The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science
Ludwig von Mises
Certainty and Uncertainty
9. The Examination of Praxeological Theorems
The epistemologist who starts his lucubrations from the analysis of the methods of the natural sciences and whom blinders prevent from perceiving anything beyond this field tells us merely that the natural sciences are the natural sciences and that what is not natural science is not natural science. About the sciences of human action he does not know anything, and therefore all that he utters about them is of no consequence.
It is not a discovery made by these authors that the theories of
praxeology cannot be refuted by experiments nor confirmed by their successful employment in the construction of various gadgets. These facts are precisely one aspect of our problem.
The positivist doctrine implies that nature and reality, in providing the sense data that the protocol sentences register, write their own story upon the white sheet of the human mind. The kind of experience to which they refer in speaking of verifiability and refutability is, as they think, something that does not depend in any way on the logical structure of the human mind. It provides a faithful image of reality. On the other hand, they suppose, reason is arbitrary and therefore liable to error and misinterpretation.
This doctrine not only fails to make allowance for the fallibility of our apprehension of sense objects; it does not realize that perception is more than just sensuous apprehension, that it is an intellectual act performed by the mind. In this regard both associationism and Gestalt psychology agree. There is no reason to ascribe to the operation the mind performs in the act of becoming aware of an external object a higher epistemological dignity than to the operation the mind performs in describing its own ways of procedure.
In fact, nothing is more certain for the human mind than what the category of human action brings into relief. There is no human being to whom the intent is foreign to substitute by appropriate conduct one state of affairs for another state of affairs that would prevail if he did not interfere. Only where there is action are there men.
What we know about our own actions and about those of other people is conditioned by our familiarity with the category of action that we owe to a process of self-examination and introspection as well as of understanding of other peoples' conduct. To question this insight is no less impossible than to question the fact that we are alive.
He who wants to attack a praxeological theorem has to trace it back, step by step, until he reaches a point in which, in the chain of reasoning that resulted in the theorem concerned, a logical error can be unmasked. But if this regressive process of deduction ends at the category of action without having discovered a vicious link in the chain of reasoning, the theorem is fully confirmed. Those positivists who reject such a theorem without having subjected it to this examination are no less foolish than those seventeenth-century astronomers were who refused to look through the telescope that would have shown them that Galileo was right and they were wrong.
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