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Praxeology (/ˌpræksiˈɒləi/; from Ancient Greek πρᾶξις (praxis), meaning 'deed, action', and -λογία (-logia), meaning 'study of') is the deductive study of human action, based on the notion that humans engage in purposeful behavior, as opposed to reflexive behavior like sneezing and inanimate behavior.[1] According to its theorists, with the action axiom as the starting point, it is possible to draw conclusions about human behavior that are both objective and universal. For example, the notion that humans engage in acts of choice implies that they have preferences, and this must be true for anyone who exhibits intentional behavior.

The discipline was founded by Auguste Comte[2] but most common use of the term is in connection with the Austrian School of economics, as established by economist Ludwig von Mises.[3]


Origin and etymologyEdit

Coinage of the word praxeology is often credited to Louis Bourdeau, the French author of a classification of the sciences, which he published in his Théorie des sciences: Plan de Science intégrale in 1882:

On account of their dual natures of specialty and generality, these functions should be the subject of a separate science. Some of its parts have been studied for a long time, because this kind of research, in which man could be the main subject, has always presented the greatest interest. Physiology, hygiene, medicine, psychology, animal history, human history, political economy, morality, etc. represent fragments of a science that we would like to establish, but as fragments scattered and uncoordinated have remained until now only parts of particular sciences. They should be joined together and made whole in order to highlight the order of the whole and its unity. Now you have a science, so far unnamed, which we propose to call Praxeology (from πραξις, action), or by referring to the influence of the environment, Mesology (from μεσος, environment).[4]

However, the term was used at least once previously (with a slight spelling difference), in 1608, by Clemens Timpler in his Philosophiae practicae systema methodicum:

Fuit Aretologia: Sequitur Praxiologia: quæ est altera pars Ethicæ, tractans generaliter de actionibus moalibus.[5]

There was Aretology: Following that Praxiology: which is the second part of the Ethics, in general, commenting on the actions of the moral virtues.

It was later mentioned by Robert Flint in 1904.[6] The popular definition of this word was first given by Alfred V. Espinas (1844–1922),[7] the French philosopher and sociologist; he was the forerunner of the modern Polish school of the science of efficient action. The Austro-American school of economics was based on a philosophical science of the same kind.

With a different spelling, the word was used by the English psychologist Charles Arthur Mercier (in 1911), and proposed by Knight Dunlap to John B. Watson as a better name for his behaviorism.[8] Watson rejected it. But the Chinese physiologist of behavior, Zing-Yang Kuo (b. 1898) adopted the term in 1935.[9] It was also used by William McDougall (in 1928 and later).[10]

Previously the word praxiology, with the meaning Espinas gave to it, was used by Tadeusz Kotarbiński (in 1923). Several economists, such as the Ukrainian, Eugene Slutsky (1926) used it in his attempt to base economics on a theory of action. It was also used by Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1933), Russian Marxist Nikolai Bukharin (1888–1938) during the Second International Congress of History of Science and Technology in London (in 1931), and Polish scholar Oscar Lange (1904–1965) in 1959, and later.

The Italian philosopher, Carmelo Ottaviano, was using the Italianised version, prassiologia, in his treatises starting from 1935, but in his own way, as a theory of politics. After the Second World War the use of the term praxeology spread widely. After the emigration of Mises to America his pupil Murray Rothbard defended the praxeological approach. A revival of Espinas's approach in France was revealed in the works of Pierre Massé (1946), the eminent cybernetician, Georges Théodule Guilbaud (1953), the Belgian logician, Leo Apostel (1957), the cybernetician, Anatol Rapoport (1962), Henry Pierron, psychologist and lexicographer (1957), François Perroux, economist (1957), the social psychologist, Robert Daval (1963), the well-known sociologist, Raymond Aron (1963) and the methodologists, Abraham Antoine Moles and Roland Caude (1965).

Under the influence of Tadeusz Kotarbiński, praxeology flourished in Poland. A special 'Centre of Praxeology' (Zaklad Prakseologiczny) was created under the organizational guidance of the Polish Academy of Sciences, with its own periodical (from 1962), called at first Materiały Prakseologiczne (Praxeological Papers), and then abbreviated to Prakseologia. It published hundreds of papers by different authors, and the materials for a special vocabulary edited by Professor Tadeusz Pszczolowski, the leading praxeologist of the younger generation. A sweeping survey of the praxeological approach is to be found in the paper by the French statistician, Micheline Petruszewycz, A propos de la praxéologie.[11]

Ludwig von Mises was influenced by several theories in forming his work on praxeology, including Immanuel Kant's works, Max Weber's work on methodological individualism, and Carl Menger's development of the subjective theory of value.[12]

Austrian economicsEdit

Austrian economics relies heavily on praxeology in the development of its economic theories.[1] Ludwig von Mises considered economics to be a sub-discipline of praxeology. Austrian School economists continue to use praxeology and deduction, rather than empirical studies, to determine economic principles.

Advocates of praxeology also say that it provides insights for the field of ethics.[13]


The categories of praxeology, the general, formal theory of human action, as outlined by Murray Rothbard are as follows:[14]

A. The Theory of the Isolated Individual (Crusoe Economics)
B. The Theory of Voluntary Interpersonal Exchange (Catallactics, or the Economics of the Market)
1. Barter
2. With Medium of Exchange
a. On the Unhampered Market
b. Effects of Violent Intervention with the Market
c. Effects of Violent Abolition of the Market (Socialism)
C. The Theory of War – Hostile Action
D. The Theory of Games (e.g., von Neumann and Morgenstern)
E. Unknown


Thomas Mayer has argued that the Austrian economists' rejection of the scientific method, which employs positivism and empiricism in the development of theories, invalidates Austrian methodology.[15][16] Austrians argue that logical positivism cannot predict or explain human action, and that empirical data itself is insufficient to describe economics, which in turn implies that empirical data cannot falsify economic theory, and that logical positivism is not the proper method of conducting economic science.[17][1] Ludwig von Mises in particular argues back against empiricist approaches in social sciences in general, and economics in particular, that human events are unique and "unrepeatable," and thus establishes a crucial distinction between historical data, impossible to reproduce or isolate from their complex environment, and the controlled and reproducible experiments required by sciences where an empiricist method would be possible.[18]

Economist Mark Blaug has criticized over-reliance on methodological individualism, arguing it would rule out all macroeconomic propositions that cannot be reduced to microeconomic ones, and hence reject almost the whole of received macroeconomics.[19]

However, economist Antony Davies argues that praxeology and empiricism are not mutually exclusive, and that in fact the empirical data support Austrian economics and therefore praxeology.[20]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Rothbard, Murray N. (1976). "Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics". The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics. pp. 19–39. Retrieved 2017-02-04. 
  2. ^ Cotterrell, Roger (1999). Emile Durkheim: Law in a Moral Domain. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP. p. 4. ISBN 0804738238. OCLC 43421884. 
  3. ^ Long, Roderick T. "What the Hell is Praxeology?". Retrieved 4 February 2017. 
  4. ^ Bourdeau, Louis (1882). Théorie des sciences: Plan de Science intégrale. Tome Second. Paris: Librarie Germer Baillière. p. 463. Retrieved 4 February 2017. À raison de leur double caractère de spécialité et de généralité, les fonctions doivent constituer l’objet d’une science distincte. Quelques—unes de ses parties ont été étudiées de bonne heure, car ce genre de recherches, dont l’homme pouvait se faire le sujet principal, a présenté de tout temps le plus vif intérêt. La physiologie, l’hygiène, la médecine, la psychologie, l’histoire des animaux, l’histoire humaine, l’économie politique, la morale, etc., représentent des fragments de la science que nous voudrions établir; mais fragments, épars et sans coordination, sont restés a l’état de sciences particulières. Il faudrait les rapprocher et en faire un tout afin de mettre en lumière l’ordre de l’ensemble et son unité. On aurait alors une… science, innommée jusqu’ici et que nous proposons d’appeler Praxéologie (de πραξις, action), ou, en se référant a l’influence des milieu, Mésologie (de μεơος, milieu). 
  5. ^ Timpler, Clemens (1608). Philosophiae practicae systema methodicum. libris IV pertractatam. Hanoviae: Apud Gulielmum Antonio. p. 388. Retrieved 4 February 2017. 
  6. ^ Flint, Robert (1904). Philosophy as Scientia Scientiarum. Edinburgh. pp. 254–55. 
  7. ^ Ostrowski, Jean J. (July–September 1967). "Notes biographiques et bibliographiques sur Alfred Espinas". Review Philosophique de la France et de l'Etranger. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France (3): 385–91. 
  8. ^ Watson, John B. Behaviourism: The Early Years. 4. 
  9. ^ Edited by Murchison, Carl Allanmore, The Journal of psychology, Volumes 3–4, 1935
  10. ^ McDougall, William (1928). The Battle of Behaviorism: An Exposition and an Exposure. p. 35. 
  11. ^ In 'Mathématiques et Sciences Humaines', Paris, Centre de mathématique sociale et de statistique-Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, No. 11. Ete, 1965, pp. 11–18, and a rejoinder 'Réponse a un appel' by J. Ostrowski, ibid,, No. 19, Ete, 1967, pp. 21–26
  12. ^ Selgin, George A. (1987). "Praxeology and Understanding: An Analysis of the Controversy in Austrian Economics". Review of Austrian Economics. 2: 22. Retrieved 4 February 2017. 
  13. ^ Rothbard, Murray N. "Praxeology, value judgments, and public policy." The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics (1976): 89–114.
  14. ^ Murray N. Rothbard. "Praxeology: Reply to Mr. Schuller", American Economic Review, December 1951, pp. 943–46.
  15. ^ Mayer, Thomas (Winter 1998). "Boettke's Austrian critique of mainstream economics: An empiricist's response". Critical Review. Routledge. 12: 151–71. doi:10.1080/08913819808443491. (subscription required)
  16. ^ "Rules for the study of natural philosophy", Newton 1999, pp. 794–96, from Book 3, The System of the World.
  17. ^ Mises, Ludwig von (2003). Epistemological Problems of Economics. Translated by Reisman, George (3rd ed.). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 1 February 2017. 
  18. ^ Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action
  19. ^ Blaug, Mark (1992). The Methodology of Economics: Or, How Economists Explain. Cambridge University Press. pp. 45–46. ISBN 0-521-43678-8. 
  20. ^ Davies, Antony (12 September 2012). "Complementary Approaches". Cato Unbound. Retrieved 27 December 2016. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit