A fundamental difference between the natural sciences and human action

Posted by ProjectC 
<blockquote>'The popular epistemological doctrines of our age do not admit that a fundamental difference prevails between the realm of events that the natural sciences investigate and the domain of human action that is the subject matter of economics and history. People nurture some confused ideas about a "unified science" that would have to study the behavior of human beings according to the methods Newtonian physics resorts to in the study of mass and motion. On the basis of this allegedly "positive" approach to the problems of mankind, they plan to develop "social engineering," a new technique that would enable the "economic tsar" of the planned society of the future to deal with living men in the way technology enables the engineer to deal with inanimate materials.

These doctrines misrepresent entirely every aspect of the sciences of human action.

As far as man can see, there prevails a regularity in the succession and concatenation of natural phenomena. Experience, especially that of experiments performed in the laboratory, makes it possible for man to discern some of the "laws" of this regularity in many fields even with approximate quantitative accuracy. These experimentally established facts are the material that the natural sciences employ in building their theories. A theory is rejected if it contradicts the facts of experience. The natural sciences do not know anything about design and final causes.

Human action invariably aims at the attainment of ends chosen. Acting man is intent upon diverting the course of affairs by purposeful conduct from the lines it would take if he were not to interfere. He wants to substitute a state of affairs that suits him better for one that suits him less. He chooses ends and means. These choices are directed by ideas.'
- Ludwig von Mises (Preface to English-Language Edition), Epistemological Problems of Economics</blockquote>