Let us say Crusoe awakens, stranded on an island after having floated unconscious onto the shore on a piece of flotsam. The first thing that enters his consciousness is a sharp pain in his hand, which is being caused by a large splinter. He wants to alleviate the pain, and prevent any infection the splinter might cause. The matter is especially urgent, because he feels he is about to pass out in a few moments, and he is worried that infection could set in while he is unconscious.
Ludwig von Mises wrote:"The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness."
In this case, Crusoe has an uneasiness concerning the pain that he feels and the damage his body might suffer.
An important distinction is that the praxeological uneasiness is not the pain itself. Praxeology is not psychology, and economics does not posit acting man as necessarily a purely hedonistic (pleasure-pursuing and pain-avoiding) creature. It is conceivable that a person with a splinter in his hand is a masochist and that he feels pain but no uneasiness about the presence of that pain and thus no desire to remove the splinter.
By assumption, Crusoe happens not to be a masochist, and the pain involved happens to be one of the factors (along with the possible damage involved) that causes him to be uneasy about the splinter. But, whatever the cause may be, what is important for praxeology is that Crusoe regards the state of affairs involving the splinter in his hand as imperfect.
It is easy to imagine action without pain, but is it even possible to coherently imagine action without prior uneasiness? No, argued Mises:
A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care.It is inconceivable for a being to intervene in a state of affairs that he already regards as perfect. Intervention implies perceived imperfection. Uneasiness, therefore, is a necessary prerequisite of action. The presence of an uneasiness can also be referred to as a want or desire, and the removal of an uneasiness can be referred to as the satisfaction of a want or desire.
- Excerpt from Mises on Action by Daniel James Sanchez. May 18, 2011.