Jordan Peterson and Human Action

“His lectures on YouTube cover archetypal interpretations of the Bible, the meaning of life, human personality, and even five hours’ worth of dissecting Disney’s Pinocchio. Many of his lectures have hundreds of thousands of views, despite them being two and half hours of covering dense material quickly.

In his “Maps of Meaning” course, based on his book with the same title, he presents a framework for human action with many similarities to that of Mises and Rothbard. Peterson is not an economist, however, and so his framework includes some of the particulars of action that are outside the purely praxeological [the science of human action –] framework.

What motivates our action is achronic dissatisfaction with the way things are.” This is not necessarily a bad thing, because if we did not have this, we would cease to act. Dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs is the only thing that motivates us to move forward toward a more desired state of affairs.”

Human Action, pp. 13-14, Ludwig von Mises

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“We call contentment or satisfaction that state of a human being
which does not and cannot result in any action. Acting man is eager
to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory.
His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action
aims at bringing about this desired state. The incentive that impels
a man to act is always some uneasiness. 1 A man perfectly content
with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things.
He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly
happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care.
1. Cf. Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Fraser (Oxford,
18gq), 1, 331-333; Leibniz, Nouveaux esais sur l’entendement humain, ed.
Flammarion, p. 1I9.

But to make a man act, uneasiness and the image of a more satisfactory
state alone are not sufficient. A third condition is required: the
expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at
least to alleviate the felt uneasiness. In the absence of this condition
no action is feasible. Man must yield to the inevitable. He must submit
to destiny.

These are the general conditions of human action. Man is the being
that lives under these conditions. He is not only homo sapiens, but
no less homo agens. Beings of human descent who either from birth
or from acquired defects are unchangeably unfit for any action (in
the strict sense of the term and not only in the legal sense) are practically
not human. Although the statutes and biology consider
them to be men, they lack the essential feature of humanity. The
newborn child too is not an acting being. It has not yet gone the
whole way from conception to the full development of its human
qualities. But at the end of this evolution it becomes an acting

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