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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5377/journal-of-libertarian-studies-20-no-2-spring-2006/

Journal of Libertarian Studies 20, no. 2 (Spring 2006)

July 26, 2006 by

Volume 20, no. 2 (Spring 2006)



Paul Edwards July 28, 2006 at 12:49 pm

On Robert Murphy and Gene Callahan’s critique of Hoppe’s argumentation ethic for libertarianism.

MC put a fair bit of effort into showing that at best, Hoppe’s argument shows argumentation presupposes ownership in the organs involved or necessary for debate. I think this is based on an incorrect understanding of his position.

A compact and perhaps more illuminating summary of Hoppe’s thesis, than presented by MC can be found in Stephan Kinsella’s “NEW RATIONALIST DIRECTIONS IN LIBERTARIAN RIGHTS THEORY” at http://mises.org/journals/jls/12_2/12_2_5.pdf . I’ll repeat the summary of how argumentation implies self-ownership here:

“Hoppe establishes self-ownership by pointing out that argumentation, as a form of action, implies the use of the scarce resources of one’s body. One must have control over, or own, this scarce resource in order to engage in meaningful discourse. This is because argumentation is a conflict-free way of interacting, by its very nature, since it is an attempt to find what the truth is, to establish truth, to persuade or be persuaded by the force of words alone. If one is threatened [say by having a limb forcefully removed] into accepting the statements or truth-claims of another, this does not tend to get at the truth, which is undeniably a goal of argumentation or discourse. Thus, anyone engaging in argumentation implicitly presupposes the right of self-ownership of other participants in the argument, for otherwise the other would not be able to consider freely and accept or reject the proposed argument. Only as long as there is at least an implicit recognition of each individual’s property right in his or her own body can true argumentation take place. When this right is not recognized, the activity is no longer argumentation, but threat, mere naked aggression, or plain physical fighting. Thus, anyone who denies that rights exist contradicts himself since, by his very engaging in the cooperative and conflict-free activity of argumentation, he necessarily recognizes the right of his listener to be free to listen, think, and decide [and to keep his limbs in tact]. That is, any participant in discourse presupposes the non-aggression axiom, the libertarian view that one may not initiate force against others.

“Thus, Hoppe points out that anyone who would ever deny the ethics underlying the free market is already, by his very engaging in the civilized activity of discourse, presupposing the very ethics that he is challenging. This is a powerful argument because, instead of seeking to persuade someone to accept a new position, it points out to him a position that he already maintains, a position that he necessarily maintains. Thus, opponents of liberty undercut their own position as soon as they begin to state it.”

I think a more correct and precise understanding of Hoppe’s argument, such as the one above would show that one presupposes more than ownership of one’s brain and vocal chords in the act of argumentation. Hoppe’s position is that argumentation presupposes ownership of one’s entire body, not just the parts used in argumentation.

Only valid during debate?

MC argue that “at best, it also only establishes self-ownership of those body parts during the course of the debate.” They cite Hoppe’s answer to this challenge:

“[I]n the same way as the validity of a mathematical proof is not restricted to the moment of proving it, so, then, is the validity of the libertarian property theory not limited to instances of argumentation. If correct, the argument demonstrates its universal justification, arguing or not. (Hoppe 1988, p. 54)”

Which seems logical to me, but yet it also seems correct to MC after all when in a later paragraph they correctly concede:

“It is true, as Hoppe points out, that once a proposition has been proven, the proof does not “expire” the moment the discussion of it ceases.”

Correct. So once one shows through discourse, that self-ownership is necessarily and indisputably valid and presupposed by all who argue, it is and remains necessarily valid universally for all times.

What constitutes a performative contradiction?

MC seem confused about what constitutes a performative contradiction during the course of proposition making. They argue this way:

“For example, suppose a collectivist argues …during national emergencies, it is moral to use force to compel certain individuals to act in the public interest.

“Has Hoppe shown that someone uttering the above (during a policy debate) is engaging in a performative contradiction? The collectivist is not using force during the debate; he is merely arguing that under certain conditions the use of force is appropriate to compel military service, thus denying the libertarian ethic. While we disagree with our hypothetical collectivist, we don’t see how his claims are self-contradictory.”

The performative contradiction, arises when someone makes a proposition that is internally inconsistent with the inherent presuppositions of argumentation. In this case there are two presuppositions of argumentation that are at odds with this collectivist’s argument: one is the presupposition of universalizability: Argumentation presupposes that truth claims regarding property norms must be in principle acceptable by all humans. i.e. the golden rule, ruling out the “I can hit you but you can’t hit me” rule. In this case it is “I can send you to war but you can’t send me”. And secondly, the presupposition of the self-ownership rule: that no one else owns anyone else. In this case, “you don’t decide where and what you do with yourself, I do”. So this fact that the collectivist is not using force while he argues is an irrelevant tangent.

Has Hoppe only proven self-ownership for the individuals in the debate?

MC argue, “Our final point in this section is to note that, even setting aside all of the above difficulties, it’s still the case that Hoppe has only proven self-ownership for the individuals in the debate. This is because, even on Hoppe’s own grounds, someone denying the libertarian ethic would only be engaging in contradiction if he tried to justify his preferred doctrine to its “victims.”"

This is incorrect. Universalizability implies general acceptability to all who could argue the point in principle. The victims could in principle argue the point, so the question is, could they be convinced in principle that the property norms proposed are as agreeable to them as to the proposition maker? This is the criterion of universalizability. Just as the force and truth of the justification does not end when the debate is ended, so too it is irrelevant which individuals specifically remain to carry on the debate. The universalizability principle is always presumed to remain in play. Argumentation, which has a goal of arriving at truth, presupposes universalizability. Arguing a particular set of property rules for one group of humans different for others is not universalizable and is not consistent with the implied goals of argumentation which again is that any person can in principle agree to the truth of the proposition.

Is human “domination” of “lower” animals also unjustifiable?

MC then argue that to follow Hoppe’s argument to its ultimate conclusion would mean that we can’t justify human domination of lower animals.

MC argue:

“Of course, the Hoppeian might respond that horses are not as rational as humans, and therefore do not need to be consulted. But Aristotle need only contend the same thing about barbarians: they are not as rational as Greeks. Indeed, that was precisely why he held that they were naturally slaves. And the only way a libertarian could prove him wrong would be to argue that barbarians deserved the same rights as Greeks; i.e., one would have to start from scratch in trying to defend a libertarian concept of rights. Hoppe’s argument as such offers nothing to help in this task. To assume from the outset that whatever rights any particular individual enjoys (through argumentation), must therefore extend to all people—including newborn infants, the mentally retarded, as well as senile and comatose individuals, none of whom can successfully debate—is to beg the question.”

Firstly the Hoppean would respond that horses do not argue. That is, not just comatose, sleeping and baby horses. The category of horse does not participate in argumentation. It can neither justify its behavior, nor argue that it has property rights, nor can these things be justified to the horse. Therefore, animals have no rights. Secondly, it is irrelevant what Aristotle might “contend” about barbarians. The objective fact is that barbarians are human, can reason, act and argue, and can justify property norms. The rules of argumentation are as presumed to be true when they argue as they are when Aristotle argues. Thirdly, rights belong to humans as a category. Just as the rights that are justified through argumentation remain valid when the argument is over, they remain valid when our mouths are full of food, when we are in a dentist’s chair, when we are asleep, when we are diving under water, if we are infants, senile and if we are comatose. The principles of property that are validated through argumentation apply universally and this is presupposed to be the case by any proposition maker.

MC put in a footnote:

“To simply declare that ownership rights must be “universalizable” is no help, either; after all, communists could cite the same principle to “prove” that everyone should have equal shares to all property. And, of course, the basic dispute between Aristotle, the animal rights activist, and Hoppe is precisely over which group of living beings ownership rights must be “universalizable.”"

But Hoppe’s thesis does not simply depend on the single presupposition of universalizability in argumentation. It is merely the first and formal presupposition of truth searching discourse. It is not the only requirement. As I have pointed out above, and as has Hoppe himself clearly pointed this out: Animals that don’t argue, can justify nothing, can ask for no justification and therefore they have no rights.

More fundamental objections:

“But now we move on to a more fundamental objection to Hoppe’s argument: One is not necessarily the rightful owner of a piece of property even if control of it is necessary in a debate over its ownership. Because of this fact, a crucial link in Hoppe’s argument fails. Someone can deny the libertarian ethic, and yet concede to his opponents the use of their bodies for debate. There is nothing contradictory about this, as we shall demonstrate with a few examples.”

No; As mentioned previously, one NECESSARILY presupposes to be the rightful owner of his body if he is to justify anything using it. One necessarily presupposes the right to exclusive control over one’s body when arguing. Without this presupposition, no argument is possible, but rather only threats and aggression. One can deny or assert anything under and beyond the sun, it is true, and concede anything else one wishes. But this has little to do with his ability to justify such propositions which must be consistent with the presuppositions of argumentation. For an argument to take place, to pursue truth in debate, is to presuppose the libertarian ethic. Without that presupposition, argumentation simply cannot take place.

Do arguing slaves refute Hoppe?

MC argue that slaves and unjustly imprisoned people have made arguments which refutes Hoppe’s argument, also,

“Hoppe’s response to this objection …was to point out that he was not denying the historical existence of slavery, but rather its justification. But Hoppe misunderstood his critics’ point. Friedman, for example, wasn’t merely saying that because slavery has existed, Hoppe must be wrong. Rather, Friedman argued that, because countless slaves have engaged in successful argumentation, Hoppe must be wrong when he claims that self-ownership is a prerequisite to debate.”

But Hoppe doesn’t say self-ownership is prerequisite to debate. He says self-ownership is presupposed in debate. When one argues, as a slave or as a prisoner, one presupposes his right to his self, and the right of his opponent to his self to listen to think about and agree or disagree with the proposition. Again, this is the essence or purpose of argumentation or discourse: to pursue truth without conflict over the scarce resource of one’s own body. It is a praxeological and necessary fact. Therefore, to the extent that a slave presupposes himself free to make his argument, to that extent he has presupposed his right to exclusive right to control of his entire body. To NOT acknowledge that violence against his body is justified if his opponent disagrees with him. When he truly argues, even the slave must presuppose his right to his own body; he presupposes the Lockean / libertarian ethic.

As MC quote Hoppe:

“My entire argument, then, claims to be an impossibility proof. But not, as the mentioned critics seem to think, a proof that means to show the impossibility of certain empirical events, so that it could be refuted by empirical evidence [such as the existence of non-libertarian societies—RPM and GC]. Instead, it is a proof that it is impossible to justify non-libertarian property principles without falling into contradictions . . . empirical evidence has absolutely no bearing on it. (Hoppe 1988, p. 53)”


So how can MC persist in missing Hoppe’s meaning and state this:

“…However, Hoppe’s chain of arguments to reach that (empirically neutral) conclusion crucially relies on an empirical assumption, to wit, that a person needs to enjoy self-ownership (and all other libertarian rights) if he is to successfully debate. It is this empirical assumption that his critics attacked, and quite successfully so: It is simply not true that one needs to own his body in order to fairly debate, just as one doesn’t need to own standing room in order to fairly debate.”

This is a false characterization of Hoppe’s line of reasoning. Hoppe is not arguing that a person NEEDS to enjoy self-ownership if he is to successfully debate. Hoppe is saying that a person necessarily presupposes that he and his opponent are self-owners when he argues. The difference, again, is a praxeological one. The purpose of an argument, once again, is to arrive at truth, with both parties free to make propositions, to listen, think and to agree or disagree, without the fear of violence or conflict over each other’s scarce resource in themselves. To the extent that people truly engage in argumentation, they must presuppose the libertarian ethic.

Are MC closer to Hoppe than they think?

The interesting thing is that MC exhibit a closeness in understanding Hoppe with these remarks near their conclusion:

“We do not wish to deny that there is a definite sense in which, if there is to be a legitimate give-and-take of ideas, the two parties in question must enjoy a degree of autonomy or “freedom.” It would indeed be silly if the puppeteer “debated” his marionette, or if a man trained his dog to engage in a mock argument.”

Exactly. But further, while engaged in argumentation, this “degree of autonomy” is in fact presupposed to be a right to exclusive control over one’s self; it is a presupposition of self ownership.

Dan Mahoney July 29, 2006 at 1:51 pm

MC seem not to recognize that their objections
to universalization apply to ANY form of
liberalism, not simply Hoppe’s (correct)
rendition. As Kinsella noted in a rebuttal to
this paper (which originally appeared on anti-
state.com; MC for some reason do not refer to
this response), in what conceivable sense do
MC regard themselves as libertarians, if they
reject universalization?

Paul Edwards July 30, 2006 at 3:10 am


It also crossed my mind to ask why this article does not acknowledge and respond to either Kinsella’s rebuttal to their article, but also to Hoppe’s rebuttals to similar concerns raised and answered elsewhere.

On another note, the scenario given by MC below is an interesting one to me:

“In particular, a collectivist could argue that people can rightfully be forced to give up a kidney, or go to war, if such actions would help the rest of society.”

In the footnote connected to this MC write the following:

“Again, to avoid confusion, let us reiterate that we (obviously) are not saying that such a collectivist could successfully argue his position. But we do claim that he would not be uttering a contradiction by making his case. (If someone argues that George Washington is still alive, he is certainly wrong, but he’s not performing a contradiction.)”

I am interested to know how MC think that they could successfully refute the collectivist’s position without showing the collectivist’s position to be unjustified. And without an argument such as Hoppe’s at their disposal, how they can show any ethic at all to be really justified or not.

It really does seem to me that Rothbard had it right when he said “Hans Hoppe has managed to establish the case for anarcho-capitalist-lockean rights in an unprecedentedly hard-core manner, one that makes my own natural rights position seem almost wimpy in comparison.”

Manuel Lora July 30, 2006 at 8:27 am


I agree, I think these new rationalist ways are much more rigorous than the natural rights approach.

Dan Mahoney July 30, 2006 at 8:50 am

Great points all, Paul. MC’s examples amount to specical cases
of “crisis ethics:” namely, that property rights are context-
dependent, such that ownership is determined by circumstances (who
decides what qualifies as a “crisis?”). But this position is self-
contradictory, apart from other reasons why libertarians like MC
might object to it. In the process of establishing the validity of
such a system of ethics (through argumentation), one necessarily
presumes the validity of *another* system of ethics, *independent*
of context; namely, a “first-use” (Kinsella’s terminology),
homesteading ethic over the use of certain resources (such as one’s
physical body). This of course is Hoppe’s point. It has nothing
to do with factual errors as such (e.g., whether historical figures
are alive or dead).

Stephan Kinsella July 31, 2006 at 12:57 am

Dan et al.–good comments. My response to a previous version of the current Murphy-Callahan piece is Defending Argumentation Ethics: Reply to Murphy & Callahan, Anti-state.com (Sept. 19, 2002); this interchange was debated in this Anti-state.com forum. And in particular, skimming over that forum, I see some pretty detailed comments I made on the nature of universalizability, e.g. this post, this one, this one, this one, and others on this page.

I’ve been meaning for a couple years to publish an expanded, more stand-alone version of my article, with greater elaboration of the repeated slavery “counterexamples” hurled at Hoppe, but have not yet found time to finish it. One of these days…

Stephan Kinsella August 22, 2006 at 5:01 am

Frank Van Dun has posted a draft response to Murphy & Callahan which is well worth reading.

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