Mises on polylogism-Human Action

“The radicalism of this wholesale condemnation of economics was
very soon surpassed by a still more universal nihilism. From time
immemorial men in thinking, speaking, and acting had taken the uniformity and immutability of the logical structure of the human mind
as an unquestionable fact. All scientific inquiry was based on this assumption. In the discussions about the epistemological character of
economics, writers, for the first time in human history, denied this

proposition too. Marxism asserts that a man’s thinking is determined
by his class affiliation. Every social class has a logic of its own. The
product of thought cannot be anything else than an “ideological disguise” of the selfish class interests of the thinker. It is the task of a
“sociology of knowledge” to unmask philosophies and scientific
theories and to expose their “ideological” emptiness. Economics is a
“bourgeois” makeshift, the economists are “sycophants” of capital.
Only the classless society of the socialist utopia will substitute truth
for “ideological” lies.
This polylogism was later taught in various other forms also.
Historicism asserts that the logical structure of human thought and
action is liable to change in the course of historical evolution. Racial
polylogism assigns to each race a logic of its own. Finally there is
irrationalism, contending that reason as such is not fit to elucidate
the irrational forces that determine human behavior.

Such doctrines go far beyond the limits of economics. They question not only economics and praxeology but all other human knowledge and human reasoning in general. They refer to mathematics and physics as well as to economics. It seems therefore that the task of refuting them does not fall to any single branch of knowledge but to epistemology and philosophy. This furnishes apparent justification for the attitude of those economists who quietly continue their studies without bothering about epistemological problems and the objections raised by poIylogism and irrationalism. The physicist does not mind if somebody stigmatizes his theories as bourgeois, Western or Jewish; in the same way the economist should ignore detraction and slander. He should let the dogs bark and pay no heed to their
yelping. It is seemly for him to remember Spinoza’s dictum: Sane
sicut lux se ipsam et tenebras manifestat, sic veritas norma sui et falsi
However, the situation is not quite the same with regard to economics as it is with mathematics and the natural sciences. Polylogism
and irrationaIism attack praxeology and economics. Although they
formulate their statements in a general way to refer to all branches
of knowledge, it is the sciences of human action that they really have
in view. They say that it is an illusion to believe that scientific research can achieve results valid for people of all eras, races, and social
classes, and they take pleasure in disparaging certain physical and
biological theories as bourgeois or Western. But if the soIution of
practical problems requires the application of tbese stigmatized doctrines, they forget their criticism. The technology of Soviet Russia
utilizes without scruple all the results of bourgeois physics, chemistry,

and biology just as if they were valid for all classes. The Nazi engineers and physicians did not disdain to utilize the theories, discoveries,
and inventions of people of “inferior” races and nations. The behavior of people of all races, nations, religions, linguistic groups, and
social classes clearly proves that they do not endorse the doctrines
of polylogism and irrationalism as far as logic, mathematics, and
the natural sciences are concerned.
But it is quite different with praxeology and economics. The main
motive for the development of the doctrines of polylogism, historicism, and irrationalism was to provide a justification for disregardingthe teachings of economics in the determination of economic policies.The socialists, racists, nationalists, and statists failed in their endeavorsto refute the theories of the economists and to demonstrate the correctness of their own spurious doctrines. It was precisely this frustration that prompted them to negate the logical and epistemological principles upon which all human reasoning both in mundane activities and in scientific research is founded.
It is not permissible to disposc of these objections merely on the
ground of the political motives which inspired them. No scientist is
entitled to assume beforehand that a disapprobation of his theories
must be unfounded because his critics are imbued by passion and party
bias. He is bound to reply to every censure without any regard to
its underlying motives or its background. It is no less impermissible
to keep silent in the face of the often asserted opinion that the theorems
of economics are valid only under hypothetical assumptions never
realized in life and that they are therefore useless for the mental grasp
of reality. It is strange that some schools seem to approve of this
opinion and nonetheless quietly proceed to draw their curves and to
formulate their equations. They do not bother about the meaning of
their reasoning and about its reference to the world of real life and
This is, of course, an untenable attitude. The first task of every scientific inquiry is the description and definition  of all conditions and assumptions under which its various statements claim validity. It is a mistake to set up physics as a model and pattern for
economic research. But those committed to this fallacy should have
learned one thing at least: that no physicist ever believed that the
clarification of some of the assumptions and conditions of physical
theorems is outside the scope of physical research. The main question
that economics is bound to answer is what the relation of its statements is to the reality of human action whose mental grasp is the objective of economic studies.

It therefore devolves upon economics to deal thoroughly with the
assertion that its teachings are valid only for the capitalist system of
the shortlived and already vanished liberal period of Western civilization, It is incumbent upon no branch of learning other than economics
to examine all the objections raised from various points of view against
the usefulness of the statements of economic theory for the elucidation of the problems of human action. The system of economic thought must be built up in such a way that it is proof against any criticism on the part of irrationalism, historicism, panphysicalism,
behaviorism, and all varieties of polylogism. It is an intolerable state
of affairs that while new arguments are daily advanced to demonstrate the absurdity and futility of the endeavors of economics, the economists pretend to ignore all this.
It is no longer enough to deal with the economic problems within
the traditional framework. It is necessary to build the theory of
cataIlactics upon the soiid foundation of a general theory of human
action, praxeology. This procedure will not only secure it against
many fallacious criticisms but clarify many problems hitherto not
even adequately seen, still less satisfactorily solved. There is, especially, the fundamental problem of economic calculation.”

Human ActionThe Scholars Edition, pp. 4-7, Ludwig von Mises


Polylogism-a false axiom used in many ideologies such as Marxism


Deplorables Versus The Ruling Class: A Global Struggle

One comment

Comments are closed.