In Human Action, Mises states:
It is customary for many people to blame economics for being backward. Now it is quite obvious that our economic theory is not perfect. There is no such thing as perfection in human knowledge, nor for that matter in any other human achievement. Omniscience is denied to man. The most elaborate theory that seems to satisfy completely our thirst for knowledge may one day be amended or supplanted by a new theory. Science does not give us absolute and final certainty. It only gives us assurance within the limits of our mental abilities and the prevailing state of scientific thought. A scientific system is but one station in an endlessly progressing search for knowledge. It is necessarily affected by the insufficiency inherent in every human effort. But to acknowledge these facts does not mean that present-day economics is backward. It merely means that economics is a living thing–and to live implies both imperfection and change.
I agree with this, and most economists, either in heterodoxy and orthodoxy branches, would agree with this. A perfect economic theory is unattainable simply because our knowledge is not perfect, or as Mises stated, ‘omniscience is denied to man.’ But then if we accept the Mises passage above, doesn’t this imply that Mises’ praxeology idea may be falsified? Here is Mises on praxeology:
Praxeology is a theoretical and systematic, not a historical, science. Its scope is human action as such, irrespective of all environmental, accidental, and individual circumstances of the concrete acts. Its cognition is purely formal and general without reference to the material content and the particular features of the actual case. It aims at knowledge valid for all instances in which the conditions exactly correspond to those implied in its assumptions and inferences. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts. They are both logically and temporally antecedent to any comprehension of historical facts
Here he truly accepted that praxeology could not be falsified, but he stated in the same book that ‘a scientific system is but one station in an endlessly progressing search for knowledge,’ and the fact that we are not gifted with omniscience means that our theories have to be falsified because they are not perfect.
I raised this issue in Daniel Kuehn’s blog in which I state:
If we were to stay logically consistent then, doesn’t this imply that praxeology may be falsifiable then?
To Mises not all of economics is praxeology. Praxeology is the logical part that follows from definitions, then there are the observational forms of “catallactics” that do not follow from logic. It’s also possible to make mistakes in the logic of praxeology.
For all that I don’t really accept Mises views on methods, but they are more reasonable than many people make them out to be.
In which I respond back:
you missed the point though… Mises thought the structure of praxeology was not falsifiable, it was a given everyday fact that humans acted purposefully. People like, say Karl Popper, did not like praxeology precisely because it could not be falsified.
But if we look at the Mises passage above he implies that economic theory may be falsified and replaced by something else. Thus in order to stay consistent, he is implying that praxeology may be falsified.
A Misesian cannot except both statements by Mises, one must accept that economics is, in a sense, an evolutionary process where economic theories are subject to change or that praxeology cannot be falsified . To accept both things would be contradictory.
So really, am I right then? Did Mises just contradict himself? I believe so. I doubt that I will get a satisfying answer from the opposition, but I am of course open to one. This also raises another important question though: If then, praxeology does account for falsifiability, then can it finally be viewed as scientific, at least by the followers of Karl Popper?