Mises & The Yogi

This one's for my homies over at The Austrian Economists.
As Julian just pointed out to me the other day, Mises says that praxeology, the logic of human action, may not actually apply to all humans. Buddhists, for example, our Schopenhaurian pessimists.

Some philosophies advise men to seek as the ultimate end of conduct the complete renunciation of any action. They look upon life as an absolute evil full of pain, suffering, and anguish, and apodictically deny that any purposeful human effort can render it tolerable. Happiness can be attained only by complete extinction of consciousness, volition, and life. The only way toward bliss and salvation is to become perfectly passive, indifferent, and inert like the plants. The sovereign good is the abandonment of thinking and acting.

Such is the essence of the teachings of various Indian philosophies, especially of Buddhism, and of Schopenhauer. Praxeology does not comment upon them. It is neutral with regard to all judgments of value and the choice of ultimate ends. Its task is not to approve or to disapprove, but to describe what is.

The subject matter of praxeology is human action. It deals with acting man, not with man transformed into a plant and reduced to a merely vegetative existence.

Now, this is a really delightful passage. It reminds me of some of Rand's passages in “The Objectivist Ethics” about the impossibility of living as a parasite, despite the gobsmackingingly obvious fact (for Washingtonians especially) that millions upon millions successfully, and happily, live as parasites. Here we have Mises telling us that praxeology is purely descriptive, and then writing billions of people (you know, all those Hindus and Buddhists) out of the human race with a definition of “man” so dense with normative weight that it's about to collapse in on itself.
The passage is really ripe in light of the preceding paragraphs. There Mises writes:

For praxeology it is enough to establish the fact that there is only one logic that is intelligible to the human mind, and that there is only one mode of action which is human and comprehensible to the human mind. Whether there are or can be somewhere other beings–superhuman or subhuman–who think and act in a different way, is beyond the reach of the human mind. We must restrict our endeavors to the study of human action.

But wait! Buddhists apparently think and act in a different way, right?! Oh no they don't, Mises says. Unless a being's behavior accords with the a priori logic of praxeological law, determined by the transcendental structure of the human mind, then it's not really action, it's just, what? Motion? And if it's not really acting, but just moving–a face flapping its lips and making noises, but not really speaking–then it's not really human. And so . . . a distinctively human life in accord with the teachings of the great world religions of mindfulness is LOGICALLY IMPOSSIBLE!
So here's a joke:
Q: What does Mises call beheading a room full of meditating yogis?
A: Gardening!
I have to admit, I've never made it past the first chapter of Human Action, because the badly undermotivated a priorism drives this naturalist up a wall. Boettke has some story about how alll this is really consistent with a Quinean, fallibist, naturalist “web of belief” view of things, but not only don't I see it, I see the opposite of that. Anyway, because I don't think Reason (theoretical or practical) is a basic function of the human mind, but is instead a culturally evolved assemblage of other basic functions, the idea that we could transcendentally deduce it's structure, or posit its structure as the essence of humanity, seems silly.
What say you, Miseans? Is it really value neutral to say that if I pick Nirvava as my ultimate end, then I've opted out of human life? Economic principles only apply to Buddhists insofar as they aren't acting like Buddhists?

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center