Mises and Philosophical Minimalism
Mises often answers attacks on praxeology with a “minimalist” strategy. By this I mean that he denies that praxeology rests on controversial philosophical positions. By avoiding philosophical disputes, he tries to stay out of trouble he doesn’t need. He says, in effect, “We have an a priori grasp of the concept of action, and we can deduce various truths that follow from this concept. We also know that this concept applies to reality—actions exist. That’s all we need.” In what follows, I’ll give some examples of how Mises follows this strategy. It’s a hard strategy to follow, and Mises sometimes does take stands on disputed philosophical issues.
One objection to praxeology is this. Mises says there are a priori truths about action. We can discover the formal structure of all actions just by thinking about the concept of action. But what if our actions are determined by material forces, not by an independent realm of thoughts? To clear a space for praxeology, don’t we have to show that this claim about the way our actions are determined is false?
Mises says that we don’t. He supports what he calls “methodological dualism.” He says,
Various doctrines have been advanced to explain the relation between mind and body. They are mere surmises without any reference to observed facts. All that can be said with certainty is that there are relations between mental and physiological processes. With regard to the nature and operation of this connection we know little if anything.
Concrete value judgments and definite human actions are not open to further analysis. We may fairly assume or believe that they are absolutely dependent upon and conditioned by their causes. But as lon
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