A Short Translation Auxiliary to the ‘Human Action’ by Ludvig von Mises

During the introduction, Mises makes a note that the first use of the term Praxeology occurred first in a work by Alfred Espinas, who had been a positivist before becoming a realist.

So, I translated the part being referred to: Alfred Espinas. Les Origines de la Technologie. // Revue Philosophique de la France et de l'Étranger. T. 30 (Julliet à December 1890). p. 114-116; I think I'll translate the whole article later, it is rather interesting from what I've skimmed through.

Praxeology, or general technology – Let us notice that here we speak not about the fine arts, but about crafts. The Greecs called them τέχναι, and we could call them ‘techniques’ so to distinguish them from the arts that aim at producing æesthetical emotions. In this very word – ‘technique’ – we, unfortunately, recognise yet another, rather limited meaning; by a technique of education, a technique of such and such fabrication, we also mean the operating procedures or, in general, the specific parts of the industrial crafts rather than these crafts themselves; it would not be convenient for us to speak of ‘techniques’ instead of crafts, especially if our general views concern groups of high-level rules which do not result in any physical manipulation (politics and morale for example) and which would have to be counted among the crafts and become techniques. It thus would have yet certain advantage to be able to designate, in the manner in which the Greeks did it, the simple practices which are established in a spontaneous fashion prior to any analysis. Since those are the developed arts, not the scattered practices that give birth to the science within which we deal here and form the Technology. Each of these developed arts implies a special technology of its own, which naturally forms – among all other ones – the systematic general Technology. The word ‘practice’ is endowed, without a doubt, with a very extended meaning; it may well be used with the definite article (the practice, the practices);in all its manifestations it converges on voluntary acting collectives, the spontaneous and pre-meditated alike. It is fitting to denote the science of this factual order as a whole with an excellent term: Praxeology. However, there is a risk, due to the large extension of the term, to be misunderstood and give some pace for conflations. Probably among the two sciences to be developed, the latter (Praxeology) is the most general one, while the former (Technology) is inevitably more narrow in generality with regard to the same group of research topics. We shall use these terms most often with their correlative meanings while making the general Technology the object of our main preoccupation, a science which deals not with the most universal forms and the most general principles of action among the living beings – it will be the object reserved for Praxeology – but with the groups of practical rules, the crafts or techniques which are shown in the developed, civilised to some degrees, human societies. However, it happens that we employ these terms in lieu of each other.

Technology is comprised of three sorts of problems, giving three points of view from which the techniques can be regarded.

  • First, it is necessary to proceed with an analytic description of crafts such as exist at a given moment in a given society, to determine their different kinds and then to reduce them into a systematic classification comprised of a limited number of essential types; as well as to establish a morphology of these techniques that corresponds to the static view point, the foundation and the starting point of any knowledge about the reality. Sociologist proceeds here like a botanist or zoologist; the fixed character which the arts borrow from the traditions allows one to study these arts in a way we study the organs and instincts of animals.
  • Second, it is necessary to investigate under which conditions, due to action of which laws, each group of the rules is applied, to which causes they owe their practical effectiveness: this is the dynamic point of view. The organs of the social volition have a physiology of their own like ones of the individual one.
  • Third, these two points of view – static and dynamic one – are being combined, there is a place for study of the future of these organs themselves, whether we speak about the birth, prime time or the decline of each of them in a given society, or if we speak about the evolution of any of the series of the techniques in the human society, from the most simple ones to the most complex, through the alteration of the domain of tradition and invention as if in a rhythm.

The superposition of these three themes forms the general Technology. It has a similar role for the domain of action which logic has for the domain of knowledge, since it makes the same observations and classifies diverse sciences which then determine the circumstances or their laws, which then links in the end with the their development or history, sciences being social phenomena like arts and crafts.