Chapter 3. On the choise

The first to make human behavior the subject of reflection in the sphere of economic sciences was Ludwig von Mises, author of the fundamental work entitled: “Human Action. A Treatise on Economics” (Mises 1996). At the very beginning (p. 11-12), the author described exactly the subject of his research, stating, among other things: “Human action is purposeful behavior. Or we may say: Action is will put into operation and transformed into an agency, is aiming at ends and goals, is the ego’s meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its environment, is a person’s conscious adjustment to the state of the universe that determines his life. (…) The field of our science is human action, not the psychological events which result in an action. (…) The theme of praxeology is action as such. (…) He who only wishes and hopes does not interfere actively with the course of events and with the shaping of his own destiny. But acting man chooses, determines, and tries to reach an end. Of two things both of which he cannot have together he selects one and gives up the other. Action therefore always involves both taking and renunciation.”

This argument is further supplemented by the statement (ibid., p.13) that “to do nothing and to be idle are also action, they too determine the course of events. Action is not only doing but no less omitting to do what possibly could be done.”

For Mises, an action defined in this way is a phenomenon given ultimately, i.e. one that cannot be derived from other reasons.

Mises is obviously right that one cannot directly observe the act of choice itself, but only the action that results from it. This does not mean, however, that the logical structure of the elements of which such an act of choice is composed cannot be examined. It is also possible to determine the influence of each of these elements on observable human behavior. This logical structure has nothing to do with the psychological events from which Mises consciously cuts himself off. Instead, it allows to understand human behavior and to draw the right conclusions.

For this reason, we begin our considerations with an act of choice, treating it as an elementary event, or, to use the Mises’ term, an ultimate given, which can no longer be reduced to simpler events. Not taking into account the stage at which the goal and the way of achieving it is chosen, and going straight to the considerations of human action, as Mises does, impoverishes our knowledge of man and leads astray. Nota bene, beginning with reflections on the choice, we follow the thesis of Mises himself expressed in the introduction to his work, where he stated (Mises 1996, p. 3): “No treatment of economic problems proper can avoid starting from acts of choice; […]”. The reasons for the lack of consistency of the author of Human Action, who after this statement started his work with considerations about action, remain an unexplained mystery.

The considerations presented in this chapter and their conclusions are one of the most important pillars of  my approach to personalist economics.


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