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has the tendency to avoid error.27

A point Anscombe makes that is relevant to this dispute is that action-descriptions have a role in our language only if they are ordinarily intentional under the description given, and that this requires us to regard success as the norm and failure as the exception in human action:

[T]here are many descriptions of happenings which are directly dependent on our possessing the form of description of intentional actions. … For example ‘offending someone’; one can do this unintentionally, but there would be no such thing if it were never the description of an intentional action. … We can now see that a great many of our descriptions of events effected by human beings are formally descriptions of executed intentions. … Surprising as it may seem, the failure to execute intentions is necessarily the rare exception. This seems surprising because the failure to achieve what one would finally like to achieve is common …. What is necessarily the rare exception is for a man’s performance in its more immediate descriptions not to be what he supposes. 28

While no particular action is guaranteed to be successful in its immediate aim, we cannot make sense of the possibility that most actions should fail of their immediate aims.  I might try to scratch my nose, and fail: my arm might undergo sudden paralysis, or be seized by another person, or I might drunkenly miss my target; but if most attempts at nose-scratching were unsuccessful, the concept of trying to scratch one’s nose would lose its purchase.  For how could we even pick out the class of attempted nose-scratchings unless we possessed the concept of successful nose-scratchings?  And how could we possess the latter concept apart from its ready applicability in ordinary experience?29  Our tendency

27 Jörg Guido Hülsmann, “Facts and Counterfactuals in Economic Law,” pp. 66-67; in Journal of Libertarian Studies 17, no. 1 (Winter 2003), pp. 57-102; cf. Mario Rizzo, “The Tendency to Discover:  What Does It Mean?” (unpublished).

28 Anscombe, Intention, op. cit., pp. 84-87.

29 Cf. Wittgenstein:  “The primitive form of the language game is certainty, not uncertainty. For uncertainty could never lead to action.  ... it is characteristic of our language that the foundation on which it grows consists in steady ways of living, regular ways of acting. … The basic form of the game must be one in which we act.”  (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, ed. James Klagge and Alfred Nordmann (Hackett, 1993), p. 397.)

R. T. Long – Wittgenstein, Praxeology, and Frege’s Three Realms – p. 18

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