Mises.org link from nth@ultrasw.com

from Bill Powers (2001.10.21.0943 MDT)]

Norm Hovda sent this link to me: www.mises.org. It leads to copies of Mises
writings that are quite interesting. I can see why some people say he is
supportive of control theory, and I'm writing now to explain why I do not
think so. First, an excerpt that may illustrate why Mises catches the eye
of some PCTers.


    Human action is purposeful behavior. Or we may say: Action is will put
into operation and transformed into an agency, is aiming at ends and goals,
is the ego's meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its
environment, is a person's conscious adjustment to the state of the
universe that determines his life. Such paraphrases may clarify the
definition given and prevent possible misinterpretations. But the
definition itself is adequate and does not need complement of commentary.

   Conscious or purposeful behavior is in sharp contrast to unconscious
behavior, i.e., the reflexes and the involuntary responses of the body's
cells and nerves to stimuli. People are sometimes prepared to believe that
the boundaries between conscious behavior and the involuntary reaction of
the forces operating within man's body are more or less indefinite. This is
correct only as far as it is sometimes not easy to establish whether
concrete behavior is to be considered voluntary or involuntary. But the
distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness is nonetheless sharp
and can be clearly determined.

  The unconscious behavior of the bodily organs and cells is for the acting
ego no less a datum than any other fact of the external world. Acting man
must take into account all that goes on within his own body as well as
other data, e.g., the weather or the attitudes of his neighbors. There is,
of course, a margin within which purposeful behavior has the power to
neutralize the working of bodily factors. It is feasible within certain
limits to get the body under control. Man can sometimes succeed through the
power of his will in overcoming sickness, in compensating for the innate or
acquired insufficiency of his physical constitution, or in suppressing
reflexes. As far as this is possible, the field of purposeful action is
extended. If a man abstains from controlling the involuntary reaction of
cells and nerve centers, although he would be in a position to do so, his
behavior is from our point of view purposeful.

There are other excerpts that come even closer to the kinds of things
PCTers say about purposes, intentions, goals, and so forth. But perhaps the
problem is evident even in the snippet above: Mises never says why he
thinks behavior is purposive, never presents any reasoning or premises,
never even says what purpose or intention is. He just tells us What Is
True. He is the most irritatingly authoritarian writer I can remember
reading. He certainly knows nothing about control theory.

Lots of people have claimed or even insisted that human behavior is
purposive, intentional, goal directed, and so on. That is not what control
theory is about. Control theory is about _how a system must be organized to
have goals, intentions, or purposes_. There has never been a lack of
assertions that human behavior is purposive -- see Tolman's "Purposive
Behaviorism" in the 1930s or McDougall's writings on purposive behavior
from even earlier. I'm sure one can find writings by philosophers and
others as far back as the written record goes that simply assume
purposiveness and intentionality in human behavior. That's just the
common-sense view.

What has been missing is any clear statement of what a purpose or intention
or goal _is_ and what kind of organization would be required to have or
seek such a thing. That is where control theory comes in -- after it has
been accepted that at least some kinds of behavior seem purposive. The
arguments against purposiveness have never been arguments against control
theory. They have been arguments that purposive or intentional systems
_cannot exist_ because they would necessarily violate physical principles
of cause and effect. Those who offered such arguments admitted that there
is an appearance of goal-seeking in human and even animal behavior, but
since a violation of natural law would be involved if organisms were really
driven by events that have not yet happened, it was obvious that this
appearance is only an illusion. To this argument, the proponents of
purposiveness could only respond with the irrelevant criticism that
scientists don't know everything, the equivalent of "Oh, yeah?" They were
tacitly admitting that purpose, intention , etc., _are indeed_ mystical
concepts and contrary to the principles of "real" science. Sure, they were
saying, goal-seeking requires the future (the as-yet-nonexistent goal
state) to affect the present. So what?

I can't see that Mises has any more grounds for believing in purposive
behavior than such anti-science types had early in the last century. The
fact that I might agree with a few of his conclusions is irrelevant --
conclusions are cheap. If you can't back up your conclusions by deduction
from reliable premises -- and that means, ultimately, from experiment or
observation -- they are worthless to me. I don't want to know _what_ Mises
thinks so much as _why he thinks it_. And that, he doiesn't talk about. Is
not the Pope of libertarian economics infallible?


Bill P.

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With re: to the *Bills* discussion I thot you might find this of interest.




[From Rick Marken (2001.10.21.1130)]

Bill Powers (2001.10.21.0943 MDT)--

I can see why some people say he [von Mises] is supportive of control
theory, and I'm writing now to explain why I do not think so.

I've tried to explain exactly the same thing to reviewers of my "PCT
Glasses..." paper who suggested that Dennett (of "Intentional Stance"
fame) and others are already looking at behavior through control theory
glasses since they _talk about_ behavior as though it were "purposeful"
or "intentional". But while von Mises proposes no organization that
could produce purposeful behavior, I have found that Dennett et al do
propose such an organization. It is the cause-effect model, where the
causes of purposeful action (intentions) are inside (rather than
outside) the behaving system. So while Dennett et al do propose an
organization to explain purposeful behavior, we know that it is an
organization that cannot actually produce intended results (results that
are protected from disturbances).

I think the best evidence that some existing theory is "supportive" of
control theory is evidence that the theory views purposeful behavior as
_control of input_. So far, I have found only one theory that does this: PCT.

Best regards



Richard S. Marken
310 474-0313

[From Norman Hovda (2001.10.21.1427 CDT)]

From Bill Powers (2001.10.21.0943 MDT)]

Norm Hovda sent this link to me: www.mises.org. It leads to copies of
Mises writings that are quite interesting. I can see why some people say he
is supportive of control theory, and I'm writing now to explain why I do
not think so. First, an excerpt that may illustrate why Mises catches the
eye of some PCTers.


"Every action is motivated by the urge to remove a felt uneasiness."

The above Mises quote, more than any other I'm aware of, was instrumental in
capturing and focusing my attention w/ re: to the explanatory power of PCT
particularly as it may relate to floor traders having a "feel" for the market or
"trading the gut", i.e., professional traders exhibiting continual, reasonably
consistent error correction or disturbance adapting behaviors (buy low, sell high)
required for profitable tracking of market prices over time.

Thanks for the Mises v. PCT commentary Bill; most helpful.