Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Sciences of Human Action - The Economic Point of View
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The Sciences of Human Action - Israel M. Kirzner, The Economic Point of View 
The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought, ed. with an Introduction by Laurence S. Moss (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews McMeel, 1976).
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The Sciences of Human Action
The description of economics as a praxeological science must necessarily be preceded by a rather detailed exposition of the praxeological point of view in general. This will readily be seen to embrace a far wider range of phenomena than is considered in conventional economics. At this point it is sufficient that the praxeological view sees economic affairs as distinguished solely by the fact that they belong to the larger body of phenomena that have their source in human actions. The core of the concept of human action is to be found in the unique property possessed by human beings of engaging in operations designed to attain a state of affairs that is preferred to that which has hitherto prevailed. A person perceives the possibility of an improvement in his position, perhaps through possession of an additional commodity, perhaps by the abandonment of an unwanted piece of property, by a change in physical location, or through some other alteration in the configuration of matters that might affect his sense of wellbeing. The recognition of any such opportunity for improving his well-being sets in motion the actions that the person will take to secure the improvement. The pattern of action taken will be broadly defined by the circumstances surrounding the desired alteration of affairs. Sound logic will, in a given situation, point to one or several courses of action that give promise of most successfully securing the desired change. In so far as human behavior is guided by logic, then, conduct will follow a path that has been selected by reason. This path of conduct is what is known praxeologically as human action.
The concrete forms that human action may take are as innumerable as are the ways in which men can achieve relief from states of relative dissatisfaction. The particular form that an individual human action takes is determined by factors that include those making up the specific environmental conditions as well as those that have shaped the character and values of the actor. The conception of sciences of human action recognizes that the form of action as it unfolds in its historical reality is the result of influences that range from the physiological to the religious, the social to the geographical. An explanation of human action can be adequately undertaken only with full awareness of these varied influences. The historian seeking to understand what men have done in particular instances must draw on the disciplines whose task it is to explain the sequences of cause and effect in the physical, physiological, or psychological influences upon action.
The contribution that the praxeological point of view has made to the scientific explication of action in history is the isolation of an element in action the explanation of which is not exhausted by even the most complete application of the sciences concerned with the concrete manifestations of human action. This residual element is that of the operation of human action itself, which neither is explained by physical, physiological, or psychological theories nor requires the assistance of these doctrines for its own exposition. A praxeological science, using the rationality of human action as its foundation, is able to derive theorems describing the path of action under given circumstances. The reasoning that constructs these theorems mirrors the reasoning that is implied in action itself. New links in the chain of knowledge, in the form of praxeological theorems, are forged from the constraint that human purposefulness imposes on action, namely, that it be taken only with the sanction of reason.
Given all the physical, physiological, and psychological influences on the setting of an action, action of a specific form might be predicted with assurance. But such prediction is conceivable, not because these influences in themselves determine action, but because action is subject to the mandate of reason, which guides the act into the path that is to be preferred among those indicated by these external influences. A complete knowledge on the part of an observer of these external influences might allow prediction of the form to be taken by action only because the logic of the observer enables him to know with certainty the path that the actor's own logic will select. When a man is about to perform a mathematical computation upon given data, an observer of the data may attempt to predict the results that the computer will arrive at. But for such a prediction to be successful, it is not sufficient to rely on the fact that these results are “determined” by the data; it is necessary that the observer with his own logic be able to reproduce mentally the logical operations performed by the computer in arriving at his results. There is, of course, a definite meaning to the statement that the results of a mathematical computation are determined by the relevant data. An attempt at the computation by a human mathematician, however, yields these “determined” results only in so far as his logic constrains him to conform to the objectively correct computational operations. The case with human action in general is rather closely analogous to this example.
At the root of the notion of human action is the simple assumption that human reason plays a role in every action. Although, of course, by no means universally acceptable, this assumption remains a simple, and at least superficially, plausible one. No matter how compelling the physiological or physical factors that crave action may seem, it is within the power of reason to resist them. No matter how strong the psychological pressures on man may be, his actions have necessarily passed the scrutiny and gained at least the tacit assent of his reason. These pressures may well be overwhelmingly powerful, and, of course, in sanctioning or prohibiting action, men's reason is operating with the consciousness of these imperious, often contradictory forces. The concept of human action depends, however, on the introspectively valid fact that there is a form of conduct that is specifically human, i.e., conduct that is accompanied by the consciousness of volition, of something more than a bundle of reflexes responding to specific stimuli. The nature of these various stimuli and the directions towards which they variously tend to guide action are completely independent of the desires and will of the actor. As such they are part of the subject matters of the physical, physiological, and psychological sciences. Were action taken simply in instinctive obedience to these stimuli, it could be conceived as objectively determined by the data constituting its setting, in the same way as the results of a mathematical computation are determined by the data of the problem. But because man possesses the power to reject one course of action for another, to arrange the satisfaction to be derived from obeying specific impulses within a wider ordering of values, the physical, physiological, and psychological sciences do not exhaust the facts of action that are capable of scientific explanation. The element in conduct that is the reflection of man's power to weigh, arrange, and choose among courses of behavior is the specifically human element in action. The investigation of this element of human action and of its manifestation in various particular situations forms a field of study unique by virtue of the nature of human action itself. Sciences of human action will be distinct from other sciences in that the former begin where the latter end, viz., in the implications of the rationality that governs purposeful behavior.