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LIBERTARIAN PAPERSVOL. 3, ART. NO. 19 (2011)ACTION-BASED JURISPRUDENCE: PRAXEOLOGICALLEGAL THEORY IN RELATION TO ECONOMIC THEORY,ETHICS, AND LEGAL PRACTICEKONRAD GRAF*THEORIZING ABOUT LAW and legal concepts falls under the field ofjurisprudence, as do certain aspects of the assessment of legal institutions,procedures, and processes. Theorists in this field are typically described asworking within various schools of thought, principally: natural law, legalpositivism, legal realism, and critical legal studies. An alternative to theseschools has been emerging, built on the field of praxeology, which addressesthe formal concept of action and its deducible implications.In this praxeological school of jurisprudence, legal-theory conceptsdeductively derived from the concept of action interact with interpretiveinstitutional and contextual awareness and a respect for the theory/practicedistinction. While aspects of the foundations of deductive legal theory and itsgeneral conclusions are related to traditional natural law approaches andmight also be viewed as an extension of them, the praxeological approach isdistinct in that its logical foundations overcome important weaknesses inprevious natural law formulations.Ludwig von Mises and his student Murray N. Rothbard identifiedpraxeology as the foundation of sound economic theory. They reformulated*KonradGraf ( has been studying Austrianeconomics, law, philosophy, and history, largely under his own direction, since 1988. Hehas lived in the US, India, Japan, and now Germany. He works as an independentJapanese-to-English translator specialized in investment research.CITE THIS ARTICLE AS: Konrad Graf, “Action-Based Jurisprudence: PraxeologicalLegal Theory in Relation to Economic Theory, Ethics, and Legal Practice,” LibertarianPapers 3, 19 (2011). ONLINE AT: THIS ARTICLE IS subject to aCreative Commons Attribution 3.0 License ( Published bythe Ludwig von Mises Institute.1

2LIBERTARIAN PAPERS 3, 19 (2011)economic theory by grounding it in praxeology.1 They contributed their owninsights to economic theory, while incorporating a vast body of existingeconomic theories and concepts into the new praxeological synthesis.Praxeology was a criterion for sorting the sound from the unsound. AsGeorge Selgin comments: Mises would have insisted that all of the lasting discoveries of theclassical and neoclassical economists in the realm of pure theorywere in fact results of the method described by praxeology; but thiswas by no means the acknowledged procedure of those schools ofthought. (1990, 15)Mises thought sound economic theory was so dependent on praxeologythat he described economics as a branch within it. I argue that elements ofthe rationalist jurisprudence that has been developing within praxeologicallyinformed “Austro-libertarian” thought comprise a branch of praxeology inthe same sense that Mises identified economics as one. This praxeologicalaction-based framework can be used to evaluate, filter, and refine the world’sinherited body of legal concepts and traditions. Action and its formalimplications emerge as an essential foundation for sound legal theorizing.The complexity and implications of this topic require a substantialtreatment, which has been developed in four parts:Part I, “Foundations: An Extended Model of Praxeology,” makes theprimary theoretical arguments. It develops criteria for distinguishing fieldsthat can be considered within, versus merely influenced by, praxeology. Itspecifies the reformulations that enable the placement of property theory andlegal theory within praxeology and examines relevant philosophical issuesconcerning the foundations of property theory. It reexamines the is/oughtgap with regard to the a priori of argumentation and the non-aggressionprinciple. It also asks whether elements of other fields such as sociology andpolitical theory could be considered branches of praxeology and discusses theplace within praxeological thought of using discrete fields in combination.Part II, “Action: Praxeological Legal Reasoning,” provides examples ofusing praxeology to examine and reformulate legal concepts. These are basedon themes and examples from the recent Mises Academy course, “LibertarianLegal Theory: Property, Conflict, and Society,” taught by attorney and legalscholar Stephan Kinsella, a leading theorist in this field.2 This sectionMises [1949] 1998 and Rothbard [1962, 1970] 2004.The inception of this project owes much to my participation in this course (MisesAcademy. PP300. January 31—March 11, 2011), which gave me leads and stimulated newthinking, forming the core content for what became Part II, which then formed the basis12

ACTION-BASED JURISPRUDENCE3illustrates the use of praxeology in the reformulation of key legal-theoryconcepts and the analysis of legal-theory controversies, with a particular focuson the distinction between rights and actions.Part III, “Practice: The Armchair and the Bench,” discusses theimportance of distinguishing legal theory from legal practice. Deductive legaltheory is viewed as the application of praxeological reasoning, with legalpractice as an application of contextualized understanding, or “thymology” asMises called it. Legal practice is a form of action taken in specific times andplaces by specific persons, while legal theory is one of several bodies ofknowledge that informs such action. This section suggests correlationsbetween models from several theorists of both economics and law. Itconcludes with a suggested multi-angled approach to imagining the possibleinstitutional forms of a society with higher degrees of peace and cooperativepossibilities, which more precise legal principles would enable. This approachinterweaves distinct “deductive,” “observational,” and “entrepreneurial”perspectives.Part IV, “Ethics: Disentangling Law and Morality,” makes a case forremoving legal theory from its loose historically evolved association withethics, viewed as a field that addresses “ought” questions, or the selection ofends in action. It discusses factors—particularly the development of lawwithin religious intellectual and institutional contexts—that have contributedto legal theory’s historical placement and associations with morality. It alsoexamines historical and present-day factors contributing to the evolution ofconfused conventional formulations of economic and legal concepts. Suchfactors inhibit the kind of clear thinking in law and economics that couldchallenge status quo practices and beliefs. It argues that a praxeologicalapproach to jurisprudence is positioned to supply such clear thinking, just asthe praxeological approach to economics—causal-realist, counterfactual,deductive economic theory—has done, most famously under the label“Austrian” economics. It also further clarifies the foundations of the rightstheory presented in Part I by discussing whether such rights could apply tonon-human species.for additional integrations with my past studies after the course. My participation inKinsella’s subsequent course, “Social Theory of Hoppe” (Mises Academy. PP750. July 1—August 21, 2011), which started while I was working on the second draft after helpfuldouble-blind reviewer feedback, raised additional subtleties with regard to ProfessorHoppe’s contributions, which aided me in refining Part I’s discussion of the a priori ofargumentation and property theory.

4LIBERTARIAN PAPERS 3, 19 (2011)Part IFoundations: An Extended Model of PraxeologyA branch without other branches?An enduring puzzle facing readers of Ludwig von Mises is his view,stated for example in Human Action (1998, 3) that economics is the “hithertobest-elaborated part” of praxeology. Nearly 900 pages of economic theoryfollow, leaving no doubt as to the dominant initial position of economics as abranch. Rothbard speculates about the possibility of other “sub-divisions” ofpraxeology in Man, Economy, and State (2004, 72–74). He distinguishes“praxeology and economics” from other fields such as ethics, psychology,and history. This is based on praxeology’s categorical interest in means andends as such without reference to any particular means or end.3However, such accounts of “praxeology and economics” leave littlespace for a sphere of content for praxeology to call its own, independent ofeconomics. Rothbard writes that, “With praxeology as the general, formaltheory of human action, economics includes the analysis of the action of anisolated individual (Crusoe economics) ” (74). While the proposeddistinction appears to be between “general and formal” and greaterspecificity, this sentence could generate confusion because “Crusoeeconomics” is a fictional device to explain the most fundamental concepts ofpraxeology itself—from ends and means to production to time-preference.Rothbard’s comment comes at the end of the chapter called “Fundamentalsof Human Action,” which uses Crusoe to explain the most fundamentalpraxeological concepts. This could leave the impression that “economics,” asrepresented by “Crusoe economics,” has on day one moved in to occupy allof the identifiable territory in this new land of praxeology, taking as its ownany and all content that might otherwise be assigned to a core of praxeologyitself—an independent core that could be shared with other possible“branches” or “sub-divisions” besides economics.Unsurprisingly, economics has remained the dominant branch ofpraxeology decades later, and only a few writers have speculated on whatother branches might be. Kinsella (2006b) raised this question and linked toprevious references on it. He concluded with a possible direction for furtherinquiry: “[It is] interesting how Rothbard talks about possible extensions ofThis is similar to the distinction between laws and facts drawn in Hülsmann 2003,59–60. Facts are particularistic; laws universalizable.3

ACTION-BASED JURISPRUDENCE5praxeology as well as “axiomatics,” the logical-deductive approach of Hoppethat is compatible with, if not a type of, praxeology.”The body of thought that I argue comprises praxeological legal theoryand its pre-branching underpinnings has thus far been most specificallylabeled “Austro-libertarian legal theory.” This is commonly understood aslegal theory informed by the basic principles of Austrian economics. Onemay include here several works by Rothbard (2002; 2004), Hoppe (2006;2010), Jörg Guido Hülsmann (2004; 2008), much of the work of Kinsella(1996a; 1996b; 2003; etc.), and Kinsella and Tinsely 2004. A landmark indiscussions of the relationship between praxeology, economics, and legaltheory was the March 29–30, 2001 symposium on “Austrian Law andEconomics: The Contributions of Rothbard and Reinach,” papers originatingfrom which appeared in the Winter 2004 Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.Separately, Josef Sima (2004) argued that Austrian school economistsfrom Carl Menger to Rothbard predate or surpass the useful insightsnormally attributed to conventional versions of “law and economics.”Kinsella, in a post on “intellectual property” law, reiterated the call for legaltheorizing informed by praxeology to replace conventional law andeconomics:This analysis is a good example of the necessity of Austrianeconomics—in particular, praxeology—in legal and libertariantheorizing We must supplant the confused “Law and Economics”movement with “Law and Austrian Economics.” (2010a, np)Rather than advocating a model of “Austrian law and economics” toreplace conventional law and economics, I suggest a model of a single field ofpraxeology, capable of examining the phenomena of human action usingboth “economic” and “legal” lenses. These lenses are perspectives fromwhich to view different aspects of unitary phenomena4 such as “exchange,”“theft,” or “the division of labor.”Kinsella and Patrick Tinsley (2004, 97) suggest just how tight the linkbetween legal theory and praxeology might be:Because aggression is a particular kind of human action—action thatintentionally violates or threatens to violate the physical integrity ofanother person or another person’s property without that person’sconsent—it can be successfully prohibited only if the law is based4 This approach is loosely informed by the integral methodological pluralism andintegral multiple-perspectivalism advanced by the philosopher Ken Wilber. One relativelyconcise account of these models is in Wilber 2006, 1–49. I also summarize and applyaspects of these models below.

6LIBERTARIAN PAPERS 3, 19 (2011)on a sound understanding of the nature of human action moregenerally.Praxeology, the general theory of human action, studies theuniversal features of human action and draws out the logicalimplications of the undeniable fact that humans act Praxeology iscentral to Austrian economics However, other disciplines canbenefit from the insights of praxeology. Hans-Hermann Hoppe hasalready extended praxeology to the field of political ethics (Hoppe2010, Chapter 7). The related discipline of legal theory, which alsoconcerns ethical implications of human action, can also benefit fromthe insights of praxeology.I argue that the implications go further. Deductive legal theory, likedeductive economic theory, is so dependent on praxeology for both methodand content that it is not only informed by praxeology, but qualifies as abranch. Moreover, while legal theory may indeed have ethical implications, it isnot itself a component of ethics viewed as an “ought” field, but ratherfunctions in a technical-advisory role in ethical considerations, understood asinvolving the selection of ends.The principles often described as useful in legal theorizing are not somuch those of “Austrian economics,” but rather a core of praxeologicalmethodology and content that also underpins economics in the Misesiantradition. Larry Sechrest also approaches the view advanced here. He claimsthat, “Praxeology can indeed serve as the analytical framework for botheconomic theory and legal theory” (2004, 21). He also points to a confusinglack of definition between praxeology and economics, reiterating that it is theformer that is the science of human action itself (24), and which can providea foundation for legal, as well as economic reasoning.Other fields—Influenced by or part of praxeology?What criteria can help us distinguish a branch of praxeology from a fieldmerely informed by it? The a priori of argumentation will play a key role in themodel advanced here as a praxeological foundation for property rightstheory.5 A look at the range of the implications of the a priori ofargumentation (APoA) will help us develop criteria for including/excludingfields as branches.6Hoppe [1993] 2006; [1989] 2010.The theory is also sometimes called argumentation “ethics,” yet it takes the form ofaxiomatic-deductive statements. This poses a challenge to traditional categories. Giventhe descriptive “is” statement emphasis, I prefer the term the a prior of argumentation56

ACTION-BASED JURISPRUDENCE7In “On Praxeology and the Praxeological Foundation ofEpistemology” (2006, Chapter 9), Hoppe argues for an action-basedepistemology, with knowing viewed as an act of knowing.7 Hoppe argues thateven physics and geometry have praxeological underpinnings that often gounrecognized:Spatial knowledge is also included in the meaning of action. Actionis the employment of a physical body in space. Without acting therecould be no knowledge of spatial relations and nomeasurements these norms [of measurement actions] andnormative implications cannot be falsified by the result of anyempirical measurement. On the contrary their cognitive validity issubstantiated by the fact that it is they that make physicalmeasurements in space possible. Any actual measurement mustalready presuppose the validity of the norms leading to theconstruction of one’s measurement standards. (2006, 288)8Geometry, physics, and epistemology may indeed also have actionunderpinnings. Does this qualify them as branches of praxeology? How canthis question be addressed?The distinction lies in the centrality of the formal implications ofhuman action to the content that a given field addresses. Geometry, physics,and epistemology may have praxeological underpinnings, but economic andlegal theory have such underpinnings and set out to focus on the analysis ofhuman action as their subject matter.What about other social sciences? Do they not also have much to dowith human action, and property, as subject matter?Hoppe writes that, “Next to the concept of action, property is the mostbasic category in the social sciences” (2010, 18). However, the “socialsciences” are many and include economics and law as well as sociology,politics, management, much of psychology, organizational theory, andrather than formulations that include the word “ethics.” These issues are addressedfurther below.7 Hoppe’s first doctoral dissertation, in philosophy, (1976), already forwarded anaction-based epistemology.8 Pointed out with related links in Kinsella 2009b. Hülsmann also discusses thepraxeological, counterfactual-law underpinnings of even natural-science experiments,which assume, generally without acknowledgement, the purely deductive counterfactualproposition that empirically observed experimental phenomena would not have occurred hadthe experiment not been conducted, a proposition that is not “testable” in purelypositivistic terms because the experiment in question in every case was conducted (2003,87–88).

8LIBERTARIAN PAPERS 3, 19 (2011)history. Hoppe is careful to distinguish between praxeology and sociologyand history, describing the latter two as more interpretive in, for example, adiscussion of taxation:Why is there taxation; and why is there always more of it?Answering such questions is not the task of economic theory but ofpraxeologically informed and constrained sociological or historicalinterpretations and reconstructions, and from the very outset muchmore room for speculation in this field of intellectual inquiry exists.(2006, 33)Sociology appears in this account not as a branch of praxeology, but asa field that can be usefully informed by it. It falls more on the interpretiveand historical “thymological” side of Mises’s field divide,9 though it cancertainly benefit from being praxeological informed. That said, sociologistHelmut Schoeck’s treatise Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior undertakessociological investigations that are unusually insightful in terms of economicanalysis and implications. Such work could provide leads toward developinggreater clarity between possible praxeological and interpretive elementswithin a sociology so conceived.10Mises himself originally used the word sociology for some of his work,but had to conclude that the word had already been taken. “Throughout the1920s, [Mises] had used the word ‘sociology,’ but by the early 1930s he had toacknowledge that most other social scientists had come to understandsomething completely different by the term an alternative social science—one that did not integrate the tenets of economics” (Hülsmann 2007, 720).Is there another “political” branch of praxeology? What about theanalysis of voting or war, as have been suggested?11In Power and Market, Rothbard discusses the impact of the behaviors ofstates on the voluntary order of society. This could be described as apraxeological theory of political intervention. Such reasoning could beconsidered an extension or sub-category of legal theory. However, whileRothbard’s analysis emphasizes states, he also points out that it is notexclusive to them:Our major task in this volume is to analyze the effects of varioustypes of violent intervention in society and, especially, in the market.Most of our examples will deal with the State, since the State isMises 2007, 266.Schoeck [1966] 1987, for example, 363–64.11 See discussion and links at Kinsella 2006b.910

ACTION-BASED JURISPRUDENCE9uniquely the agency engaged in regularized violence on a large scale.(1057)Hülsmann (2004) also portrays organized expropriations as extensionsof the general case of individual rights infringements: “Fiat appropriation canoccur without following a general rule, but it can also be institutionalized.The most important example of institutionalized fiat appropriation is themodern State, which relies in fact on two such institutions: taxation and fiatmoney” (59). He goes on to note that institutionalized cases presentadditional negative implications because people adjust expectations and plansmore to systematic, reliable expropriations than to sporadic criminal acts.Political theory, including the analysis of voting, might be viewed as asub-branch of the law of tort. A “law of mass torts” could cover large-scaledamage claims. These could include not only cases such as environmentalpollution, but also the systematic, organized infringement of rights on scalesnormally only achievable by state actors. Moreover, states practicing the mostsystematic aggression against their own people have also presided overnotorious cases of environmental pollution, such as the environmentalcatastrophes that came to light after the collapse of the Soviet Union (Hill1992), and both systematic state-style aggression and environmental pollutionwould fall under the law of mass torts.Root and trunkHaving discussed inclusion/exclusion criteria for branches ofpraxeology, we return to the relationship between praxeology and itseconomic and proposed legal theory branches. If deductive legal theory andeconomic theory stand side by side as sibling branches within praxeology andshare a set of fundamentals, what are those fundamentals? What is a branch;what is the trunk; and what are the roots?Given the tight association of praxeology with Austrian economics andthe latter’s decades-long de facto status as the sole branch, some room mustbe made for the long-lost sibling. How can economic theory be defined inrelation to praxeology; to legal theory? What foundations do legal andeconomic theory share? What aspects of praxeology must logically precedebranching?Sechrest writes that to remedy the conflation of Austrian economicswith praxeology, “It would be preferable to define economics in a narrowerfashion, one that does not merely equate it with praxeology. What, then, is itthat distinguishes economics from other, related disciplines” (2004, 24)? Hementions George Reisman’s approach of defining economics as “the science

10LIBERTARIAN PAPERS 3, 19 (2011)that studies the production of wealth under a system of division of labor”(Reisman 1996, 15).Reisman emphasizes the production of material goods, even in a“service economy,” arguing that even services ultimately relate to materialgoods in some way (41). However, this construes economic value toonarrowly from the standpoint of the subjective nature of value. If anything, itis goods that can be viewed as services—for their “serviceableness,” to useMises’s term (1998, 93). They are means to the satisfaction of an actingperson’s chosen ends—whatever they may be. In this sense, one purchases acar mainly for the “service” of personal transportation to which this “good”can contribute when combined with complementary inputs such as gasoline(portable energy service) and a driver (machine-operation service). These maybe viewed as factors of production of the final consumption good “personaltransportation.”The following definition of economics from Rothbard appears more inharmony with the subjective nature of value:Economics, therefore, is not a science that deals particularly with“material goods” or “material welfare.” It deals in general with theaction of men to satisfy their desires, and, specifically, with theprocess of exchange of goods as a means for each individual to“produce” satisfactions for his desires. These goods may be tangiblecommodities or they may be intangible personal services. Theprinciples of supply and demand, of price determination, are exactlythe same for any good, whether it is in one category or the other.(2004, 162)Despite these contrasts, a commonality between Reisman’s andRothbard’s definitions is that economics deals with the production of goods.The difference is in how “goods” are defined. I suggest that while praxeologyis defined as the deductive consideration of the categorical concept of actionand its implications, economics is the field that applies these insights to theproduction of goods, whether tangible or intangible.How and where does legal theory come into play?To begin with, it is important to clarify that “legal” services such assecurity, investigation, collection, and arbitration are economic goods(services) with no special status.12 There is no basis for excluding them fromthe domain of the ordinary principles of economic theory when consideringFollowing Gustave de Molinari ([1849] 2009) and later Rothbard ([1970] 2004,1047–56) and others (Stringham, ed. 2007).12

ACTION-BASED JURISPRUDENCE11their production. Economic theory can therefore examine “legal” goods inthe same way that it can examine any other class of goods.That said, we approach the placement of legal theory in this context byfirst examining what elements must logically underpin both economic theoryand legal theory and therefore precede their branching into praxeologicalspecializations. What belongs to praxeology itself?Root: Robinson Crusoe, what he does, and what is “his”As introduced above, core concepts of praxeology can be explainedwith reference to the actions of an isolated individual. These include theconcept of action as contrasted with mere behavior, means and ends, scarcity,time, causality, time-preference, uncertainty, and the theory of value. Theseare covered in the first 20 pages of Rothbard 2004 and in Chapters IV–VII ofMises 2008.We will call such concepts the “root” level of praxeology. These rootconcepts are presupposed in all further developments of both deductive legaltheory and deductive economic theory. This can be brought into better focusby reflecting on a few of the fundamentals implied in action.Root praxeological concepts are logically dependent on the concept ofchoice. The praxeological concept of action implies both an actual actionwith empirically visible aspects involving matter and a possible alternativeaction that does not occur and that involves no matter. No action is possiblewithout specific material resources to take it with. All action involves someform of movement, if only at a subtle level, and it is matter that moves whenwe act.13Frédéric Bastiat ([1850] 2007) applied important aspects of this methodof categorical-alternative reasoning to economics, most famously in “ThatWhich is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen” (1–48). He applied a similarstyle of reasoning to legal theory in “The Law” (49–94), arguing that anygiven law either upholds, or itself violates, its own (presumable) function ofprotecting rights. A rights-violating “law” is categorically self-contradictory.Hülsmann (2003, 69–71) formalized this approach and identified it asthe method of counterfactual reasoning. He argues that from a praxeologicaldeductive standpoint, every visible action has an invisible counterpart:The movement of energy can also be triggered with action, but matter must beinvolved at least as an intermediary—even an energy weapon, for example, has a trigger.13

12LIBERTARIAN PAPERS 3, 19 (2011)Counterfactual laws, therefore, do not concern relationshipsbetween the perceptible parts of human action (for example,observed behavior) and other observed events. Rather, they arerelationships within human action linking its visible and invisibleparts. Using these laws to explain observed human behavior, we canrelate the state of affairs that we observe as a consequence of thisbehavior to a counterfactual state of affairs that could have existedinstead. (71)This describes the basic procedure not only of economic reasoning, butalso deductive legal reasoning. For example, in assessing liability for anaction, one important method is to “relate the state of affairs that we observeas a consequence of this” [alleged rights-invading action] “to a counterfactualstate of affairs that could have existed instead” [in the absence of the allegedrights-invading action].Some notions about and knowledge of ends and means are amongother logical requirements for any conceivable action. These help us selectboth means and ends within an action framework (Kinsella 2011, 1–2).Nevertheless, it remains some aspect of the material world, always assumingthe inclusion of our own physical bodies, which is the ultimate prerequisitefor any action. Any action must occur at specific sets of spatial coordinates(for example, along a trail) and usually, but not always, also involves sometype of external material objects (a mountain bike).Even Crusoe may think of certain objects and locations as being “his”in the sense that he must make use of certain scarce resources and locationsin any possible action, and that these will therefore take on a separate statusin his mind from other resources and locations. He will react differently if abird or animal threatens “his” cache of fish or the patch in front of “his” hut.These are the items or locations that he has brought into his structure ofaction, or plans to, and they contrast sharply for him with other randomobjects and locations on the island that have not yet concerned him and maynever.While Crusoe economizes and produces in simple ways and may eventhink of himself as having possessions in the sense that he considerssomething “his” rather than a thieving seagull’s, he has no need for theconcept of property rights. The need for this can only arise when Fridayarrives and with him the possibility of interpersonal conflicts over scarceresources. The function of social norms such as property is the prevention ofinterpersonal conflict (Hoppe 2011, 1–3). Such social norms can only arisebetween beings ca

LIBERTARIAN PAPERS VOL. 3, ART.NO. 19 (2011) 1 ACTION-BASED JURISPRUDENCE: PRAXEOLOGICAL LEGAL THEORY IN RELATION TO ECONOMIC THEORY, ETHICS, AND LEGAL PRACTICE KONRAD GRAF* THEORIZING ABOUT LAW and legal concepts falls under the field of jurisprudence, as do certain aspects of the assessment of legal institutions, procedures, and processes. Theorists in this field are typically des

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