The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science
Ludwig von Mises
Some Preliminary Observations
Concerning Praxeology Instead
of an Introduction
7. The Category of Action
All the elements of the theoretical sciences of human action are already implied in the category of action and have to be made explicit by expounding its contents. As among these elements of teleology is also the category of causality, the category of action is the fundamental category of epistemology, the starting point of any epistemological analysis.
The very category or concept of action comprehends the concepts of means and ends, of preferring and putting aside, viz., of valuing, of success and failure, of profit and loss, of costs. As no action could be devised and ventured upon without definite ideas about the relation of cause and effect, teleology presupposes causality.
Animals are forced to adjust themselves to the natural conditions of their environment; if they do not succeed in this process of adjustment, they are wiped out. Man is the only animal that is able—within definite limits—to adjust his environment purposively to suit him better.
We can think of the evolutionary process that transformed the nonhuman ancestors of mankind into human beings as a succession of small, gradual changes spread over millions of years. But we cannot think of a mind in which the category of action would have been present only in an incomplete form, There is nothing in between a being driven exclusively by instincts and physiological impulses and a being that chooses ends and the means for the attainment of these ends. We cannot think of an acting being that would not in concreto distinguish what is end and what is means, what is success and what is failure, what he likes more and what he likes less, what is his profit or his loss derived from the action and what his costs are. In grasping all these things, he may, of course, err in his judgments concerning the role various external events and materials play in the structure of his action.
A definite mode of behavior is an action only if these distinctions are present in the mind of the man concerned.
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