Mises and the Diminished A Priori

Excellent piece by David Gordon at Mises.org regarding Rothbard’s and Machlup’s differing interpretations of Mises’ methodological approach to economic theory (the a priori aspect of Mises’ praxeology). In “Mises and the Diminished A Priori“, Gordon assesses recent claims (cited by Peter Boettke) by Gabriel Zanotti and Nicholas Cachanovsky that Machlup’s interpretation was arguably superior to Rothbard’s and that the dominance of the Rothbard interpretation may have been a setback for the progress of the Austrian tradition and in terms of getting it accepted in the mainstream.

From Gordon’s piece:

Even if I am right that our authors present a distorted view of Rothbard’s interpretation of Mises, the decisive point in the controversy lies elsewhere. When Mises speaks of a priori knowledge in economics, what does he mean? To say that an a priori statement in a theory is one not subject to testing makes an incomplete claim. One needs also to ask, why is the statement immune from testing? One answer, that of Machlup, is that the statement is a mere convention: no claim is made for the truth of the statement in itself. Mises again and again makes clear that he does not look at matters in this way. He thinks that his a priori claims are incontrovertibly true, not just artifacts of a theory.

This is an excellent article for those interested in methodology and economics and the deductive logical approach of the Austrian tradition.

See also Joseph Salerno weighing in on the issue here…and some of my thoughts on Rothbard, Mises, a priori, and methodological issues are here, here, here, here, and here.

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About Russell Lamberti

Russell Lamberti is a regular contributor to Mises SA. He is Chief Strategist at ETM Analytics, an Austrian-influenced economic research firm based in Johannesburg. Although he wrties about many topics, you'll most often find him slaying patent and copyright law and exposing the biggest bubble in history: fractional reserve banking.
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