In Rothbard's "In Defense of "Extreme Apriorism"," Rothbard makes this statement about the status of the action axiom:
"Whether we consider the Action Axiom “a priori” or “empirical”depends on our ultimate philosophical position. Professor Mises, in the neo-Kantian tradition, considers this axiom a law of thought and therefore acategorical truth a priori to all experience. My own epistemological positionrests on Aristotle and St. Thomas rather than Kant, and hence I wouldinterpret the proposition differently. I would consider the axiom a law ofreality rather than a law of thought, and hence “empirical” rather than “apriori.” But it should be obvious that this type of “empiricism” is so out ofstep with modern empiricism that I may just as well continue to call it a priorifor present purposes. For (1) it is a law of reality that is not conceivablyfalsifiable, and yet is empirically meaningful and true; (2) it rests on universalinner experience, and not simply on external experience, that is, its evidenceis reflective rather than physical7; and (3) it is clearly a priori to complexhistorical events.8
8 Professor Hutchison may have had me in mind when he says that in recent years followers ofProfessor Mises try to defend him by saying he really meant “empirical” when saying “a priori.”Thus, see my “Praxeology, Replay to Mr. Schuller,” American Economic Review (December1951): 943-44. What I meant is that Mises’s fundamental axiom may be called “a priori” or“empirical” according to one’s philosophical position, but is in any case a priori for the practicalpurposes of economic methodology."
Why exactly does Rothbard make this distinction as to the nature of the action axiom? What is meant by a "law of thought" and a "law of reality?" What are the fundamental differences between Kantian and Aristotilian/Thomist philosophical positions?
I also remember reading in Human Action Mises's criticism of the natural law. Are these and other arguments against natural law valid? Are there any other arguments against the natural law that would apply to this discussion?
Also as a side issue, I have befriended a PhD student of anthropology. He also takes the position that there is no natural law. More importantly, however, he argues that individualism doesn't exist. Where can I find these arguments being made? What are your thoughts on these postitions? Has there been any successful refutation or validation of such concepts? If so, what are they and where can I find more information?
Don't be shy. Indulge! I would love to see where this goes. I'm having a hard time continuing my readings with these thoughts stuck in my brain.
pazlenchantinrocks:Why exactly does Rothbard make this distinction as to the nature of the action axiom? What is meant by a "law of thought" and a "law of reality?"
I can answer that much. Other may have a different point of view on this, but I am confident mine will be fairly accurate and accepted.
The "action" axiom implies that human act. This sounds pretty self-evident, but what it also implies is that humans act and that only individuals can take action. This action is aimed at changing a state which is felt to be less desirable in the eyes of the acting agent by a state which is more desirable to him. This distinction -to him- is very important in that people may take decisions that look like they are making matters worse while the acting agent believes that the consequence of taking such action will yield a better state than the current one.
Mises sees it as a law of thought because ,to act, a man has to make a decision to do so (even if on a subconscious level). The decision not to act is also an action in that by not moving at all, one has decided that the state that will occur due to this inaction will be better than that of doing something. Because the goal of an action is to obtain a certain state, not to act in order to obtain a state is an action in itself.
Rothbard sees it differently in that the action axiom is not proven to be true by a process of thought, but rather by the very fact that it is impossible for men not to act. A man who would purposefully do nothing is doing the action of doing nothing , which yields certain results that would not have happened given the acting agent would have taken another approach. In the sense that the action axiom's truth is absolute by the laws of reality, it is empirically proven.
On the apriorism issues, see Roderick Long's "Antipyschologism in Austrian Economics: Wittgenstein and Mises" and my working paper "On Praxeology and the Question of Aristotelian Apriorism" (which is in need of revision prior to being submitted for publication but still useful).
To provide some short anwers:
pazlenchantinrocks:Is Hoppe a Kantian? What arguments are there against Rothbard's Aristotilian/Thomist position?
Yes, Hoppe is in many ways a sort of Kantian. With regard to the latter question, you'll find some answers in the above papers, but a better question is "what are the arguments against Hoppe's Kantianism?" and you'll find answers to this as well in the above papers. My view is that both positions are wrong, but Rothbard's is much less so.
Yours in liberty,Geoffrey Allan Plauché, Ph.D.Adjunct Instructor, Buena Vista UniversityWebmaster, LibertarianStandard.comFounder / Executive Editor, Prometheusreview.com
Oh...you can also find some essays and blog posts by Roderick on the issue of natural law by means of a quick Google search. I don't think Mises's or anyone else's arguments against natural law ultimately succeed. See also Rothbard's Ethics of Liberty.
Yan, I appreciate having that cleared up. I had something to that effect in mind, and I'm sure it was written somewhere (probably in that article) and I had forgotten about it, but I really needed to hear it from someone. That and I am becoming very interested in the underlying philosophical foundations upon which all of this is built. I want to be certain that I am heading in the right direction without getting lost and wasting a bunch of time along the way.
gplauche, we need to talk more often! I've read The Ethics of Liberty more times than I am willing to admit (gotta love those audiobooks). I'm definitely inclined to agree with natural law theory. I will most certainly be reading your material. Do you have any more suggestions on reading material about these subjects (or other, related subjects)? How about something more on natural law?
On natural law: Aside from Roderick Long (check out "The Nature of Law" in particular but also other things by him), I'd also recommend work by Henry Veatch, Lysander Spooner (and Roderick on Spooner), and Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl (a.k.a. The Dougs, becaues they very often (but not always) co-author; search the JLS for an essay by Rasmussen on man's natural end and praxeology). With the exception of Spooner, these are explicitly Aristotelian thinkers, as am I.
To the OP: Geoffrey (i.e. gplauche) is perhaps the best source on this. I was about to link you to one of his papers (as I do often in debates on methodology), but it seems he beat me to it. Anyway, Hoppe is a great thinker, but on this I am far more convinced by Geoffrey's account of the matter. I've had a problem in the past of understanding how concepts are formed in the Kantian framework, which seems to be resolved within the Aristotelean one.
Now, why does your friend stipulate individualism cannot exist (ethical? methodological? other sorts?) and what are his arguments against natural law?
Anthony... I think the reason why you've had a problem understanding
how concepts are formed in the Kantian framework is that it rejects or
ignores classical induction and neglects concept-formation. To my
knowledge, it simply has no account of how concepts are formed and
simply takes them as given, then proceeds to analyze them.
gplauche: On the apriorism issues, see Roderick Long's "Antipyschologism in Austrian Economics: Wittgenstein and Mises" and my working paper "On Praxeology and the Question of Aristotelian Apriorism" (which is in need of revision prior to being submitted for publication but still useful).
I didn't have the chance to read Long's paper yet, but I read yours and I must say that is probably one of the best papers I've ever seen written about praxeology. Perhaps I just haven't read enough yet. This paper really cleared up the question I had in the first post. Although I was never on solid ground with regard to philosohpical backgrounds, I certainly leaned in the Aristotilian direction, having read much Rand and later Rothbard. (I'm so happy [and relieved] that I never became an objectivist.)
All of these different aspects about the nature of propositions makes me realize that I really should study philosophy more deeply. If you had the opportunity to start with a (practically) fresh blank-slate ignorant mind and had to build him up to understand philosophy at the level necessary to write this (and other) paper(s), what approach would you take and what subjects should one study and reading materials would you suggest (and perhaps even in what order)?
I'd recommend reading a lot of Henry Babcock Veatch's work. Here's an annotated bibliography of some of his major works. Despite the list being posted on an Objectivist site, he wasn't one.
There are also a number of other things by Roderick Long you could read, in particular, his Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand and "Realism and Abstraction in Economics: Aristotle and Mises versus Friedman." Some of Roderick's blog posts might be useful as well, but that would require some searching.
You could also follow some of the references listed at the end of my paper. There's a lot of good stuff cited there.
Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is also useful. No need to be an Objectivist to appreciate it.
There are three essays in The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, edited by Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl, on metaphysics and epistemology that could be useful.