I was discussing the action axiom (i.e. "Human action is purposeful") with my boyfriend today and we ran into a point of confusion concerning its proof as provided by the Mises Institute and Praxgirl. We have been debating for several hours now on whether this constitutes a substantive objection and whether it has already been addressed. At this point we decided to turn to the clever (and extraordinarily handsome) readers here for further input.
I am going to quote at length from a blog post I found which states my objection very well:
A question occurred to me while I was reading a passage by George Selgin, explaining why (many) Austrians hold Ludwig von Mises's praxeological method to be the most valid form of all economic reasoning. Following Immanuel Kant, it basically boils down to a belief that the human action axiom cannot be refuted, because, as per Selgin (pg 22):
To meaningfully deny the "action axiom" (i.e., the claim that people act purposefully) is difficult. Denial of the axiom's empirical validity involves a purposeful act on the part of skeptics. It therefore confronts them with the uncomfortable choice of either conceding the issue or proclaiming that their own disagreement is purposeless. Thus, any denial of the action axiom is self-contradictory.
Am I the only that sees an obvious philosophical objection to this? It extrapolates from a single (contrived?) instance and purports to have shown that the same rules must hold for all human actions over all of time. Near as I can tell, this is done without further justification.
To put things differently, just because I act purposefully at this one particular moment in time (i.e. by denying the action axiom), how does rule out the possibility that I may have acted in a non-purposeful way at any other moment? Indeed, I would think that if someone did try to deny the action axiom, their position would very likely be based on past events and experiences that are completely independent of the present “catch-22” moment. You could easily argue that framing things in such a way – to assume that people act must purposefully at all times, or not at all – is a false dichotomy that invalidates the claim to (strict) apodictic truth.
At best – or worst, depending on your position – it therefore seems to me that denying the action axiom is only momentarily self-contradictory, not an exhaustive set that is valid over all time.
A rather laboured analogy:
MARIO: "Hey Luigi, are you awake?"
MARIO: "A-ha! But you have to be awake, since you just answered me. So... Proof that you don't sleep!
Anyway, this seems such an obvious objection to me that I can't shake the feeling that a) someone has already proposed it (to possible counter-argument), or b) I'm wrong in an even more obvious way. So, followers of Mises: Hit me with it!
This is the exact same issue I have with the argument Stef has made numerous times in favor of UPB: essentially, "By debating with me in pursuit of truth, you demonstrate that truth is preferable to falsehood-- therefore, I conclude that truth is a universally preferable concept."
Personally I agree with the action axiom, and UPB, on an intuitive basis -- both seem correct, but I can't justify my intuition here with a logically rigorous proof. Since these are basic foundations of my personal philosophy(!), I would like to be absolutely convinced.