METAPHYSICS AND EPISTEMOLOGY FOR A FREE SOCIETY: THE VIEWS OF MENGER, MISES & RAND
In many ways epistemology clears the way for metaphysical construction or hypothesis. By adhering to the principles of one branch of. The Difference Between Real and True in Philosophy . question as we explore two branches of philosophy: epistemology and metaphysics. There is a curious relationship between these branches of philosophy. aware of our epistemology and epistemological notions before our metaphysical ones.
Mises wanted to construct a purely deductive system and was searching for a foundation upon which to build it. Mises was searching for a theoretical foundation that could not be questioned or doubted. He wanted to find knowledge of logical necessity. He also wanted to escape from the concrete-based empiricism of historicism.
His mission became to look inward in order to deduce a system that was logically unobjectionable. He wanted to find laws that could only be verified or refuted by means of discursive reasoning. Mises' axiom of action, the universal introspectively-known fact that men act, was the foundation upon which Mises built his deductive system.
Action, for Mises, is the real thing. Mises said that action was a category of the mind, in a Kantian sense, that was required in order to experience phenomenal reality i. The unity found in Mises' theorems of economics is rooted in the concept of human action. Mises' economic science is deductive and based on laws of human action that he contends are as real as the laws of nature. His praxeological laws have no spatial, temporal, or cultural constraints.
They are universal and pertain to people everywhere, at every time, and in all cultures. Not a strict Kantian, Mises modifies and extends Kant's epistemology.
However, he does make use of Kant's main terminological and conceptual distinctions and basic insights into the nature of human knowledge. Kant's philosophy constitutes an all-out attack on the mind's ability to know reality. Man is denied access to the noumenal world. The mind is trapped in its own logical way of thinking. Kant's impositionist view is that the content of man's knowledge reflects certain structures or forms that have been subscribed or imposed on the world by the mind of the knowing subject.
This knowledge is never directly of reality itself, but instead reflects the logical structures of the mind and reflects reality only as shaped, formed, or filtered by the human mind. Like Kant, Mises believed that the human mind understood the world only through its own categories. However, Mises is not a pure Kantian. Unlike Kant, Mises does not attempt to make a transcendental argument to derive the categories. He merely says that there is a group of common categories lodged in men's minds through which they grasp that which exists.
What Mises considered as critical in Kant was his conviction that reason could supply universal and necessary knowledge. Mises also disagreed with Kant regarding freedom of the individual. Kant conceived of the noumenal or real self as possessing free will and of the phenomenal self as being determined by the rational desire for happiness.
Mises views freedom as the use of reason to attain one's goals. Assuming as little as possible, Mises says that we should assume people to be free and rational actors in the world as we perceive it since we have no certain knowledge of any determinants of human action, Mises was a metaphysical and cosmological agnostic regarding materialist or spiritual explanations of mental events. Mises extends Kant by adding an important insight.
Kantianism has been viewed as a type of idealism due to its failure to connect the mind's categories to the world. Mises further develops Kantian epistemology when he explains that the laws of logic affect both thought and action. He says that we must acknowledge that the human mind is a mind of acting persons and that our mental categories have to be accepted as fundamentally grounded in the category of action. Mises states that when this is realized, the notion of the existence of true synthetic a priori categories and propositions can be accepted as a realistic, rather than as an idealistic, philosophy of knowledge.
The mind and physical reality make contact via action. Mises believes that this insight fills in the gap between the mental world and the outside physical world. Mises thus contends that epistemology depends on our reflective knowledge of action.
Mises considers the law of human action to be a law of thought and as a categorical truth prior to all experience. Thinking is a mental action. For Mises, a priori means independent of any particular time or place. Denying the possibility of arriving at laws via induction, Mises argues that evidence for the a priori is based on reflective universal inner experience. Unlike Menger, the father of Austrian economics, Mises did not believe the essential defining qualities or essences existed in individual phenomena that made possible their recognition as representatives of that type.
If he had held to the notion that there are certain ontological, a priori, and intelligible structures in the world, then he may have considered the law of human action to be a law of reality rather than a law of thought.
An a priori in reality would not be the result of any forming or shaping of reality on the part of the experiencing subject. Rather, essences or universals would then be said to be discerned through a person's theoretical efforts.
It is hard to see how Mises could contend that a priori knowledge is gained exclusively through non-inductive means. Perhaps it would have been better if he had said that economic theory is based in part on introspection. He could have argued that sense data alone could not reveal to a person the essential purposefulness of human action.
The action axiom could then be depicted as derived form a combination of both external observation and introspection. Mises states that his action axiom, the proposition that men act, meets the requirements for a true synthetic a priori proposition. This proposition cannot be denied because the denial itself would necessarily be categorized as an action.
Mises defines action as purposeful behavior. He explains that it cannot be denied that humans act in a purposeful manner because the denial itself would be a purposeful act. All conscious human action is directed toward goals because it is impossible to conceive of an individual consciously acting without having a goal.
Reason and action are congeneric. For Mises, knowledge is a tool of action and action is reason applied to purpose. When people look within, they see that all conscious actions are purposeful and willful pursuits of selected ends or objectives. Reason enables people to choose. Human actions are engaged in to achieve goals that are part of the external world. However, a person's understanding of the logical consequences of human action does not stem from the specific details of these goals or the means employed.
Comprehension of these laws does not depend on a person's specific knowledge of those features of the external world that are relevant to the person's goals or to the methods used in his pursuit of these goals. Praxeology's cognition is totally general and formal without reference to the material content and particular features of an actual case. Praxeological theorems are prior to empirical testing because they are logically deduced from the central axiom of action.
By understanding the logic of the reasoning process, a person can comprehend the essentials of human actions. From this concept all of praxeology's propositions can be derived. Mises contends that the axiom of action is known by introspection to be true. In the tradition of Kant, Mises argues that the category of action is part of the structure of the human mind. It follows that the laws of action can be studied introspectively because of aprioristic intersubjectivity of human beings.
Not derived from experience, the propositions of praxeology are not subject to falsification or verification on the basis of experience. Rather, these propositions are temporally and logically prior to any understanding of historical facts. For Mises, economic behavior is simply a special case of human action.
He contends that it is through the analysis of the idea of action that the principles of economics can be deduced. Economic theorems are seen as connected to the foundation of real human purposes. Economics is based on true and evident axioms, arrived at by introspection, into the essence of human action. From these axioms, Mises derives logical implications or the truths of economics.
Mises' methodology thus does not require controlled experiments because he treats economics as a science of human action. By their nature, economics acts are social acts. Economics is a formal science whose theorems have no formal content and whose propositions do not derive their validity from empirical observations. Economics is the branch of praxeology that studies market exchange and alternative systems of market exchange.
These include, but are not limited to: Many believe that Mises is on questionable grounds with his extreme aprioristic position with respect to epistemology.
However, his praxeology does not inevitably require a neo-Kantian epistemology. It is not inextricably tied to an aprioristic foundation. Other epistemological frameworks may provide a better underpinning for free will and rationality. For example, Misesian praxeology could operate within an Aristotelian, Thomistic, Mengerian or Randian philosophical structure.
The concept of action could be formally and inductively derived from perceptual data. Actions would be seen as performed by entities who act in accordance with their nature. Man's distinctive mode of action involves rationality and free will.
Men are thus rational beings with free will who have the ability to form their own purposes and aims. Human action also assumes an uncoerced human will and limited knowledge. All of the above can be seen as consistent with Mises' praxeology.
Once we arrive at the concept of human action, Mises' deductive logical derivations can come with play. Murray Rothbard, student and follower of Mises, agrees that the action axiom is universally true and self-evident but has argued that a person becomes aware of that axiom and its subsidiary axioms through experience in the world.
A person begins with concrete human experience and then moves toward reflection. Once a person forms the basic axioms and concepts from experience with the world, he does not need to resort to experience to validate an economic hypothesis.
Instead, deductive reasoning from sound basics will validate it. The later Aristotelian, neo-Thomistic and natural-law-oriented Rothbard refers to laws of reality that the mind apprehends by examining and adducing the facts of the real world.
Conception is a way of comprehending real things. It follows that perception and experience are not the products of a synthetic a priori process but rather are apprehensions whose structured unity is due to the nature of reality itself.
In opposition to Mises, Rothbard contends that the action axiom and its subsidiary axioms are derived from the experience of reality and are therefore radically empirical. These axioms are based on both external experience and universal inner experience. Ayn Rand's Objectivism Metaphysics is the first philosophical branch of knowledge. Axioms cannot be reduced to other facts or broken down into component parts.
They require no proofs or explanations. Existence exists and encompasses everything including all states of consciousness. The world exists independently of the mind and is there to be discovered by the mind.
Epistemology and the True vs. Metaphysics and the Real
In order to be conscious, we must be conscious of something. There can be no consciousness if nothing exists. Consciousness, the faculty of perceiving that which exists, is the ability to discover, rather than to create, objects. Consciousness, a relational concept, presupposes the existence of something external to consciousness, something to be aware of. Initially, we become aware of something outside of our consciousness and then we become aware of our consciousness by contemplating on the process through which we became aware.
The axiom of identity says that to be is to be "something" in particular. Identity means that a thing is "this" rather that "that. The identity of an entity is the sum of its characteristics or attributes, including its potentialities for change. To have identity, is to have specific characteristics and to act in specific ways. What an entity can do depends on what it is.
A thing must be something and only what it is. In order for knowledge to exist, there must be something to know existencesomeone to know it consciousnessand something to know about it identity. That existence exists implies that entities of a certain types exist and that a person is capable of perceiving that entities of various types exist. Existence is identity and consciousness is identification.
All actions are caused by entities. Rand connects causality to the law of identity and finds necessity in the nature of the entity involved in the causal process. The concept of entity is presupposed by all subsequent human thinking since entities comprise the content of the world men perceive. Rand contends that the universe is not caused, but simply is, and that cause and effect is a universal law of reality.
Knowledge of causality involves apprehending the relationship between the nature of an entity and its method of action. Rand explains that the metaphysically given i. The metaphysically given includes scientific laws and events taking place outside of the control of men.
The metaphysically given must be accepted and cannot be changed. She explains, however, that man has the ability to adapt nature to meet his requirements.
Man can creatively rearrange the combination of nature's elements by enacting the required cause, the one necessitated by the immutable laws of existence. The man-made includes any object, institution, procedure, or rule of conduct created by man. Man-made facts are products of choice and can be evaluated, and judged and then accepted or rejected and changed when necessary.
Rand explains that the existence of consciousness is axiomatic, that consciousness is an attribute of certain living organisms, that consciousness has causal efficacy, and that there is a fundamental harmony between mind and body.
To deny consciousness is self-refuting. That consciousness can direct action is evident through extrospection i. Consciousness is connected to the body of a living organism, is non-deterministic, and is under direct volitional control. Rand contends that there is only one reality not two opposing onesthat consciousness is awareness rather than creationand that the products of consciousness are the caused results of interactions between conscious organisms and reality.
Epistemology refers to the nature and starting point of knowledge, with the nature and correct exercise of reason, with reason's connection to the senses and perception, with the possibility of other sources of knowledge, and with the nature and attainability of certainty. Rand explains that reason is man's cognitive faculty for organizing perceptual data in conceptual terms through the use of the principles of logic.
Knowledge exists when a person approaches the facts of reality through either perceptual observation or conceptualization. Sense perception is man's primary and direct form of what exists i. Senses provide man with the start of the cognitive process. The senses neither err nor deceive a man.
The senses do not judge, identify, or interpret, but simply respond to stimuli and report or present a "something" to one's consciousness. The evidence provided by the senses is an absolute, but a man must learn to use his mind to properly understand it. The task of identification belongs to reason operating with concepts. Man's senses only inform him that something is, but what it is must be learned by the mind which must discover the nature, the causes, the full context of his sensory material, and so on.
It is only at the conceptual level, with respect to the "what," that the possibility or error arises.
The Relationship Between Metaphysics and Epistemology | Dialogues with the Mirror
On the conceptual level, awareness can lead to mistaken judgments about what we perceive. Conceptualization entails an interpretation that may differ from reality. However, man's reason can be used to correct wrong judgments and expand one's knowledge of the world. A man's senses react to the full context of the facts. Sense perceptions are valid in that they are perceptions of entities which exist. Sensations are caused by objects in reality and by a person's organs of perception.
It is the purpose of the mind to analyze the perceptual evidence and to identify the nature of what is and the causes in effect. A difference in sensory form among various perceivers is merely a difference in the form of perceiving the same object in reality.
As long as a person perceives the underlying objects and relationships in reality in some form, the rest is the mind's work, not the work of the senses.
The Relationship Between Metaphysics and Epistemology
Any perceptual mechanism is limited. It follows that the object as perceived is the result of an interaction between external entities and a person's limited perceptual apparatus.
Forms of perceptions are circumscribed by a person's physical abilities to receive information interacting with external objects in connection with the laws of causality. In other words, perceptual awareness is the product of a causal interaction between physical entities and physical sense organs.
Perceptual awareness marks the beginning of human knowledge. In order to understand the world in conceptual form, man must integrate his percepts into concepts. A concept integrates and condenses a number of percepts into a single mental whole. Although based on sensory percepts, human knowledge, being conceptual in nature, can depart from reality. The mind is not infallible nor automatic and can distort and be mistaken. A man can only obtain knowledge if he adheres to certain methods of cognition.
The validity of man's knowledge depends upon the validity of his concepts. Whereas concepts are abstractions i. Concept-formation is based on the recognition of similarity among the existents being conceptualized.
Rand explains that an individual perceptually discriminates and distinguishes specific entities from their background and from one another. A person then groups objects according to their similarities regarding each of them as a unit.
He then integrates a grouping of units into a single mental entity called a concept. The ability to perceive entities or units is man's distinctive method of cognition and the gateway to the conceptual level of man's consciousness.
According to Rand, a concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to one or more characteristics and united by a specific definition. A definition is the condensation of a large body of observations.
Whereas a concept is assigned precise identity through the use of a definition, the integration i. Words are concrete audiovisual representations of abstractions called concepts. Words transfer concepts into mental entities whenever definitions give them identity. Language makes this type of integration possible. Concept formation is largely a mathematical process.
There is a connection between measurement and conceptualization. Similarity, an implicit form of measurement, is the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same attributes but in different measures or degrees. The mental process of concept formation consists in retaining the characteristics but omitting their measurements.
The relevant measurement of a particular attribute must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity. The measurements exist, but they are not specified. A concept is a mental integration of units possessing the same differentiating characteristics with their particular measurements omitted.
Rand states that a conceptual common denominator is made up of the characteristic s reducible to a unit of measurement by which a person distinguishes two or more existents from other existents possessing the characteristic s. In other words, the comprehension of similarity is necessary for conceptualization. Perceptual data lead to first level concepts. In turn, higher level concepts are formed as abstractions from abstractions i. Concepts differ from each other not only with respect to their referents but also in their distances from the perceptual level.
Knowledge is hierarchical with respect to the order of concept formation. It consists of a set of concepts and conclusions ranked in order of logical dependence upon one another. The last step in concept formation is definition. A definition identifies a concept's units by particularizing their fundamental attributes.
A definition identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept. A definition differentiates a given concept from all others and keeps its units distinguished in a person's mind from all other existents.
The differentiation must be limited to the essential characteristics. Rand employs Aristotle's "rule of fundamentality" when she states that the essential characteristic is the one that is responsible for, and therefore can explain, the greatest number of the unit's other distinguishing characteristics.
She explains that concepts are instruments to save space and time and to attain unit-economy through the condensation of data. Concepts have a metaphysical basis since consciousness is the ability of comprehending that which exists. Concepts result from a particular type of relationship between consciousness and existence.
Definitions are statements of factual data as compressed by a human consciousness. Definitions, as factual statements, involve the condensation of a multitude of observations of similarity and difference relationships. They are also contextual since they depend, in part, on the definer's context of knowledge. A new or revised definition does not invalidate the objective context of the old definition. Full context is the sum of available knowledge.
The essential characteristics of a concept are epistemological rather than metaphysical. Rand explains that concepts are neither intrinsic abstract entities existing independently of a person's mind nor are they nominal products of a person's consciousness, unrelated to reality. Concepts are epistemologically objective in that they are produced by man's consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality.
Concepts are mental integrations of factual data. They are the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by a human being, but whose content is determined by reality.
For Rand, essences are epistemological rather than metaphysical. Rand contends that, although concepts and definitions are in one's mind, they are not arbitrary because they reflect reality, which is objective.
The question as to how one reasons is one such dilemma, yet this question and the myriad possibilities that arise from it falls partially in the domain of metaphysics. Epistemology, in order to function as it is supposed to, must accept that knowledge can be communicated and that reality is a quantity that can be known, at least to some extent.
Because there must be an underlying similarity between individuals in order be able to communicate this knowledge, so there must be at some level a similarity between human minds and that means that the concepts tied up in metaphysics must be linked to epistemology. This strange dualism does not detract from either concept; indeed it actually enhances each one. By giving up dependence on the concept of uninterrupted reality, something outside science, epistemology does not relinquish objective truth; instead it grabs holds of it even more tightly and wraps itself up in the dualism created by its symbiosis with metaphysics.
The core concepts espoused by both of these branches of philosophy are not at heart incompatible, in fact we see that the opposite is quite true. Just as the foundation of epistemic inquiry is the belief in the existence of things, it is only apt that it should be counterbalanced by metaphysics, which questions that very existence. Without this both branches would be in states of imbalance. There is a correlation within and between epistemology and metaphysics which clearly demonstrates a relationship of interdependency between these core concepts of philosophy.
Conventionally there is believed to be a sharp distinction between them, but at close examination it becomes clear that these two branches of philosophy far from being distant form each other are actually intricately intertwined. It is therefore important when travelling down either of these paths of wisdom to not only tread lightly, but with our head turned in the direction of the other aspect because with each of them firmly taking our hands as we travel, we are liable to become confused and lose our way.