Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Declining Praxgirl’s Praxeology

praxgirl

There is a fairly new video series on Youtube making its way across the Internet. It is about an area called praxeology, and it is hosted by a women with the username Praxgirl. The show has, at the time of this writing, 23 episodes in the play list, covering a variety of topics from philosophy to economics.

As we will see in this article, the ideology of praxeology is more or less anti-empirical and consists mostly of a priori arguments. I will show why many of these falter even if we exclusively stick with a priori arguments, the problem with anti-empiricism and discuss additional limitations of Praxgirl’s positions. I do not know that much about economics as a subject, and it is not among my main interests, so I will probably not discuss some of the more specific economic arguments. I will, however, focus on areas that I think are poorly supported.

According to her blog, praxeology is

[...] the youngest and (in my opinion) the most intruiging [sic] of all sciences.

and that she and others working with her have:

[...] a passion for the science and felt that human action is often misunderstood. The current economic crisis played a part as well. We have been witnessing the so-called ‘intellegentsia’ [sic] often claiming things that are counter to basic logic for as long as we’ve understood the axiom ‘human action is purposeful behavior’. We’ve been working hard around the clock to write episodes, film them and get them online. The goal is to hopefully have a new show every week. They keep getting better as we write them and find a flow in the dissemination of the knowledge.

So Praxgirl is putting forward the claim that praxeology is a science and that her videos are dissemination knowledge. That is interesting. A core feature of science is testability. Let us see if this can be united with a strict a priori approach to reality.

What exactly is praxeology?

The first episode of the video series is an introductory video. She describes it like this (0:52):

I study the logic of human action, a science called praxeology. Praxeology is a framework for understanding the purposeful behavior of human beings. It gives us the universal laws of actions.

Historically, praxeology grew out of economics. When it was realized that economic logic didn’t just explain prices and other market phenomena, but also the nature of all human decision making.

Now, you are asking yourself: “Why should I want to study praxeology?” The same could be asked of all other sciences, such as chemistry and physics, but the answer is pretty clear: because of their usefulness in explaining the world we live in.

[...]

Likewise, praxeology gives us the tools to think about human action beyond just what is seen.

I must say that there are a few things here that makes me initially skeptical:

(1) Praxeology is put forward as a science of understanding the purposeful behavior of humans. Don’t we already have that? Isn’t it called social psychology or behavioral economics? What qualitatively new insights can praxeology bring to the table that is not already covered by these and similar fields? To anticipate an objection, it is worth pointing out that neither neurobiology or psychology is exclusively focused on internal processes, but also on behavior and the relationship between these two factors.

(2) Praxeology is also put forward as a sort of grand theory of everything; it promises to explain the “nature of all human decision making”. This is usually a red flag, as all scientific models are limited to fairly narrow areas and any grand explanation has a strong burden of evidence to fulfill before we can accept it as reasonable.

(3) It is also curious to see that praxeology is placed within the same category as physics and chemistry; it is considered a hard science. It will be interesting to see what empirical evidence exists for this “new science”.

(4) In a similar fashion, praxeology is described as a way of analyzing human action “beyond just what is seen”. What exactly does this mean? How will it work in practice?

Perhaps later videos will clarify these concerns.

The methodology of praxeology

In the second video, Praxgirl takes on the methods of praxeology and attempts to contrast these with the natural sciences (0:30).

Unlike the sciences of chemistry or physics, when approaching human beings, praxeology has to employ a method of acquiring knowledge that does not rely on observation, but on discursive reasoning. Or we may say, logical deduction.

Wait a minute. Praxeology is a science, but it does not rely on observation, but rather logical deduction? That would, by any reasonable definition of science, makes praxeology a non-science. Perhaps “philosophy position” would be a more accurate description. It is therefore strange that Praxgirl decides to call praxeology a science, yet later deny the crucial element common to all of science. One explanation is that Praxgirl is trying to dress up her philosophical positions and make it appear as if it was science, when it really was not. This is partly the definition of pseudoscience. However, I am hesitant to push for this conclusion this early. Maybe additional videos will clarify this issue: in what way is praxeology a science?

In contrast, psychology or behavioral ecology both use observational data to draw conclusions about human behavior and decision making. So why doesn’t praxeology use observation? No matter how stringent you believe your a priori arguments are, it is always possible to be mistaken somewhere. Empirical evidence allows us to check our a priori arguments (that spawn inside our brains) against the world around us to see if they hold up. Why does praxeology appear to be unwilling to do this?

She continues (1:22):

The starting point of praxeology is the undeniable truth itself and a very easy one to remember: human action is purposeful behavior. It is from this undeniable fact that all of praxeology, as a science, is deduced. This fact, or axiom, is undeniable because, as we stated before, if you try to deny that human action is purposeful, you would be acting purposeful yourself.

This argument is confused. It is perfectly consistent to say that some human action is not purposeful, yet agree that many forms of human action is indeed purposeful (including the act of delivering this argument). There are more positions than “all human action is purposeful” and “no human action is purposeful”. This is clearly a false dichotomy. If this fallacy represents the “undeniable fact” that all of praxeology is based on, well, then that does not bode well for praxeology.

There are many clear examples of human action that is not purposeful (which I interpret as “intentional”), such as fetal movements, sleepwalking, intestinal motility, reflexes, heart beats etc. This means that, besides being an obvious false dichotomy, it also fails empirically. Of course, defining “action” as purposeful makes the entire argument circular and quite unimpressive.

Praxgirl moves on:

It should be easy to see why logical deduction is the only necessary and fitting method to come to this conclusion.

Before I go on, you might be asking yourself: “It is appropriate to study human action through observation, or what scientists like to call induction?” To answer this, we need only to consider the separation between the objects that sciences like chemistry or physics study and the unique characteristic of human beings that we stated before in our axiom. These sciences can plot out the course of stones, atoms or planets through cause and effect. But humans differ categorically in one key way: human beings act. They have goals and purposes and they try to achieve those goals; stones, atoms, planets have no goals or preferences hence they either move or are moved. They cannot chose or select paths of actions or change their minds. Men and women can and do.

Sciences like chemistry or physics are able to investigate objects and classify them to their minutest detail. They can turn our observable world into bits of data to quantify. People, on the other hand, cannot be quantified. Every day people learn, adopt new values and goals and change their minds. People cannot be slotted and predict as objects without minds are without the capacity to learn and chose.

The action axiom shows that the uniqueness of all individuals is the logically necessary starting point for for studying human behavior. There have been so called scientists who have tried to disprove this notion and claimed that the methods of the natural sciences are the only true way to acquire knowledge of man and reality. But we can easily see how silly and futile their attempts are.

Conveniently, Praxgirl decides to only discuss chemistry or physics. What about, say, neurobiology? Social and cognitive psychology? Behavioral economics? All of these areas are able to explain and predict human behavior and evidence supports them.

The position expressed by Praxgirl is also vaguely dualistic. As it turns out, human values and goals are not categorically unique. Other animals have values and goals and they strive to attain those goals. Human cognitive faculties is a function of the brain. We know this because damage to the brain damages cognitive abilities in predictable ways, drugs that inhibit certain areas or functions of the brain inhibit certain cognitive functions, brain specialization and specialization of cognitive ability follow in the diverse world of chordates with brains and so on.

It is also not correct to say that the natural sciences is primarily about induction. Rather, scientists often make models of the available evidence and then derive testable predictions from that model. These are then tested against empirical reality to see if they hold up. This is known as hypothetico-deductive model.

Perhaps more worrying, Praxgirl is launching a direct attack against neurobiologists, cognitive scientists, psychologists and behavioral economists. Instead of providing evidence-based arguments in favor of her notion that “how silly and futile” the attempts of these scientists in empirically investigating human behavior, she just refers to her proposed axiom (that was revealed to be a false dichotomy in the previous section). Hardly an intellectually rigorous approach. Obviously, natural (and social) sciences are not the only ways to investigate human behavior, but it is a very powerful way that cannot be dismissed out of hand by reference to some half-baked philosophical principle that does not even stand up to a priori, let alone empirical, scrutiny.

To try and box humans into the type of predictable data and statistics that work in sciences such as biology, astronomy or geology is not only completely inappropriate, but is essentially a denial of the action axiom. A contradiction. Praxeology’s method is one kept in the realm of thinking, precisely because, as human beings, we already contain the tools necessary to understand the purposefulness of action. what should also become apparent is as certain as praxeology is of the uniqueness of all people, its explanations are also limited in scope by this fact. Logically, the search for complete predictability in the realm of human action is the search for the impossible and is therefore profoundly unscientific.

But we know that the same methods used in natural and social sciences actually can predict, analyze and explain human behavior and actions. This has been demonstrated in every single study ever done in areas such as neurobiology, behavioral economics and psychology.

As we have seen, the “axiom of action” is a false dichotomy, and therefore invalid. Even so, the quest for a scientific understanding of human behavior through the methods of the natural sciences is fully compatible with the notion that human action is purposeful. Human beings can predict the likely consequences of their actions and avoid those that produce unfavorable outcomes.

Curiously, this statement by Praxgirl makes her position contradictory. If praxeology is limited in scope, how come she proclaimed it as “nature of all human decision making”? If humans have the necessary tools to understand the purposefulness of action, how come praxeology attempts to “tools to think about human action beyond just what is seen”? Seems to make praxeology kind of redundant.

Finally, to claim that natural sciences aim for complete predictability of human action is really an uninformed straw man. Interest rather lies mostly in understanding the way the brain works and how it relates to behavior and pathology.

Conclusion

After watching four or five other videos in the series, I conclude that most of the ones left either repeat the same sort of arguments, discuss things I do not object to, or talk about economics (a topic in which my knowledge is very limited), so I think I will finish here.

To sum up, the major flaws of Praxgirl’s praxeology so far includes (1) claiming that it is a science when it does not deal with observation, (2) the central principle of praxeology, the axiom of action, is really a false dichotomy, (3) it is not clear what praxeology can bring to the table that psychology, behavioral economics, neurobiology etc. does not, (4) it assumes some kind of dualism, which contradicts modern neuroscience, (5) it attacks the attempt by natural sciences to understand human behavior without a reasonable argument and (6) makes various forms of contradictory statements.

If praxeology is based on the central axiom of human action and reject empirical research, praxeology is in trouble.

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19 responses to “Declining Praxgirl’s Praxeology

  1. Anonymous December 8, 2012 at 11:27

    Okay, before I write my defence in favour of praxeology, a disclaimer: I’m a falsificationist in my views; I’m not a pure praxeologist myself; I consider myself a “street philosopher” and am moderately familiar with micro-economics.

    As I understand it, sciences can be divided into at least two categories:
    * “Hard” sciences, which are prescriptive with falsifiable predictions
    * “Soft” sciences, which are descriptive with verifiable conclusions

    Nature of praxeology

    (1) Praxeology is actually much older, it was formalized by Mises in 1940. Praxeology focuses on the motives of rational actors.

    (2, 3) Economics is itself entirely unfalsifiable and a soft science. Praxeology necessarily focuses on rational decision making and so attempts to describe how a market is formed.

    (4) It’s a reference to Frederich Bastiat. Econometrics are unreliable for making centrist decisions because there can be unexpected consequences. Reagonomics – a simple example – predicted that there will be a growth in jobs in USA, but failed to account outsourcing.

    Personally I find it annoying that libertarians try to argue that *every* man is rational, and often dismiss any possible limitations. Hayek was at least one of Mises’ students who recognized its limitations. I consider behavioural economics and praxeology to be the empirical and rational sides of behaviorism — the former being fundamentally *irrational*.

    Methodology of praxeology

    * You’re defining science here as restricted only to hard sciences. That would involve rejection of medicine, evolution, economics (as mentioned earlier), math and cognitive linguistics to name a few.

    * Dismissal on possibility of error is like dismissing math “because it’s possible you’re wrong” i.e., irrationality. Empirical sciences actually tend to mold older theories to make up for errors far more often (e.g., MWI in quantum physics).

    * Action Axiom has that limitation yes, that it focuses only on rational human behaviour. If I remember well, Mises actually speaks of irrational behaviour as a minor case that is not important for consideration.

    * What she describes is simply the rational-empirical dichotomy; and she’s right. Even if you examine a brain, you won’t know “why” a man acts such, only on “how” he does it, and what maybe the previous stimulus. Reason is fundamentally rational and hence outside domain of natural sciences.

    Conclusion

    Now, I have two criticisms to offer to your rebuke. Firstly, you started it off saying that you will “exclusively stick with priori arguments” — that automatically means you will not bring up empiricism. Or to put it another way, you’re not being rational, your arguments are not apriori.

    Secondly, it covers the basis of what we call “microeconomics” which is mostly rooted in psychology of a rational actors — namely, market participants. Classical Economics was based on “homo economicus” which failed to describe the market; Mises attempted to build a more generalized (and reliable) model of man based on works of Carl Menger.

    “If praxeology is based on the central axiom of human action and reject empirical research, praxeology is in trouble.”

    Hardly. As you said yourself, you are not familiar with economics. (Austrian) Microeconomics fairly relies on tenets of praxeology, although it hasn’t seen much progress post Hayek.

    Neoclassical and Macroeconomics on the other hand rely on relatively simple mathematic models whose failures may have an economically disastrous outcome. We may safely say that the rational thought process cannot be modeled using simple equations, and that the number of factors influencing our actions process (let alone a whole society) are FAR more than what can be relied upon to make economics a hard science. Considering the unfeasibility of empirical study of market and dearth of evidence, I’d argue economics is in trouble.

    • Emil Karlsson December 8, 2012 at 13:40

      Thanks for commenting!

      In this blog post, I am not necessarily taking on the entire subject of praxeology, but mostly some of the claims made by Praxgirl.

      First, I would probably reject the division between hard and soft science, and replace it with a spectrum. Some fields of science are more falsifiable than others. Many of the fields that some may classify as soft science, such as history and psychology, involved empirical hypothesis testing and some fields that are typically classified as hard science, such as physics, contain models, such as string theory that cannot yet perform empirical hypothesis testing between the many versions of string theory. I therefore question the utility and accuracy of the hard vs. soft science dichotomy.

      I am probably myself guilty of this confusion. When I wrote that “it is considered a hard science”, it was not my intention to invoke the hard vs. soft science dichotomy (although I see how such an interpretation is possible after re-reading it), but to argue that Praxgirl seems to put her praxeology in the same area as serious science. So I should probably have used the word “serious” than “hard”. Sorry about that.

      However, I notice what I think is a contradiction in what you have written. You argue that economics is a soft science and therefore unfalsifiable. Then you argue that Reagonomics failed because it did not account for outsources. This would lead me to conclude that Reagonomics as that model was at the time, was falsified. So, which is it. Is economy “entirely unfalsifiable” or is “Reagonomics” a falsified economic model?

      You claim that libertarians think that every man is rational. This is not my experience. Rather, the claim is that every person has the capacity to be rational, although not necessarily always.

      I would probably completely separate behaviorism from behavioral economy, in terms of not only history, but methodology, theoretical emphasis and major conclusions. Obviously, behavioral economy leans heavily on the cognitive revolution.

      Although I have not put forward a criteria for judging things as science or non-science, I have discussed concepts like falsifiability, testability and drawing conclusions from observations. These criteria do not exclude medicine, evolution, economics, cognitive linguistics or mathematics (particularly embodied mind theories).

      Irrational behavior is actually quite well-spread. Look at creationism, government policies that lack evidential or rational support, alternative medicine etc.

      There is no rational/empirical dichotomy and it is possible to study brain and behavior to find out reasons for acting. On the level of the brain, the only difference between “how” and “why” is conceptual. “How” is about brain activity, “why” about cognitive motivations. The latter is not immune to scientific investigations. The existence and success of cognitive psychology shows this quite nicely, I think.

      Now, I have two criticisms to offer to your rebuke. Firstly, you started it off saying that you will “exclusively stick with priori arguments” — that automatically means you will not bring up empiricism. Or to put it another way, you’re not being rational, your arguments are not apriori.

      That is not what I said. What I wrote was the following:

      I will show why many of these falter even if we exclusively stick with priori arguments, the problem with anti-empiricism and discuss additional limitations of Praxgirl’s positions.

      What this means is that I think that many of Praxgirl’s arguments fail (such as her defense of the action axiom) because of internal logical flaws, even if we do not bring in empirical data. I never said that I would exclusively stick with [a] priori arguments.

      I now notice that an “a” is missing in front of priori, I will fix that spelling mistake in my post.

      “If praxeology is based on the central axiom of human action and reject empirical research, praxeology is in trouble.”

      Hardly. As you said yourself, you are not familiar with economics. (Austrian) Microeconomics fairly relies on tenets of praxeology, although it hasn’t seen much progress post Hayek.

      I should probably have used the term “Praxgirl’s praxeology” and not “praxeology” as if I meant the entire field, which I assume is diverse and complex.

    • Anonymous December 8, 2012 at 17:50

      You’re welcome! I honestly expected you to be more aggressive in your reply considering the nature of discussions you’d frequently encounter on this blog, but I’m pleasantly surprised. Back to topic..

      Apriori implies that it’s precedes experience (empirical evidence), I believe my statement still holds — it would be like asking the evidence for math (if we believe praxeology is apriori).

      Praxgirl’s praxeology is mostly a regurgitation of Mises’ own arguments, actually. I feel that it would be hasty to reject the merit of the argument due to the arguable flaw in the central axiom. An analogous statement to action axiom is, “Human thought is rational” – so, to understand the axiom you must be rational and thus cannot reject it. Of course we can tell there are limitations of this, such as cognitive dissonance and confabulation. Such issues extend to economics, and thus they’re both soft sciences.

      My dichotomy of science is based wholly on a single principle proposed by Popper — namely, falsification. Simply put, if a scientific model claims “if this conclusion is false, my model is broken” — then it’s falsifiable. In experimental physics, if Higgs Boson weren’t discovered, scientists would rapidly move on.

      My statement about Reagonomics I believe still stands — while *I* claim that it has failed, you’d still see mainstream economists defending it. Praxeology may oppose such a policy.

      Natural Selection – what empirical evidence would make us reject natural selection? The answer is none. The consequence is that you have competing models, such as those about menopause.

      Why does this distinction matter so much? For one, “Black Swan theory” discusses limitations of statistical models and their employment in making policies. Imagine a skyscraper built on wrong readings of gravity.

      Note that this doesn’t concern the *domain* of study, nor the utility of the science involved, but the models employed. Consider how psychoanalysis made several important contributions to modern psychology.

      My personal observation is that “Irrational behaviour” is often not irrational but perfectly rational and instead fuelled by ulterior political motives. For instance, creationism is motivated by religion; climate denialism is motivated by capitalism and so on.

      I must say this though that I should actually clarify a few things here and be strict with definitions. Praxeology is behaviourism not in the sense of not behavioural psychology (which is a model of the mind). Instead it’s simply the “study of human action” — same as behavioural economics. The difference is that praxeology is a rational approach, the other being empirical.

      Secondly, I’m not sure if you understand the deal with rational-empirical issues. I should better term it as, “analytic-synthetic dichotomy” and concerns epistemology. Since epistemology, psychology and linguistics are interlinked, we see similarities in their discussions as well:

      cognitive (rational) vs connective (empirical) theory of mind
      universal (rational) vs stochastic (empirical) theory of grammar
      Even in physics, we see the theoretical and experimental approaches.

      It may interest you that Quine (a behavioural empiricist) put forward a strong philosophical criticism against such a dichotomy. Note that neuroscientists occasionally draw conclusions that conflict cognitive theories (e.g., neuroplasticity to some extent).

      Lastly, as for the role of neurology in reason; I agee that “How” concerns the mechanism and “Why” concerns the motive or meaning. But mechanism of the motive is not a justification. Take for instance, how Chomsky argued against stochastic grammar models by comparing it to bees — even if we draw probabilistic models of bee dancing, we won’t deduce the meaning behind such actions.

      Ethics for instance, is a purely rational topic. People like Sam Harris naively argue (i base this on second hand knowledge of his works) that maximal happiness/health is ethical — that would imply that propaganda is ethical.

      Wow, that’s a long argument. It has become little about praxeology and more about epistemology.. Considering it’s philosophy, I believe we can put it aside.

    • Emil Karlsson December 8, 2012 at 20:14

      The mathematics argument

      I think the math argument is only persuasive for those who subscribe to a different philosophy of mathematics than I do. Embodied mind theory of the philosophy of mathematics basically states that mathematics may be viewed as a language for idealized description of real and imagined or just imagined quantities, structure, relations, space, change and patterns unique for its component simplicity, rigorousness, unambiguity and precision.

      So from the perspective of embodied mind theory, mathematics is in some sense an empirical science (with rational aspects, like any science).

      The action axiom

      An analogous statement to action axiom is, “Human thought is rational” – so, to understand the axiom you must be rational and thus cannot reject it. Of course we can tell there are limitations of this, such as cognitive dissonance and confabulation.

      To be sure, a lot of human though is rational. But a lot of human thought is also very irrational. This is why I think such a blanket statement about human thoughts is misguided. The fact that my understanding of the axiom implies that my thoughts in this case are rational i.e. I can process the words and understand their syntax, semantics and social context does not, in itself, mean that the statement that human thought is rational in some larger sense is true.

      The Higgs Boson and falsifiability

      My dichotomy of science is based wholly on a single principle proposed by Popper — namely, falsification. Simply put, if a scientific model claims “if this conclusion is false, my model is broken” — then it’s falsifiable. In experimental physics, if Higgs Boson weren’t discovered, scientists would rapidly move on.

      Not quite accurate, for two reasons:

      (1) The Higgs boson is an aspect among many in the standard model in physics. This model has gone through so many empirical corroborations and have survived so many potentially lethal tests, that an anomaly when it comes to the Higgs boson would not necessarily lead to the rejection of the standard model. Perhaps some ad hoc hypothesis would be postulated that itself could be tested.

      (2) A failure to find the Higgs boson might not imply that such a boson does not exist, but rather that our measuring instruments are not advanced enough.

      My statement about Reagonomics I believe still stands — while *I* claim that it has failed, you’d still see mainstream economists defending it. Praxeology may oppose such a policy.

      While individual economists may still defend Reagonomics, it seems that, from the view of empirical data, it has been falsified. Perhaps not to the extent that a wrong model in physics could be falsified, but still. I am unpersuaded by your attempts to unite the claim that economics is unfalsifiable with the claim that a specific model has been refuted by empirical data.

      Is natural selection unfalsifiable?

      Natural Selection – what empirical evidence would make us reject natural selection? The answer is none.

      I can come up with many kinds of empirical evidence that would make scientists reject natural selection as an explanation for a certain organismal feature. If a certain character was not inheritable or if there was no variation in that feature within a population or if the character did not affect reproduction. Natural selection requires inheritance, variation and differential reproduction. Take away any of these, and you cannot have natural selection. Scientists would probably also reject natural selection as a direct explanation for a phenotypic trait if there was a model (with more evidence) based on a feature being a by-product of selection for something else.

      Note that this doesn’t concern the *domain* of study, nor the utility of the science involved, but the models employed. Consider how psychoanalysis made several important contributions to modern psychology.

      I would probably reject that claim, as modern psychology is based mostly on neuroscience and the cognitive perspective. Perhaps you are mixing up psychoanalysis (which is a form of therapy) with the psychodynamic perspective? If so, then there may or may not be something to that argument, but it would still come under heavy fire from modern psychologists.

      Does irrational behavior exist?

      My personal observation is that “Irrational behaviour” is often not irrational but perfectly rational and instead fuelled by ulterior political motives. For instance, creationism is motivated by religion; climate denialism is motivated by capitalism and so on.

      I think it is important to separate two different kinds of rationality: epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality. Simplified, epistemic rationality is about what beliefs are justified, whereas instrumental rationality is about what beliefs are useful for a certain goal.

      While some beliefs may be instrumentally rational in a limited sense, these need not be epistemically rational. I think this is the case for creationism and the rejection of climate science (although their motivations is more complex than you describe).

      So if “rational” in the action axiom really refers to instrumental rationality, I am sure we can find some human behavior that is not even instrumentally rational. Unless human behavior is defined as behavior that is instrumentally rational, which brings us to the circularity objection that I leveled in the original post.

      Praxeology and behavioral economics

      Praxeology is behaviourism not in the sense of not behavioural psychology (which is a model of the mind). Instead it’s simply the “study of human action” — same as behavioural economics. The difference is that praxeology is a rational approach, the other being empirical.

      But if praxeology and behavioral economics aim to describe the same reality, they should not contradict each other. But they seem to do that, as behavioral economics largely reject humans as rational optimizers. In fact, behavioral economics is kind of built on the discovery that humans are not always rational optimizers.

      I would probably question the dichotomy between rational/empirical, analytic/synthetic and disagree that ethics and morality are purely rational enterprises, but those are entire fields of their own and my comment is long enough as it is.

  2. Anonymous December 9, 2012 at 05:51

    [This is mostly just opinions, I felt it best that I mention them]

    Do you mean intuitionist mathematics? The question “on what proof would you reject math” cannot be answered so it cannot be falsified.

    Many physicists were infact disappointed with its discovery – that’s the strength of a falsifiable theory. The thought that “we’re not looking harder” is a dangerous thought because we had already plotted the possible zone of finding it.

    My point about regaonomics is that you cannot predict the success of an economic model without simulating it; let alone deducing the basis of failure. Can we say that if there were stricter rules for outsourcing, it would still not boost employment? You can’t have controlled macroeconomic experiments.

    Mendelian inheritance is rigid and falsifiable. But not natural selection:
    * The presence of inheritance and variation doesn’t imply the presence of natural selection. Also, differential reproduction is very contextual.
    * I’m confident that there is no model of variance that can be rejected from within the framework of natural selection.

    Please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsificationism#Examples

    If you would look into it you would notice that Freud and Jung (among others) had tremendous influence and contributions to modern psychology. You speak as if pseudoscientific theories *cannot* draw any scientific conclusions. This stigma around pseudoscience may lead us to lose valuable knowledge.

    I would argue that the economic order around us shows dominance of rationality. The strength of the axiom is same as that of natural selection in my opinion — unfalsifiable, but makes for a very useful metaphysical framework.

    Behavioural economics actually demonstrates the same “irrational behaviour” coming from dearth of resources. Spontaneous judgements are rational but relative (which can be exploited) due to lack of time. In fact, this is an attack on the ‘homo economicus’ model, enforcing praxeologists.

    • Emil Karlsson December 9, 2012 at 23:23

      I was not referring to intuitionist mathematics, but to embodied mind theories (EMT) of the philosophy of mathematics. Intuitionism basically claim that mathematics is merely a human mental construction and does not have to do with analytical activities or the establishment of some deep mathematics truth. EMTs, on the other hand, suggests that mathematics is a special kind of language for describing real or imagined quantities, structure, relations, space, change and patterns unique for its component simplicity, rigorousness, unambiguity and precision. So the reason mathematics is so effective is because quantities, space, changes and patters etc. exists out in the real world. So EMTs are not the same as intuitionism. EMTs would also classify mathematics as a human mental construction, but with deep ties to reality and deep mathematical truth.

      You are correct in that it is difficult to test macroeconomic theories by making predictions about the future. But it appears that we can say that Reagonomics was a model that did not accurately reflect reality. This is, in some sense, a form of falsification.

      Mendelian inheritance is rigid and falsifiable. But not natural selection:
      * The presence of inheritance and variation doesn’t imply the presence of natural selection. Also, differential reproduction is very contextual.
      * I’m confident that there is no model of variance that can be rejected from within the framework of natural selection.

      The presence of inheritance and variation does not alone imply natural selection, but inheritance, variation and differential reproduction together imply natural selection (that’s the definition of natural selection). Differential reproduction is determined by analyzing the way allele frequencies in populations shift over time. This can be done with genetic analysis or simply counting offspring.

      So if there is any biological feature that lacks one of these three basic things, then natural selection does not occur.

      To be sure, Freud and Jung did have influence, but most of their proposed explanations are no longer taken that seriously by modern psychologists.

      I would argue that the economic order around us shows dominance of rationality.

      I think that the subprime mortgage crisis clearly show that rationality is not always dominant. Literally tens of thousands of people borrowed money they could not afford to pay back in addition to ineffective government regulation.

      I doubt the claim that behavioral economics show that irrationality comes from dearth of resources. The examples in popular books on behavioral economy such as Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely does not seem to fit this view.

    • Anonymous December 10, 2012 at 16:30

      I’m not sure what you mean by “deep mathematical truth”. In either case, to consider math is scientific is to ask then if language is scientific. Failure is contextual, falsification is disambiguous.

      The failure of reagonomics is a resounding success from my third-world perspective; this is the “effect which is not seen” spoken of in the video.

      Differential reproduction requires inheritance and variation. There is no imaginable scenario where differential reproduction fails to hold, making it a tautology and hence unfalsifiable. In fact, I’d argue that natural selection is simply a restatement. In found the study of clinical psychology, many important contributions have been made – which is the utility I spoke of.

      Since I’m not american, I’m not sure about the exact details of the mortgage crisis, but from what little I know it’s more likely the result of public misinformation and ineffective regulation as you mentioned than any inherent irrationality. Excerpts from Ariely’s works is in fact my exposure to behavioural economics, and the very experiments people use to “demonstrate irrationality” are individuals making relative judgements given the lack of time.

      [I was wondering if I should reply or not, but because the points of difference are clear now, I hope this would be the last reply, although I still am looking forward for your response.]

    • Emil Karlsson December 10, 2012 at 18:53

      The study of language could very well be scientific.

      No, differential reproduction does not intrinsically require inheritance and variation. It is just that we are so use to seeing them together that we have a hard time to mentally uncouple them. Differential reproduction just means that some creatures produce more offspring than others. That concept itself says nothing about the degree of resemblance between parents and offspring (inheritance) or do what degree there is variation in the population.

      There are many imaginable and practical scenarios where differential reproduction is not the case. A culture dish with a few bacteria of the same type with nutrients added in excess is one such environment. The increase is exponential and there is no differential reproduction to speak of.

      The view that natural selection is a creationist claim that has been debunked decades ago. It can be constructed quite easily and have been done so many, many times before.

      The irrationality of individual humans is a core feature of the mortgage crisis as individuals took loans they surely must have known they would have problem paying back.

    • Anonymous December 10, 2012 at 21:56

      Language as a testable concept sounds similar to the behaviorist theory of language which has been rejected at least by modern linguistics.

      In hindsight it always seems irrational. Considering how even economists didn’t foresee the crisis, it’s safe to say that homeowners couldn’t have possibly observed the scale of the bubble.

      [I will reply about natural selection via the Contact section, because it's off-topic]

  3. Leonardo Marques de Souza February 4, 2014 at 18:52

    Praxeoloxy is a tool (intent to be) to study human behavior. Studying the Von Misses theory/philosophy , you can conclude that are a very practical tool.
    His axiom “human action is purposeful behavior” is, in fact, a axiom. And like Math, a axiom is a truth and is undeniable (its a natural definition axiom self),
    Example: reflexive axiom, a = a … over this i built a lot theorems and algebraic constructions based no “a=a”… But you can say: “Hey, this axiom is invalid, because some people write “a” as “A” ” … Well, thats truth, exist a many forms to write “a”, but this axiom only talk about form “a”, and not “A” and variants, So, if you built a lot theorems based on “a=a” when you see a case with “A” this axiom and all theorems constructed cant be used!! Why??? Because axiom is a fact, its a definition. (well, you can try to prove that a = A, and automatically gain several theorems)

    So Praxeoloxy use axiom “human action is purposeful behavior”, to deduct a lot theorems based on this, Von Misses talk about conscious and unconscious . So if you do a conscious act, its is a “human action” and “purposeful behavior”, and if it is a “unconscious” or involuntary its cant be studied by Praxeology becouse it not match the axiom, you need to use other “tool”. (like Natural number, where a theorem say there no number between “0” and “1”, and after that you try to refute this axiom arguing existence of “0.2222” with is not Natural)

    I have not see Praxgirl videos, but the texts that you passed the videos, its appear see is trying to be didactic, but with a lot of fail samples and modifications about praxeology.

    Well, that´s my 50¢

    • Emil Karlsson February 5, 2014 at 16:28

      You claim that praxeology is a practical tool to study human behavior. Yet you do not provide any evidence for this claim and you do not show why we should prefer praxeology to, say, cognitive or social psychology.

      Any science of human behavior that tries to start with non-empirical axioms are not going to be valid. Scientific models are based on evidence, not philosophical axioms.

      An axiom is just a starting point for an argument. It does not have to be deniable. For instance, some of the axioms of e. g. Euclidean geometry are deniable and we know that parallel postulate in Euclidean geometry is false in reality. This notion that axioms are undeniable is something that is attributed to Ayn Rand and it does not have any counterpart in mainstream philosophy, mathematics or social/cognitive psychology.

      In fact, you treatment of the concept of “axiom” contradicts itself on several places. First, you claim that it is undeniable. Then you claim it is a fact. Then you claim it is a definition.

      You state that praxeology tries to deduce facts about human behavior based on the supposed axiom that “human action is purposeful behavior”. Yet this is not how science works. You do not start with a definition and deduce facts. You start with an idea and then test it using empirical data. This key differences lies at the heart of why praxeology is not science.

    • Leonardo Marques de Souza February 5, 2014 at 20:11

      Hi,

      well, we can prefer praxeology to complement economic science, and help to create a study about cause and effect on social actions. And you are sure, i can use social psychology on cases where i cant detect if some human behavior (when its is essential to predict) are conscious or unconscious.

      You are right, all science have bases on empiricism, Math (witch is not science) starts from empirical observation. Even praxeology. But i disagree about philosophical axioms, in strict definition “philosophical axioms” are hypothesis that can be used to tests a possible theory, even if it fails to test theory, i can use this axiom in strict form, to test only part os theory, or to build other theory, or… to put in a desk and lock with key :) Its enough this axiom not came with paradox.
      But i understood you point of view, you say about scientific methodologies cant came from “nothing”. And i agree.
      — more blabla about axiom — 88 —————

      Praxeology (on realy von Mises) use construction based on Kant concept about preposition. Or preposition is “analytic or synthetic,” or “a priori or a posteriori”. Scientific Methodology use this concepts to construct a True.
      And Praxeology is a method, not Science, based on logic, to use on Economy or Social Science to studie human action.

  4. Leonardo Marques de Souza February 5, 2014 at 20:14

    Hi,

    well, we can prefer praxeology to complement economic science, and help to create a study about cause and effect on social actions. And you are sure, i can use social psychology on cases where i cant detect if some human behavior (when its is essential to predict) are conscious or unconscious.

    You are right, all science have bases on empiricism, Math (witch is not science) starts from empirical observation. Even praxeology. But i disagree about philosophical axioms, in strict definition “philosophical axioms” are hypothesis that can be used to tests a possible theory, even if it fails to test theory, i can use this axiom in strict form, to test only part os theory, or to build other theory, or… to put in a desk and lock with key :) Its enough this axiom not came with paradox.
    But i understood you point of view, you say about scientific methodologies cant came from “nothing”. And i agree.
    — more blabla about axiom —
    I disagree to about Euclidean axiom are deniable, because definition about axiom. All axioms, ever made or will be made cant be deniable. In a axiom, i can use or not use, thats all. When i use two axiom in a theory or hypothesis, what not can happen is a paradox between axioms, if this happens, one or other or both axioms cant be used. Its a Pure Algebra synthesis.
    The point is a axiom made from empiricism, is a rule. Its a sophist call a axiom “deniable” or “undeniable” Its always True. i´m sorry is i write it on my last post, i tried to be didactic.
    To be more didactic. I can say. “Unicorn eat flowers”. Well, its my hypothesis, and i can try to build a lot of analytic theories, base on this phrase. I can tell this a axiom, and its not because at first i cant prove, or is coherent so our mammalian are so vast and diversification. I build this axiom, because i will build a lot theorems, and this theorems cant have paradox, its enough. My logical method need to be… logic. You can say, “unicorns” not exists… well that not the point. with my very restrictive axiom, when some one see a unicorn, and this unicorn eat fruit, my axiom and my theorems cant be used yet, only with unicorns that eat flowers.
    I remember most games rules are axioms. In soccer game, i can build a axiom “all players cant touch ball”… and other axiom, “goalkeeper can touch ball”.
    If you try to use this two axioms to build “soccer game” you can. “hey!!! goalkeeper is a player”. No, using axioms, goalkeeper is goalkeeper. “but i need a goalkeeper can be ‘player’ to”. Well, our theory fails….
    Put the axiom “all player cant touch ball” on trash and rebuild a new rule that cant put a paradox “player that can touch and cannot touch a ball”.
    Well, all this, returning to Euclidean. Popular magazines call euclidean axiom is fail. In Math its not fail. Or i can use it more strict than i think i can, or i cant use. Other example. if i try to solve some thing and ends on “0/0″ its a in-definition. It not means it cant be solve, but the tool that i use to solve is not enough and not “fit” to this solution.
    —————

    Praxeology (on realy von Mises) use construction based on Kant concept about preposition. Or preposition is “analytic or synthetic,” or “a priori or a posteriori”. Scientific Methodology use this concepts to construct a True.
    And Praxeology is a method, not Science, based on logic, to use on Economy or Social Science to studie human action.

  5. Leonardo Marques de Souza February 5, 2014 at 20:15

    (i dont knon, but my penultimate comment was “cutted”, i sent again )

  6. Emil Karlsson February 8, 2014 at 13:10

    You seem to agree that praxeology is not science, yet you claim that it can “compliment” economics / social psychology. How exactly? What can praxeology contribute that cannot be demonstrated / supported by economics / behavioral sciences?

    You state that the Euclidean axioms are not deniable by referring back to your position that no axiom can be deniable. However, this is a circular argument: you are assuming that which you are trying to demonstrate. Make no mistake, Euclidean axioms are deniable. There in no contradiction performed by stating that the parallel axiom in Euclidean geometry is false. There is no contradiction in non-Euclidean geometry. In fact, some of the most successful scientific models of the 20th century, such as general relativity, are based on non-Euclidean geometry.

    Modern philosophy tend to reject the analytic/synthetic distinction and even the existence of synthetic a priori truths (they are not deductive and not experiential, so what does such a truth claim even mean)?.

    • Leonardo Marques de Souza February 10, 2014 at 04:57

      Hi, well, i see praxgirl videos (not all of course, but a 5 videos) and, its is connected to libertarian bases(in philosophy we learn this things). What i can say? I dont know exactly what praxgirl (or a group?) is propose to teaching this, but i agree with you. Praxgirl saying “praxeology” is:
      1) ‘is a axiom and is a base to understudy all human behavior, and you cannot deny that so all human has “predictable behavior”.’
      Well… its sophism, axiom by definition is a “true”(math true), but it not means this true is our reality. you can create a axiom so abstract that does not fit anything in our reality. So this axiom can be a “fiction”, useless, game rule, math distraction. I never can say a axiom IS reality, what i can do is create a axiom, that help me to represent a little part of this reality;(gravitation formulas, acceleration, etc..)
      2) is not psychology, its is a new way to study economics, etc… (resuming);
      she is right, is is not a psychology, and it is not economics; But is fallacious! its comparing a method (step-by-step) with a science. Science use a lot of method to develop a hypothesis, to create a theory, in this cases can use praxeology or not.
      3) praxeology is a new age, a indubitable and ultimate science to study human behavior;
      Fallacy.its a simple, good tool to put you collection study about human behavior. “Wow, i will study why people buy more goods on December than July”, i can use praxeology to organize, on some specific moments of my research, my collected data (questionnaires,etc) to produce more questions and collect more data, and in some point, conclude my hypothesis/theory.

      What i understudy about praxeology, by praxygirl/libertarian people eyes, is like a Genesis(bible) of ultimate human behavior understanding. but its NOT! von Mises never say that (in this books).

      I’m not a good teacher in non euclidean grade, but believe, i understood what you say. I try to fix you conclusion using “math words”.
      You are right, in non-euclidean study, euclidean area, obvious not fit and are “deniable” (what i see is:”not in a form of”).

      But all study about euclidean deduction and his axiom are right, simple and can be used to study a lot of simple real things on our world, you can “round” our world mechanics to fit on euclidean study. But to our real world, do not exists perfection math, and in some cases its cannot be used. It not means euclidean theorem are wrong or paradoxical, its only means the not fit on all cases. its no represent a ultimate study about our reality. So Non-euclidean areas try to fix this holes (expand conception), definition about parallels in non-euclidean area do not collide with euclidean, its only different. “what happens if our ‘parallels’ touch in infinite?” this answer only happens on non-euclidean geometry, not on euclidean because not exists, its “not a form of”. Some magazines say “non-euclidean are more complete, and perfect parallels do not exist on our real world,. so why use euclidean model?, its all wrong”. Euclidean model are more simple, and its simple to put real world in his model, its still useful to teach and use where our calculator can round it, where our “delta e” (error variance) does not cause a big problem.

      This discussion is more about usability’s theories and fully analytic theories(theorems,corollary,etc); when you say “deniable” i see “not a form of”.
      what is axiom? is a true (Math true, not a God true or a reality true). when i built some thing over this, i cannot generate a paradox, if it happens my theorem will not exists, it only exists ,or happens as theorem, when it is proved.(Math is the only language that paradox does not exist, its a True is a “sine qua non” to Math)
      Axiom, *represents* my reality? maybe. It is our reality? NO. If i prove, on my reality , that not exists parallels infinity? well, you discover a natural thing, axiom are not reality, and you always try to fit a real thing in a abstract thing. And my axiom?if reality differs considerably from the ideal, i can archive it, or modify (and rebuild all theorems). but if it has no paradox (axiom conclude different this about other axiom), its not “wrong” (Math false). On natural language, you are right, always some things can be deniable. On Math “deniable” does not exists.

      I wrote a lot thing about ‘axiom’, ge.. rethinking about this discussion. Its more possible i do not think about natural language but Math language, so its cause confusion.

    • Leonardo Marques de Souza February 10, 2014 at 13:50

      After talking with a friend about this topic, i think is better to put a example of use axiom, and how it works in a scientific method.

      When i see, in real world, some think that is very common, like “life”, i see some tacit definitions about it, that is difficult to explain. But when i work with scientific method, i need to fix a definition, so based on this definition i work to explain “life” and all thinks that derived from that.
      So i can define and fix a “solid definition”, a axiom, where all theories and theorems based on this axiom. That axiom guaranties? That is valid (cannot be true and false – false = not true – at same time, and this is initial a true. its a conversion, some one decides a axiom start from “true” and not a “not true” (or false) because it senses more natural.
      Returns to “life”, i (or a team) try to create a axiom so general, that’s any scientist can use without problems. So lets go. “A life is a consequence of water”. This is my axiom prime, after i try to create a other axioms, or theorems base on this. After that, Scientist A, B and C build a hypothesis, theories, theorems based on my (our) axioms.
      What can happen? “Life” is very difficult do generalize, and 100 yeas later some one can discover a kind of life that cannot cam from “water” or is not consequence from water. So axiom is invalid? No. Its false? No. Its can be deniable? based on scientific method, no. Is deniable based in Math logic? No. Its can be deniable from natural language? always, that why i can contest and construct other premises, but i cannot (or its better do not) touch on a very use axiom.
      When i can touch a axiom?
      When i see that is easy to rebuild ao theories/theorems/hypothesis without big damages.
      When is not cause changes on theorems, but amplify. like Lavousier axiom/postulate/law. “In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed.” some one add “at same time” to this law.
      Why axiom are so “fixed and untouchable”? because If i wrote a theorem, and 1000 years later some scientist read this theorem, he need to see in what bases this was constructed.”wow, this theorem is based on very old and obsoleted axiom ‘life is a consequence of water’, but life is not this any more, I will read this theorem and repeat based on this old axiom, than i rebuild this theorem with modern concepts and reuse this methods to other things.”

      Backing to praxeology, von Mises knew that exists cases that human behavior cannot from a proposed act. but This theorems can only be constructed on more generic and tacit concept of human behavior and cause and affect based on this (that can measured, on some way, when some one do this in conscious way). So he fix a concept to generate theories, calling “Human action is purposeful behavior”. So when you collect data to study economy, for example, you can use praxeology to develop you knowledge if, and only if, it can be filtered/fit on axiom. In your collected data exists a human predictable acts? (you need to confirm scientifically, use psicology, sociology, statistic, placebo, etc…) this human predictable (conscious) causes a action? (here you need to use all definition from von Mises about action, and this definition cannot cause a paradox with other methods used). Ok, not all fit, but only 30% of my data can fit on praxiology axiom. So i can use in this 30% all methods described to conclude more abstract things. After that i need to test this conclusion on real-world with more research. That is. Its a tool to be used in science. Remember, when a axiom are more generic, more usefully it will be.

      I know that von Mises wrote some theories about economy and divulge a bases of libertarianism (not modern libertarian concepts, but initial “economics libertarian”), and he wrote praxeology , as a good philosopher, trying to prove this point of view. Well, what he build was a useful tool and this tool, ironically, can confirm and disagree a lot of his hypothesis about economy facts.

    • Leonardo Marques de Souza February 10, 2014 at 15:34

      Thanks for the link you passed. I considered this in my point of view.
      adding some comments:

      Kant and Frege, in simple way, say about how practical and possible is to translate a natural language to a logic language (how it is self maintained and valid) . Natural language have paradoxes naturally, so how can i fit it on axiom, without this “problems”? Well, i know that is very difficult, but its not ‘axiom’ problem itself, the problem exists on this creator (to make more generic and easy to translate and fit facts) , and the scientist/mathematician whos need to fit his interpretation about collects data to fit on axiom.

      On my school, i believe that necessary to distinct analytic and synthetic forms. First because Math, that starts from real world, or counting. But now it not need anything from reality, only definition by definition. In other hand, its useful to some science areas like physics, where need to create a fully analytic worlds (virtual), from based on our would, how is possible? i need to translate with a enough consistence to Math abstraction, and build a new hypothetical world, where this will, possible, explain estrange things on real world. Ex.: At 1900 Newtonian laws, this low do not explains Mercury planet movements, its a real problem that collides with law theory. What is right? Its difficult, in one hand i can say. “Newtonian law are right, fully experimented, your experiments with Mercury are wrong”, or “Newtonian law are incomplete, and our observations are right”. This problem move scientists on 1900. Einstein ear about this, and propose a model, where gravity is not a “thing”, not exists, its only a another dimension. Well, rewriting Netwton law, using this idea, now Mercury fit on Einstein model, not on Newtown model. The two models explain calculations, but this two model are not our reality, its only explain. Thats cases we see, math first, than we try to find this “reality” on our realworld with experiments. Its like a prove that pink unicorns exists (in Math, or logic deduction) and than i try to find this “animals” on real world.
      There are some curious theories , in same way, that fully explain in Math what happens, in more simple and more accurate way, but its very hard to believe that is possible on real world.
      Physics depends on Math to create a possible world (virtual), before real world (real). Higgs boson was a example, Relativity is another. SUSY (super symmetric) and others.

  7. Emil Karlsson February 12, 2014 at 21:13

    I find it a bit difficult to understand your arguments. Perhaps you can condense and clarify?

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