1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

The Ludwig von Mises Institute

Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

Advancing the scholarship of liberty in the tradition of the Austrian School

Search Mises.org

Chapter 4&5: The Negation of Value; Determinism and Its Critics

IN DEALING with judgments of value we have looked upon them as ultimate data not liable to any reduction to other data. We do not contend that judgments of value as they are uttered by men and used as guides to action are primary facts independent of all the other conditions of the universe. Such an assumption would be preposterous. Man is a part of the universe, he is the product of the forces operating in it, and all his thoughts and actions are, like the stars, the atoms, and the animals, elements of nature. They are embedded in the inexorable concatenation of all phenomena and events.

Saying that judgments of value are ultimately given facts means that the human mind is unable to trace them back to those facts and happenings with which the natural sciences deal. We do not know why and how definite conditions of the external world arouse in a human mind a definite reaction. We do not know why different people and the same people at various instants of their lives react differently to the same external stimuli. We cannot discover the necessary connection between an external event and the ideas it produces within the human mind.

To clarify this issue we must now analyze the doctrines supporting the contrary opinion. We must deal with all varieties of materialism.

p. 69



1. Determinism

WHATEVER the true nature of the universe and of reality may be, man can learn about it only what the logical structure of his mind makes comprehensible to him. Reason, the sole instrument of human science and philosophy, does not convey absolute knowledge and final wisdom. It is vain to speculate about ultimate things. What appears to man's inquiry as an ultimate given, defying further analysis and reduction to something more fundamental, may or may not appear such to a more perfect intellect. We do not know.

Man cannot grasp either the concept of absolute nothingness or that of the genesis of something out of nothing. The very idea of creation transcends his comprehension. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom Pascal in his Memorial opposed to that of the "philosophes et savants," is a living image and has a clear and definite meaning for the faithful believer. But the philosophers in their endeavors to construct a concept of God, his attributes, and his conduct of world affairs, became involved in insoluble contradictions and paradoxes. A God whose essence and ways of acting mortal man could neatly circumscribe and define would not resemble the God of the prophets, the saints, and the mystics.

p. 73

The logical structure of his mind enjoins upon man determinism and the category of causality. As man sees it, whatever happens in the universe is the necessary evolution of forces, powers, and qualities which were already present in the initial stage of the X out of which all things stem. All things in the universe are interconnected, and all changes are the effects of powers inherent in things. No change occurs that would not be the necessary consequence of the preceding state. All facts are dependent upon and conditioned by their causes. No deviation from the necessary course of affairs is possible. Eternal law regulates everything.

In this sense determinism is the epistemological basis of the human search for knowledge. [1] Man cannot even conceive the image of an undetermined universe. In such a world there could not be any awareness of material things and their changes. It would appear a senseless chaos. Nothing could be identified and distinguished from anything else. Nothing could be expected and predicted. In the midst of such an environment man would be as helpless as if spoken to in an unknown language. No action could be designed, still less put into execution. Man is what he is because he lives in a world of regularity and has the mental power to conceive the relation of cause and effect.

Any epistemological speculation must lead toward determinism. But the acceptance of determinism raises some theoretical difficulties that have seemed to be insoluble.

[1]. "La science est deterministe; elle l?est a priori; elle postule le determinisme, parce que sans lui elle ne pourrait etre." Henri Poincare, Dernieres pensees (Paris, Flammarion, 1913), p. 244.

p. 74

While no philosophy has disproved determinism, there are some ideas that people have not been able to bring into agreement with it. Passionate attacks have been directed against it because people believed that it must ultimately result in absurdity.

2. The Negation of Ideological Factors

Many authors have assumed that determinism, fully implying consistent materialism, strictly denies that mental acts play any role in the course of events. Causation, in the context of the doctrine so understood, means mechanical causation. All changes are brought about by material entities, processes, and events. Ideas are just intermediary stages in the process through which a material factor produces a definite material effect. They have no autonomous existence. They merely mirror the state of the material entities that begot them. There is no history of ideas and of actions directed by them, only a history of the evolution of the real factors that engender ideas.

From the point of view of this integral materialism, the only consistent materialist doctrine, the customary methods of historians and biographers are to be rejected as idealistic nonsense. It is vain to search for the development of certain ideas out of other previously held ideas. For example, it is ?unscientific? to describe how the philosophical ideas of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries evolved out of those of the sixteenth century. ?Scientific? history would have to describe how out of the real ---physical and biological--- conditions

p. 75

of each age its philosophical tenets necessarily spring. It is "unscientific" to describe as a mental process the evolution of Saint Augustine's ideas that led him from Cicero to Manichaeus and from Manichaeism to Catholicism. The "scientific" biographer would have to reveal the physiological processes that necessarily resulted in the corresponding philosophical doctrines.

The examination of materialism is a task to be left to the following chapters. At this point it is enough to establish the fact that determinism in itself does not imply any concessions to the materialist standpoint. It does not negate the obvious truth that ideas have an existence of their own, contribute to the emergence of other ideas, and influence one another. It does not deny mental causation and does not reject history as a metaphysical and idealistic illusion.

3. The Free-Will Controversy

Man chooses between modes of action incompatible with one another. Such decisions, says the free-will doctrine, are basically undetermined and uncaused; they are not the inevitable outcome of antecedent conditions. They are rather the display of man's inmost disposition, the manifestation of his indelible moral freedom. This moral liberty is the essential characteristic of man, raising him to a unique position in the universe.

Determinists reject this doctrine as illusory. Man, they say, deceives himself in believing that he chooses. Something unknown to the individual directs his will. He thinks that he weighs in his mind the pros and cons

p. 76

of the alternatives left to his choice and then makes a decision. He fails to realize that the antecedent state of things enjoins on him a definite line of conduct and that there is no means to elude this pressure. Man does not act, he is acted upon.

Both doctrines neglect to pay due attention to the role of ideas. The choices a man makes are determined by the ideas that he adopts.

The determinists are right in asserting that everything that happens is the necessary sequel of the preceding state of things. What a man does at any instant of his life is entirely dependent on his past, that is, on his physiological inheritance as well as of all he went through in his previous days. Yet the significance of this thesis is considerably weakened by the fact that nothing is known about the way in which ideas arise. Determinism is untenable if based upon or connected with the materialist dogma.[1] If advanced without the support of materialism, it says little indeed and certainly does not sustain the determinists' rejection of the methods of history.

The free-will doctrine is correct in pointing out the fundamental difference between human action and animal behavior. While the animal cannot help yielding to the physiological impulse which prevails at the moment, man chooses between alternative modes of conduct. Man has the power to choose even between yielding to the most imperative instinct, that of self-preservation, and the aiming at other ends. All the sarcasms and sneers of the positivists cannot annul the fact that ideas

[1]. See below, pp. 94-9.

p. 77

have a real existence and are genuine factors in shaping the course of events.

The offshoots of human mental efforts, the ideas and the judgments of value that direct the individuals' actions, cannot be traced back to their causes, and are in this sense ultimate data. In dealing with them we refer to the concept of individuality. But in resorting to this notion we by no means imply that ideas and judgments of value spring out of nothing by a sort of spontaneous generation and are in no way connected and related to what was already in the universe before their appearance. We merely establish the fact that we do not know anything about the mental process which produces within a human being the thoughts that respond to the state of his physical and ideological environment.

This cognition is the grain of truth in the free-will doctrine. However, the passionate attempts to refute determinism and to salvage the notion of free will did not concern the problem of individuality. They were prompted by the practical consequences to which, as people believed, determinism inevitably leads: fatalist quietism and absolution from moral responsibility.

4. Foreordination and Fatalism

As theologians teach, God in his omniscience knows in advance all the things that will happen in the universe for all time to come. His foresight is unlimited and is not merely the result of his knowledge of the laws of becoming that determine all events. Even in a universe in which there is free will, whatever this may be, his

p. 78

precognition is perfect. He anticipates fully and correctly all the arbitrary decisions any individual will ever make.

Laplace proudly declared that his system does not need to resort to the hypothesis of God's existence. But he constructed his own image of a quasi God and called it superhuman intelligence. This hypothetical mind knows all things and events beforehand, but only because it is familiar with all the immutable and eternal laws regulating all occurrences, mental as well as physical.

The idea of God's omniscience has been popularly pictured as a book in which all future things are recorded No deviation from the lines described in this register is possible. All things will turn out precisely as written in it. What must happen will happen no matter what mortal man may undertake to bring about a different result. Hence, consistent fatalism concluded, it is useless for man to act. Why bother if everything must finally come to a preordained end?

Fatalism is so contrary to human nature that few people were prepared to draw all the conclusions to which it leads and to adjust their conduct accordingly. It is a fable that the victories of the Arabian conquerors in the first centuries of Islam were due to the fatalist teachings of Mohammed. The leaders of the Moslem armies which within an unbelievably short time conquered a great part of the Mediterranean area did not put a fatalistic confidence in Allah. Rather they believed that their God was for the big, well-equipped, and skill-fully led battalions. Other reasons than blind trust in

p. 79

fate account for the courage of the Saracen warriors; and the Christians in the forces of Charles Martel and Leo the Isaurian who stopped their advance were no less courageous than the Moslems although fatalism had no hold on their minds. Nor was the lethargy which spread later among the Islamitic peoples caused by the fatalism of their religion. It was despotism that paralyzed the initiative of the subjects. The harsh tyrants who oppressed the masses were certainly not lethargic and apathetic. They were indefatigable in their quest for power, riches, and pleasures.

Soothsayers have claimed to have reliable knowledge of some pages at least of the great book in which all coming events are recorded. But none of these prophets was consistent enough to reject activism and to advise his disciples to wait quietly for the day of fulfillment.

The best illustration is provided by Marxism. It teaches perfect foreordination, yet still aims to inflame people with revolutionary spirit. What is the use of revolutionary action if events must inevitably turn out according to a preordained plan, whatever men may do? Why are the Marxians so busy organizing socialist parties and sabotaging the operation of the market economy if socialism is bound to come anyway with the inexorability of a law of nature"? It is a lame excuse indeed to declare that the task of a socialist party is not to bring about socialism but merely to provide obstetrical assistance at its birth. The obstetrician too diverts the course of events from the way they would run without his intervention. Otherwise expectant mothers would not request his aid. Yet the essential teaching of

p. 80

Marxian dialectic materialism precludes the assumption that any political or ideological fact could influence the course of historical events, since the latter are substantially determined by the evolution of the material productive forces. What brings about socialism is the "operation of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself."[1] Ideas, political parties, and revolutionary actions are merely superstructural; they can neither delay nor accelerate the march of history. Socialism will come when the material conditions for its appearance have matured in the womb of capitalist society, neither sooner nor later.[2] If Marx had been consistent, he would not have embarked upon any political activity.[3] He would have quietly waited for the day on which the "knell of private capitalist property sounds."[4]

In dealing with fatalism we may ignore the claims of soothsayers. Determinism has nothing at all to do with the art of fortune tellers, crystal gazers, and astrologers or with the more pretentious effusions of the authors of "philosophies of history." It does not predict future events. It asserts that there is regularity in the universe in the concatenation of all phenomena.

Those theologians who thought that in order to refute fatalism they must adopt the free-will doctrine were

[1]. Marx, Das Kapital (7th ed. Hamburg, 1914), 1, 728.

[2]. Cf. below pp. 107 and 128.

[3]. Neither would he have written the often quoted eleventh aphorism on Feuerbach: ?The philosophers have only provided different interpretations of the world, but what matters is to change it.? According to the teachings of dialectical materialism only the evolution of the material productive forces, not the philosophers, can change the world.

[4]. Marx, Das Kapital, as quoted above.

p. 81

badly mistaken. They had a very defective image of God's omniscience. Their God would know only what is in perfect textbooks of the natural sciences; he would not know what is going on in human minds. He would not anticipate that some people might endorse the doctrine of fatalism and, sitting with clasped hands, indolently await the events which God, erroneously assuming that they would not indulge in inactivity, had meted out to them.

5. Determinism and Penology

A factor that often entered the controversies concerning determinism was misapprehension as to its practical consequences.

All nonutilitarian systems of ethics look upon the moral law as something outside the nexus of means and ends. The moral code has no reference to human well-being and happiness, to expediency, and to the mundane striving after ends. It is heteronomous, i.e., enjoined upon man by an agency that does not depend on human ideas and does not bother about human concerns. Some believe that this agency is God, others that it is the wisdom of the forefathers, some that it is a mystical inner voice alive in every decent man's conscience. He who violates the precepts of this code commits a sin, and his guilt makes him liable to punishment. Punishment does not serve human ends. In punishing offenders, the secular or theocratic authorities acquit themselves of a duty entrusted to them by the moral code and its author. They are bound to punish sin and

p. 82

guilt whatever the consequences of their action may be.

Now these metaphysical notions of guilt, sin, and retribution are incompatible with the doctrine of determinism. If all human actions are the inevitable effect of their causes, if the individual cannot help acting in the way antecedent conditions make him act, there can no longer be any question of guilt. What a haughty presumption to punish a man who simply did what the eternal laws of the universe had determined!

The philosophers and lawyers who attacked determinism on these grounds failed to see that the doctrine of an almighty and omniscient God led to the same conclusions that moved them to reject philosophical determinism. If God is almighty, nothing can happen that he does not want to happen. If he is omniscient, he knows in advance all things that will happen. In either case, man cannot be considered answerable.[1] The young Benjamin Franklin argued "from the supposed attributes of God" in this manner: "That in erecting and governing the world, as he was infinitely wise, he knew what would be best; infinitely good, he must be disposed; and infinitely powerful, he must be able to execute it. Consequently all is right."[2] In fact, all attempts

[1]. See Fritz Mauthner, Worterbuch der Philosophie (2d ed. Leipzig, 1923), 1, 462-7.

[2]. Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (New York, A. L. Burt, n.d.), pp. 73-4. Franklin very soon gave up this reasoning. He declared: ?The great uncertainty I found in metaphysical reasonings disgusted me, and I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more satisfactory.? In the posthumous papers of Franz Brentano a rather unconvincing refutation of Franklin?s flash of thought was found. It was published by Oskar Kraus in his edition of Brentano?s Vom Ursprung sittlicher Erkenninis (Leipzig, 1921), pp. 91-5.

p. 83

to justify, on metaphysical and theological grounds, society's right to punish those whose actions jeopardize peaceful social cooperation are open to the same criticism that is leveled against philosophical determinism.

Utilitarian ethics approaches the problem of punishment from a different angle. The offender is not punished because he is bad and deserves chastisement but so that neither he nor other people will repeat the offense. Punishment is not inflicted as retribution and retaliation but as a means to prevent future crimes. Legislators and judges are not the mandataries of a metaphysical retributive justice. They are committed to the task of safeguarding the smooth operation of society against encroachments on the part of antisocial individuals. Hence it is possible to deal with the problem of determinism without being troubled by inane considerations of practical consequences concerning the penal code.

6. Determinism and Statistics

In the nineteenth century some thinkers maintained that statistics have irrefutably demolished the doctrine of free will. It was argued that statistics show a regularity in the occurrence of certain human acts, e.g., crimes and suicides; and this alleged regularity was interpreted by Adolphe Quetelet and by Thomas Henry Buckle as an empirical demonstration of the correctness of rigid determinism.

However, what the statistics of human actions really show is not regularity but irregularity. The number

p. 84

of crimes, suicides, and acts of forgetfulness-which play such a conspicuous role in Buckle's deductions-varies from year to year. These yearly changes are as a rule small, and over a period of years they often-but not always-show a definite trend toward either increase or decrease. These statistics are indicative of historical change, not of regularity in the sense which is attached to this term in the natural sciences.

The specific understanding of history can try to interpret the why of such changes effected in the past and to anticipate changes likely to happen in the future. In doing this it deals with judgments of value determining the choice of ultimate ends, with reasoning and knowledge determining the choice of means, and with thymological traits of individuals.[1] It must, sooner or later, but inevitably, reach a point at which it can only refer to individuality. From beginning to end the treatment of the problems involved is bound to follow the lines of every scrutiny of human affairs; it must be teleological and as such radically different from the methods of the natural sciences.

But Buckle, blinded by the positivist bigotry of his environment, was quick to formulate his law: ?In a given state of society a certain number of persons must put an end to their own life. This is the general law; and the special question as to who shall commit the crime depends of course upon special laws; which, however, in their total action must obey the large social law to which they are all subordinate. And the power of the larger law is so irresistible that neither the love of

[1]. On thymology see pp. 264 ff.

p. 85

life nor the fear of another world can avail anything towards even checking its operation."[2] Buckle's law seems to be very definite and unambiguous in its formulation. But in fact it defeats itself entirely by including the phrase "a given state of society," which even an enthusiastic admirer of Buckle termed "viciously vague."[3] As Buckle does not provide us with criteria for determining changes in the state of society, his formulation can be neither verified nor disproved by experience and thus lacks the distinctive mark of a law of the natural sciences.

Many years after Buckle, eminent physicists began to assume that certain or even all laws of mechanics may be "only" statistical in character. This doctrine was considered incompatible with determinism and causality. When later on quantum mechanics considerably enlarged the scope of "merely" statistical physics, many writers cast away all the epistemological principles that had guided the natural sciences for centuries. On the macroscopic scale, they say, we observe certain regularities which older generations erroneously interpreted as a manifestation of natural law. In fact, these regularities are the result of the statistical compensation of contingent events. The apparent causal arrangement on a large scale is to be explained by the law of large numbers.[4]

[2]. Buckle, Introduction to the History of Civilization in England, J. M. Robertson, ed. (London, G. Routledge; New York, E. P. Dutton, n. d.), ch.1 in 1, 15-16.

[3]. J. M. Robertson, Buckle and His Critics (London, 1895), p. 288.

[4]. John von Neumann, Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik (New York, 1943), pp. 172 ff.

p. 86

Now the law of large numbers and statistical compensation is operative only in fields in which there prevail large-scale regularity and homogeneity of such a character that they offset any irregularity and heterogeneity that may seem to exist on the small-scale level If one assumes that seemingly contingent events always compensate one another in such a way that a regularity appears in the repeated observation of large numbers of these events, one implies that these events follow a definite pattern and can therefore no longer be considered as contingent. What we mean in speaking of natural law is that there is a regularity in the concatenation and sequence of phenomena. If a set of events on the microscopic scale always produces a definite event on the macroscopic scale, such a regularity is present. If there were no regularity in the microscopic scale, no regularity could emerge on the macroscopic scale either.

Quantum mechanics deals with the fact that we do not know how an atom will behave in an individual instance. But we know what patterns of behavior can possibly occur and the proportion in which these patterns really occur. While the perfect form of a causal law is: A "produces" B, there is also a less perfect form: A "produces" C in n% of all cases, D in m% of all cases, and so on. Perhaps it will at a later day be possible to dissolve this A of the less perfect form into a number of disparate elements to each of which a definite "effect" will be assigned according to the perfect form. But whether this will happen or not is of no relevance for the problem of determinism. The imperfect law too is a

p. 87

causal law, although it discloses shortcomings in our knowledge. And because it is a display of a peculiar type both of knowledge and of ignorance, it opens a field for the employment of the calculus of probability. We know, with regard to a definite problem, all about the behavior of the whole class of events, we know that class A will produce definite effects in a known proportion; but all we know about the individual A?s is that they are members of the A class. The mathematical formulation of this mixture of knowledge and ignorance is We know the probability of the various effects that can possibly be "produced" by an individual A.

What the neo-indeterminist school of physics fails to see is that the proposition: A produces B in n% of the cases and C in the rest of the cases is, epistemologically, not different from the proposition: A always produces B. The former proposition differs from the latter only in combining in its notion of A two elements, X and Y, which the perfect form of a causal law would have to distinguish. But no question of contingency is raised. Quantum mechanics does not say: The individual atoms behave like customers choosing dishes in a restaurant or voters casting their ballots. It says: The atoms invariably follow a definite pattern. This is also manifested in the fact that what it predicates about atoms contains no reference either to a definite period of time or to a definite location within the universe. One could not deal with the behavior of atoms in general, that is, without reference to time and space, if the individual atom were not inevitably and fully ruled by natural law. We are free to use the term "individual" atom, but we

p. 88

must never ascribe to an individual" atom individuality in the sense in which this term is applied to men and to historical events.

In the field of human action the determinist philosophers referred to statistics in order to refute the doctrine of free will and to prove determinism in the acts of man. In the field of physics the neo-indeterminist philosophers refer to statistics in order to refute the doctrine of determinism and to prove indeterminism in nature. The error of both sides arises from confusion as to the meaning of statistics.

In the field of human action statistics is a method of historical research. It is a description in numerical terms of historical events that happened in a definite period of time with definite groups of people in a definite geographical area. Its meaning consists precisely in the fact that it describes changes, not something unchanging.

In the field of nature statistics is a method of inductive research. Its epistemological justification and its meaning lie in the firm belief that there are regularity and perfect determinism in nature. The laws of nature are considered perennial. They are fully operative in each instance. What happens in one case must also happen in all other like cases. Therefore the information conveyed by statistical material has general validity with regard to the classes of phenomena to which it refers; it does not concern only definite periods of history and definite geographical sites.

Unfortunately the two entirely different categories of statistics have been confused. And the matter has

p. 89

been still further tangled by jumbling it together with the notion of probability.

To unravel this imbroglio of errors, misunderstanding, and contradictions let us emphasize some truisms.

It is impossible, as has been pointed out above, for the human mind to think of any event as uncaused. The concepts of chance and contingency, if properly analyzed, do not refer ultimately to the course of events in the universe. They refer to human knowledge, prevision, and action. They have a praxeological, not an ontological connotation.

Calling an event contingent is not to deny that it is the necessary outcome of the preceding state of affairs. It means that we mortal men do not know whether or not it will happen.

Our notion of nature refers to an ascertainable, permanent regularity in the concatenation and sequence of phenomena. Whatever happens in nature and can be conceived by the natural sciences is the outcome of the operation, repeated and repeated again, of the same laws. Natural science means the cognition of these laws. The historical sciences of human action, on the other hand, deal with events which our mental faculties cannot interpret as a manifestation of a general law. They deal with individual men and individual events even in dealing with the affairs of masses, peoples, races, and the whole of mankind. They deal with individuality and with an irreversible flux of events. If the natural sciences scrutinize an event that happened but once, such as a geological change or the biological evolution of a species, they look upon it as an instance of the operation

p. 90

of general laws. But history is not in a position to trace events back to the operation of perennial laws. Therefore in dealing with an event it is primarily interested not in the features such an event may have in common with other events but in its individual characteristics. In dealing with the assassination of Caesar history does not study murder but the murder of the man Caesar.

The very notion of a natural law whose validity is restricted to a definite period of time is self-contradictory. Experience, whether that of mundane observation as made in daily life or that of deliberately prearranged experiments, refers to individual historical cases. But the natural sciences, guided by their indispensable aprioristic determinism, assume that the law must manifest itself in every individual case, and generalize by what is called inductive inference.

The present epistemological situation in the field of quantum mechanics would be correctly described by the statement: We know the various patterns according to which atoms behave and we know the proportion in which each of these patterns becomes actual. This would describe the state of our knowledge as an instance of class probability: We know all about the behavior of the whole class; about the behavior of the individual members of the class we know only that they are members.[5] It is inexpedient and misleading to apply to the problems concerned terms used in dealing with human action. Bertrand Russell resorts to such figurative speech: the atom "will do" something, there is

[5]. On the distinction between class probability and case probability, see Mises, Human Action, pp. 107-13.

p. 91

"a definite set of alternatives open to it, and it chooses sometimes one, sometimes another."[6] The reason Lord Russell chooses such inappropriate terms becomes obvious if we take into account the tendency of his book and of all his other writings. He wants to obliterate the difference between acting man and human action on the one hand and nonhuman events on the other hand. In his eyes "the difference between us and a stone is only one of degree"; for "we react to stimuli, and so do stones, though the stimuli to which they react are fewer."[7] Lord Russell omits to mention the fundamental difference in the way stones and men "react." Stones react according to a perennial pattern, which we call a law of nature. Men do not react in such a uniform way; they behave, as both praxeologists and historians say, in an individual way. Nobody has ever succeeded in assigning various men to classes each member of which behaves according to the same pattern.

7. The Autonomy of the Sciences of Human Action

The phraseology employed in the old antagonism of determinism and indeterminism is inappropriate. It does not correctly describe the substance of the controversy.

The search for knowledge is always concerned with the concatenation of events and the cognition of the factors producing change. In this sense both the natural sciences and the sciences of human action are committed to the category of causality and to determinism.

[6]. Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science, Home University Library (London, Oxford University Press, 1936), pp. 152-8.

[7]. Ibid., p. 131.

p. 92

No action can ever succeed if not guided by a true in the sense of pragmatism-insight into what is commonly called a relation of cause and effect. The fundamental category of action, viz., means and ends, presupposes the category of cause and effect.

What the sciences of human action must reject is not determinism but the positivistic and panphysicalistic distortion of determinism. They stress the fact that ideas determine human action and that at least in the present state of human science it is impossible to reduce the emergence and the transformation of ideas to physical, chemical, or biological factors. It is this impossibility that constitutes the autonomy of the sciences of human action. Perhaps natural science will one day be in a position to describe the physical, chemical, and biological events. which in the body of the man Newton necessarily and inevitably produced the theory of gravitation. In the meantime, we must be content with the study of the history of ideas as a part of the sciences of human action.

The sciences of human action by no means reject determinism. The objective of history is to bring out in full relief the factors that were operative in producing a definite event. History is entirely guided by the category of cause and effect. In retrospect, there is no question of contingency. The notion of contingency as employed in dealing with human action always refers to man's uncertainty about the future and the limitations of the specific historical understanding of future events. It refers to a limitation of the human search for knowledge, not to a condition of the universe or of some of its parts.

p. 93

Previous Page * Next Page

Table of Contents