The Review of Austrian Economics, 17:4, 345–369, 2004.
2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Manufactured in The Netherlands.
Anti-Psychologism in Economics: Wittgenstein
RODERICK T. LONG firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Philosophy, Auburn University, 6080 Haley Center, Auburn, AL 36849
Abstract. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s arguments for the conclusion that whatever counts as thought must embody
logical principles can likewise be deployed to show that whatever counts as action must embody economic
principles, a conclusion which in turn provides the basis for a defense of Ludwig von Mises’ controversial
claim that the laws of economics are a priori rather than empirical. The Wittgensteinian approach also points
the way toward a transcendence of the intractable disputes among present-day Austrians over formalist versus
hermeneutical, analytic versus synthetic, and impositionist versus reﬂectionist interpretations of economic method.
KeyWords: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ludwig von Mises, anti-psychologism, praxeology
JEL classiﬁcation: B41, B53, B31, B2, A12.
1. The Problem of Praxeology
According to Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973), the basic principles of economics are not
empirical but a priori; the laws of economics are conceptual truths, and economic truth is
grounded in the science of praxeology: the study of those propositions concerning human
action that can be grasped and recognized as true simply in virtue of an inspection of their
The praxeological approach has always been a hard sell. We live in an empirical age, in
which claims to a priori knowledge are regarded with suspicion. Mises’ a priori derivation
of the laws of economics can easily strike us as a piece of rationalistic dogmatism, on a
par with the claims of Descartes and Kant to have derived the laws of physical motion a
priori. Blaug’s (1992) negative judgment illuminatingly expresses the temper of our time:
“Mises’ statements of radical apriorism are so uncompromising that they have to be read to
be believed”; they “smack of an antiempirical undertone ...that is wholly alien to the very
spirit of science,” and are “so idiosyncratically and dogmatically stated that we can only
wonder that they have been taken seriously by anyone” (80–81).
Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at the Auburn Philosophical Society, Auburn University, 20
October 2000; the 7th Austrian Scholars Conference, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 28 March 2001; the Workshop
on Current Issues in Austrian Economics, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 12–13 July 2001; the Civil Society Institute,
Santa Clara University, 2–4 November 2001; the J.M. Kaplan Workshop in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics,
George Mason University, 30 November 2001; the Austrian Economics Colloquium, New York University, 3
December 2001; and the University of Oklahoma Philosophy Department, 15 November 2003. This paper is part
of a larger project (Long (forthcoming)) which has beneﬁted from comments, suggestions, and encouragement
from Robert Bass, Peter J. Boettke, Gene Callahan, Bryan Caplan, J¨org Guido H¨ulsmann, Kelly Dean Jolley,
Roger Koppl, Mario Rizzo, and Barry Smith.