Thursday, January 29, 2009

Menger's Axioms

This post is part of a series exploring Principles of Economics by Carl Menger.  The following explores content from chapter 1.

Previously in this series: The Methodenstreit

The Austrian economist who is thought to have brought the tradition to its apogee is Ludwig von Mises. Among other feats, he is the one who established its methodology on the firmest possible foundations. In his axiomatic-deductive formulation of praxeology, the study of human action achieves the degree of certainty of mathematics itself. One should not be surprised that most thinkers, immersed as they are in the dominant empiricism of these times, are highly skeptical of the grand claims of the praxeological project. While Austrians should persevere in the epistemological good fight when discussing fundamental questions, bringing up the notion of apodictic certainty in every economic discussion can be distracting and unprofitable.

Besides, one's economic argument can be rigorous and irresistible without invoking apodictic certainty. Menger proved this by constructing in his Principles a work of nigh undeniable truth without the benefit of Mises' epistemological Archimedean point. He did this by simply invoking axioms like "all things are subject to the law of cause and effect"1. He didn't establish this proposition's self-evidence. But who besides Pyrrhonist skeptics and interested parties will deny it? And if they do not deny it, and find that Menger's deductive inferences from that principle are sound, then how can they deny his conclusions? They cannot; if they dislike his conclusions, their only recourse is to ignore his work as Schmoller did and mainstream economists do today.

1Carl Menger, Principles of Economics, Chapter 1

Next in this series: Menger on Goods

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