1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar
Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5071/economics-and-its-ethical-assumptions/

Economics and Its Ethical Assumptions

May 19, 2006 by

In this weekend edition, Roderick Long talks about value-subjectivism, where Austrian economics is supposed to endorse a subjective sense of value. And on this question, does this mean that Austrian economics is committed to rejecting any kind of objective morality? Not at all. FULL ARTICLE

{ 24 comments }

Renato Drumond May 19, 2006 at 7:22 pm

This article is great, but I still deffend the utilitarian approach. I believe that the calculation of pain and pleasure isn´t conscious at all, and great part of this calculation was given by the evolutive process of the mind. So, we value some acts as they have values on itself. We don´t calculate kill or not to kill an human being all the time, because some part of our behaviour was given(most people feel pain when someone we don´t know feels pain). Maybe you think that this approach isn´t utilitarian, if you understand the calculation is aways conscious. For me, human beings calculated their actions since they are human beings, but on some part of his history the action and the intentions was separated in time, creating an “existential” time(a time that individuals doesn´t need to act, so they can think about the world), and this passage acumullated his effects trough material advance of humanity. It´s a kind of hayekian avaliation, which explains the errors of ingenuous rationalism, which thinks that the “existential” time preceeds the real time.

And you wrote “the content of any one virtue is partly determined by, or responsive to, the content of the other virtues. Your account of what justice requires can’t be completely independent of your account of what courage requires, or your account of what generosity requires, or your account of any other virtue.”. It requires a great mind to act like this. Our knowledge is imperfect, and we have beliefs on most variated grades. Still, it is reasonable to deffend that human beings search coherence, but is reasonable too for human beings to take risks. And the risks isn´t determined only by calculation, it´s my desire the last judge.

The tradition of objective value claims that the problems of different minds will be resolved when all people agree about objective values. But, since the objective values are aways judged by subjective minds, people who think they discover objective values tend to enforce this values to the rest of humanity. The tradition of subjective value, on the other hand, believes that the different values of human beings produces the political problem, which is: how we can live on multi-cultural(non-tribal) society?
The sooner believes on a society ruled by an ethical elite. The latter believe on a dynamical society, which should be a good society, or a bad society. However, my division isn´t deterministic: some thinkers of objective value deffends a free society, and other members of subjective value deffends any thing, because value was subjetive. Even Rothbard notes this problem:

“AS WE HAVE INDICATED, the great failing of natural-law theory—from Plato and Aristotle to the Thomists and down to Leo Strauss and his followersin the present day-is to have been profoundly statist rather than individualist. This “classical” natural-law theory placed the locus of the good and of virtuous action in the State, with individuals strictly subordinated to State action. Thus, from Aristotle’s correct dictum that man is a “social animal,” that his nature is best fitted for social cooperation, the classicists leaped illegitimately to a virtual identification of “society” and “the State,” and thence to the State as the major locus of virtuous action.”

The moral values are suggestions, and the individuals are free to agree or to disagree with this suggestions. The subjective perspective is most based on this statement than any other.

James May 19, 2006 at 11:46 pm

Renato,

I am unable to understand your defense of the utilitarian approach. Your first and second paragraphs seem to offer a descriptive theory of how people form value judgements. A descriptive theory can’t be the defense for a normative approach. Your third paragraph seems to argue that some non-utilitarian ethical theories have gone wrong. That’s true, but that doesn’t imply that utilitarian is the right normative theory.

Further, I would submit that coherently arguing for utilitarianism is impossible. When we make arguments, we implicitly assume that an outcome cannot justify a process, and that only a process can justify an outcome. Suppose that the steps of some argument include several logical falacies but the conclusion is undoubtedly true. I doubt that any utilitarian would look at such an argument and say “These steps must be good; they are justified by their wonderful outcome.” No outcome, no matter how good, can justify a defective process. On the other hand, if the steps of the argument are valid and the premises are true, then we accept the conclusion of the argument. We accept that outcome because we accept the process used to reach that outcome.

So the utilitarian is in a real bind. Any argument at all, including an argument for utilitarianism, only works if justification flows from process to outcome. But if utilitarianism is true, then justification flows to process from outcome.

Jude Chua Soo Meng May 20, 2006 at 10:37 am

Thanks for this very fine article. Much enjoyed reading it.

I was just wondering why Rothbard was so insistent that economics be value free? Isn’t it possible–or even necessary–that a fruiful *description* of a social phenomena like economics be evaluative?

Even supposing we are not interested in a normative project of describing what economics should be about (and Rothbard lambasts economists for formulating evaluative policy, if I remember rightly), can a case be made that: eventually in a sociological decription of economic phenomena, we have to choose to describe “economics” from some one’s point of view, and the one person whose view point that matters is the person who is practically wise and reasonable?

Angelo May 21, 2006 at 12:53 am

It was a pretty good article, though I basically disagree with Long’s approach to rights.

However, there’s a big problem Long overlooks, which I don’t understand how he can if he’s well read. It’s the idea of what a good is, and whether it’s a good in the Mengerian sense (objectively) or Misesian and Rothbardian sense (subjectively, or the mere belief that it is a good).

The problem with comparing life insurance to the magic pill is that with any good, regardless of examples such as this proposed, it is the estimation that the utility derived from its consumption that is an implication of the act of consuming it. In this case, life insurance for one’s family.

To say that a man purchases life insurance for the objective good of his family, apart from his belief that it will benefit them, is at best true but tells us nothing, and at worst misleading. Because it is the fact alone that he believes it will benefit his family that gives him utility, both in the act of purchasing life insurance and in the knowledge that it benefits them if he is hurt.

Yes, objectively, the life insurance may very well benefit the man’s family in the way he had hoped. But this is not why it is a good. It is one because of his subjective valuation of it as a good.

Benjamin Marks May 21, 2006 at 9:22 am

Angelo,

I agree that it could have been a bit clearer, but he does not claim that there is no pleasure involved, just that other things constitute pleasure, and that, therefore, it is incorrect to say that pleasure is the only factor at the expense of dismissing “family values”.

Paul Edwards May 21, 2006 at 11:18 am

I am afraid this comment may put Roderick a little bit in the hot-seat, so i hope he’ll forgive me.

It strikes me that a discussion of ethics from a praxeological perspective would warrant at least some small reference to Hoppe’s work. I presume the reason for this omission is that Roderick doesn’t agree with Hoppe, that action, or more specifically argumentation necessarily implies the libertarian ethic, and that therefore, literally, no other ethic can be justified.

This is me, just a rabble-rouser. LOL.

iceberg May 21, 2006 at 1:41 pm

Sir Roderick,

Thanks, this article was fantastic, and I am afraid I will have to reread it to fully appreciate your thoughts.

Aside from Rothbard’s books, are there any others you would recommend reading on the subject of deontology/utilitarianism, coming from those writers who also have a firm grasp of economics? (I have already read Mises’s “Socialism” and I’m starting Hoppe’s “Democracy” shortly)

Thank you.

Angelo May 21, 2006 at 2:04 pm

Benjamin, I wasn’t commenting on his statements about pleasure and his critique of Mises’ explanation of the state of affairs that human beings are in is always that of going from a state of greater suffering to lesser suffering. I think Mises is clear enough in that regard in that he explains that he is not talking about hedonism.

I was referring to this mistaken idea that Long seems to have of the valuation of something as a good as opposed to its objective utility as one. Long wants to make some distinction there, but I think that is inappropriate as I explained.

Roderick T. Long May 21, 2006 at 2:41 pm

To Renato:

I’m not sure it matters whether the calculation is conscious or subconscious. Either way, I think utilitarian calculation is self-defeating. I discuss this in more detail in my review of Leland Yeager’s book.

I don’t think it’s any special objection to objective value that “people who think they discover objective values tend to enforce this values to the rest of humanity.” On the one hand, people who believe in objective value aren’t going to be led to impose them if they think respect for other people’s rights is one of those objective values. On the other hand, people who don’t believe in objective values aren’t necessarily going to be tolerant; the Nazis, insofar as they had any coherent philosophy, appear to have been moral relativists who thought each racial or national group had its own morality — but rather than concluding that we should all try to get along, they concluded that each group must strive violently to subordinate all the other groups.

To Angelo:

I’m puzzled at your saying I don’t talk about objective vs. subjective good — that was the main topic of my entire talk.

As for my life insurance case, I never said that “a man purchases life insurance for the objective good of his family, apart from his belief that it will benefit them.” Of course their objective good won’t move him if he doesn’t recognise it as good.

To Paul:

The reason I didn’t discuss Hans Hoppe’s argument in this talk is that at the conference where I presented it I had just given a lecture on Hoppe’s argument a day or two before. But if you want to know why I disagree with his argument I give a summary here.

Paul Edwards May 22, 2006 at 1:45 am

Roderick,

I enjoyed your discussion of “The Hoppriori Argument” very much.

I know this isn’t the place for this, and so I don’t expect to see a rejoinder, but since I didn’t see a rebuttal to your discussion on the net, I thought I’d bounce mine off you for laughs.

Long on Hoppe:

No position is rationally defensible unless it can be justified by argument.

Me:

Justification occurs during or via argumentation. If you present no argument, you can present no justification. Performing the former requires performing the latter.

Long:

“It depends, I suppose, on what counts as an argument.”

It does not depend on what counts as an argument. Any attempt one may make at justifying anything at all will come in the form of an argument. It is that simple. Did i try to justify my proposition? Did i try to show its validity? Yes? Then I made an argument.

Long on Hoppe:

No position can be justified by argument if it denies one or more of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange.

Me:

The act of argumentation and proposition making necessarily presupposes certain things. Without these presuppositions in place, argumentation is rendered an absurdity.

Long:

“I am the only person left alive.” …”certainly denies one of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange – namely, the existence of other arguers.”

Me:

This is merely a proposition which depends on empirical facts for validity. This statement cannot be inconsistent with 2 and it does not deny any presuppositions of argumentation; a person can make an argument to himself inside his head and he of course presumes he will not coerce himself to agree. This therefore does not represent a performative contradiction. “Life is not worth living” on the other hand does contradict the presupposition of argumentation and could be ruled out of court due to its performative inconsistency. Argumentation presupposes a value of life, as the arguer of this proposition would kill himself rather than to stick around to make such an argument if he didn’t presuppose the falsity of the proposition.

Long on Hoppe:

Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy exclusive control over her own body.

Me:

The act of argumentation presupposes that each participant in the exchange has exclusive control over his body. To presuppose anything else, again renders the argument absurd.

Long:

“Do you really have to have exclusive control over your entire body in order to engage in argument with me?”

Me:

Whether the arguer is in a wheelchair or not is irrelevant. The point is that an argument only makes sense if and therefore implies and presupposes that the arguers are free to agree or disagree without threat of violence or coercion from the other.

Long on Hoppe:

To deny the right of self-ownership is to deny exclusive control over one’s own body.

Me:

The right to exclusive control over one’s own body is self ownership.

Long:

“What does it mean for me to deny your exclusive control over your body?…
Premise (4) is true if denying exclusive control over one’s own body means denying the right to such control.”

Me:

I think you got it.

Long on Hoppe:

Therefore, the denial of the right of self-ownership is rationally indefensible.

Me:

Yes, because to deny the right to self-ownership would be a performative contradiction.

Long:

Hoppe’s argument, if it worked, would commit us to recognising and respecting libertarian rights regardless of what our goals are – but as a praxeologist, I have trouble seeing how any practical requirement can be justified apart from a means-end structure.

Me:

All it really does is show that only the libertarian ethic can be justified. You can abstain from recognizing this and never respect it; nothing has changed in this regard even though you will not be justified in doing so. But as a praxeologist, recognizing that human action has certain necessary implications, you will recognize that the act of argumentation has its own set of implications. And it turns out that the necessary implications and presuppositions of the argument lead us to realize the undeniable validity of the libertarian ethic.

Roger M May 22, 2006 at 10:38 am

Paul–”The act of argumentation presupposes that each participant in the exchange has exclusive control over his body. To presuppose anything else, again renders the argument absurd.”

And–”The point is that an argument only makes sense if and therefore implies and presupposes that the arguers are free to agree or disagree without threat of violence or coercion from the other.”

It seems to me that you’re just restating Hoppe’s premises without addressing Long’s criticisms. Can you go into a little more detail?

Roger M May 22, 2006 at 10:46 am

Long touches upon natural law and ethics, but if you want to go deeper try this book: Natural Law and the Theory of Property : Grotius to Hume (Clarendon Paperbacks) by Stephen Buckle.

Natural law theorists struggled against utilitarianism because they thought it destroyed the possibility of morals. Most argued that morals must come from a higher authority who also had the right to impose rules upon subordinates. That’s why they insisted that morals must come from God, otherwise you end up with utilitarian views and morals no longer exist. To paraphrase Dostoyevsky, without God, everything is permissible.

Paul Marks May 23, 2006 at 7:02 am

Economics like any science (in the old sense of “science” – a body of knowledge) needs a commitment to the moral value of truth.

If one is not concered with whether an idea is true or not (whether it is, for example, in economics whether economic value is subjective or determined by the costs of production – or, in history, whether the Declaration of Independence was in 1776 or in 1896) then there is no subject worth the name.

If one was simply concerned with getting tenure (or whatever) then one would not be concerned with whether or not the ideas one taught were true or not (there may be many people in institutions of education who are like that – but they are not honouring their subjects).

Why care about whether one teaches is good or not? The greatest good of the greatest number? (whether in the style of rule utility people like Hume or Hutchinson or act utilitarians like Bentham) – no.

To lie can be argued to be the greatest good of the greatest number. For example to give an empirical study (with lots of stats) that “proves” that a minimum wage law destroys X number of jobs.

Such an approach may help get rid of the law (although statists will soon learn the trick and produce lots of statistical studies that “prove” that minimum wage laws do not destroy jobs)- but it is not honouring truth (which is that economics is a subject based on reasoning – not collecting and examining statistics).

In the end honouring truth is good, in this context, because it is good.

Just as rape is bad because it is bad.

It is not a matter of calculating whether the rapist or rapists gain more pleasure than the the victim does pain (as in act utilitarianism) or whether allowing rape produced greater long term happiness than seeking to punish it (as with rule utility thought).

The very act of trying to “calculate” good and evil in terms of pleasure and pain is a categary mistake.

Harold Prichard was right in claiming (in his “Mind” article of 1912 – “Is Moral Philosopy Based Upon a Mistake?”) that this is a confusion of good as in pleasure and good as in moral (I will not go into the further distinction between “good” and “right” here). A confusion that exists in many languages and is ancient – but is still a confusion.

This does not mean that someone might not be able to make a “lesser evil” argument – “I had to kill that innocent person, or a million other innocent people would have died”, but a crime (in the natural law sense – what the statutes may say is not important here) has still be committed and the person who murdered the person he knew to be innocent should still, it could be argued, be punished (in spite of having saved a million people).

Indeed (it could be argued) such a killer should punish themselves (perhaps with the very weapon they used to murder the innocent). It is a complext and contested area, but it is a little too neat to say “my motives were good, so I should escape punishment”. The fact of knowing that the person you were killing was innocent is an important fact – and should not be brushed aside by pointing at all the people one has saved (this needs a lot more argument, on both sides, that I can give it here).

As for Natural Law and God:

In the words of many of the, much attacked, Schoolmen “Natural Law is God’s law – and if God did not exist Natural Law would be just the same”.

To a person who says “I do not believe that robbery, rape or murder are wrong” I say “I do not believe you, and even if I did believe you I would still punish you – for you are wrong”.

The basic nonaggression principle (the virtue of Justice) is not in need of “proof” or “foundations” – it is the foundation.

Of course Justice is not the only virtue, but it is one of them – and this just “is”.

One can argue that in certain situtions such suffering will result from following justice that justice should not be followed – but then one has acted unjustly (in order to avoid something even worse). And one should be prepared to take the punishment for one’s crime – “my child was dying of thirst in the desert, so I stole water so that he would make it home” should be followed by “I hand myself over for punishment”.

To redefine justice to make it whatever suits us in a given situation (to avoid punishment) is to spit upon justice.

Paul Marks May 23, 2006 at 7:05 am

“why should one care about whether what one teaches is good or not” should read “why should one care about whether what one teaches is true or not”

For this, and all my other typing errors, I apologize.

Roger M May 23, 2006 at 9:15 am

Paul Marks, Good job! I agree completely, except one small point: “If God did not exist Natural Law would be just the same.” If you read the book I noted above, I think you’ll find that only Grotius held to that idea. His successors believed that God was necessary. Still, we need to develop a system and vocabulary to talk to people who don’t believe in God, so Grotius’ approach seems at least practical.

TGGP May 23, 2006 at 10:06 am

Paul Marks, wouldn’t even under a Rothbardian private law enforcement scenario a market calculation be used to determine how much rape prevention there will be? An interesting utilitarian (no mention of “utility”, but it is clearly ends-based) economic analysis on the punishment for rape here: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_442564.html

Brian Gladish May 23, 2006 at 3:01 pm

Paul Marks, why does any manufacturer care about the quality of its products? Do you think it is morality or the expectation of repeat business and greater profits? Isn’t a teacher manufacturing education?

TGGP, Mr. Marks statements imply that there are some goods to be valued independently of market calculation. It appears you might disagree, as do I.

Paul Edwards May 23, 2006 at 3:56 pm

Roger,

“It seems to me that you’re just restating Hoppe’s premises without addressing Long’s criticisms. Can you go into a little more detail?”

I’d love to.

I‘ll try not to repeat the stuff I said above, but I’ll try to add to it.

First I think the term “presupposes” is a key term. What it means is that Hoppe is not saying that he thinks something should or ought to be the case, or even that it IS the case, but rather, anyone who argues literally MUST and DOES presuppose some things to be the case when he presents a justification, and he cannot avoid such presuppositions, or else, he renders the concept of the argument and justification meaningless.

So let me do a more detailed response to Roderick’s argument at http://praxeology.net/unblog05-04.htm#10 :

“Hoppe offers a number of different formulations of his argument; here is a condensed reconstruction of the argument as I understand it:

1. No position is rationally defensible unless it can be justified by argument.
2. No position can be justified by argument if it denies one or more of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange.
3. Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy exclusive control over her own body.
4. To deny the right of self-ownership is to deny exclusive control over one’s own body.
5. Therefore, the denial of the right of self-ownership is rationally indefensible.
As noted, this is my wording of the argument, not Hoppe’s. If I have misunderstood Hoppe’s argument, which is quite possible, then my criticisms will be applicable only to my reconstruction of his position, and not to his position itself. But here at any rate is a first try.”

This is a case where I think using Hoppe terminology helps avoid confusion, but let’s go with this and see where it gets us.

“The argument appears to be logically valid; that is, the conclusion follows from the premises. Premises (3) and (4) entail that to deny the right of self-ownership is to deny one of the requirements of interpersonal argumentative exchange; premises (1) and (2) entail that no such denial is rationally defensible. Hence, (5). My worries concern the truth of the premises themselves.

“Is premise (1) true? Not obviously so.”

If the premise is understood correctly, it is obviously true. The premise is this: if you justify a proposition, you MUST use an argument to do so.

“… It depends, I suppose, on what counts as an argument. (Does Aristotelean “negative demonstration” count? Does coherence among propositions count?) But if argument involves deriving a conclusion from premises, then (1) seems to say that no position is rationally defensible unless it can be derived from premises. But presumably the premises themselves must be rationally defensible too; deriving a conclusion from premises that are not rationally defensible is hardly going to confer rational defensibility on the conclusion. So those premises, too, must be justified by argument – and so on for the premises of that argument. Thus we are launched on an infinite regress, with the apparent upshot that no position can be rationally justified – a performatively contradictory assertion if there ever was one.”

If one absorbs my comment above, then this adds unnecessary complexity to the consideration of a very simple premise: humans use the argument to justify any and all propositions.

“Is premise (2) true? It seems not.”

I think my response in my previous blog entry answers this. Essentially, what Long is saying is that “it seems” that one can make an inconsistent argument and yet possibly at the same time have justified it. This is impossible. The premise is this: what ever you must necessarily presuppose in the process of argumentation cannot be justifiably denied during the course of the argument. Simple.

“Consider the statement “I am the only person left alive.” One can certainly imagine circumstances in which one would be warranted in endorsing this statement on the basis of the available evidence. (The last astronaut left on the space station watches the Earth explode ….) Hence the statement could in principle be justified by argument. Yet it certainly denies one of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange – namely, the existence of other arguers.”

Again I think my previous answer deals with this. The single arguer scenario doesn’t break Hoppe’s argument. If this is not clear, I will elaborate on your request.

“Is premise (3) true? I don’t see why. Do you really have to have exclusive control over your entire body in order to engage in argument with me? Couldn’t I, say, have your body shackled yet leave your mouth free?”

NO. This renders the argument a ridiculous and fraudulent exercise in futility and is not in keeping with the essence of the argument which is: for two equally free individuals to convince the other of the validity of their propositions or to agree to disagree, without the threat of violence or coercion. This is the necessary meaning of the argument.

Maybe this is where the confusion lies. Let’s say you and I are arguing, but I have you tied up. I tell you agree with me or remain tied up forever, you decide to agree with me. The question is: did we really have an argument. Hoppe would say no. A real, honest, non-fraudulent argument can only happen when neither individual can coerce the other to agree. And this is not simply a matter of opinion or personal preference, any argument that does not comply with this requirement is a fraud.

“Is premise (4) true? I find it ambiguous…

“Premise (4) is true if denying exclusive control over one’s own body means denying the right to such control – but not if it means merely denying either the fact or the legitimacy of such control. Hence we had better interpret premise (4) as talking about the right, not the legitimacy or the fact – since that is the only interpretation that makes (4) come out true.”

Long has the mental bandwidth to consider many possible interpretations. And he does land on the correct interpretation, and the only useful one.

“But then, if the argument is to remain valid, premise (3) must likewise be reinterpreted to mean “Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy a right to exclusive control over her own body.” But why should we grant the truth of (3), under that interpretation? Whatever plausibility (3) had came from interpreting it as talking either about the fact or the legitimacy, not the right. When (3) is interpreted as talking about the right, it starts looking less like a premise and more like the intended conclusion.”

I think I have shown above that (3) stands on its own.

“I have two broader, Austro-Athenian worries about Hoppe’s argument. (They may actually just be two different ways of stating the same worry.) First: to defend the existence of libertarian rights is to defend a view about the content of justice – but as an Aristotelean, I’m inclined to doubt that the content of justice can be settled apart from the content of the other virtues, or of the good life generally.”

I don’t really know what Long is trying to say, except that perhaps he prefers to say he prefers the libertarian ethic to saying that it is in fact the only justifiable ethic. He can still do this, but it will remain true that the ethic which he prefers is also the only justifiable one.

“Second: Hoppe’s argument, if it worked, would commit us to recognising and respecting libertarian rights regardless of what our goals are – but as a praxeologist, I have trouble seeing how any practical requirement can be justified apart from a means-end structure.”

I answered this in the previous blog entry. The key is to understand the purpose of an argument. When this purpose is clearly understood, one sees that praxeology validates the libertarian ethic exclusively.

“As I said at the beginning, I think a Hoppe-style argument might well work; but before I could be convinced I’d want to see such an argument a) distinguish clearly whether it is the fact, the legitimacy, or the right of self-ownership whose denial is being refuted, and b) embed its normative force in a Classical Eudaimonist framework.”

I think the framework in which Hoppe presents his thesis is sufficient to show it is correct.

In general, I think the lion’s share of the confusion surrounding Hoppe’s argument arises out of people’s imprecise understanding of the true meaning of the argument and of a justification. Two people screaming at each other do not constitute an argument. Nor does one person’s begging for mercy of the other. The justification is an argument where a proposition is made in an attempt to show the general validity of it. It is such that it must persuade based on the force of its own logic, and absolutely without the threat of force to ensure agreement. In short, the argument presupposes the libertarian ethic, and no justification can be made of any proposition that contradicts these presuppositions.

Roger M May 24, 2006 at 8:48 am

Paul–”…for two equally free individuals to convince the other of the validity of their propositions or to agree to disagree, without the threat of violence or coercion.”

Unless Long got Hoppe wrong, your explanation doesn’t seem to go with #3, which says: “Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy exclusive control over her own body.”

Personal ownership of the body is what relates #3, #4, and #5, not coercion. I agree that you can’t have an argument with coercion, but that doesn’t seem to be Hoppe’s point, if Long interprets him correctly.

Hoppe’s syllogism is very similar to Ayn Rand’s, which she intended to justify private property rights and went something like this: The right to self-ownership is self-evident. Anything we make begins with thought and is the result of our thought processes, therefore it is rightly ours. It seems to me that Hoppe didn’t like the self-evident part of Rand’s logic and is trying to support it with reasoning based on argumentation. I don’t think that’s necessary. I think very few people would disagree with the right to self-ownership as being self-evident.

The real problem is how do you get from self-ownership to the right to private property.

Paul Marks May 24, 2006 at 10:38 am

Roger M. is quite right. Many thinkers did drop the idea that natural law would be the same if God did not exist – it seemed to make things less complicated if they did that.

And (again as Roger M. points out) it means that for a nonreligious reader their position is weak.

Actually for a religious reader their position is fairly weak as well.

Take the writers (Paley springs to mind) who teach that we should be good – because God will beat us up (or at least deny us a place upstairs) if we are not.

Religious people do not tend to believe in God out of fear (I know athiests tend to think that is so – but it is not). Belief may be wrong headed but it is not normally based on hopes of reward and fear of punishment (what it is based on would take us far from the disscussion here).

On the point of manufacturers and teachers.

Actually many manufacturers really do care about the quality of their products – and NOT just because they gain commercial advantage by producing good quality products.

Take this example:

You make cars, a man is going to buy only one car from you (he has taken some vow only to buy one more car – or whatever).

You can build him a piece of crap that will get him killed – and he will go over a cliff into a bottomless bit, and no one will ever know that you sold him a piece of crap.

Or you can sell him a well made car that you took pride in building – even though you will not earn as big a money profit by selling him the well made car.

What do you do?

Profit (as Mises was fond of pointing out) is not just money.

It is also the pride in doing a job well (in this Mises and Rand were not that far apart).

Yes doing good work for the sake of doing good work (mental profit) does exist.

A lot of people do not take pride in producing crap and selling it. Economic value is subjective (it is whatever the buyer thinks it is), but economic value is not the only type of value. And the subjectivity of economic value is an objective theory anyway.

Many people would rather do a good job (even if no one else ever knows).

I remember seeing a piece of furniture being broken up – the areas that no one would ever see (whilst the piece was in use)were as carefully carved as the surfaces that were to be seen.

“What a waste of effort – that will not increase the amount of money the product will sell for”.

There are people in business who take the view that the quality of work only matters if one can get a higher price for it. However (to make a consequentialist point) enterpises controlled by such people do not tend to prosper in the long term.

In you have no pride in what you are doing – if it is just a “means to an end” (the end being cash)then I for one am not comfortable in doing business with you.

Paul Marks May 24, 2006 at 11:09 am

I should have said that the person who thought that teachers only cared about getting more business (or should only care) was Brian Gladish (at least I think that is what he meant).

Of course if we are to take Plato’s word for it (never a good idea I admit) Socrates had some hard words for teachers who just taught what their students wished to hear.

Say you could get more students (as a teacher of biology) by saying that Jews were gentically more prone to vice than non Jews – and say you knew this was not true.

Do you teach that Jews are genetically more prone to vice?

“But universities do not reward the teaching of falsehood” – “pull the other one it has got bells on” (as my East End of London forefathers would have said). It has long been less difficult to get a job in a college if one teaches nonsense in such subjects as economics than if one tries to teach the truth.

T.G.G.P. said something about law enforcement that meant (I think) that resources are limited and one can not prevent or punish all crimes.

Sadly I have to agree – we can do our best (and, of course, it is a moral duty to try and stop a rape whether this is “our job” or not), but we can not be everywhere at once, and we have other things to do.

But what has this got to do with rape being wrong or not?

Does it stop being wrong if we devote some of our time to doing other things (such as grow food, or clean the house) rather than going out hunting rapists?

Would it stop being wrong if no one hunted rapists at all?

It is a confusion of the economic point of resources (such as time) being limited and there being many demands upon them, with the ethical point that some actions are wrong.

One further point (at least) needs to be made.

Some actions are wrong in that they are criminal – a violation of the nonagression principle (the violation of the body or goods of someone else) and some actions are wrong but NOT criminal.

Almost needless to say the use of the word “criminal” above (indeed the natural law concept of justice that lies behind it) has very little to do with the various ravings that come out of Congress and the Executive Agencies (although, even under the written Constitution those Executive Agencies should not be making vast amounts of law – as the, often misunderstood, case that got rid of the N.R.A. in 1935 tried to point out).

Justice is the nonaggression principle – that people’s bodies and goods are their own (Plato in the Republic to the contrary – I stand with the traditional view of justice not with Plato’s).

Positive law is the effort (subject to the circumstances of time and place) to put the natural law concept of justice into practice.

That is what “judges” and “legislatures” should be doing – and rarely do (they do lots of other stuff instead).

But this does not cover all of morality.

Justice is only one of the virutes.

What of benevolence – what was once called the virture of charity?

It is quite true that someone should not be punished for not helping another person (Henry Hazlitt thought that someone should be punished if they could swim and let someone drown in front of them – but there is no crime here, just a refusal to help) – but it is nice thing if they do.

Also there are the “little things” of life. Such as being polite.

For example saying “please” and “thank you” (and if a proper way) to someone who is serving us.

It is not a crime to be rude, but it is better not to be.

Being rude is wrong – but not criminal.

The modern attiude is that something can not be wrong if it is not criminal – and the modern attitude is very much mistaken.

Crime is about one of the virtues (the virture of justice – the “negative” virtue of not violating others), but there are other virtues – part of morality, but not part of law.

Paul Edwards May 24, 2006 at 3:57 pm

Hi Roger,

“I think very few people would disagree with the right to self-ownership as being self-evident.”

In my view, it has an unnecessarily subjective twang to it. If someone were to say to you “self-ownership is not evident to me, or my friend”, would you answer, “never the less, it is still self evident”? If so, then it is an objective fact and stronger than “self-evident” sounds to me. If not, then it is far too weak to be useful. I prefer to present the express fact that the right of self-ownership is necessarily indisputable. Now, that doesn’t mean someone can’t dispute it; it just means that they can’t dispute it without being inconsistent, thereby invalidating their proposition. Self-evident “seems” to depend on it being evident to the individual doing the viewing of the facts, and self-ownership is on much sounder ground than that.

“Unless Long got Hoppe wrong, your explanation doesn’t seem to go with #3, which says: “Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy exclusive control over her own body.”

“Personal ownership of the body is what relates #3, #4, and #5, not coercion. I agree that you can’t have an argument with coercion, but that doesn’t seem to be Hoppe’s point, if Long interprets him correctly.”

I have to tell you I don’t know if i understand what you’re driving at here, so perhaps I should ask for an example that illustrates it. However, I’ll take a stab at it.

I do believe coercion plays a significant role in this analysis. For example, if I tie a string to your finger, and force it to twitch for a laugh while we argue, and you say, sure go ahead, and we both understand that it is for fun and is not a severe punishment for disagreeing, then what we have is an arguer who does not have exclusive control over his body in a very strict sense, during the argument, and yet, it is still a valid argument.

However, the key to this that makes it irrelevant to the issue is that it is a voluntary agreement that I can make your finger twitch while we argue. This is not ruled out by Hoppe or implicitly by the act of argumentation.

What is necessarily ruled out implicitly in an argument is non-voluntary control over someone else’s body during an argument or threat of it as a consequence of the outcome of the argument. In other words, the fact that the twitching of the finger is a voluntary thing renders it, from an ethical perspective, an action performed by an agent of the principal whose finger is being twitched. It is voluntary and so it is happening under the category of self-ownership, or exclusive self-control although this control has been delegated to the person pulling the string.

Once we show self-ownership is an indisputible right, we can show all that follows in a similar fashion.

Stewart Rowell May 25, 2006 at 3:36 pm

Some actions are wrong in that they are criminal – a violation of the nonagression principle (the violation of the body or goods of someone else) and some actions are wrong but NOT criminal.

Rolson May 29, 2006 at 4:56 pm

Good opinion, Rowell!
Fully agree with you.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: