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Apr 18, 2006 8:51 pm


Anarchy in Prague



[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

Tomorrow I leave for the Prague Conference on Political Economy. This won’t be the farthest east I’ve gone in Europe, since Vietri sul Mare, on the west coast of Italy just south of Naples, is actually further east. (One of those things you don’t believe until you look at a map – like the fact that Reno, Nevada, is west of Los Angeles.) But it’ll be the farthest inland I’ve been in Europe, as well as my first visit to a former communist country.

The topic of my presentation is “Rule-following, Praxeology, and Anarchy.” Here’s an abstract:

The aim of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “rule-following paradox” is to diagnose a seductive error that Wittgenstein sees as underlying a variety of different philosophical mistakes: the implicit assumption of the need for and/or possibility of a self-applying rule. A further implication of Wittgenstein’s diagnosis is that human action is not reducible either to purely mentalistic or to purely behavioural phenomena.

If, as I shall argue, Wittgenstein’s analysis is correct, then, I shall further argue, the rule-following paradox has important implications for two aspects of Austrian theory.

First, Wittgenstein’s argument sheds light on the relation between economic theory and economic history – i.e., between the aprioristic method of praxeology and the interpretive method of thymology, as Ludwig von Mises uses those terms in Theory and History. In particular, it shows that, just as thymological interpretation involves praxeological categories, so the possession of praxeological categories involves thymological experience – thus enabling a reconciliation of the superficially opposed insights of Mises’ Kantian approach, Murray Rothbard’s Aristotelean approach, and Don Lavoie’s hermeneutical approach to Austrian methodology.

Second, Wittgenstein’s argument provides a way of defending the stateless legal order advocated by Rothbard, Lavoie, and others. Critics of free-market anarchism often charge that a stateless society lacks, yet needs, a “final arbiter” or “ultimate authority” to resolve conflicts; but what such critics mean by a “final arbiter” turns out to be yet another version of the “self-applying rule” that Wittgenstein has shown is neither needed nor possible.
Adios till next week!

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