Hoppe's argumentation ethics

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  • #814


    I thought I had linked to this article by Danny Frederick which criticizes Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, but now I am unable to find any threads about it. Thus, I shall make a new one! Spooner told me he wrote a response to Frederick’s article, which I want to read.

  • #817


    Repost of a Facebook conversation:

    Taylor Kirk Timmy Gray> Sorry you CAN’T debate, but if you aren’t killing people for having different opinions, you already admitted property rights.

    Bill Orton> Counter-example: What if I am plundering other people’s possessions (what they stupidly consider property) but not killing them (unless they resist.) I divert them by debating and arguing with them while it amuses me. I charitably do not kill them for their stupid opinions.

    Argumentation ethics has its limits. I think it does show, for example, that participants of an argument implicitly agree that truth exists, A is A, and consciousness exists, and certain basic logic rules. But it fails to justify property IMO, due to counter-examples like the one given. One can argue without ascribing rights to your interlocutor. Another: Ancient Greeks and their slaves – slaves that might be teaching algebra to his kid.

  • #834

    Spooner Bookman

    On the one hand, I find Hoppe’s argumentation ethics convincing, but on the other hand, I feel like I’m missing something, and that ‘something’ is the thing that would un-convince me in a heartbeat if I only I knew what it was. I was hoping/thinking Hogeye would be able to shed some light on this for me, but I’m not sure I’m understanding the comment above — “if you aren’t killing people for having different opinions, you already admitted property rights” isn’t really Hoppe’s argument, as far as I understand it?

    Anyway, I wrote a rebuttal to this guy Jacob linked to, mainly in hopes that it would force me to uncover whatever it is I’m missing. While I think it was good exercise, I think I’m in the same spot: I can’t find anything wrong with Hoppe’s argument while at the same time being certain something is wrong with it… Would love some help on this!?

    . . . . . . . .

    Frederick’s initial assessment of Hoppe’s argument is that it is from the features of argumentative activity to the conclusion that a specific moral proposition (X) is true. While this is an accurate assessment, Frederick’s confusion begins in earnest when he changes this assessment by claiming that one of the ‘features’ that Hoppe is arguing from in order to prove X is is X itself. If this truly was Hoppe’s argument, Frederick’s paper could be much shorter as the refutation should be obvious to all. The problem is that the common definition of ‘feature’ is “a distinctive attribute or aspect of something” and given Hoppe’s always precise language, it is doubtful he mistakenly intended it to mean ‘moral proposition’ as Frederick posits. In short, Frederick has mistakenly swapped a non-moral ‘feature’ with a ‘moral proposition’, a major error in his analysis.

    Another key misunderstanding for Frederick is his inchoate understanding of ‘liberty’. Frederick says it is ‘an authority’ over someone or some group, the ‘physical ability’ to do a thing, the ‘legal permission granted by a governing group to do a thing’, and further, a ‘liberty’ can be revoked by the governing group at any time, even though, further still, Frederick’s ‘liberty’ is also (somehow) not something that allows one to exclude others from a thing (even though moments ago it was an ‘authority’ over others, presumably, to perform precisely this exclusionary action). This incoherent theory of ‘liberty’ is the source of a great deal of Frederick’s confusion.

    Frederick agrees that argumentation is conflict free, but disagrees with Hoppe’s reasoning: ‘argumentation’ can’t be conflict-free in the sense that Hoppe claims because (1) people can disagree about whether they disagree or not so that means there might not be agreement about whether they are disagreeing, and (2) it is not always true that arguers can agree about whether they are arguing because they might be having an argument about whether or not they are arguing. However, neither of Frederick’s cases proves Hoppe’s claim wrong: (1) this does not prove that they do not agree there is a disagreement about whether or not there is a disagreement, and (2) this does not prove they do not agree that there is a disagreement about whether or not they are arguing about whether or not they arguing. Until Frederick can close this loop (so to speak), he has not demonstrated that argumentation is not conflict free in precisely the sense that Hoppe claims it is.

    Voluntary-Cooperative Activity Ethics
    Frederick says that he personally believes argumentation is conflict free specifically because the participants voluntarily cooperate, and as such, he believes he can swap Hoppe’s specific subset of human action (argumentation) for a much more broad category of human action (voluntary cooperative activity) without losing any of Hoppe’s meaning. This is inexplicable as Frederick plainly states he understands that the “reason Hoppe focuses on cooperation in argumentation, rather than cooperative activity in general, is that the pragmatic contradiction argument applies specifically to argumentation.” Regardless, in making this swap Frederick introduces yet another source of confusion for himself (for example when he wonders why Hoppe does nothing to show why Hoppe’s thought linking cooperation and rights must be true — this thought is not Hoppe’s thought at all).

    Anti-Argumentation Laws
    Frederick contends that argumentation cannot prove self-ownership because people engaged in argumentation are physically able to behave as if (i.e., ‘recognize’) the participants have the legal permission from a government to engage in argumentation regardless of whether or not the participants actually do have legal permission. Frederick correctly concludes that this Frederickized version of Hoppe’s premise is “surely the height (or depth) of banality” as it simply tells us that some people don’t respect the anti-argumentation laws of a particular government. Frederick’s error is confusing a feature of argumentation (i.e., the physical ability to argue) with a legal permission to argue from an authority (i.e., a feature of a government).

    Exclusive Control
    Frederick equates Hoppe’s ‘exclusive control’ with something like “total control of every part of one’s body” which of course makes for an easy refutation as one may have a broken leg and yet still argue. But when Hoppe says ‘exclusive control’, he is not referring to ‘total control’ but instead only pointing out the obvious: if I am not the ‘exclusive controller’ of my body, then not only must there necessarily be other (necessarily indirect) (co-)controller(s) of my body, I must also necessarily forever be waiting for (and/or consulting with) the other (indirect) controller(s) of my body in order to take any ‘legitimate’ action whatsoever, else I would be in constant conflict with the other controller(s) as I can’t know for certain that they don’t have other purposes for my body for the duration of the time that I intend to use it for my purposes without first consulting with them. The requirement of waiting/consulting with other controller(s) of my body before legitimate action can be taken is what is being addressed with Hoppe’s idea of ‘exclusive control’.

    Argumentation Requires Humans
    Frederick has one argument that concedes the presumption of self-ownership is recognized (consciously or not) by everyone involved in argumentation in order to point out that this ‘recognition’ could last only so long as argumentation takes place, and as such, when there is no more argumentation, there will be no more presumption of self-ownership. But — as Frederick himself correctly notes — as long as there are people, there will be argumentation, which is to say that the activity whose occurrence is necessary in order for the proposition to hold is and will always be occurring, at least so long as propositions matter (as Hoppe is not concerned with a world where everyone is dead).

    Trivially True
    Frederick concludes at one point that he must ‘pare back Hoppe’s argument’ to, ‘People engaged in debate recognize that each person engaged in the debate has the physical ability to control his body, at least so long as he is participating in the debate’. This is not a paring back of Hoppe’s claim but a closer resemblance to it. Frederick is almost willing to concede Hoppe is correct if only because the claim here is ‘trivial’. Nonetheless he intends to prove this trivial truth false with this argument: suppose Jack has had his legal permission to argue aggressively suppressed by Jill, but Jack decides to attempt to argue anyway and Jill pauses her aggression and participates in the argument. This would mean, according to Frederick, Jill behaves as if she consciously recognizes the moral principle of self-ownership is true for the duration of the argument, even though she may not actually consciously recognize the moral principle as true at any point. Instead of refuting Hoppe’s ‘trivially true’ claim as promised, here Frederick has restated it.

    Useful Nonfiction
    Frederick says one can argue without consciously recognizing another’s self-ownership by behaving as if — i.e., ‘recognizing’ — that the other person does in fact have self-ownership (at least as long as the argument lasts). Frederick says the reason one would ‘recognize’ this self-ownership isn’t because one ‘must’ recognize it, but only because it is ‘useful’ for argumentation. Frederick does not answer the obvious question: why is it ‘useful’ to behave as if (recognize) self-ownership to argue? Can one argue without behaving as if (recognizing) the other’s self-ownership? If not, then self-ownership is ‘useful’ to argumentation in the way that breathing is ‘useful’ for life — it is unavoidable.

    Non-Arguing Humans
    For the sake of debate, Frederick concedes that a ‘norm’ can be derived from the features of argumentation in order to make the point that even then, the ‘norm’ wouldn’t apply to all people because it excludes those people who are not participants in argumentation. But if Frederick holds the latter to be true then he can’t possibly be conceding the former, as a ‘norm’ would necessarily apply to non-arguing humans (infants, the comatose, etc.), else it wouldn’t be a norm. If self-ownership is a ‘norm’ then it applies to non-arguing humans. If there is something about these folks’ status as non-arguers that overrides the presumption of self-ownership derived from argumentation, Frederick does not say what it is.

    It matters not what norms are established if you are alone on a desert island. But if enough others arrive on the island and conflict ensues as it invariably must, then there are only two options: power and market — duke it out or establish norms that reduce/prevent conflict.

    Now, at this point, every intellectual thrillseeker wants to jump to the question, “What should the norms be?” But Papa Hoppe is yelling at us kids on his lawn to, ‘Zlow down, lads! You muzst look kloser.’ Hoppe implores us to ask, before diving into moral propositions, is there more we can deduce from the fact that we are even trying to sort out norms?

    Well, for one, short of a creator god showing up and dropping the most-proper norms on us, the only way to begin finding out the ‘truth’ of what the ‘best’ norms would be (or anything for that matter) is to argue.


    ‘Of course, but… Trivially true at best!’

    Hardly! If this is the necessary and common-to-all beginning of all human truth-discovery, then why not start our norm-discovery at the beginning? Why not start, first, before anything else, by examining this, argumentation? When we do look close, we find that for argumentation to take place, certain conditions ‘must’ be satisfied – not because they ‘ought’ to be satisfied but because these conditions ‘are’ what make up the thing we call argumentation.

    For example, for ‘argumentation’ to take place one or more humans ‘must’ be alive and breathing and have a brain and so on. These conditions-to-be-satisfied have nothing to do with morality — they are simply features of argumentation. (To say that for a forest to exist there must be trees is to say nothing about the morality of having trees — it’s simply articulating what we agree about what we call ‘forests’.)

    One feature of argumentation (like a brain and so on) is the exclusive, direct control (i.e., ‘ownership’) of one’s arguing faculties (i.e., that which makes us human or our ‘selfs’). This feature of self-ownership, much like the feature of a brain, necessarily directs any subsequent norm development, and as such, how could any subsequent norm logically contradict self-ownership (or having a brain)?

    With argumentation ethics, Hoppe has (seemingly) found an ‘are’ in the is/ought problem. If we accept any non-revelatory truth at all, we accept that we argued to verify it, which means we first accepted self-ownership prior to accepting the truth in question — ANY truth, for that matter. To argue otherwise would be to, well, argue, and… you see where I’m going?

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