Thursday, February 5, 2009

Menger on Human Drives and Human Nature

This post is part of a series exploring Principles of Economics by Carl Menger.  The following explores content from chapter 2.

Previously in this series: Menger on Time and Uncertainty

NEEDS ARISE FROM OUR drives and the drives are imbedded in our nature. An imperfect satisfaction of needs leads to the stunting of our nature. Failure to satisfy them brings about our destruction. But to satisfy our needs is to live and prosper. Thus the attempt to provide for the satisfaction of our needs is synonymous with the attempt to provide for our lives and well-being. It is the most important of all human endeavors, since it is the prerequisite and foundation of all others.

Menger's second chapter of his Principles starts with this splendid paragraph. In it, he seems (to my relief) to veer away from his seeming emphasis on objective needs. By saying that needs arise from internal drives, and not from some externally objective notion of what is good for us, it seems that Menger really means "recognition of needs" or "desires" instead of "needs". For how can, for example, the objective need for a body to have water to survive be said to arise from our drives? No, only our recognition of our need for water, and our resultant desire for water can be said to arise from our drives.

In his references to nature, Menger shows his Aristotelean bent. Aristotle argued that all things have a nature, and a thing's nature is to evolve into the state into which it generally tends toward; such a state is the thing's purpose.

For Aristotle, man's purpose was the polis. Menger, in this paragraph, however, took Aristotle's teleological view of man, and turned it toward his individualist and subjectivist view. Instead of a political animal, whose nature is to live in and for a polis, man is an economizing animal, whose nature is to pursue the satisfaction of his needs/desires.

Next in this series: Menger on Requirements

No comments: