The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science
Ludwig von Mises
Certainty and Uncertainty
2. Certain Knowledge
Radical empiricism rejects the idea that certain knowledge concerning the conditions of the universe is accessible to the minds of mortal men. It considers the a priori categories of logic and mathematics as assumptions or conventions, freely chosen on account of their convenience for the attainment of the kind of knowledge that man is able to acquire. All that is inferred by deduction from these a priori categories is merely tautological and does not convey any information about the state of reality. Even if we were to accept the untenable dogma of regularity in the concatenation and succession of natural events, the fallibility and insufficiency of the human senses makes it impossible to ascribe certainty to any a posteriori knowledge. We, human beings as we are, must acquiesce in this state of affairs. How things "really" are or may appear when looked upon from the vista of a superhuman intelligence, essentially different
from the human mind as it works in the present aeon of cosmic history, is for us inscrutable.
However, this radical skepticism does not refer to praxeological knowledge. Praxeology too starts from an a priori category and proceeds by deductive reasoning. Yet the objections raised by skepticism against the conclusiveness of a priori categories and a priori reasoning do not apply to it. For, as must be emphasized again, the reality the elucidation and interpretation of which is the task of praxeology is congeneric with the logical structure of the human mind. The human mind generates both human thinking and human action. Human action and human thinking stem from the same source and are in this sense homogeneous. There is nothing in the structure of action that the human mind cannot fully explain. In this sense praxeology supplies certain knowledge.
Man as he exists on this planet in the present period of cosmic history may one day disappear. But as long as there are beings of the species Homo sapiens there will be human action of the categorial kind praxeology deals with. In this restricted sense praxeology provides exact knowledge of future conditions.
In the field of human action all quantitatively determined magnitudes refer only to history and do not convey any knowledge that would mean something beyond the specific historical constellation that generated them. All general knowledge, that is, all knowledge that is applicable not only to a definite constellation of the past but to all praxeologically identical constellations of the past as well as of the future, is deductive knowledge ultimately derived from the a priori category of action. It refers rigidly to any reality of action as it appeared in the past and will appear in the future. It conveys precise knowledge of real things.
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