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The Task and Scope of the Science of Human Action 23 content of common economic experience.” The consciousness of every economically active human being, he continues, provides him with a fund of experiences that are the common possession of all who practice economy. These are experiences that every the-orist already finds within himself without first having to resort to special scientific procedures. They are experiences concerning facts of the external world, as for instance, the existence of goods and their orders; experiences concerning facts of an internal character, such as the existence of human needs, and concerning the consequences of this fact; and experiences concerning the origin and course of economic action on the part of most men. The scope of economic theory extends exactly as far as common experience. The task of the theorist always ends where common experience ends and where science must collect its observations by historical or statistical investi-gation or by whatever other means may be deemed reliable.28 It is clear that what Wieser calls “common experience,” in con-tradistinction to the other kind, is not the experience with which the empirical sciences are concerned. The method of economics, which Wieser himself calls the psychological method, but which at the same time he also sharply distinguishes from psychology, con-sists, he says, in “looking outward from within the consciousness,” while the natural scientist (and therefore empirical science) observes the facts “only from without.” Wieser sees the cardinal error of Schumpeter precisely in his belief that the method of the natural sciences is suitable also for economic theory. Economics, Wieser maintains, finds “that certain acts are performed in the con-sciousness with the feeling of necessity.” Why, then, “should it first go to the trouble of deriving a law from a long chain of induction when everyone clearly hears the voice of the law within himself?”29 28Friedrich von Wieser, “Theorie der gesellschaftlichen Wirtschaft,” Grundriss der Sozialökonomik (Tübingen, 1914), p. 133. 29Friedrich von Wieser, “Das Wesen und der Hauptinhalt der theoretis-chen Nationalökonomie,” Gesammelte Abhandlungen, ed. by F.A. Hayek (Tübingen, 1929), p. 17. 24 Epistemological Problems of Economics What Wieser calls “common experience” is to be sharply dis-tinguished from experience acquired “through observations col-lected in the manner of historical or statistical studies.” Clearly, this is not experience in the sense of the empirical sciences, but the very opposite: it is that which logically precedes experience and is, indeed, a condition and presupposition of every experience. When Wieser seeks to mark off economic theory from the historical, descriptive, and statistical treatment of economic problems, he enters upon a path that must lead, if one follows it consistently, to the recognition of the aprioristic character of economic theory. Of course, it should occasion no surprise that Wieser himself did not draw this conclusion. He was unable to rid himself of the influence of Mill’s psychologistic epistemology, which ascribed an empirical character even to the laws of thought.30 II. THE SCOPE AND MEANING OF THE SYSTEM OF A PRIORI THEOREMS 1. The Basic Concept of Action and its Categorial Conditions The starting point of our reasoning is not the economy, but eco-nomic action, or, as it is redundantly designated, rational action. Human action is conscious behavior on the part of a human being. Conceptually it can be sharply and clearly distinguished from unconscious activity, even though in some cases it is perhaps not easy to determine whether given behavior is to be assigned to one or the other category. As thinking and acting men, we grasp the concept of action. In grasping this concept we simultaneously grasp the closely correlated 30Among the most recent works devoted to the logic and methodology of the science of human action are those of Karel EngliÓ: Grundlagen des wirtschaftlichen Denkens, trans. by Saudek (Brünn, 1925); Begrundung der Teleologie als Form des empirischen Erkennens (Brünn, 1930); and Teleologis-che Theorie der Staatswirtschaft (Brünn, 1933). The opposition between causality and teleology, which is the chief concern of EngliÓ, is not within the scope of the problems dealt with here. The Task and Scope of the Science of Human Action 25 concepts of value, wealth, exchange, price, and cost. They are all necessarily implied in the concept of action, and together with them the concepts of valuing, scale of value and importance, scarcity and abundance, advantage and disadvantage, success, profit, and loss. The logical unfolding of all these concepts and cat-egories in systematic derivation from the fundamental category of action and the demonstration of the necessary relations among them constitutes the first task of our science. The part that deals with the elementary theory of value and price serves as the starting point in its exposition. There can be no doubt whatever concern-ing the aprioristic character of these disciplines. The most general prerequisite of action is a state of dissatisfac-tion, on the one hand, and, on the other, the possibility of remov-ing or alleviating it by taking action. (Perfect satisfaction and its concomitant, the absence of any stimulus to change and action, belong properly to the concept of a perfect being. This, however, is beyond the power of the human mind to conceive. A perfect being would not act.) Only this most general condition is necessar-ily implied in the concept of action. The other categorial conditions of action are independent of the basic concept; they are not neces-sary prerequisites of concrete action. Whether or not they are pres-ent in a particular case can be shown by experience only. But where they are present, the action necessarily falls under definite laws that flow from the categorial determinacy of these further conditions. It is an empirical fact that man grows old and dies and that therefore he cannot be indifferent to the passage of time. That this has been man’s experience thus far without exception, that we do not have the slightest evidence to the contrary, and that scarcely any other experience points more obviously to its foundation in a law of nature—all this in no way changes its empirical character. The fact that the passage of time is one of the conditions under which action takes place is established empirically and not a priori. We can with-out contradiction conceive of action on the part of immortal beings who would never age. But in so far as we take into consideration the action of men who are not indifferent to the passage of time and who therefore economize time because it is important to them 26 Epistemological Problems of Economics whether they attain a desired end sooner or later, we must attrib-ute to their action everything that necessarily follows from the cat-egorial nature of time. The empirical character of our knowledge that the passage of time is a condition of any given action in no way affects the aprioristic character of the conclusions that necessarily follow from the introduction of the category of time. Whatever fol-lows necessarily from empirical knowledge—e.g., the propositions of the agio theory of interest—lies outside the scope of empiricism. Whether the exchange of economic goods (in the broadest sense, which also includes services) occurs directly, as in barter, or indirectly, through a medium of exchange, can be established only empirically. However, where and in so far as media of exchange are employed, all the propositions that are essentially valid with regard to indirect exchange must hold true. Everything asserted by the quantity theory of money, the theory of the relation between the quantity of money and interest, the theory of fiduciary media, and the circulation-credit theory of the business cycle, then becomes inseparably connected with action. All these theorems would still be meaningful even if there had never been any indirect exchange; only their practical significance for our action and for the science that explains it would then have to be appraised differently. How-ever, the heuristic importance of experience for the analysis of action is not to be disregarded. Perhaps if there had never been indirect exchange, we would not have been able to conceive of it as a possible form of action and to study it in all its ramifications. But this in no way alters the aprioristic character of our science. These considerations enable us to assess critically the thesis that all or most of the doctrines of economics hold only for a lim-ited period of history and that, consequently, theorems whose validity is thus limited historically or geographically should replace, or at least supplement, those of the universally valid the-ory. All the propositions established by the universally valid theory hold to the extent that the conditions that they presuppose and precisely delimit are given. Where these conditions are present, the propositions hold without exception. This means that these propositions concern action as such; that is, that they presuppose The Task and Scope of the Science of Human Action 27 only the existence of a state of dissatisfaction, on the one hand, and the recognized possibility, on the other, of relieving this dissatisfac-tion by conscious behavior, and that, therefore, the elementary laws of value are valid without exception for all human action. When an isolated person acts, his action occurs in accordance with the laws of value. Where, in addition, goods of higher order are introduced into action, all the laws of the theory of imputation are valid. Where indirect exchange takes place, all the laws of mone-tary theory are valid. Where fiduciary media are created, all the laws of the theory of fiduciary media (the theory of credit) are valid. There would be no point in expressing this fact by saying that the doctrines of the theory of money are true only in those periods of history in which indirect exchange takes place. However, the case is entirely different with the thesis of those who would subordinate theory to history. What they maintain is that propositions derived from the universally valid theory are not applicable to historical periods in which the conditions presup-posed by the theory are present. They assert, for example, that the laws of price determination of one epoch are different from those of another. They declare that the propositions of the theory of prices, as developed by subjective economics, are true only in a free economy, but that they no longer have any validity in the age of the hampered market, cartels, and government intervention. In fact, the theory of prices expounds the principles governing the formation of monopoly prices as well as of competitive prices. It demonstrates that every price must be either a monopoly price or a competitive price and that there can be no third kind of price. In so far as prices on the hampered market are monopoly prices they are determined in accordance with the laws of monopoly price. Limited and hampered competition that does not lead to the for-mation of monopoly prices presents no special problem for the theory. The formation of competitive prices is fundamentally inde-pendent of the extent of competition. Whether the competition in a given case is greater or smaller is a datum that the theory does not have to take into account since it deals with categorial, and not concrete, conditions. The extent of the competition in a particular ... - tailieumienphi.vn
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