The Rationality of Human Action

Action is rational. When man acts he does so under the assumption that the ends which he seeks will make him happier then he currently is, that acting will remove any uneasiness felt as a result of the difference states, and that by acting he is able to influence his current condition. If neither of these were true, man would not act. In fact he would be in a state of satisfaction in which acting would result in a worse state of affairs.

Mans current condition and possible future conditions are a subjective value. What one man values may not be what another values. In Human Action, Mises states that “each man is free to [choose] the relative values of his actions.” This can not be denied man, even in a planned economy. Man will always value to his actions, wether that action is to continue to serve the authorities or to revolt. There is no universal “yardstick” when it comes to judging the value actions. One man may wish above all to achieve some “higher” goal and yet another may wish above all to satisfy his material desires. Because of the subjective value of actions nobody can judge what would make someone else happy, as no man is in a position to replace his goals for that of anyone else. The achievement of “higher” ends to the man who values them is just as rational as the achievement of material ends by he who holds his material well being in high regard. Neither science, which is merely the study and observation of the world through observation and experimentation, nor any other human being, who cannot hold the same value as any other man, is able to judge either the religious man or the self-indulgent man.

Just because a man tries to achieve an ends and fails either because of some unknown condition, a misunderstanding of the world, or an error in logic does not mean that the person acted irrationally. All that is required is that he believe that his actions are able to influence his current state into a happier state. Under these assumptions, which must be believed in order to act, then action is by definition rational. The rationality of an action does not depend on the outcome. If a man believes that by chanting he can bring down rain and he begins to chant, he is acting rationally even if the means will not bring about the rain to fall.