The Prerequisites of Human Action

I was actually going to make a post saying I was taking a hiatus, because I’m in the middle of some work at the moment. But I figured I could do some GeneCallahan-style blog posts about the stuff I’m reading, since those posts don’t require as much effort above and beyond what you’re already doing and thinking about. (Unfortunately, if you’re reading this blog for insights comparable to what you’ll find on his site, you might be a little disappointed)

Just started reading Human Action. While Man, Economy, and State is fantastic, I don’t think you can get a full appreciation of Misesian methodology and epistemology without reading Mises himself.

Mises calls satisfaction a state where a person cannot and does not purposefully act. If you’re completely satisfied, you have no reason to act. A purpose means you have some goal worth attaining, and this implies this goal is better than what your state would be otherwise. This means some satisfaction is gained from achieving that goal, and thus you were not completely satisfied to begin with.

Mises goes on:

But to make a man act, uneasiness and the image of a more satisfactory state alone are not sufficient. A third condition is required: the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least alleviate the felt uneasiness. In the absence of this condition no action is feasible. Man must yield to the inevitable. He must submit to destiny.

The reason this condition is a necessary one can be demonstrated by an example (if you don’t find it straightforward). Take time for instance. Most people find the forward movement of time an inevitability. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, make it go backward, etc. and thus you don’t purposefully act to accomplish those goals. But what about people that make time machines? Clearly, they’re purposefully acting, right? Yes, but the only reason they are acting is because they have an “expectation” that their action has the power to change time; they don’t think it’s inevitable.

So according to the definition of action as purposeful behavior, expectation of some possibility of accomplishing your goals is a necessary prerequisite.

Photo Credit: * Cati Kaoe * via Compfight cc

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Posted on November 27, 2013, in Economics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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