Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown (on the financial crisis.) A senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Woods has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, FOX News, FOX Business, C-SPAN, Bloomberg Television, and hundreds of radio programs... (Read More)
There was an unfortunate post yesterday at Bleeding Heart Libertarians attacking the apriorism of the Misesian tradition. Now sure, the author can claim no such intent — he never mentions Mises’ name, after all. But after giving rather an unhelpful overview of the issues at stake, he does not take the time to provide a Misesian clarification of the issues involved.
I asked Jeff Herbener, chairman of the economics department at Grove City College, if he’d write a brief reply. Click here to read it.
Now someone called The Radical Propertarian on Facebook has weighed in:
Jason Brennan seems to think Mises considers action to be, by definition, “rational” in the sense of “guided by sound reason.” If he would read Mises more carefully, Jason would realize that Mises means “rational” in the sense of: guided by reason (human thinking regarding causation, relations, means, and ends, etc) at all, whether sound or faulty. See the quote below.
He gleans from his misinterpretation the conclusion that it is an open question whether markets and “actual human beings in the real world are better described by your a priori theory of human action or by behavioral economics.”
But the very questions virtually everyone of all schools of economic thought ask in economics involve such teleological notions as “prosperity,” “buy,” and “sell.” These notions presuppose that objects under consideration are acting, and therefore under Mises’s definition of the word, rational: using the human mind to guide action, however adeptly or ineptly.
He then scoffs at Austrian apriorists as characteristically the kind that contribute to journals that aren’t approved of by a certain massively state-sponsored and state-privileged establishment university in Washington, D.C., and which are therefore “fake.”
[Mises' own view:]
“When applied to the means chosen for the attainment of ends, the terms rational and irrational imply a judgment about the expediency and adequacy of the procedure employed. The critic approves or disapproves of the method from the point of view of whether or not it is best suited to attain the end in question. It is a fact that human reason is not infallible and that man very often errs in selecting and applying means. An action unsuited to the end sought falls short of expectation. It is contrary to purpose, but it is rational, i.e., the outcome of a reasonable–although faulty–deliberation and an attempt–although an ineffectual attempt–to attain a definite goal. The doctors who a hundred years ago employed certain methods for the treatment of cancer which our contemporary doctors reject were–from the point of view of present-day pathology–badly instructed and therefore inefficient. But they did not act irrationally; they did their best. It is probable that in a hundred years more doctors will have more efficient methods at hand for the treatment of this disease. They will be more efficient but not more rational than our physicians.”