Glossary for Human Action, Intro - Chapter 2
Here's a glossary for some unfamiliar terms used in the Introduction and the first two chapters of Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises. These definitions were written after consulting Webster's Third New International Dictionary, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Mises Made Easier, by Percy L. Greaves Jr.

A note on page navigation: If you're using Microsoft Internet Explorer, the drop-down list at upper left will follow you around the page as you use it to find different words in this glossary. If you have Netscape version 6 or later, the floating menu feature should work for you as well. If you're using Netscape 4.x, the menu will not follow you when you use it. You'll have to hit your browser's [Back] button to return to the menu, or scroll back up to the top of the page if you want to use it again. Sorry -- I just can't figure out how to make the menu "float" in the older version of Netscape.

alter ego: Literally, other I; another self. A fellow man considered as one who thinks and acts as "I, the ego, do."

analytic: In logic, of or relating to a statement that is necessarily true, either because of the meanings of the words in it, or because it expresses some self-evident truth. ""A rose is a rose." "All circles are round." See synthetic.

apodictic: Expressing necessary truth; absolutely certain. The categories of human action are apodictic and absolute and do not admit of any gradation.

a posteriori: Literally, following after. Known from experience. Applied to inductive reasoning, beginning from observed facts and inferring general conclusions from these.

a priori: Literally, from the former or preceding. Self-evident knowledge known by reason alone without any appeal to experience or sensory perceptions.
An a priori statement is one which the human mind can neither question nor contradict, and which cannot be further analyzed, diagnosed, broken down, or traced back to a logically prior cause. It is thus the original datum or premise which forms the starting point for deductive reasoning.

Austrian School: A group of economists (many of them from Vienna) who developed the modern subjective theory of value and applied it to the various problems of economics. See, for example, Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Friedrich von Wieser, and F.A. Hayek.

behaviorism:A doctrine or theory which holds that psychology is exclusively concerned with the observable activity of organisms. In its most extreme form, behaviorism asserts that man (and other animals) do not pursue ends or possess consciousness, and that all human activity is simply the result of prior conditioning. Interestingly, some leading behaviorists have advocated conditioning children in certain ways designed to make human society "better." By so doing, they give the lie to their own philosophy, for they are pursuing an end they themselves deem desireable when they seek to "better" the world.

categorical: Absolute. Unqualified.

category: One of the most abstract and universal terms, concepts, or notions. In Kantian philosophy, one of the pure a priori forms of the understanding: quantity (unity, plurality, universality); quality (relation, negation, limitation); relation (substantiality, causality, reciprocity); and modality (possibility, actuality, necessity). In post-Kantian philosophy, any major fundamental conception or general class of concepts.

chimera: Specifically, a fire-breathing mythological beast, usually depicted as having a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. In general, an obviously impossible figment of the imagination.

conceptual realism: The theory that abstract universals -- unobservable general classes, and ideal types -- possess a reality that is independent of and equal, or even superior, to the reality of their individual components. A. N. Whitehead called it "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness." See universalism.

das spezifische Verstehen der Geisteswissenschaften: Literally, the specific understanding of the sciences of mind; loosely, the specific mode of understanding peculiar to the social sciences. Commonly expressed as "understanding" in von Mises' works, but sometimes abbreviated as Verstehen.

deductive logic: Reasoning from a general premise that is either known or assumed to be true, to an individual or particular instance of that generality. For example: all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. The derived conclusion is always implicit in the original premise, and is necessarily as correct as that premise. The economic theory propounded by the Austrian School is based on axioms, definitions, and deductive logic. Note that mathematics is also based on axioms, definitions, and deductive logic.

Economics: A theoretical science that investigates the meaning and relevance of purposeful human action. Economics is not about things and material objects; it's about the meanings and actions of men. Economics is about the means men must select to achieve the ends they have chosen. Those ends are necessarily based on their own individual value judgments. The valuation and selection of ends are beyond the scope of economics. Economics enables men to predict the qualitative effects expected from the adoption of specific methods or policies, but such predictions cannot be quantitatively precise because there are no constant relations in the individual, subjective valuations which determine, guide, and alter human actions.

ego: The self; an individual's inner or mental consciousness. In psychoanalysis, that part of the structure of the human mind from which conscious urges and desires arise. That which chooses to act.

Epicureanism: The Greek school of philosophy founded by Epicurus, who held that the joys of the mind are superior to the pleasures of the body.

epistemology: The theory of human knowledge; the basis of all human science. Epistemology is concerned with the origin, structure, and validity of human knowledge. It deals with the mental phenomena of human life: thinking, perceiving, and knowing. It assumes that the logical structure of the human mind is fixed and immutable, and attempts to answer the question "what is truth?" (Many men have tried to answer that question. None, I think, ever gave a better answer than the old English philosopher John Locke. Here is John Locke's answer.)

eudaemonism: The theory that the final goal of all human action is happiness. From the Greek eudaemonia -- literally, under the control of a good spirit. In his Nicomachian Ethics, Aristotle says that eudaemonia is an activity: the pursuit of what is good for its own sake. Eudaemonism is thus closely associated with the ethical teaching that "virtue is its own reward."

Gestalt: A structure or configuration of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable from its parts in summation.

Gestaltpsychologie: A school of psychology which holds that men perceive the gestalt, or unified whole, and not the pieces in summation. Gestalt psychology stresses the unity of each psychological or physiological event, and rejects the atomistic or elemental analysis of stimulus, percept, and response.

hedonism: The theory that the final goal of all human action is pleasure. Commonly associated with sensuality and enjoyment of physical pleasures, as fine food and drink, sexual pleasure, etc.

Historical School: A school of thought, originating in 19th-century Germany, which held that the study of history was the sole source of knowledge of human actions and economic matters. They sought new and improved "social laws" via the collection and study of statistical and historical data. Their dominance in German universities led to the promotion of state socialism and national planning ideas, paving the way for the Nazis. See Methodenstreit.

historicism: The theory of the Historical School: that, apart from mathematics, logic, and the empirical sciences, there is no knowledge but that provided by history. It appeals to tradition and opposes the ideas of liberalism that inspired the American and French Revolutions. Today it offers support to socialism, interventionism, and nationalism.

homo oeconomicus: Literally, economic man. A fictional construction used by the enemies of economics to attack the new theory. A twisted "ideal type" -- of a man motivated only by considerations of monetary profit and loss.

hypostasis: Reification. Assignment of substance or real existence to concepts or mental constructs. [More commonly spelled hypostatization when used with this sense.] See conceptual realism.

ideal type: A typification or conceptual representation of complex reality by a grouping, each member of which has all, or many, of the characteristics associated with the group. Because it is imprecise, an ideal type cannot be defined except by an enumeration of its basic features. Examples are leader, bandit, king, town, state, nation, war, revolution, economy. Ideal types cannot form the basis of valid scientific laws, but they are an indispensable tool for recording and understanding history.

inductive logic: Reasoning from the particular to the general. Assuming the truth of a general premise based on the knowledge that all observed instances of particular facts conform to the premise. Perfect induction is when the general premise has been derived from direct observation of all possible particulars. Imperfect induction, or incomplete induction, is when the general premise has been derived from an incomplete set of observations. Imperfect induction can never provide apodictic certainty. It is the epistemological basis of the natural sciences like physics, chemistry, biology, etc.

irrationalism: The theory that human reason is unfit to interpret or elucidate the material forces that determine human behavior. Irrationalism is not incorrect or impractical reasoning; it is the total absence of any reasoning.

"l'acte per lequel nous ramenons à l'identique ce qui nous a, tout d'abord, paru n'être pas tel." (French -- quoting Meyerson on deductive reasoning and science): [it] "is the process by which we are led back to the very thing which, at first, did not seem to us to be so."

"la sympathie par laquelle on se transporte a l'intérieur d'un objet pour coïncider avec ce qu'il a d'unique et par conséquent d'inexprimable." (French, quoting Henri Bergson on the intuitive mode of understanding): "the sympathy with which one penetrates an object to apprehend its unique, and therefore inexpressible, identity."

"La vie est une cause première qui nous échappe comme toutes les causes premières ed dont la science expérimentale n'a pas à se préoccuper." (French -- quoting Claude Bernard on animal instinct): "Life is a first cause which eludes us, as all first causes do, and with which experimental science need not be concerned."

liberalism: The political doctrines of natural rights, free will, democracy, and equal protection under the law that characterized the dominant social philosophy in England during the 19th century and served as the inspiration for the American Revolution of 1776.

logical positivism: The modern British and American version of positivism. This school of thought has been heavily influenced by the teachings of the so-called "Vienna Circle," founded in 1924 by Moritz Schlick. Significantly, their fundamental thesis rejects all non-experimental methods of research, and thus denies the existence of any a priori knowledge. [Note that Ludwig von Mises' younger brother, Richard, was a leading logical positivist, and a member of the "Vienna Circle," which also included Rudolph Carnap and Otto Neurath among its distinguished members. Logical positivists have long been obsessed with linguistic analysis, and with justifying inductive forms of reasoning.]

"l'on ne peut le pratiquer sans s'être demandé si les deux objets échangés sont bien de même valeur, c'est-à-dire échangeables contre un même troisième." (French --; quoting Henri Bergson to illustrate widespread economic ignorance): "One cannot exchange goods without having asked himself whether the two objects exchanged are goods of the same value, that is to say, that each is exchangeable for a third good with the very same value."

medieval scholasticism: The intellectual speculations and doctrines of the leading European philosophers of the Middle Ages. They argued about things like the reality of universals (nominalism vs realism), the existence of free will (determinism vs indeterminism), and the place of logic in Christian theology (reason vs revelation). Famous scholastics included Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham.

metaphysics: Literally beyond or after physics. The word is taken from the title of part of Aristotle's writings (aka 'first philosophy'), which his editors placed after his physics, or natural history. Generally, the realm beyond science: beliefs, creeds, theology, etc. Specifically, Aristotle's "science of being."

Methodenstreit: Literally, strife about methods. Specifically, the dispute about the method of economic inquiry between the Austrian School and the Historical School, which took place about 1890. The historicists, led by Gustav von Schmoller, contended that economists could formulate new and better social laws by the systematic collection and interpretation of historical data. This view became the conventional wisdom in Germany, paving the way for Nazism.

methodological apriorism: A necessary feature of praxeological investigations dictated by man's inability to imagine action that does not conform to the fundamental logical relations, to the principle of causality, and to the teleological principle.

methodological dualism: A feature of praxeological investigations necessitated by the fact that human actions are inexplicable in purely physical terms. We can understand that humans act, and what their motivations are, if and only if we regard other men as teleological beings. For the purposes of economic inquiry, we must proceed as if mind and matter are fundamentally different.

methodological individualism: Another essential feature of praxeological investigations. Intuitively, action is always initiated by an individual. Moreover, any attempt to collectivize a theory of human action must founder on the undeniable fact that each individual can and often does belong to many different collective entities at one and the same time.

methodological singularism: A required feature of praxeological investigations attributable to the temporal sequence of events. Praxeology seeks to determine the necessary and universal features of every act of choice. We can only reach this knowledge by considering each action as a separate event.

monism: A philosophical doctrine which holds that mind and matter are composed of the same substance, or that they are essentially the same thing.

nominalism: A theory that there are no universal essences in reality, and that the mind can frame no single concept or image corresponding to any universal or general term. The doctrine of nominalism was first advanced by a medieval scholastic, Roscellinus, in the 11th century. This doctrine was condemned by the church in 1092, for contradicting the doctrine of the Trinity. See realism.

panphysicalism: A species of determinism which holds that all human ideas and actions are determined by physical laws; which "proclaim[s] mechanicalism as the essence of all knowledge and the experimental and mathematical methods of the natural sciences as the sole scientific mode of thinking. All changes are to be comprehended as motions subject to the laws of mechanics."

paradox of value: A logical difficulty that puzzled many classical economists (e.g., Adam Smith and David Ricardo). Why do men value things of little practical utility, like gold, or diamonds, so much more highly than very useful things like iron, or water? Why does the lawyer, whose services are of somewhat doubtful utility, earn more than the plumber who always gets the job done?

pluralis gloriosus: Literally, the glorious plural. In von Mises, the pronoun "we" when used to signify pride, or self-importance. "We are brave Americans."

pluralis imperialis: Literally, the imperial plural. In von Mises, the pronoun "we" when used in a command, especially one in which the threat of violence is implicit. "We will have our way with Iraq, or they will bear the consequences."

pluralis logicus: Literally, the logical plural. In von Mises, the pronoun "we" when used in its purely semantical, or logical, form. "We are all human."

pluralis majestaticus: Literally, the majestic plural. In von Mises, the pronoun "we" when used in the royal or monarchical sense. "We dub thee knight."

polylogism: Literally, many logics. The theory that the logical structure of the human mind differs according to certain divisions of mankind, and that as a result the ideas and logic of men also differ in accordance with the specified classification. Marxian polylogism asserts that there are differences according to social classes (e.g., bourgeois logic vs proletarian logic). Other varieties of polylogism assert differences according to race, nationality, religion, etc.

positivism: A doctrine that originated with August Comte, and holding that all man's knowledge passes through three stages (theological, metaphysical, and positive). Contemporary positivism seeks to apply the experimental method of the natural sciences to the sciences of human action. The maxim of positivists is that science is measurement. See logical positivism.

Praxeology (from the Greek; Praxis, action, practice, or habit; logia, doctrine, theory, or science): The science or general theory of (conscious or purposeful) human action. Mises defines action as "the manifestation of a man's will." Accordingly, he considers the use of the adjectives "conscious or purposeful" to be redundant. Praxeology is a manifestation of the human mind, and deals with the means open to men for the attainment of their chosen ends. Praxeology starts from the a priori category of action, then develops the full implications of such action. Praxeology aims at knowledge valid for all instances in which the conditions exactly correspond to those implied in its assumptions and inferences. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience, but are antecedent to any comprehension of historical facts.

rationalism: The theory that man's actions are guided by reason. In the 18th century a growing movement stressed the use of reason to expose the fallacies represented by the myths, superstitions, and witch hunting of earlier times. The weakness of the movement was the false assumption that all men have the same reasoning capacity, and that any disagreement with generally accepted doctrines and ideologies is, therefore, the result of willful deceit.

realism: A doctrine in philosophy that universals exist outside the mind: The conception that a general or abstract term names an independent and unitary reality or essence. [Note that von Mises uses this word in this sense, but that the word is also used in a variety of other senses, especially by those who call themselves "realists."] See nominalism.

"Sane sicut lux se ipsam et tenebras manifestat, sic veritas norma sui et falsi est." (Latin -- quoting Benedict de Spinoza on scientific objectivity): "Indeed, just as light defines itself and darkness, so truth sets the standard for itself and falsity."

science: Systematized knowledge. Also, the theories derived from or constituting such a system. "Science ... is the endeavor to attain a mental grasp of the phenomena of the universe by a systematic arrangement of the whole body of available knowledge."

synthetic: In logic, of or relating to a statement whose truth or falsity is not immediately evident from the form of the statement itself. Many philosophers assert that a priori truths are necessarily analytic statements, and that synthetic statements can only be verified a posteriori. Austrian economists generally assert that the Misesian axiom of action -- humans act -- is a synthetic statement whose truth is evident a priori. See analytic.

teleology: The theory that changes are caused by the operation of a purposeful will. Opposed to mechanicalism, which holds that changes are determined by the operation of impersonal physical forces. All human actions are teleological; they occur because an individual has decided what to do.

theory: An abstract formulation of the constant relations between entities; the necessary regularity in the concatenation and sequence of phenomena. A theory may be true or false. A valid theory attempts to eliminate all contradictions in the application of cause and effect to a given specific situation, or set of conditions. The aim of a theory is always success in action. Operationally, a theory is true if and only if action based on it attains the expected result. A theory is implicit in every human action. Some theory necessarily precedes every determination of a "fact." Theory is also antecedent to historical writing, and to the interpretation of every experience.

universalism: Generally speaking, a theory according to which the whole is logically prior to its parts. In ethics, a theory that the good of all men should take precedence over the interests of the individual. In von Mises, specifically, a collectivist theory that considers society to be an acting entity with its own will and ends entirely separate from those of its individual members. The ends of the group are determined by a superhuman power and revealed by a leader of unquestionable authority. Universalists consider some social aggregate to be an articulated whole to which the interests of the individual must be subordinated, and therefore the ends of society can only be achieved by forcing individuals to fulfill the functions prescribed for them by the political community.

Utilitarianism: A philosophy, or school of thought, exemplified by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and characterized by the dictum "the greatest good for the greatest number." It holds that social cooperation, ethical precepts, and governments are, or should be, no more than useful means for helping the vast majority achieve their chosen ends. It further holds that means should be judged only by considering the desirability of their final effects. It rejects the notions of human equality; of natural law; of government as an instrument to enforce the laws of God or Destiny; and of any social entity as an end in itself. It recommends popular government, private property, tolerance, freedom, and equality under the law -- not because they are natural or just, but because they are beneficial to the general welfare.

wirtschaftliche Staatswissenschaften: The economic aspects of political science; political economy. Literally, economics-like political science.