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Mises' Praxeology As The Failure To Develop Economic Operationalism


[I] have been working to reform anarcho capitalist arguments by translating them from troublesome Kantian rationalism, into the transparent common language of science: ratio-empiricism. And, at least for the past few months, I’ve been struggling to develop a narrative structure that would allow me to easily demonstrate the solution to the promise of praxeology as a failed version of the same problems addressed by Intuitionism, Operationalism and Constructivism in mathematics and science.

Mises’ work was another example of the multi-disciplinary failure to provide a solution to the common intuition that there is a problem with science and mathematics, and our application of science and math to other fields – particularly to economics and ethics. That is the conclusion that I have come to – it’s the logical positioning of Mises’ praxeology in the development of 20th century thought – albeit he was even less successful in economics than peers were in physics, math, logic and psychology. They were able to identify the solution but not able to convince peers to implement it, because it was burdensome.

This narrative, positioning Misesian thought as a failed attempt at Operationalism in human cooperation, provides a vehicle whereby I can describe Misesian arguments in the same context as those in physics, psychology, logic and mathematics. All of them as failed experiments in operationalism only because the authors did not and possibly could not look across disciplines and discover that they were merely adding or removing the properties desirable or not for their field of inquiry – but that while they were seeking a logical solution, that they were all making similar arguments – ethical arguments: And that the problem they intuited, that Poincaré criticized them for, was an ethical one: recreating mysticism through the use of verbalism to obscure causality that they did not understand.

All the major disciplines went through a somewhat failed transformation and only psychology, which was most in need of reformation, fully adopted operationalism as “operationism”. And the result was a wealth of research in experimental psychology and the success of experimental psychology versus the pseudoscience that dominated the field before hand.

[W]hy is this important? Because the requirements for construction and operational language, are not only logical but ethical. And while ethics has limited place in mathematical principles, and physical laws, it has a great significance to the promise that one is advocating a truth in mathematical and physical propositions – and therefore not ‘polluting’ the intellectual domain with fallacies that might impact others’ work. But in the logic of cooperation we call ethics it is inseparable both from the promise that one is advocating a truth AND in the articulation of its principles and the laws that enforce those principles.

If we had discovered operationalism in ethics first, then perhaps, we would have had an easier time justifying the additional burden that operationalism places upon physics, science, psychology math and logic – and we might have saved a century of pseudoscientific inquiry, just as Bridgman worried; and just as we have seen in a century of fallacious and immoral economics. As Bridgman noted, the only reason Einstein was innovative, was because he operationalized the problem of measurement of bodies – something that had we done earlier would have saved a generation or more of wasted effort in science – just as we have wasted a generation or more in the pursuit of a logic of cooperation leading to liberty.

The issue for us, in economics, politics and in ethics, is that the problem of arbitrary precision in the construction of general rules – hypothesis, theories and laws – affects only the precision of economic laws in time, but not our ability to state those laws. However, unlike say, mathematics or logic, we never run into decidability in the logic of cooperation, because all phenomenon are reducible to human actions that are open to subjective testing (sympathetic experience). Unlike axiomatic systems such as math and logic, we are never short of information necessary for decidability. Humans are marginally indifferent in their preferences – which is why we can experience shared intent, cooperate, and empathize. As such we can always decide. Buridan’s Ass never starves. Information is always sufficient. It may not be sufficient for the choice of preference, but it is sufficient for rational choice. Again, arguments that someone versed in mathematical philosophy might have understood. Although, with decades of computer science, we have learned that it’s computer science that is more trustworthy than mathematics, because computers are constrained by operational rules of necessity, and unlike mathematics we cannot use imagination and ‘fudging’ obscured by verbalism. Operations must be open to performance and results must be computable.

To counter the problem of imagination adding information to arguments, and the problem of using verbalism to obscure ignorance, under operationalism and constructivism, **truth is replaced by (algorithmic) proof as a primitive notion, and existence requires demonstration of constructibility.** This statement is possible to translate into the axiom that moral (ethical) propositions must be reducible to a series of human actions, open to subjective testing (sympathetic verification).

This is the argument that mises was looking for, and could not construct, possibly because (a) he lacked sufficient understanding of mathematics, (b) he lacked a demonstrably insufficient understanding of the terms ‘scientific’ and ‘logical’, because he conflated them with abandon, despite their opposite properties, and (c) because an ethical constraint was insufficient to provide an authoritative response to the moral arguments of statists and socialists alike. Whether he understood the ethical constraint not the logical one was all that a solution to praxeological analysis would provide, or simply, like most cosmopolitans, because preferred an authoritarian, verbalist, and pseudoscientific argument is something it is impossible to answer in our era. Since Marx, Freud, Cantor, Mises and Rothbard all make the same error of constructing verbal pseudosciences, it’s hard to imagine that it’s intentional rather than a cultural bias or strategy. (Something I have written about elsewhere under the heading of competing uses of truth.)

The problem I face, and the work I must do, to help others understand Mises’ position in intellectual history, and his failure, and then to construct a logic of cooperation, where Mises mistakenly tries to construct a logic of ‘action’ is to enumerate examples of axioms and laws in different fields and thereby demonstrate the problem of the sufficiency of information for deduction under arbitrary precision in the construction of hypotheses, theories, laws, and axioms; and then placing Mises’ work in the context of all fields struggling with the definition of truth (as ultimately performative – and therefore ethical). So positioning economics and ethics using performative truth, operationalism and constructivism will help demonstrate the concept across ALL domains of inquiry, rather than just within economics, ethics, physics, psychology, mathematics and logic. And thus eliminate the objections to performative truth, intuitionism, constructivism, and operationalism by demonstrating that all philosophical and logical disciplines rest upon the action that one claims to have demonstrated a an action that he can testify truthfully to have observed (rather than imagined, or used verbalisms to obscure that he has not.

Unfortunately, we didn’t discover ethics first – perhaps had Mises solved the problem in ethics, other fields would have grasped the significance. Although, other fields have addressed ethics with softer variants of operationalism and construction – particularly science. They have never reformed ’truth’ as performative: as testimony, or ‘true witness’, as evidenced by that which is operational and constructible. At least in the discipline of law, strict construction, original intent, and deliberate modification of law is an understood if not obeyed principle. Operationalism may allow us to make truthful testimony, and truthful testimony is the only truth that humans are capable of creating. All else is imaginary, as is infinity.

But whether we retain the approximation of classical reasoning as a practical matter of utility, or adopt construction and operation as a requirement for attestable truth in other disciplines really doesn’t matter as much as it does in ethics, politics and law. Physics, science, psychology, math and logic are luxury goods and rarely involve involuntary transfer and provide an incentive for conflict. But, cooperation is a necessary good. Politics and law are necessary goods. Strict construction is necessary and beneficial since it permits the rational resolution of conflicts, and as such prevents them. Strict construction makes it impossible to use empty verbalisms to advocate involuntary transfers as ‘moral’. Operational definitions make it much harder to lie, cheat and steal.

Under operationalism, performative truth, constructivism, the field of ethics, including the domains of criminal, unethical, immoral and conspiratorial, and conquest prohibitions, can be described as an objective uniform logic as Mises suggested it might be. We can construct a formal logic of cooperation – ethics. And, we can do it using ratio-scientific language, via operational and constructive means. We can do it in the common universal and transparent language of science using hypothesis, theory and law, and model our laws using axioms constrained by correspondence to this empirical laws. We do not need false authoritarianism, pseudoscientific obscurant terminology, or a cult or obscure continental language to do it. An irony perhaps that Mises did not grasp that he was justifying the logic of human action, which is by definition operational and constructive in an argumentative structure that was not operational nor constructive. In hindsight this approach is either humorous or tragic.

While we are not sure yet, it is possible that Popper was correct, and that we can never know if we possess the most parsimonious description of any phenomenon – what we call ‘truth’ or ‘ultimate truth’ – we can, instead of spending our lives in a quest for the non-existant and logically unknowable, instead, publish recipes that we can testify truthfully to the construction of, and performance of, as correspondent with reality. This is the difference between european commitment to always speaking the truth, and producing many, many technological successes, versus academic publishing a welfare queens, never responsible for our words, and never accountable for the consequences. This is the difference between anglo empirical truth, and cosmopolitan pragmatic truth.

[T]he 20th century’s failed quest for a definition of truth, is the narrative structure that I’ve been searching for. Until recently, I just couldn’t find a way of talking about Mises’ work in the broader context of intellectual development. He clearly intuited the problem, as did those in other fields, but besides having the Jewish obsession with words-as-reality, and the German obsession with authority, he did not understand math and science well enough, and certainly had no exposure to computer science and the problem of computability. Why he proceeded onward and constructed an elaborate nonsensical pseudoscience in the Cosmopolitan tradition is something that only he could answer. And why subsequent generations have created a cult out of this pseudoscience, complete with typical cosmopolitan saturation of the informational commons with propaganda supporting of the pseudosicence, including heroic figure worship, and heaping unworthy praise at every opportunity, is up to those still living to explain.

It is worth noting that Popper too largely relied on narrative verbalisms, such as his ‘three worlds’ hypothesis, and we know that he resorted to Krugman-like distortion of facts in his criticisms of the left. And we know that Popper’s real purpose was not about science it self, but his agenda to undermine scientific certainty, much as did Mises, by rendering truth in to platonic form, removing responsibility from the scientist for true testimony, and casting cosmopolitan Critique, originated in hermeneutic interpretation of scripture, as the means of scientific social organization, rather than the previous anglo saxon and german requirement for truthful testimony.

ALl these thinkers failed to stem the tide of marx’s socialism, rothbardian libertinism, and Straussian neoconservatism, because all tried to counter pseudoscience with pseudoscience, and empty verbalism with empty verbalism. However the manner of correcting those people was always available to us, and had been for centuries if not millennia: a requirement that we tell the truth, and persecution under law for not doing so.

As Hoppe states, Hayek failed as well, both to make this connection with performative truth as a means of social order, and to move from the classical liberal and therefore psychological school of thought to the calculative rigor of logic by identifying property as the first and necessary object or unit of commensurability. He did understand the law and the common law, clearly, as the institutional means for resolving conflicts – better than anyone else as far as I know. But he did not grasp the difference between legal REASON (approximation necessary for discovery) and logical CALCULATION (precision necessary for truth). Nor between knowledge of use (correspondence as truth) and knowledge of construction (truth in existence). (Although I’m willing to admit that I might be one of the few people who currently does.)

Later in life Mises appears to waffle a bit, if not reverse himself. But because of what appears to be his fascination with Kantian a priorism, he didn’t see the parallel between his (inarticulate) argument that economics was both empirical and logical, and reverse mathematics, in which one constructs necessary axioms one can testify to as extant, after using empirical and logical means by which to approximate the solution to a problem.

My original goal was to provide conservatives a vehicle for argument using what I saw as libertarian rationalism. Conversely, I wanted to make it impossible to conduct deceptive arguments in the religious, progressive and postmodern forms, but in doing so I found an answer to a century or more old conflict in the history of thought.

And I think I can rescue Mises and Hoppe from the ‘fruitcake fringe’ of rationalist argument. Which is helpful. Since I want, like most, a plan to obtain liberty in my lifetime. And while any value Mises had has been already incorporated into economic thought, only fringe groups have incorporated Hoppe’s criticism of democracy and use of competing private insurance organizations to replace monopoly bureaucracy in the production of regulation.

Unfortunately, Hoppe appears too entrenched and committed to praxeology as pseudoscience, the fallacy of aggression which is merely a means of licensing fraud by verbal means and creating a parasitic class immune from both physical and legal punishment. And has merely adopted the marxist ‘commune’ as his model of rebellion. Which just because we desire liberty, is just as economically impossible as it is if we desire communism. Wishful thinking is not action. Its wishing others will do the work for you.

Liberty was created only by europeans, because of rare ancient circumstances, whereby warriors granted one another insurance against theft of their property obtained from their cattle raids, and required equality of one another because of their battle tactics requiring independent financing, action and maneuver, at high risk. These people built an ethic that would give birth to science, reason, property and liberty, because it forces man to use his mind in terms which accurately correspond to reality: Tell the truth, and only the truth. Fulfill your commitments at risk of life. Construct a brotherhood of property owners two whom familial trust is extended. And force all free riding out of society so that all persons must participate in production, and none can resort to parasitism. Liberty is obtained at the point of metal object, by denying others access to power. Everything else is merely wishful thinking, or an attempt to free ride on the efforts of those who do construct liberty. The natural aristocracy is not created by a small population. It is created by every living soul willing to bear arms to prevent the accumulation of sufficient power to deny others sovereignty over their property: For one and all, to deny one and all, access to the property of one and all by other than voluntary, fully informed, warrantied, exchange free of externality.

Curt Doolittle
The Philosophy of Aristocracy
The Propertarian Institute
Kiev, Ukraine

Constructive Mathematics:
Mathematical Intuitionism:


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