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Julian Frederick
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It's true that you will find scattered references to utilitarianism in Mises work, especially in his work prior to human action. My suggestion is to understand Mises social philosophy trough his second book "Nation, State and Economy". In this book Mises tells us how the multi-ethnic empire of Austria was in constant disquiet because every ethnic group was competing for favours of the government. He tells us how the simple construction of a post-office led to fights between ethnic-groups. In todays terms you would say that Mises says that politics thus inevitable leads to a prioner's dilemma. Because if A is seeking priveleges, B is forced to take political actions too. In my view, Mises extends Locke's idea that we can all gain from peace and toleration. And that if someone starts to look for priveleges we will ultimately have an arms race, which will be worse for everybody. So the normative idea, behind Mises value-free-praxeology is to show, that everybody will benefit of laissez-faire and toleration. (Note: that Mises constantly reminds us, that property rights are necessary for religious freedoms and freedom of consciousness.) Mises thus thinks, that if we were all good praxeologists, we would all agree on the rule of law on consequentialist grounds. But agreeing on the rule of law on consequentialist grounds is not the same as being a rule consequentialist(!!). Note for instance, that the people in Rawls original position also agree on a certain set of rules on broadly consequentialst grounds. But Rawls is not a rule consequentialist, but a contractarian. One of the major differences is for instance, that rule consequentialism applies to every area of morality, while contractualism groundes in consequentialism covers only the realm of what we owe to one another. [If you want, I would gladly expand on what's the difference on grounding the constitution on consequentalistic grounds and being a rule consequentialist.]
Dear Prof. Rizzio, I think that what you say about Mises is correct, but nevertheless "rule consequentialism" has a distinct meaning in ethics. It means you should do whatever is likely (as a rule of thumb) to maximize utilty (preferences, average utility or whatever you axiology says is valueble). From a rule consequentialistic point of view, you are not allowed to spend money for pleasure, but instead are obliged to invest it (save it). Think of how illiberal that would be! In my opinion, Mises is more related to some brand of contractualism, because he thinks, that all people would agree to market rules, if they were not plagued by wrong instrumental beliefs, even socialists. Mises main aim - we should never forget - is to root out false instrumental beliefs.
Dear Prof. Boettke, I strongly disagree with your proposition that Mises was a rule consequentialist. The reason for that is quite straightforward: One of Mises main propositions is that you cannot compare utilities of two people (incomparability axiom). On the other hand consequentialism as well as utilitarianism needs to have a certain axiology, which can rank the utilies of two persons. For example, if you have two persons A and B, consequentialism tells you to give the good (g) to the persons which would benefit most. But a necessary condition for knowing who would profit most, is that you are able to compare (at least in theory) the utilies of A and B first. In other words you need to be able to aggregate utility, and that is exactly what Mises time and time dismisses (compare e.g. his constanct criticism towards welfare economy theorists). I would rather think, that you can make sense of Mises normative standpoint as a quasi-proto-paretian idea. Because that is the only evaluative standard which is compatible with Mises claim that he doesn't want to engange in value judgments. In my opinion the best two texts on that topic are by P. Gunning. "How to be a value free advocate of Laisses Faire" and "Did Mises Err? Was he an utilitarian?: Reply to Block". From a philosophical point of view, you could be a little more precise, but he basically gets it right.
I agree that it is a grave mistake to lump Mises and Rothbard together when it comes to normative questions. However, I want to add that Mises - from a philosophical standpoint - was no rule utilitarian. There are several instances where he speakes out against utilitarianism, and what is even more important any form of normative reasoning.As an economist he wants - in the tradition of Max Weber - to withhold himself from any value judgements. I like to think of Mises as an economic advisor, who tells the conservative, the socialst and the liberal - if you want to reach your respective goals, then you need to rely on the market economy. This kind of reasoning is instrumental and not utilitarian. This interpreatation of Mises standpoint is defended in the book "Ludwig von Mises als Sozialphilosoph".
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Apr 10, 2012