giving up, whereas in that paralysis situation you simply wouldn't start calling it an attempt until you actually put some elbow-grease into it...so to speak. Perhaps first you'll make some big, serious attempts, then later resign yourself to periodic micro-attempts that just flash up when you're wishing you could move again, when the unease wells up because you stop being distracted by something else. If anything happens quickly enough, we tend to just ignore it, so those micro-attempts just seem like passive wishes.

Again, if it is really possible to just wish to move without actually attempting to make that very same move, it should be possible to do this with your non-paralyzed finger right now.

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Clayton replied on Tue, Nov 20 2012 11:43 PM

@AJ: I think we're getting unnecessarily lost in metaphysical details - Mises very clearly explains the line delineating psychology from praxeology here. In particular, he says this about the difference between wishing and acting:

Action is not simply giving preference. Man also shows preference in situations in which things and events are unavoidable or are believed to be so. Thus a man may prefer sunshine to rain and may wish that the sun would dispel the clouds. He who only wishes and hopes does not interfere actively with the course of events and with the shaping of his own destiny. But acting man chooses, determines, and tries to reach an end. Of two things both of which he cannot have together he selects one and gives up the other. Action therefore always involves both taking and renunciation.

Now, you may disagree with this definition being universally applicable to all disciplines - i.e. psychology. What I think that Mises is saying is, "this is the definition we're using for the sake of engaging in praxeology." The praxeologist is only concerned with what is going inside a person's skull to the extent that it makes any difference in their behavior and the effects of that behavior.

So, the man who pushes a boulder with a wet spaghetti noodle is making a mistake but he is acting, whereas the man resting in a hammock wishing the boulder would move itself - or that God would miraculously move it on his behalf - is not even acting mistakenly, he's simply not acting at all. This is not to say that rest or (physical) inactivity is identical with non-action... Mises explicitly denies this elsewhere. Even not doing something is acting since it involves renunciation of all the other things besides acting he may have done instead.

But prayer/wishing is not merely not doing something - it's holding an end in mind while not engaging in action (the "taking and renunciation") to bring about this end. Hence, it is not acting. Can we tell from the third-person perspective whether someone is merely wishing or simply choosing an incorrect means to attain their end? I think in the general case, no. But so what? Praxeology is a prioristic so empirical obstacles are irrelevant.

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AJ replied on Wed, Nov 21 2012 8:20 AM
Then trying to move one's paralyzed hand must again not be classed as an action. I just don't think praxeology can be built on such a foundation. As soon as we start to judge the efficacy of another actor's ends, we have left praxeology and apodictic certainty and are doing something else.

Similarly, Hayek writes that one actor may see a coin as money while another may see it as merely a round metal disk. Adam Knott gives a more striking example of a person you see in a park, whom you might wave at to get their attention, but in a moment you realize it was just a statue and waving would be fruitless. Did that waving qualify as an action, in terms of the end of getting someone's attention? As you're pondering this, perhaps about to conclude that the answer must be no, you notice the statue move slightly and you realize it had been a street performer all along.

There is no "objective" way we can distinguish intention from action itself. There is no "it really was a human so it really did count as action." The only thing praxeology works with is the objects of the actor's perception. What action the actor is taking can only be stated in terms of what action he thinks he's taking.

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@ Mikachusetts,

How are you distinguishing between between pleasure and happiness?

I myself treat them pretty interchangebly. I don't see how eating a mars bar cannot be part of happiness for a given individual in a given action. I'm not saying it can be universalised like justice can but it would be a perfectly permissible on an individual level.

@ AJ,

AJ:

When faced with the prospect of something bad happening in the future unless you do Action X now, don't you automatically feel uneasy not doing Action X now?

Not in a real sense. My main problem is with the idea that somehow the perfect state must some how be an eternal static state of being. If true we act so that in the end we don't have to act which seems at least counterintuitive and implies almost an Eastern outlook. I see man's happiness in continuing action not stasis. As an aside I think the static view has negatively influenced theologians but that's a whole other discussion.

Guido Hulsmann has an interesting analogous critique of the evenly rotating economy in his Realist Approach to Equilibrium analysis . If I remember rightly in the ERE there would be no demand for money since there is perfect certainty so it would be more efficient to return to direct exchange. So if we are approaching the ERE we must use indirect exchange to reach there and then abandon in it, which is almost as strange as Wittgenstein climbing the ladder and kicking it away from under him.

@ Clayton,

I think when discussing action we need the preferred description as Hoppe calls it ( http://mises.org/daily/2003)

Essentially we must describe a man's action by his own intentions. So for example a man is walking south towards the south pole would be an accurate description however a preferred description is that he is walking to a bar for a Scotch on the rocks. So when it comes to playing the Moonlight Sonata I think the preferred description is that he plays for his own enjoyment in playing the piece and listening to it however it would be strange to say that playing notes was instrumental to playing the piece as playing the piece is the end. As such it is preferable to call playing the notes constituitive.

As an aside- ( especially to AJ and Clayton) if we could derive a nature for man a priori which for argument sake implied that happiness is achieved by reading Human Action. Would you still say that reading Human Action was instrumental rather than constituitve to the end?

Finally, when I get time I'll re-read the debate AJ linked to constituitve means and if required will comment upon it.

The atoms tell the atoms so, for I never was or will but atoms forevermore be.

Yours sincerely,

Physiocrat

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AJ replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 4:30 AM
Want to be happy? Start reading Human Action. Want to stay happy? Continue reading Human Action. No need for blurry "constitutive means."
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AJ replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 5:27 AM
I think this more recent, brief thread elucidates more efficiently the confusion from which the notion of constitutive means arises, and also helps substantiate my stance Re: Clayton's points. This longer thread also went similarly to this one and fleshes out the main thrust of my points above regarding the approach of praxeology.
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