“Mises gives a Kantian answer to the question of how the a priori character of praxeological knowledge and its apodictic certainty is to be explained. This knowledge apparently can be reduced to the logical structure of the human mind which is supposed to be the basis for thought and action. ... On the one hand he seems to suggest that he is introducing with his principle of action a synthetic a priori proposition, as he ascribes informational content to the principle. On the other hand, he declares the question of whether the respective propositions are synthetic or analytic to be purely verbal and therefore uninteresting. This seems to show that he was not aware of the connection between analyticity and informational vacuity. He permanently compares his allegedly a priori knowledge with logical and mathematical knowledge and gives such a description of the respective propositions and their mode of derivation that one comes to suspect them to be analytic. He confounds the analytical character of propositions with the logical character of the relationships between propositions in a deduction. But the fact that particular propositions are deducible from particular sets of premises does not render them analytic. For instance, in physics propositions from geometry get an empirical interpretation, and, interpreted in this way, they are synthetic. But propositions which are the result of the ‘logical unfolding’ of certain concepts contain no information. They are analytic not because they are derived, but because they follow from definitions which do not carry information themselves. When Mises tells us that the concept of money already implies all theorems of the theory of money, the alleged certainty of the basis of this derivation does not help him to establish a nonvacuous economic theory. The theory of money as he envisages it here would be without informational content and could not be used to explain anything.” (Albert 1999: 131–132).That is a rather serious error. Another criticism of Human Action was pointed out a long time ago by G. J. Schuller:
“Acceptance of Mises’ stated axioms does not necessarily imply acceptance of the ‘principles’ or ‘applications to reality’ which he has drawn from them, even though his logic may be impeccable. When a logical chain grows beyond the limits set by stated assumptions, it uses unstated assumptions. The number of unstated assumptions (axioms, postulates, or other) in Human Action is enormous. If Mises denies this, let him try to rewrite his book as a set of numbered axioms, postulates, and syllogistic inferences using, say, Russell’s Principia or, closer home, Von Neumann’s Theory of Games as a model” (Schuller 1951: 188).As it happens, Mises seems to have conceded this:
“Every theorem of praxeology is deduced by logical reasoning from the category of action. It partakes of the apodictic certainty provided by logical reasoning that starts from an a priori category. Into the chain of praxeological reasoning the praxeologist introduces certain assumptions concerning the conditions of the environment in which an action takes place. Then he tries to find out how these special conditions affect the result to which his reasoning must lead. The question whether or not the real conditions of the external world correspond to these assumptions is to be answered by experience. But if the answer is in the affirmative, all the conclusions drawn by logically correct praxeological reasoning strictly describe what is going on in reality” (Mises 1978: 44).This concession makes a nonsense of Mises’s assertion that “Every theorem of praxeology is deduced by logical reasoning from the category of action. It partakes of the apodictic certainty provided by logical reasoning that starts from an a priori category.” If there is even some small doubt about the truth of the synthetic stated and hidden assumptions or premises in praxeological arguments, then the apodictic certainty of the inferences vanishes like a puff of smoke.
Albert, H. 1999. Between Social Science, Religion and Politics: Essays in Critical Rationalism, Rodopi, Amsterdam.
Mises, L. 1978 . The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science: An Essay on Method (2nd edn), Sheed Andrews & McMeel, Kansas City.
Schuller, G. J. 1951. “Mises’ ‘Human Action’: Rejoinder,” American Economic Review 41.1: 185–190.