Handbook on Contemporary Austrian Economics
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Handbook on Contemporary Austrian Economics

Edited by Peter J. Boettke

This Handbook looks through the lens of the latest generation of scholars at the main propositions believed by so-called ‘Austrians’. Each contributing author addresses key tenets of the school of thought, and outlines its ongoing contribution to economics and to the social sciences.
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Chapter 3: The Facts of the Social Sciences are what People Believe and Think

Virgil Henry Storr


Virgil Henry Storr* [W]henever we interpret human action as in any sense purposive or meaningful, whether we do so in ordinary life or for the purposes of the social sciences, we have to define both the objects of human activity and the different kinds of actions themselves, not in physical terms but in terms of the opinions and intentions of the acting persons. (Hayek, 1948, p. 62) 3.1 Introduction The aim of the social sciences is to explain and understand social phenomena. They are concerned with how the purposeful action of individuals operating on the basis of their own peculiar knowledge of their particular circumstances of time and place bring about orders that no single mind did or could deliberately design. Understanding purposeful human action and, so, the emergence of social phenomena, means understanding the opinions and beliefs that guide individual decision-making. The facts of social sciences are, therefore, the meanings that individuals attach to their actions and their environments. The essential data of the social sciences are subjective in character. As Mises (1963, p. 26) argued in Human Action, “we cannot approach our subject if we disregard the meaning which acting man attaches to [his] situation.” Similarly, as Hayek (1979, p. 53) argued in The Counter-Revolution of Science, “unless we can understand what the acting people mean by their actions any attempt to explain them. . .is bound to fail.” The social sciences, if they are to explain social phenomena, must be concerned with what people think and feel,...

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