Der Apriorist - Abstracts 20. Nov. 2010

Ludwig von Mises on Principle

by Larry J. Eshelman

Tags: Ludwig von Mises
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Larry J. Eshelman. Ludwig von Mises on Principle. The Review of Austrian Economics 6.2 (1993): 3-41

Quotes:Ludwig von Mises was one of this century's most principled and uncompromising defenders of laissez faire. He was also an outspoken advocate of utilitarianism and the doctrine of social expediency, and a critic of any kind of objective ethics such as natural law or natural rights. This raises the obvious question as to how successful Mises was in turning the sow's ear of social expediency into the silk purse of laissez faire. ...

Conclusion: Mises's utilitarianism is the exception that proves (i.e, he tests) the rule, in this case, Rothbard's rule that utilitarianism cannot provide a principled defense of laissez-faire liberalism. Of course, Mises, like almost all defenders of laissez faire, used utilitarian (i.e., nonmoral functionalist) arguments to defend the unhampered market. But he also used moral arguments. My main purpose throughout this paper has been to show that Mises's moral "utilitarianism," in spite of his repeated attacks on natural law and natural rights, owes more to the principled, categorical moral framework of Spencer and Herbert, than to the maximizing, comparative moral framework of Bentham and Mill. Mises equated natural law and natural rights with intuitionism, and for this reason rejected them, but he did not reject the categorical moral framework that underlies much of that tradition. On the contrary, it was the comparative moral framework of utilitarianism that he rejected. Furthermore, the essential premises for his moral defense of laissez faire is not the arbitrariness of all values, but the facts of scarcity (including scarcity of time) and diversity (including diversity of opinion concerning values and means -- two facts that play an essential role in his praxeological methodology. Any coherent moral theory concerning the conditions for social harmony, as well as any coherent theory of economics, must take these two facts into account. It is this insight, articulated by Locke, that Mises turns into a powerful moral argument against socialism and in favor of laissez faire.20

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