Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Praxeology and Psychoanalysis

As stated by Mises, in Chapter 1 of Human Action:
“The theme of praxeology is action as such. This also settles the relation of praxeology to the psychoanalytical concept of the subconscious. Psychoanalysis too is psychology and does not investigate action but the forces and factors that impel a man toward a definite action. The psychoanalytical subconscious is a psychological and not a praxeological category. Whether an action stems from clear deliberation, or from forgotten memories and suppressed desires which from submerged regions, as it were, direct the will, does not influence the nature of the action. The murderer whom a subconscious urge (the Id) drives toward his crime and the neurotic whose aberrant behavior seems to be simply meaningless to an untrained observer both act; they like anybody else are aiming at certain ends. It is the merit of psychoanalysis that it has demonstrated that even the behavior of neurotics and psychopaths is meaningful, that they too act and aim at ends, although we who consider ourselves normal and sane call the reasoning determining their choice of ends nonsensical and the means they choose for the attainment of these ends contrary to purpose.

The term ‘unconscious’ as used by praxeology and the terms ‘subconscious’ and ‘unconscious’ as applied by psychoanalysis belong to two different systems of thought and research. Praxeology no less than other branches of knowledge owes much to psychoanalysis. The more necessary is it then to become aware of the line which separates praxeology from psychoanalysis.” (Mises 2008: 12).
What was that?

Despite an attempt to separate praxeology from psychoanalysis, Mises says that praxeology owes much to Freudian pseudoscience? That should come as a great surprise to people who insist that Human Action is one of the greatest economic books ever written.

Of course, one can counter that, ultimately, maybe Mises’s implicit ideas about psychology can be stripped of any questionable Freudian elements, and made to conform with modern psychology, without harm to his fundamental economic ideas. Perhaps. After all, wasn’t Keynes also partial to aspects of Freudian psychoanalysis? (the answer to which is: yes, partly).

But the fact remains that praxeology is said by Mises, in the fundamental first Chapter of Human Action, to “owe much” to Freudian psychoanalysis. That requires a clarification from Austrians about how this does not render Mises’s underlying psychology suspect.

Mises, L. 2008. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. The Scholar’s Edition. Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.


  1. I think that psychoanalysis is pretty much correct in its Lacanian manifestation which clears away all the more fantastic elements of Freudian theory but retains the basic structure.

    Any psychology can be criticised as pseudo-science. We've known since the 1960s that psychiatry is a largely arbitrary discipline with arbitrary catagories. The reason, I think, that there is currently such a vehement attack on psychoanalysis is because modern psychoanalysis recognises that psychology is not and cannot be a science. Indeed, most modern psychoanalysts would not actually classify psychoanalysis as a psychology at all.

    As to its relation to Mises, I have no idea. But the modern criticisms of psychoanalysis are usually either groundless or strawmen arguments.

    1. If Lacan's psychoanalysis was purged of its Freudian errors, well, that it is obviously a different argument.

      But I think my point is still valid. If Mises thought praxeology "owed much” to Freudian psychoanalysis, then Austrians have some explaining to do about the worth of the psychology underlying "Human Action".

    2. Well, they're not really errors as such. Lacan was mainly clarifying.

      Example: people often say that Freud's ideas about people's sexual desires towards parents is obviously absurd. Lacan, drawing on the new work being done in anthropology (in the 1950s), points out that this is actually related to the incest taboo. What Freud was calling an Oedipus complex was actually being found in a variety of different forms by anthropologists who insisted that the taboo was the primary requirement for the establishment of a society. Lacan then argued that the Oedipus complex was the individual psychological manifestation of this broader societal phenomenon. Thus neuroticism was to be seen, in a way, as a failure to properly establish a proper place within the social order.

      My point is that I think the structure of Freudian psychoanalysis is correct. The problem was that Freud lacked the tools to explain what he was doing because these tools (structural linguistics and structural anthropology) were only discovered later.

      Besides most of the so-called criticisms of Freudian psychoanalysis are just ad hominems about Freud's early use of cocaine or affairs he had with his wife's sister. The ones with any substance are usually just misunderstandings and can be cleared up. But there's a culture of Freud-bashing that has grown up so the debate is stifled. You're partaking in this too LK when you use the term "pseudoscience" to describe something which I suspect you have not made much of an effort to understand.

  2. "Freud" doesn't appear in that passage.

    Associating all psychoanalysis with Freud is like associating all toxicology with Paracelsus.

    1. If you mean by this that Mises wasn't thinking of Freudian-inspired psychoanalysis, then you are wrong:


  3. Finally got around to commenting on this properly: