Freeman

ARTICLE

Praxeology

SEPTEMBER 01, 1981 by LUDWIG VON MISES

It is no longer possible to define neatly the boundaries between the kind of action which is the proper field of economic science in the narrower sense, and other action.

Acting man is always concerned with both “material” and “ideal” things. He chooses between alternatives. No matter whether they are to be classified as material or ideal.

The general theory of choice is much more than merely a theory of the “economic side” of human endeavors and of man’s striving for commodities and an improvement in his material well-being. It is the science of every kind of human action. Choosing determines all human decisions.

Out of the political economy of the classical school emerges the general theory of human action, praxeology.[1] The economic or catallactic[2] problems are imbedded in a more general science, and can no longer be severed from this connection. No treatment of economic problems proper can avoid starting from acts of choice; economics becomes a part, although the hitherto best elaborated part, of a more universal science, praxeology.

Praxeology—and consequently economics too—is a deductive system. It draws its strength from the starting point of its deductions, from the category of action. No economic theorem can be considered sound that is not solidly fastened upon this foundation by an irrefutable chain of reasoning. A statement proclaimed without such a connection is arbitrary and floats in midair. It is impossible to deal with a special segment of economics if one does not encase it in a complete system of action.

The empirical sciences start from singular events and proceed from the unique and individual to the more universal. Their treatment is subject to specialization. They can deal with segments without paying attention to the whole field. The economist must never be a specialist. In dealing with any problem he must always fix his glance upon the whole system.

In speaking of the laws of nature we have in mind the fact that there prevails an inexorable interconnectedness of physical and biological phenomena and that acting man must submit to this regularity if he wants to succeed. In speaking of the laws of human action we refer to the fact that such an inexorable inter-connectedness of phenomena is present also in the field of human action as such and that acting man must recognize this regularity too if he wants to succeed.

In physics we are faced with changes occurring in various sense phenomena. We discover a regularity in the sequence of these changes and these observations lead us to the construction of a science of physics.

In praxeology the first fact we know is that men are purposively intent upon bringing about some changes. It is this knowledge that integrates the subject matter of praxeology and differentiates it from the subject matter of the natural sciences. We know the forces behind the changes, and this aprioristic knowledge leads us to a cognition of the praxeological process. The physicist does not know what electricity “is.” He knows only phenomena attributed to something called electricity. But the economist knows what actuates the market process. It is only thanks to this knowledge that he is in a position to distinguish market phenomena from other phenomena and to describe the market process.

Praxeology is a theoretical and systematic, not a historical, science. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts.

The teachings of praxeology and economics are valid for every human action without regard to its underlying motives, causes, and goals. The ultimate judgments of value and the ultimate ends of human action are given for any kind of scientific inquiry; they are not open to any further analysis. Praxeology deals with the ways and means chosen for the attainment of such ultimate ends. Its object is means, not ends. The only standard which it applies is whether or not the means chosen are fit for the attainment of the ends aimed at.

Only the insane venture to disregard physical and biological laws. But it is quite common to disdain praxeological laws. Rulers do not like to admit that their power is restricted by any laws other than those of physics and biology. They never ascribe their failures and frustrations to the violation of economic law.


1.   The term praxeology was first used in 1890 by Espinas in “Les Origines de la technologie,” Revue Philosophique, XVth year, XXX, 114-15.

2.   The term Catallactics or the Science of Exchanges was first used by Whately. Cf. his book Introductory Lectures on Political Economy (London, 1831), p. 6.

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September 1981

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