Let me be clear, I consider Ludwig von Mises the fountainhead for the rediscovery of sound economic reasoning post Keynes. He was, to put this simply, the most consistent and persistent theorist of microfoundations, and the development of the universal applicability of the rational actor model across the various disciplines associated with the study of man. In developing his ideas he made sharp distinctions not only between theoretical examinations and historical scholarship, but between normative philosophizing and positive analysis. He developed his positive/normative split following Max Weber, and the Weber-Mises positiion represents positive analysis in the sciences of man prior to the development of positivist philosophy of science. This is extremely important to keep in mind when thinking through the philosophy of science, and the nature of argument in the sciences of man. But before I wade too deep in philosophical waters, let me get back to the dry land of social sciences.
Mises used the term praxeology to describe his system -- he also used economics and catallactics to delineate spheres of praxeological reasoning. Early in his career he used the term sociology rather than praxeology, but as the disciplines evolved this option was closed off to him least he cause great confusion in his readers. Praxeology is described as a discipline --- the study of acting man in all walks of life. Praxeology is also described at times as a method --- deduction of theoretical principles from the apriori proposition of purposeful human action. Praxeology is also described as a perfectly value free science of man which treats ends as given and analyzes the effectiveness of chosen means to the attainment of those given ends. The vast majority of Mises's major contributions to political economy are in this style of argument --- negative knowledge --- as he demonstrates through praxeological reasoning that the very goals of the policy actors are undermined by the means they choose to pursue their goals.
As a student I was so convinced of the force of Mises's argument that I decided I wanted to spend my life as a teacher attempting to articulate and communicate to others the power of Mises's praxeological approach to the sciences of man. As a teacher, especially of PhD students, this has been my driving motivation because I believe it is the way we make progress in the sciences of man, and how we can best make a useful contribution to the public debate over public policy. Praxeology, as I say in Living Economics, puts parameters on people's utopias.
Ben Powell's Out of Poverty, is a classic example of praxeological reasoning and the purpose of political economy in the hands of a skilled thinker influenced by Mises's approach. Listen to his discussion of the book, he treats the ends of the critics of sweatshops as given, he deploys straightforward analysis of the effectiveness of the chosen means for the attainment of those given ends, and demonstrates in a non-normative yet powerful way how the critics and policy makers influenced by the critics are in fact engaged in counter-productive policies from their own point of view. Graduate students and young economists take notice, this is how you are supposed to be doing (as opposed to talking) praxeology.
Don't get me wrong, it is vitally important for young scholars (and old) to engage in pure theory, and to also engage in intellectual history and methodological discussions to refine our understanding of praxeology, but ultimately the purpose of theory is found in the application to history and contemporary history (also known as public policy). Ben Powell is demonstrating to young scholars (and old) how to engage in sound economic reasoning and engage a hot-botton issue in contemporary public policy. Mises, no doubt, would be thrilled to see how his approach to the sciences of man is being developed and utilized by a masterful economist.