The Procedure of Praxeology
A common notion about the procedure of praxeology holds that beginning from the “action axiom,” one proceeds by deductive or logical reasoning to draw further conclusions and implications. This notion, though partially correct, is not fully correct or accurate. When I, an acting subject, study human action, the primary starting point is not an abstract “action axiom” that I read about in a book or essay. The starting point of my studies is my first-hand experience of the phenomenon of action—the attempt to reach a goal—as I experience this phenomenon in my own conscious awareness.
The scope of praxeology is the explication of the category of human action. All that is needed for the deduction of all praxeological theorems is knowledge of the essence of human action. It is a knowledge that is our own because we are men…The only way to a cognition of these theorems is logical analysis of our inherent knowledge of the category of action. We must bethink ourselves and reflect upon the structure of human action. Like logic and mathematics, praxeological knowledge is in us; it does not come from without. (HA-64)
Furthermore, praxeological knowledge is not attained exclusively by applying a formal reasoning process, in chain-like fashion, to an assumed premise or axiom. For example, if I, an acting subject, attempt to coerce someone, this implies that I have located, in my conscious field, a being or entity I believe possesses the same consciousness categories I myself possess. When I locate such a being, I never actually observe any action categories or consciousness categories, though I believe these categories reside with the being I have located. These are two important praxeological insights, but they are not necessarily attained by an application of verbal mathematics to an assumed axiom of action. Rather, insights such as these may be attained by contemplating the nature, form, and patterns, of the conscious activity in question.
Example: Definition of Coercion
If I believe A has attained Y, I may try to make Y “unattained” for A, and then offer Y back to A in an exchange. For example, I may believe that A has attained comfort (i.e., A is not in pain). One of my options in dealing with A is to twist A‘s arm in order to make the Y that was attained for A (comfort), something that A attempts to attain (comfort becomes an X
A), and then offer X back to A in an exchange. For example, I might twist A‘s arm and command: “give me your money and I’ll let go of your arm.” When I do this, I perform the action that we identify as coercion.
Thus, coercion, as we will conceive it, is a specific kind of trade or exchange. Coercion in our conception is not identical to violence, assault, fraud, or aggression. Coercion is a specific means that I may attempt to employ in interaction with another entity I believe to be an acting being. It is a specific interactive technique that I may employ, based on my first-hand knowledge of the workings of the action categories.
We have thus arrived at a formal definition of coercion that is devoid of moral or ethical connotations. Whenever I, an acting being, attempt to make Y, which I believe A has attained, something “unattained” for A, and then offer that thing back to A in an exchange, I practice coercion.
This definition of coercion is not only formal, but it is grounded in fundamental action categories. It is also a subjective definition of coercion that corresponds to the meaning of the action as the actor himself intends it (not a so-called objective definition of coercion rendered from the point of view of an observer, or a definition of coercion according to a particular political ideology). Lastly, our definition of coercion is “value free.” We make no attempt to judge whether the act of coercion is good or bad, just or unjust. We make no attempt to associate the phenomenon of coercion with a concrete political group or party. We only attempt to conceive the essential or universal aspects of the action of coercion. The goal is not to identify individual coercers so that we may correctly apply punishment in the political arena. The goal is to conceive coercion formally so that we may gain insight into the formal implications of this action.