March 10, 2019 at 12:27 pm #18966ottoParticipant
I came across this comment on an article on mises.org and wondered how this person’s argument might be addressed, particularly the notion that (and this next part is taken from the comment’s conclusion) “the most that the Action Axiom can logically guarantee is this: there is one non-reflexive human action which is purposeful (the act of denying the axiom).
Below is the comment in its entirety:
“The Action Axiom is a logical boobytrap and contains a flaw that any first year logic student should be able to spot. In the hands of Praxeologists it is always presented in an unquantified form. That is, it fails to specify whether it is claiming that 1. ”*some* (at least one) non-reflexive human action is purposeful’, 2. ‘*all* non-reflexive human action is purposeful’ or 3. some other specified subset of non-reflexive human action is purposeful. This is crucial in logical terms to secure the axiom’s meaning. Until a proposition is properly quantified it remains ambiguous. In its ambiguous state, it is neither true nor false (there is no way of determining its truth-value because there is no way of knowing precisely what it means) and no inferences can therefore be drawn from it. The Action Axiom in its ambiguous form is useless for the purposes of deduction and therefore for Praxeology. It can only be rescued if it is properly quantified.
As soon as the Axiom is quantified however, Praxeological claims for it fall apart. If the claim is that ‘*some* (at least one) non-reflexive human action is purposeful’, then the Axiom is indeed undeniable, since to deny it confirms the truth of the Axiom and leads to a contradiction. In this form, however, the axiom is trivial, since it can logically guarantee, at most, that only one human non-reflexive action is purposeful.
If the claim is that ‘*all* non-reflexive human action is purposeful,’ then, we have a much more significant proposition, but it is not undeniable. In this instance one purposeful action (such as the action of denying the Axiom) is insufficient to demonstrate the truth of the strong claim that ‘*all* non-reflexive human actions are purposeful,’ and there is therefore no logical contradiction. All other possible quantifications of the Axiom (such as ‘50% of all non-reflexive human actions are purposeful’) are deniable in the same way.
However you structure it, the most that the Action Axiom can logically guarantee is this: there is one non-reflexive human action which is purposeful (the act of denying the axiom). The Axiom does not and cannot guarantee more. That’s not a useful foundation on which to base a ‘science of purposeful action’ I would have thought.”
Link to the article in which this comment appeared: https://mises.org/library/doubt-action-axiom-try-disprove-itMarch 11, 2019 at 10:01 am #18967jmherbenerParticipant
Since I am not a philosopher, I asked Dr. David Gordon for his response to the comment, which follows:
“If someone denies the Action Axiom, he is not saying, “No actions are purposeful” He is saying, “There are no actions.” The contradiction he falls into is that his making this statement is an action, so his making the statement shows that there is at least one action. The contradiction is not that his statement shows that there is at least one action that is purposeful, so it is false that no actions are purposeful. “Non-purposeful action” makes no sense. It is true that the contradiction in denying the Action Axiom shows only that there is at least one action, but that isn’t the way we know there is more than one action..
“The statement ‘human action is purposeful’ is a definition, where by a definition is meant an account of the essence of action, not a stipulation. In other words, that’s what action is. We know that this definition is correct by thinking about the nature of action, That is, we realize that there is such a thing as purposeful behavior.”March 13, 2019 at 8:48 am #18968ottoParticipant
Thank you for the response, and for seeking David’s input.
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