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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5573/empathy-and-the-source-of-rights/

Empathy and the Source of Rights

September 6, 2006 by

I often tire of people asking (usually in a self-contradictory, petulant tone, more demanding than asking), “Okay, so what is the source of rights?! Where do they ‘come from’?!” My reply is usually that the questioner either respects my rights, or he does not. If he does not, he can go to h*ll–I’m not wasting time talking to an uncivilized thug, any more than I would treat with a rampaging elephant, bandit, lion, or hurricane. And if he does respect rights–then my stance is: how dare you demand of me that I justify your own views? Look inside–and figure out for yourself why you believe in such and such.

Second, I point out that to ask for a “source” of rights is scientistic and positivistic. It presupposes someone or some “thing” “legislates” or “decrees” rights. Even the natural law advocate who says legislatures don’t “decree rights” seem to move it back a level–to God, or to Nature. But rights don’t really “come from” anything. When it is demonstrated that 2+2=4, this is a truth, a fact. Does it make sense to ask what is the “source” of this “truth”? Where does 2+2=4 “come from”? This is just nonsense. And it is similar with normative propositions–with moral truths.Values and norms is that they are not causal laws. They are not self-enforcing; they are prescriptive. This is a crucial insight: it shows that even the best proof of rights–even the Ultimate Natural Law Proof handed down by God Himself can be disregarded (is not this the lesson of the Ten Commandments?). Or, as Hoppe argues here,

no deviation from a private property ethic can be justified argumentatively … [T]hat Rawls or other socialists may still advocate such ethics is completely beside the point. That one plus one equals two does not rule out the possibility that someone says it is three, or that one ought not attempt to make one plus one equal three the arithmetic law of the land. But all this does not affect the fact that one plus one still is two. In strict analogy to this, I “only” claim to prove that whatever Rawls or other socialists say is false, and can be understood as such by all intellectually competent and honest men. It does not change the fact that incompetence or dishonesty and evil still may exist and may even prevail over truth and justice. [last emphasis added]

Or, as Hoppe explains here,

To say that this principle [underlying capitalism] is just also does not preclude the possibility of people proposing or even enforcing rules that are incompatible with it. As a matter of fact, with respect to norms the situation is very similar to that in other disciplines of scientific inquiry. The fact, for instance, that certain empirical statements are justified or justifiable and others are not does not imply that everyone only defends objective, valid statements. Rather, people can be wrong, even intentionally. But the distinction between objective and subjective, between true and false, does not lose any of its significance because of this. Rather, people who are wrong would have to be classified as either uninformed or intentionally lying. The case is similar with respect to
norms. Of course there are many people who do not propagate or enforce norms which can be classified as valid according to the meaning of justification which I have given above. But the distinction between justifiable and nonjustifiable norms does not dissolve because of this, just as that between objective and subjective statements does not crumble because of the existence of uninformed or lying people. Rather, and accordingly, those people who would propagate and enforce such different, invalid norms would again have to be classified as uninformed or dishonest, insofar as one had explained to them and indeed made it clear that their alternative norm proposals or enforcements could not and never would be justifiable in argumentation. [emphasis added]

What this means is that any norms that are abided by in society are necessarily norms that are self-undertaken by a community of people who share that value.

In the case of civilization, you can envision two types of individuals: civilized people who want to live in peace and harmony and prosperity; and criminals or outlaws, who do not care about this. This latter type are animal-like; even the “best” argument or proof of rights can and will be disregarded by them (see Hoppe’s comments quoted above). What do the former people have in common? I suspect that it is the trait of empathy. Only by placing some value on others’ well-being–for some reason–can one value respecting their rights; and it seems to me that it is empathy that is at the root of this other-valuing, almost by definition. In my view, evolution is probably what led to this trait, as a psychological matter, but that is not that significant to me. So, in a sense, if we must find a “source” of rights, I would say–it is empathy.

Update: Discussion extended in The Division of Labor as the Source of Rights; see also Mike Masnick, Rethinking Bullying: Kids Don’t See It As Bullying (discussing empathy).

{ 48 comments }

Stephan Kinsella September 6, 2006 at 10:42 am

Gil Guillory sent this comment to me:

Of relevance to your line of thought is Mises’s contention in Human Action that the Ricardian Law of Association gives rise to cooperation and that empathy grows out of cooperation, not the other way around. So, if we are insisting on a source of rights, and we follow Mises in this regard, then it is the self-interested motivation to cooperate that is the source of rights. If you want to cooperate with me, then I will do so on particular terms, among which are that you respect my equal rights to person and property.

There are many ways to approach the rules of justice.

Gil Guillory September 6, 2006 at 12:12 pm

Actually, the passage I was thinking of is the second-to-last paragraph here:

http://mises.org/humanaction/chap8sec1.asp

Roger M September 6, 2006 at 12:23 pm

Another way to put it is to say that rights are based on logic and reality. Essentially, that’s what Aristotle did and all natural law philosphers who followed him.

However, every system uses reality and logic, even Marxism (although that may be hard for some to swallow). The conclusions drawn from reality and logic differ because of differing assumptions, differing starting points. Assumptions, or presuppositions, are difficult to prove, so we assume them to be true. For example, we assume that we exist and are not characters in some else’s dream. Early natural law theorists assumed that survival was an essential character of human beings and built their logic on that assumption. They saw sociability, which is a similar concept to empathy, as necessary to survival.

Hoppe believes that being logically consistent is most important and begins with the implications of argumentation. Where I disagree with Hoppe is that he limits the implications of argumentation to just property, when the same implications apply to survival, sociability and other things. If you substitute survival for property in Hoppe’s logic, you can arrive at different rights than if you arbitrarily limit it to just property.

Philanthropic Patriot September 6, 2006 at 12:27 pm

My simple argument justifying property rights in particular goes like this.

Once you are born you have an absolute right to your own life. No one has a right to take your life, for them to have that right amounts to slavery. If I claim the right to come into your house and, looking at your books, determine you are not giving enough of your wealth to the poor or disadvantaged, then I am claiming the right to your life as well. For all I need to do is to say that you must give 100% of your wealth to the poor and starve you to death. If we don’t have absolute property rights, we are slaves.

No one has given me a strong argument against this.

Phil R September 6, 2006 at 1:25 pm

I like your final answer to the question much more than your initial, flip answer. I’d have become a libertarian a lot sooner if I’d seen more of the latter and less of the former.

Jacob Shreffler September 6, 2006 at 1:52 pm

It should be noted that mathematicians with too much free time have proven that 2+2=4 using more elementary statements from Set Theory.
See http://us.metamath.org/mpegif/2p2e4.html

However, in math as with any field there are always statements so basic they cannot be proven. (It’s not turtles all the way down.)

Stephan Kinsella September 6, 2006 at 2:39 pm

Phil: “I like your final answer to the question much more than your initial, flip answer. I’d have become a libertarian a lot sooner if I’d seen more of the latter and less of the former.”

Phil, I find this interesting. The latter answer is not really a justification of rights, but more of an attempt at explaining why we have them–more precisely, why most people do adopt/have values that underpin rights. The former is not meant to be flip: it is meant sincerely and seriously to emphasize that rights are sort of a bootstrapping thing: they are presupposed by any participant in civilized discourse (a la Hoppe).

But thanks for your comments.

Phil R September 6, 2006 at 8:26 pm

Stephan:

Consider, if you believe such a creature exists, a well-meaning minarchist. Clearly he doesn’t respect ALL of your rights; he’s willing to use the power of the state to take your wealth to pay for national defense and courts and whatnot.

He’s not going to punch you in the mouth because he doesn’t like your hat. He’s not a thug in the sense that he’s personally, literally going to break into your house in the middle of the night and take your possessions at gunpoint, even though his viewpoints entail that someone, somewhere do that to you if you don’t pay your tribute to the state.

You’re certainly entitled to say he’s a thug and refuse to try to reason with him; you don’t need argumentation ethics to do that.

If you decide not to do that, though, and to try to convince him, what are you doing if not arguing? I’m assuming the set of people who didn’t start out in life accepting libertarian rights but were later convinced of the truth is nonzero. What can you call the process of convincing such people if not arguing?

Please assume good faith on my part. I’m trying to crack what’s a pretty tough nut for me, and I’m bound to get it wrong the first dozen or so times.

Stephan Kinsella September 6, 2006 at 9:34 pm

Phil:

Sure, I think there are well-meaning minarchists.

My “thug” comment is meant to isolate and illustrate stark opposites, and to highlight the fundamental choice individuals make: to be civilized or not–to try to avoid conflict and find just and fair ways to get along. Etc. It is not meant to imply that I will not talk to someone who I have a decent reason to talk to. It is meant to show that the presuppositions of discourse are in fact civilized norms, and to show that the only real hope at convincing people is to show them that some high-level norm they claim to favor is really incompatible with more fundamental norms that lie at the base of their presumed civilized posture or stance they would claim to be following.

Of course I am arguing with someone like this if I am arguing with them about rights. To the extent they are really engaging in genuine argumentation with me, they *are* accepting civilized norms as valid; the task then is really just to point this out to them. It is almost ostensive, as in when you have point to the barn right in front of someone to show them what you mean by “this barn here.”

“I’m assuming the set of people who didn’t start out in life accepting libertarian rights but were later convinced of the truth is nonzero. What can you call the process of convincing such people if not arguing?”

Of course, it is. Did I imply otherwise?

averros September 6, 2006 at 9:40 pm

Actually, empathy itself has a well-understood origin: it is, basically, a way to reuse modules in the brain which perform emotional analysis of the situation and choose the course of action for the complicated task of decoding intentions of others. Needless to say, guessing intentions of other people gives an individuum a serious advantage – he can use this information to form alliances or evade hostile acts by others.

There is a special set of neurons in the brain – which are called “mirror neurons” because they fire in the same patterns when someone’s observed doing something or experiencing something similar to the corresponding actions or experiences of the individuum itself. People have a significant number of these, animals fewer.

So, this means that the concept of rights based on empathy is hardwired in our brains. However, one needs to understand that empathy is not infallible, by far. For it to work there has to be a significant similarity in mental structure between people – after all, empathy does not tell what other person feels, but rather what the observer would feel in other’s place.

The empathy is also limited to emotional processing, and does not tell anything about other’s higher-level cognitive functioning.

In other words, it means that the conscious understanding of rights cannot be completely and satisfactory explained by empathy.

My hypothesis is that it has memetic origin, rather than genetic – societies having some form of this concept in their culture were more successful ecomonically (and, therefore, military) and mostly displaced societies which didn’t.

It must be noted that the competing, collectivist, memeset is also based on empathy – in fact, it consists of immediate action based on emotional demands of empathy to the poor and downthrodden, unmediated by any conscious rational processing needed to consider longer-term consequences of one’s actions.

Stephan Kinsella September 6, 2006 at 9:45 pm

Averros, this may be right, but in my view, it is only of incidental interest, since the empathy point is merely explanatory of *why* people (for some reason) to value others’ well-being and are willing to respect their rights. It is not a justification for the values one has, any more than a physiological/evolutionary explanation for why humans find the taste of chocolate better than that of rotted meat is a *justification* of this taste, or actions based on this taste preference. IT is just an explanation of why we might have this taste preference. But the fundamental given is the taste preference itself; our eating choices follow from, or are based on this. Likewise, those people who happen to be empathetic in this sense are going to desire acting-civilized and trying-to-justify their interpersonal behavior. Etc.

Phil R September 7, 2006 at 1:12 am

Phil: What can you call the process of convincing such people if not arguing?

Stephen: Of course, it is. Did I imply otherwise?

Not intentionally, I infer from your response, and perhaps only in my flawed understanding of what Hoppe (and you, since most of what I know of Hoppe is actually from your defense on anti-state), but I thought the crux of Hoppe was that argumentation necessarily presupposed argreement about fundamental norms, and these norms included full (anarchist) libertarian rights.

If that’s true, then whatever the process of convincing minarchists happens to be, it can’t be termed argumentation, since the minarchist is manifestly not in agreement with some libertarian norms, such as “It’s wrong to take property from you against your will even if it’s to pay for national defense.”

If that’s not true, then I have even less of an idea of what Hoppe was trying to get at than I thought I did. I’m fine with assuming “We’re not going to punch each other” and “We’re going to communicate in good faith” as required norms; I thought Hoppe was trying to go much further than that.

Clearly I’m missing something; my goal here is to figure out what. I suppose since I’ve spent this much time thinking about it I ought to just get off my ass and read the primary source material, but I appreciate your indulgence.

Stephan Kinsella September 7, 2006 at 1:59 am

Phil:

I thought the crux of Hoppe was that argumentation necessarily presupposed argreement about fundamental norms, and these norms included full (anarchist) libertarian rights.

the idea is that if there is genuine argumentation that means that each party *is* respecting the others’ right to control their body, and not threatening them into accepting their arguments, and also supporting any norms society-wide tht would make argument possible. The idea is that argumentation by its nature requires certain implicit presuppositions. Therefore, if your opponent advocates someting that contradicts it, you point out that he is in dialectical contradiction.

If that’s true, then whatever the process of convincing minarchists happens to be, it can’t be termed argumentation, since the minarchist is manifestly not in agreement with some libertarian norms, such as “It’s wrong to take property from you against your will even if it’s to pay for national defense.”

I see your issue; the point is that if they are really arguing they *are* agreeing w/ libertarian norms; if they simultaneously assert a non-libertarian norm they are in contradiction with themselves, and thus they cannot be correct.

Paul Edwards September 7, 2006 at 4:17 am

“Hoppe believes that being logically consistent is most important and begins with the implications of argumentation. Where I disagree with Hoppe is that he limits the implications of argumentation to just property, when the same implications apply to survival, sociability and other things. If you substitute survival for property in Hoppe’s logic, you can arrive at different rights than if you arbitrarily limit it to just property.”

Roger,

Where you miss the mark is to think that there is anything outside of the libertarian non-aggression ethic, which calls for respect for private property rights, which can provide for human survival, and peaceful, cooperative sociable human interaction. Only this libertarian ethic can accomplish this, and all other ethics violate rules which then necessarily puts such goals in jeopardy.

If you substitute any other ethic for the libertarian ethic, you will find that it cannot be justified and this is because such an ethic will either be non-universalizable, will allow and encourage aggression, or else if followed strictly, would lead to the demise of the human race.

Phil R September 7, 2006 at 9:57 am

I see your issue; the point is that if they are really arguing they *are* agreeing w/ libertarian norms; if they simultaneously assert a non-libertarian norm they are in contradiction with themselves, and thus they cannot be correct.

It seems very odd to me to describe someone as being in agreement with a norm when they believe they are not.

(As an aside: I’m also not sure I understand what the phrase “really arguing” is intended to connote. I’m a little wary of a “no TRUE Scotsman” argument trying to be snuck in here.)

How important is the act of argumentation itself, specifically? Would it be a fair translation to say that it could have been called, somewhat flippantly, “Being a logically consistent non-thug” Ethics? Is the point of bringing argumentation into the picture so you can say “But we’ve implicitly agreed not to be thugs, and to be logically consistent.” If so, then the well-meaning minarchist thinks he’s doing both of those things. He’s just wrong about one of them. If the domain of the argument is what is entailed by those things, it seems like putting the cart before the horse to claim that your (albeit correct) version of what those things entail gets priviledged status, assuming your goal is to convince someone of what those correctly entailed claims are.

Part of what’s troubled me about the argument is that it’s always seemed like it’s intended to be used as part of a cheap rhetorical trick. “Well then, I guess we aren’t really arguing after all.” (I don’t think it was intended that way, only that I don’t have a good feel for what it’s supposed to be able to /do/ other than that.)

TGGP September 7, 2006 at 10:14 am

Even though by the standards of this board I’m a minarchist/criminalist sheep everywhere else my comments tend to elicit the response “Libertarianism is applied autism”. I would suspect that I exhibit less empathy than the average person (I would also surmise this is the case for libertarians as a whole), but I don’t see how whether or not I “feel your pain” has anything to do with an analysis as to its cause and possible alleviation.

My take is that all ethical/normative statements are inherently subjective. Your desire to murder everyone on the planet cannot be proved to be wrong. I would certainly consider it so, but to paraphrase someone else, that would just be me saying “Ugh, murder, boo!”.

I don’t know if people can be divided so easily into civilized and animals. As pointed out in “Ordinary Men”, ordinarily peaceful people carried out massacres and experiments like the Stanford Prison one and that (fake) administration of shocks reveal that most of us can cross over the line. That doesn’t make me any more lenient toward criminals though. I don’t really care if there’s no free will and you aren’t responsible for your actions because everything was pre-determined (with some quantum dice/coins rolled/flipped), punishing you (depending on the nature of the punishment) prevents further criminal acts on your part, warns others and makes people feel good. The last one isn’t really sufficient, but why not list bonuses?

Vince Daliessio September 7, 2006 at 11:33 am

Enough, look past Kinsella’s occasional impatience and at the substance of the arguments – he’s working on some fundamentals here that are important. Questioning fundamentals is often dangerous work, irritating friend and foe alike – people simply do not enjoy being told their basic worldview is wrong. It makes them cranky, and Stephan is responding to that constantly, and, in the case of Person, repeatedly. If you are looking for gentle reassurance, you probably need to try Daily Kos or Thomas Friedman, maybe.

Stephan Kinsella September 7, 2006 at 11:33 am

Mr. cowardly-anonymous Enough–Thank you for your vapid post. (And my post was not an article, O Perceptive One.)

Person September 7, 2006 at 11:46 am

Vince: when has Stephan Kinsella responded to me?

Paul Edwards September 7, 2006 at 5:07 pm

Phil,

Kinsella: “I see your issue; the point is that if they are really arguing they *are* agreeing w/ libertarian norms; if they simultaneously assert a non-libertarian norm they are in contradiction with themselves, and thus they cannot be correct.”

Phil:”It seems very odd to me to describe someone as being in agreement with a norm when they believe they are not.”

It does indeed. It is the same kind of oddness that can be apparent when someone says something like this: “such and such a topic is unworthy of comment, but here is my comment on the topic…”. They claim to believe, and in a strange way, they do believe the topic does not warrant comment, and yet their actions betray a more fundamental truth: that they actually do believe the topic to be worthy of comment, since they are in fact commenting on it. Their actions dispute and refute their statements. And it is this dialectical contradiction which reveals their true belief. And this is true even if they fail to recognize the inconsistency between what they say, and their act of saying it.

“(As an aside: I’m also not sure I understand what the phrase “really arguing” is intended to connote. I’m a little wary of a “no TRUE Scotsman” argument trying to be snuck in here.)”

Well it is very important for you thoroughly analyze what it means to argue. And keep in mind that Hoppe is not inventing the wheel on this question. When you think about what it means to argue, you will conclude that it is action which implies conflict free application of scarce resources such as each person’s body towards discourse in the pursuit of truth. When applied to property norms, it implies also a drive towards universalizable truths which any arguer can in principle agree with, and all can agree to disagree without threat of violence.

“How important is the act of argumentation itself, specifically?”

Argumentation is the only way we have of justifying anything including ethics or property norms. Any ethic that violates the ethical presuppositions of argumentation simply cannot ever be justified in argumentation because any attempt to do so would constitute a dialectic contradiction. And if an ethic cannot be justified in argumentation, it cannot be justified; ever.

“Would it be a fair translation to say that it could have been called, somewhat flippantly, “Being a logically consistent non-thug” Ethics? Is the point of bringing argumentation into the picture so you can say “But we’ve implicitly agreed not to be thugs, and to be logically consistent.” If so, then the well-meaning minarchist thinks he’s doing both of those things. He’s just wrong about one of them. If the domain of the argument is what is entailed by those things, it seems like putting the cart before the horse to claim that your (albeit correct) version of what those things entail gets priviledged status, assuming your goal is to convince someone of what those correctly entailed claims are.”

Argumentation ethics is simply a more rigorous and precise formulation of what it is I think you are saying. The key of argumentation ethics is that it is in the argument and ONLY in the argument, that anything can be justified. And so it makes sense to show what it is about the peaceful ethical presuppositions of argumentation that validates the libertarian ethic and also shows all other ethics to be unjustifiable.

“Part of what’s troubled me about the argument is that it’s always seemed like it’s intended to be used as part of a cheap rhetorical trick. “Well then, I guess we aren’t really arguing after all.” (I don’t think it was intended that way, only that I don’t have a good feel for what it’s supposed to be able to /do/ other than that.)”

It’s just rigorous, and the form of reasoning is kind of unusual to us, and yet at that same time, it is simple once you hammer away at it for some time. So when something as simple as this also demonstrates the a priori validity of the libertarian ethic, people freak out. But it is no trick and when you see this, all arguments against it will probably tend to strike you as quite surreal.

curious September 7, 2006 at 11:34 pm

I’m curious about what you think of Roderick Long’s critique of what he calls the Hoppriori argument. I assume you will disagree with him. Perhaps you could write an article or blog post in an attmept to refute it?

http://praxeology.net/unblog05-04.htm#10

Paul Edwards September 8, 2006 at 4:15 am

Curious,

I hope I am not being presumptuous to guess you might be directing that question to me. If so, the answer is yes, or at least I have written a blog posting in response to Roderick’s comments here: http://blog.mises.org/archives/005071.asp if you search there for “I enjoyed your discussion of “The Hoppriori Argument” very much.”, you’ll find my swing at his position there.

There are other entries in that thread that follow where i debate a person or two.

TGGP September 8, 2006 at 8:10 am

Philosophy (huh!), what is it good for?

Sione Vatu September 8, 2006 at 7:02 pm

TGGP

Are you serious? Answer this then.

What is the use of ideas? What good are they?

Sione

TGGP September 9, 2006 at 1:37 pm

I was aiming for a laugh. There’s a well known song that goes “War (huh!) what is it good for!? Absolutely nothing!”.

But seriously, how often is anyone in a situation where they have a pressing need to hire a philosopher? If you’re a philosopher I guess you can teach philosophy to students so they can become teachers of philosophy. That’s about it.

Michael September 9, 2006 at 5:38 pm

Rights are a silly fiction perpetrated on society by philosophers and other con men promoting nefarious agendas. There is nothing in nature to suggest that a human being has any special claim on life or liberty. Indeed, nature, whatever that is, seems to hold mankind in apathetic disregard, if at all.

Assert your right to life until the day you die. A lot of good it will have done you.

– This post brought to you by the Postmodern Objective Truth Society of Bored Devil’s Advocates.

Stephan Kinsella September 9, 2006 at 7:30 pm

Michael, your last comment about asserting a right not doing any good, is positivistic. It implies that teh “test” of normative claims is some kind of empirical success.

What you are missing here is that *rights are for civilized people*–not criminals. As always, criminals can only be dealt with by force or some other method; they are treated as mere technical problems. Rights are *for* civilized people. It is civilized people who seek to justify their action–and to whom? to criminals? No–to other civilized people.

When you call rights a fiction, you in essence validate rights. Because anyone who seriously maintains this position is unable to criticize the legitimacy of civilized people enforcing their conception of rights–which is all that the civilized person seeks anyway. So–thanks for the assist.

Sione September 11, 2006 at 1:26 am

TGGP

So why do you regularly post your arguments on the VMI blog? After all, you are engaged in debating aspects of philosophy.

Sione

TGGP September 11, 2006 at 8:06 am

I’m not sure if many of my posts could be considered philosophical. In this thread I stated that the propositions usually debated in philosophy are subjective, which I suppose might count as a philosophical statement insofar as it deals with aspects of philosophy. In that sense the statement “Screw philosophy!” might count as well.

By the way, I’ll count your comparing the field of philosophy to my posts on the VMI blog to be a small victory within my one-man-war on philosophy. Take that, Hegel & Kant!

TGGP September 11, 2006 at 8:22 am

On second thought, the second part of my last post doesn’t make much sense and is likely the result of misreading and posting too early in the morning while not fully awake. Oh well. Rationality is just another form of bourgeouis oppression and to be truly free one must throw the shackles of such restricted thinking and its constraints on the use of language off oneself. Stop making sense and make sure you do everything for the lulz.

Kevin April 16, 2009 at 12:47 am

Stephan, asking for an argument for rights doesn’t require that rights have ‘foundations’, whatever you might mean by that. You’re in non-sequitor territory.

What you’re really doing is arguing that the fact that there are rights is a brute or basic fact that cannot be reduced to any other set of facts. That may be (although I think that’s false, myself). But certainly the fact that there are rights has a truth-maker. And if so, what is it? You could argue, a la Roderick Long, that some a priori facts don’t have any truth-makers, that they’re Wittgensteinian hinge propositions. And then you could argue that the fact that there are rights is one of the facts. But even Roderick denies this latter claim, as you can see from his lecture series.

Some thoughtful people wonder if there are rights. Many people have tried to answer them, including many of the greatest philosophers. Merely asserting that rights are brute facts is rarely pursued. It’s really just fist-pounding unless you can show that (a) denying the fact that rights exist is somehow incoherent and (b) no positive argument can be given on behalf of rights and (c) rights cannot be justified by appeal to any more foundational moral truths.

I have no idea what good arguments that accomplished these goals would involve. Your estoppel line, if it works at all, only holds against those who claim rights for themselves. An impartial observer could always ask why rights claims applied to him. You could refuse to talk to him, but that’s not very illuminating. It’s just avoiding the inquiry.

You aside, basically everyone in the history of moral philosophy interested in a justification for rights wants a justification that goes deeper than that. And I don’t see any reason from your post to think that searching for such a justification is in vain.

Stephan Kinsella April 16, 2009 at 1:35 am

“Kevin”–

Kevin, what *Does* “require” that rights have foundations?

“asking for an argument for rights doesn’t require that rights have ‘foundations’, whatever you might mean by that.” Nothing “requires” that they do.

“What you’re really doing is arguing that the fact that there are rights is a brute or basic fact that cannot be reduced to any other set of facts.” It’s noting the quite obvious truth that That you cannot derive an ought from an is. See Hume.

“It’s really just fist-pounding”

WHAT’s just ‘fist-pounding”?

“unless you can show that (a) denying the fact that rights exist is somehow incoherent”… Read More

It is incoherent, if any denier by virtue of being a denier (arguer) necessarily presupposes certain grundnorms, which are compatible only with libertarian rights and with no others.

“Your estoppel line, if it works at all, only holds against those who claim rights for themselves.”

So does any argument. The best argument you can imagine can be disregarded by criminals; then your arguments are directed to the civilzied community to justify your desire to punish or convict them.

” An impartial observer could always ask why rights claims applied to him. You could refuse to talk to him, but that’s not very illuminating. It’s just avoiding the inquiry.”

I don’t care, as long as he respects my rights. if he does, no problem. If he doesn’t, I can use force against him, and justify this to my civilized peers by appealing to their common grundnorms.

“You aside, basically everyone in the history of moral philosophy interested in a justification for rights wants a justification that goes deeper than that.” Well, as my dad says, people in hell want ice water, too. The is-ought gap is real. Sorry, it’s not my fault…. Read More

” And I don’t see any reason from your post to think that searching for such a justification is in vain.”

See Hume. See tons of writing. e.g. http://www.jstor.org/pss/2380101; see also
p. 1432 of my 1994 review essay http://www.stephankinsella.com/publications/kinsella_hoppe_econ-ethics-review.pdf on one of Hoppe’s books (discussing how Hoppe’s argumentation ethics overcomes the Humean is-ought dichotomy; and p. 136 (text at n. 13) of Hoppe’s 1989 book Theory of Socialism and Capitalism … Read Morehttp://www.hanshoppe.com/publications.php#soc-cap,: “In fact, one can readily subscribe to the almost generally accepted view that the gulf between “ought” and “is” is logically unbridgeable. …. On the problem of the deriveability of “ought” from “is” statements cf. W. D. Hudson (ed.), The Is-Ought Question, London, 1969; for the view that the fact-value dichotomy is an ill-conceived idea cf. the natural rights literature cited in note 4 above.”) Even Rand’s ethics is hypothetical, for god’s sake http://blog.mises.org/archives/003101.asp

Paul Wakfer April 10, 2010 at 4:37 pm

This is part 1 of a comment that appears to be too long to post here in one piece. It is posted in its entirety at a Google group: http://groups.google.com/group/libertarian-critique/t/462e6ed9cf0c8829 where the format is more amenable to lengthy discussion. The second part will follow.

Stephan Kinsella wrote:

I often tire of people asking (usually in a self-contradictory, petulant tone, more demanding than asking), “Okay, so what is the source of rights?! Where do they ‘come from’?!”

These are totally reasonable questions which often are not asked in any
manner which can be construed as a “self-contradictory, petulant tone,
more demanding than asking” (by me for one). So right off Kinsella is
guilty of using exaggeration and emotional tactics, rather than logical,
reasoned argumentation. Every concept valid for reality must have a
source in reality. This is even true for emergent properties – those
which appear to be novel characteristics and for which it is useful
(aids thought processes) to consider them as such, even though they are
actually a synergistic summation of other attributes with their apparent
novelty being the result of the complexity and inherent unpredictability
of the system of which they are characteristics.

My reply is usually that the questioner either respects my rights, or he does not. If he does not, he can go to h*ll-I’m not wasting time talking to an uncivilized thug,

This statement is totally illogical. Unless and until the fundamental
concept of “rights” is defined and the details of the relationships of
such a concept to reality are fully described, how can it be reasonable
to ask any reasonable person to “respect” such a thing, much less accuse
hir of being “an uncivilized thug” if s/he does not.

any more than I would treat with a rampaging elephant, bandit, lion, or hurricane.

This is again illogical, because the very existence of such a question
about “the source of rights” shows that the asker is a thoughtful,
concerned human and will almost certainly *not* act equivalently to “a
rampaging elephant, bandit, lion, or hurricane”. The mere asking of the
question, does not imply any desire, willingness or ability to cause
Kinsella harm either intentionally or unintentionally. The question
could have come from an invalid in a wheelchair, whom Kinsella is now
potentially treating as an “uncivilized thug”. This makes it clear that the
biggest logical problem with Kinsella’s response here is that he places
the burden of any violation that might be done to him on the person who
does not accept Kinsella’s “rights”, rather than on some enforcer who
might actually cause such a violation.

And if he does respect rights-then my stance is: how dare you demand of /me/ that I justify /your own views/? Look inside-and figure out for yourself why you believe in such and such.

The above also is illogical as well as insulting with the “how dare you”
- this to a totally reasonable question and a request for a helpful and
sincere answer. The questioner may well “believe in” respecting what
s/he thinks are well defined and valid rights, but may still be very
foggy about where in reality these come from and why they are as they
are. Hir question is clearly a request for help in understanding
“rights”, particularly including Kinsella’s own definitions of them and
his description/justification for their existence and application to
human interaction.

Kinsella has been so illogical and discourteous up to this point that I
think it highly likely that most readers (at least anyone with such a
serious question looking for a serious answer) would simply have quit
reading by this point or earlier.

Second, I point out that to ask for a “source” of rights is scientistic and positivistic.

Yes, but what is wrong with trying to be scientific (rational, I would
call it) about every aspect of reality?

It presupposes someone or some “thing” “legislates” or “decrees” rights.

No, it does not! No sensible person supposes that reality is a “thing”
which “legislates” or “decrees” the fundamental laws of physics.

Even the natural law advocate who says legislatures don’t “decree rights” seem to move it back a level-to God, or to Nature.

Yes to the latter (nature), but everything that is real (valid for
reality) must necessarily “exist in”, “derive from”, “be based on” or
“be connected to” some part of reality.

But rights don’t really “come from” anything.

If so then they would be fundamentally different than any other existent
(which is one of my arguments against their validity).

When it is demonstrated that 2+2=4, this is a truth, a fact. Does it make sense to ask what is the “source” of this “truth”? Where does 2+2=4 “come from”? This is just nonsense.

Here Kinsella shows that he has little understanding of metaphysics and
none at all of mathematics. “2+2=4″ is not a part of reality, rather it
is a statement about numerical attributes abstracted from reality, which
statement is true essentially as a tautology logically derivable from
the definitions given to all the terms within that equation. It makes
total sense to ask “what is the source of this ‘truth’”, since that
truth comes directly from the definitions of the terms and the use of
logic, without which definitions the equation would be not only invalid,
but meaningless. However this kind of constructed, definitional truth
(concerning Existents of Meta-Realities – for more detail see
http://selfsip.org/solutions/NSC.html) is not equivalent to the
scientific statements (“truths”) concerning the Existents of Reality
itself, which are always only known with less than a 100% degree of
confidence.

And it is similar with normative propositions-with moral truths.Values and norms is that they are /not/ causal laws. They are not self-enforcing; they are /prescriptive/. This is a crucial insight: it shows that even the best proof of rights-even the Ultimate Natural Law Proof handed down by God Himself can be disregarded (is not this the lesson of the Ten Commandments?).

The above is very confused and confusing. It is first necessary to give
a consistent meaning for “moral truth” (which is not at all obvious or
necessarily even possible) *before* one can hope to describe what it is
and is not. Furthermore if one uses the general, but still ambiguous,
phrase “principles of right action” for “moral truths”, then it is clear
that they *are* causal. Following them or not most certainly does have
many and different sets of effects. But yes, since humans are generally
free to take or not take any action, they are certainly free to
disregard any such principles (moral truths), even though because of
causality they are not free to disregard the consequences of such actions.

End of part 1 of comment.

Paul Wakfer April 10, 2010 at 5:02 pm

For some reason the second part of my comment is not being accepted, even though it is shorter than the first part.

Paul Wakfer April 10, 2010 at 5:45 pm

This is part 2 of my comment.

I have removed my comment about Kinsella’s use of quotes from Hoppe because inclusion of that seemed to be causing me to not be able to post this part 2.

What this means is that any norms that are abided by in society are necessarily norms that are self-undertaken by a community of people who share that value.

In spite of Kinsella’s previous errors, here he is very close to a
correct description of the voluntary arrangements and agreements with
respect to fundamental philosophy which are necessary within a truly
free (and necessarily cooperative) society.

In the case of civilization, you can envision two types of individuals: civilized people who want to live in peace and harmony and prosperity; and criminals or outlaws, who do not care about this.

My major criticism here is the use of the word “civilized” since it
derives from “civil” and “civic” which both relate to a member of a body
politic – a State of some kind. However at this time I don’t know of any
better descriptive word for a human who fully understands and agrees
that living in cooperative harmony with others, voluntarily trading
values to mutual advantage and being fully responsible for the
Responsible Harm done by all one’s Violations is the optimal way for
hirself and all others to behave. Perhaps a better word for
“uncivilized” would be “savage”, often used in this manner by Ayn Rand.
Within the society founded by the _Theory of Social Meta-Needs_ -
http://selfsip.org/fundamentals/socialmetaneeds.html I have simply
called such people, Freemen. Note that the capitalized words are defined
in the Natural Social Contract at URL: selfsip.org/solutions/NSC.html

However Kinsella errs in maintaining that humans who act as criminals do
not want to live in prosperity, since that is the major motive of most
of them. The true destroyers of all value around them are very rare.

Finally I take major exception to Kinsella’s use of the word “outlaw”
for such “uncivilized” humans. In my view since an outlaw by definition
rejects and acts contrary to current Statist laws, such a person may be
one of the very finest of humans. After all, Ayn Rand’s hero Ragnar
Danneskjold was certainly an outlaw.

This latter type are animal-like; even the “best” argument or proof of rights can and will be disregarded by them (see Hoppe’s comments quoted above).

While it may be true that “uncivilized” humans reject all concepts of
and arguments for “rights”, the converse is not true – I and my wife,
Kitty, (at least) are exceptions to such a converse statement. We both
reject all concepts of and arguments for “rights” but we are most
certainly “civilized” as Kinsella uses that word (“people who want to
live in peace and harmony and prosperity”). The important point is that
certain people are “uncivilized”, not because they reject the concept
and arguments for “rights”, but because they reject that the optimal way
for themselves is to live in cooperative harmony with others,
voluntarily trading values to mutual advantage and being fully
responsible for the Responsible Harm done by all their Violations.

What do the former people have in common? I suspect that it is the trait of empathy. Only by placing some value on others’ well-being-for some reason-can one value respecting their rights; and it seems to me that it is empathy that is at the root of this other-valuing, almost by definition. In my view, evolution is probably what led to this trait, as a psychological matter, but that is not that significant to me. So, in a sense, if we must find a “source” of rights, I would say-it is empathy.

I want to start my comments on the above paragraph by commending
Kinsella for at least attempting to find a source in reality for the
notion of “rights” which notion he steadfastly maintains must exist, be
valid and be the foundation of all “civilized” behavior. Note that this
is contrary to his opening remarks strongly rebuking anyone who even
asks for such a source! But there are several problems with thinking
that empathy is the source of “rights”.
1) The amount of empathy that a given human has for another human has
great variation both among individual humans and with respect to
particular situations. I know of no evidence that such empathy is
strongly correlated with the acceptance of “rights” as the best way to
achieve “peace and harmony and prosperity”.
2) In my experience libertarians are *not* highly empathetic humans
(both libertarianism and Objectivism seem to attract many “hard-nosed”
and even “greedy” businessmen) and socialist utilitarians are generally
much more empathetic, even though their actions are far less likely to
effect the benefit of others that they profess wanting to occur.
3) Empathy (particularly with respect to particular aspects of others)
is very much connected with cultural conditioning during youth and
development, which again suggests no logical relationship to any notion
and acceptance of “rights”.
4) Empathy is a highly subjective emotion which for most people is
totally unrelated to rational thought. Surely one should seek to ground
such an important notion, as Kinsella and other libertarians regard
“rights”, in some more absolute aspect of human reality. Or else how can
any argument for such “rights” ever be expected to be acceptable and to
be accepted?

Actually the “natural law” approach, which approach Kinsella
peremptorily rejects as merely “mov[ing] it back a level”, is far more
reasonable than his idea of empathy as a “source” for “rights”. However
I reject that approach also, but for quite different reasons than
Kinsella – see my critique of Randy Barnett’s “The Imperative of Natural
Rights in Today’s World” at:
http://selfsip.org/dialogues/rbarnett/nri.html Moreover even though in
my treatise on Social Meta-Needs referenced above I strongly reject the
entire notion of “rights” as invalid, that treatise *does* provide a
fully rational basis for humans to be convinced that living in
cooperative harmony with each other, voluntarily trading values to
mutual advantage and being fully responsible for the Responsible Harm
done by all their Violations (which means Restituting those whom one has
Harmed) is clearly the best way for each to behave. Moreover that
treatise even derives a clear meaning of and standard for just exactly
what is this “best way”.

End of part 2 and last part of my comment.

Beefcake the Mighty April 10, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Ironic how Paul Wakfer basically confirms Kinsella’s initial observations about the character of people who inquire about the “source” of rights and such.

Paul Wakfer April 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm

@Beefcake the Cowardly

How typical that an anonymous poster’s comment contains nothing of substance, meaning or truth.

Stephan Kinsella April 11, 2010 at 12:11 am

Beefcake: Right. Wakfer has a lot of scientistic confusions, including conflating scientific with scientism. I’m not sure he understands what scientism is. A google search will turn up a lot on this.

Paul Wakfer April 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm

@ Stephan Kinsella

It is notable that Kinsella avoids the substance of my critique by first agreeing with an anonymous poster effectively stating ad hominems and then appyling the evasion/diversion tactic of avoiding the substance of my critique by nit-piking one non-essential that he thinks is in error.

The facts of the situation relevant to “scientistic” are as follows:
1. When I first read Kinsella’s piece I mistakenly read “scientistic” as “scientific” (mea culpa, but understandable given the dearth of usage of the former word) and that is why “scientific” appears on the Libertarian Critique version of my long critique.

2. By the time that I (successfully, at last) posted the Mises.org version, I had noticed this mistake of mine. However I chose to retain the word “scientific” because I wanted to have as few differences as possible between the versions, and for clarity with readers because there is no essential difference between the meanings of the two words if one agrees with the “thesis that the methods of the natural sciences should be used in all areas of investigation including philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences : a belief that only such methods can fruitfully be used in the pursuit of knowledge” (“scientism.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (13 Apr. 2010)), which I do, AND if one is not “devoted or pretending to the methods of scientists” (“scientistic.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (13 Apr. 2010)), which I am not (neither *devoted* nor *pretending*).

3. Readers should note that the word “scientistic” is effectively an ad hominem, used to disparage all those who think that a scientific approach is valid for all pursuit of knowledge. Sure, the experimental method is inapplicable to many aspects of praxeology, but then it is also totally applicable to astronomy and mostly inapplicable to geology, both of which use all other scientific methods and are correctly considered to be among the “hard” sciences.

I continue to wait for a substantive response to the essential points of my critique.

Stephan Kinsella April 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Mr Wakfer, I doubt many people will conclude that it is dishonest or evasive simply not to reply exhaustively to your rambling screeds.

You say, re “scientism” and “scientistic”:

I chose to retain the word “scientific” because I wanted to have as few differences as possible between the versions, and for clarity with readers because there is no essential difference between the meanings of the two words if one agrees with the “thesis that the methods of the natural sciences should be used in all areas of investigation including philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences : a belief that only such methods can fruitfully be used in the pursuit of knowledge” … which I do

.

Exactly. You are scientistic because you believe in applying the methods of the natural sciences to the social sciences. This is a stunted, monistic view that is incompatible with the methodological dualism of Misesian economics. For more on this see Rothbard’s The Mantle of Science, Hoppe’s Economic Science and the Austrian Method and Mises’s The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science.

“Readers should note that the word “scientistic” is effectively an ad hominem”–no, it’s a pejorative, since we Misesian dualists believe the monism and positivism it implies is flawed.

“… used to disparage all those who think that a scientific approach is valid for all pursuit of knowledge.”

Your wording here either betrays your total immersion in scientism or is disingenuous. We Austrians think the social sciences are scientific. We should have “a scientific approach” but that does not mean that the positivist-empiricist methods of the natural sciences is THE scientific approach; and to imply that it is, as you do here, is the very scientism I accuse you of. Galambos also suffered from this, as do many engineers.

“Sure, the experimental method is inapplicable to many aspects of praxeology, but then it is also totally applicable to astronomy and mostly inapplicable to geology, both of which use all other scientific methods and are correctly considered to be among the “hard” sciences.”

The hard natural sciences are not like the social sciences. Praxeology is in a sense a “harder” science than the natural sciences ever can be because we can determine non-contingent, apodictic laws; whereas the causal laws that are the domain of the natural sciences are forever contingent.

“I continue to wait for a substantive response to the essential points of my critique.”

I am not aware of any obligation for anyone to give a point by point reply to you.

Paul Wakfer April 21, 2010 at 3:09 am

Mr Wakfer,

Stephan, if we are going to directly address one another, then I prefer simply “Paul”. However, if you wish to be more formal and use titles, (which I generally abhor) then you should more correctly be using the one with which all my mail from the University of Toronto is addressed: Professor Wakfer (my rank when I was a faculty member there – 1964-1970).

I doubt many people will conclude that it is dishonest or evasive simply not to reply exhaustively to your rambling screeds.

Unless one is a believer in democracy, the opinions of “many people” do not determine either truth/falsity or ethics. Both of these are determined by reality. When someone has given a serious, considered and logically sound critique of a person’s writing, then it definitely is evasive for the critiqued writer to not respond to each and every point of the critique (and evasiveness is most certainly a sub-genre of intellectual dishonesty). Finally once again, your ending with a totally subjective opinion, “your rambling screeds”, seems designed (intentionally or not) to deviously influence the reader to accept your prior statement. This, again, is not the method of discussion that an open honest person uses in search for understanding and truth, and I request that you cease these tactics.

You say, re “scientism” and “scientistic”:

I chose to retain the word “scientific” because I wanted to have as few differences as possible between the versions, and for clarity with readers because there is no essential difference between the meanings of the two words if one agrees with the “thesis that the methods of the natural sciences should be used in all areas of investigation including philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences : a belief that only such methods can fruitfully be used in the pursuit of knowledge” … which I do.

Exactly. You are scientistic because you believe in applying the methods of the natural sciences to the social sciences. This is a stunted, monistic view that is incompatible with the methodological dualism of Misesian economics. For more on this see Rothbard’s The Mantle of Science, Hoppe’s Economic Science and the Austrian Method and Mises’s The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science.

Stephan, The pejoratives you are using here (“stunted”, “monistic”) followed by your appeals to authority are not an adequate replacement for presentation of your own logical arguments to support your case (or even making a direct quote from someone else which I could then also critique). My comment that had to be removed from my 2-part critique of your blog entry was related to just such an appeal to Hoppe’s authority.

My response to such pejoratives and appeals to authorities are:
1) I have already stated that I agree that not all aspects of the scientific method apply or apply equally to all areas of investigation of reality.
2) Yes, I am convinced that major parts of the methods used for the sciences of physics, chemistry and biology can be applied to any investigation of reality, and further that only such methods will discover the truths of reality. In this regard I reject any attempted logical distinction such as the “natural sciences” and the “social sciences”.
3) And yes, this means that I do also reject the views and writings of Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe and many others, in this regard. Further, I would maintain that, again in this regard, it is their thinking that is “stunted” (to use your word), or better still, that none of them had/have the logical, mathematical and scientific background (mathematics, physics, computer and biological sciences) that I have and which has enabled me to become convinced that they are all wrong in this regard, even though they are correct and their ideas/writings have been highly beneficial in other regards.
4) As I stated in the portion of my text that you omitted (the rest of a sentence, in fact, thereby effectively quoting out of context):

“AND if one is not “devoted or pretending to the methods of scientists”…, which I am not (neither *devoted* nor *pretending*).”

“Readers should note that the word “scientistic” is effectively an ad hominem”–no, it’s a pejorative,

I suggest that interested readers critically read the definitions of the words: “disparage”, “pejorative”, “belittle” and “ad hominem” (using a major dictionary) to verify that you are here merely nit-picking, which is again avoidance of substance. I hasten to add that an appeal to a dictionary is one of the few correct appeals to authority since without using similar meanings for words, no communication is possible. However I also need to add that I am no lover of dictionaries because of the numerous highly different and sometimes even logically opposite meanings that they all insist on giving for so many important words.

since we Misesian dualists believe the monism and positivism it implies is flawed.

Without description of to what they apply, the terms dualist and monist have no substance to them (they are essentially characteristics of some undefined set of ideas) except as applied in their most commonly held meaning which is to metaphysics and epistemology. In that respect I am definitely convinced of the truth of metaphysical monism: “the metaphysical view that there is only one kind of substance or ultimate reality”, but I am also convinced of the falsity of epistemological monism: “an epistemological theory that proclaims the identity of the object and datum of knowledge”. (Note that I haven’t “believed” anything since I became an atheist soon after childhood.) Rather objects are existents of reality, whereas data are existents of meta-reality. (For details see my initial metaphysical definitions at the start of the Natural Social Contract (NSC). To complete my comparison, I am equally convinced of the falsity of metaphysical dualism: “a theory that divides the world or a given realm of phenomena or concepts into two mutually irreducible elements or classes of elements: as a : an ontological theory that divides reality into (1) subsistent forms and spatiotemporal objects or into (2) mind and matter – ‘Cartesian dualism’ ” and equally convinced of the truth of epistemological dualism: “an epistemological theory that objective reality is known by means of subjective ideas, representations, images, or sense data”. (All definition text above and below taken from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (20 Apr. 2010) – MW)

When it comes to “pluralism”, it is interesting that while MW defines metaphysical pluralism (which I reject), it does not define epistemological pluralism which I am convinced is the solution to so many logical and philosophical apparent paradoxes – see details of my scheme in the NSC.

Finally, I agree that positivism, as it is often defined and described, is flawed, but that is because it usually goes much further than merely being monist in the sense defined above, into logical positivism and legal positivism. OTOH, during my review of these definitions, I discovered that I may well be a therapeutic positivist: “positivism that undertakes to remedy the ambiguities, paradoxes, and perplexities of traditional philosophical and especially metaphysical problems by employing logical analysis to disclose the linguistic confusions that give rise to them”. I shall have to look into that more deeply.

“… used to disparage all those who think that a scientific approach is valid for all pursuit of knowledge.”

Your wording here either betrays your total immersion in scientism or is disingenuous.

Neither – I reject the duality of that choice.

We Austrians think the social sciences are scientific. We should have “a scientific approach” but that does not mean that the positivist-empiricist methods of the natural sciences is THE scientific approach; and to imply that it is, as you do here, is the very scientism I accuse you of. Galambos also suffered from this, as do many engineers.

It is difficult to respond to this, when I am convinced that the phrase “social sciences” is an invalid and therefore epistemologically harmful categorization. All that I can say is that I too take a “scientific approach” to all of reality, which does not mean that I take the same approach as positivists and empiricists (at least as they are generally described – but I hate such categorizations since every human is uniquely distinct). Some aspects of the approach of many scientists is just as invalid for the so-called natural sciences as they are for the so-called social sciences – in a word such aspects are patently unscientific.

While I know a fair amount about Galambos, because of his strange ideas regarding so-called intellectual property, I don’t know enough to comment, so I won’t.

“Sure, the experimental method is inapplicable to many aspects of praxeology, but then it is also totally applicable to astronomy and mostly inapplicable to geology, both of which use all other scientific methods and are correctly considered to be among the “hard” sciences.”

The hard natural sciences are not like the social sciences.

The differences between various sciences are much deeper than this simple differentiation. In fact there are major differences in applicable and useful methods between all the subject areas of discovery of the operations of reality. Furthermore it must always be remembered that any categorization is a purely artificial human construction that is necessarily of limited value.

Praxeology is in a sense a “harder” science than the natural sciences ever can be

Do you really not know that the word “hard” used in this manner refers to the sciences concerned with physics, chemistry and biology? But perhaps you are merely making a kind of pun, since I do agree that praxeology is a fundamentally “harder” science in certain ways than are physics, chemistry and biology. Correctly viewed, praxeology is closer in type and method to mathematics than to any other science. I have always thought it a shame that Mises did not have sufficient knowledge of mathematical axiomatic theoretics to found praxeology in that manner. I still hope to get sufficient time in my life to accomplish that.

because we can determine non-contingent, apodictic laws; whereas the causal laws that are the domain of the natural sciences are forever contingent.

The part of the above which is true is why I maintain that praxeology is closest to mathematical science and should be similarly founded. OTOH, the reason why mathematics is apodictic is that it is based on pure abstractions from reality which are all in meta-reality where truth can be absolute (true by logic alone or essentially non-contingent – effectively elaborate and complex tautologies). In the extreme, mathematics need not be true of reality, although there are cogent arguments that its results, when correctly based, always will find applications in (be models for) reality. Similarly, to the extent that praxeology maintains that it models reality, it must be held accountable to reality in the same manner as any mathematical model of reality.

Finally, a major error in your statements above is the use of the term “laws” which suggest some statements that are true of reality. Instead, praxeological truths are not directly about reality, and the theories of the so-called natural sciences are never truths of reality at all.

“I continue to wait for a substantive response to the essential points of my critique.”

I am not aware of any obligation for anyone to give a point by point reply to you.

While it is certainly true that you have no “obligation” for that (I and you have not executed any contract obligating you in that manner), the personal characteristics of openness, sincerity, consideration and desire for the truth should impel any writer to respond as I have described.

Stephan Kinsella April 21, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Paul Wakfer:

Stephan, if we are going to directly address one another, then I prefer simply “Paul”. However, if you wish to be more formal and use titles, (which I generally abhor)

But of course you do. I would have expected nothing else. Stephan is fine.

When someone has given a serious, considered and logically sound critique of a person’s writing, then it definitely is evasive for the critiqued writer to not respond to each and every point of the critique

We will have to agree to disagree on this point. I insist.

Stephan, The pejoratives you are using here (“stunted”, “monistic”) followed by your appeals to authority are not an adequate replacement for presentation of your own logical arguments to support your case

I’m not appealing to authority–I’m referring those interested to a more detailed explanation of the dualist case–one I agree with. I don’t intend to reproduce their arguments.

And yes, this means that I do also reject the views and writings of Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe and many others, in this regard.

Of course you do.

Further, I would maintain that, again in this regard, it is their thinking that is “stunted” (to use your word), or better still, that none of them had/have the logical, mathematical and scientific background (mathematics, physics, computer and biological sciences) that I have and which has enabled me to become convinced that they are all wrong in this regard, even though they are correct and their ideas/writings have been highly beneficial in other regards.

This is typical of the way engineers think.

I also need to add that I am no lover of dictionaries

Of course you’re not.

“Your wording here either betrays your total immersion in scientism or is disingenuous.”Neither – I reject the duality of that choice.

Of course you do.

“Praxeology is in a sense a “harder” science than the natural sciences ever can be”Do you really not know that the word “hard” used in this manner refers to the sciences concerned with physics, chemistry and biology? But perhaps you are merely making a kind of pun,

No, it’s not a pun. I am serious. You positivist-monists often classify the “harder” sciences (physics, etc.) to distinguish them from “softer” ones–those that are less rigorous or less amenable to empirical testing and falsification. By “harder” you mean it is more rigorous, and you can get more certain results out of it. But economic science, due to its apodictic nature, is in a sense much “harder” than even physics since it results in apodictically true knowledge, much more rigorous, while in physics the knowledge is always contingent and subject to revision.

since I do agree that praxeology is a fundamentally “harder” science in certain ways than are physics, chemistry and biology. Correctly viewed, praxeology is closer in type and method to mathematics than to any other science. I have always thought it a shame that Mises did not have sufficient knowledge of mathematical axiomatic theoretics to found praxeology in that manner.

This view is typical of the engineering mindset mired in empiricism.

The part of the above which is true is why I maintain that praxeology is closest to mathematical science and should be similarly founded.

Well there can be arbitrary maths based on arbitrary axioms, while praxeology is based on undeniable, apodictically true foundations.

OTOH, the reason why mathematics is apodictic is that it is based on pure abstractions from reality which are all in meta-reality where truth can be absolute

here we go with the crank-sounding talk that makes people’s eyes glaze over.

“I continue to wait for a substantive response to the essential points of my critique.”” I am not aware of any obligation for anyone to give a point by point reply to you.”While it is certainly true that you have no “obligation” for that (I and you have not executed any contract obligating you in that manner)

Even if I had, that would not give me an obligation. Contracts are title transfers. Not binding promises. (See Rothbard, and Evers.)

, the personal characteristics of openness, sincerity, consideration and desire for the truth should impel any writer to respond as I have described.

Yet another thing on which we’ll have to agree to disagree. I insist.

Paul Wakfer April 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Again Stephan Kinsella addresses nothing of substance in my original critique and little of substance in my last response. I will therefore only respond to the few points of tactics and of substance that he did address and ignore his pointless response to the rest.

More generally it has now become clear that Stephan Kinsella does not have the fundamental understanding of the foundations of philosophy, mathematics and science necessary for any fruitful dialog between him and me. (A major point of this dialog was to determine just that, as opposed to whether he just had a penchant for being difficult, avoiding and abrasive with commenters.) This also implies that his many posts on areas which involve such knowledge and foundational thinking are both a fraud and a waste of time for others to be reading. For this reason, although I will continue to respond to his posts because it is necessary for someone to show others that there is nothing of substance behind his posturings, my responses will be just once to the main substance of the post without any continuation (unless perchance he or someone else should address the substance of my response remarks).

We will have to agree to disagree on this point. I insist.

[The above stated several times]

Agreeing to disagree is a tactic of a coward, a quitter or an arrogant person who thinks that the other is incapable of true understanding – most certainly it is not the approach of someone who treats others as peers and who sincerely wants to achieve a mutual understanding of reality.
I often temporarily stop my attempts to get others to understand when I see that I am getting nowhere (as now), until such time as I see evidence of a fundamental change in such person, but I never “agree to disagree”, since such “sweeping under the rug” is always a recipe for eventual disaster in any relationship. And I most certainly never accept anyone’s insistence – not unless it is clear that physical force will be used against me if I don’t.

I’m not appealing to authority–I’m referring those interested to a more detailed explanation of the dualist case–one I agree with. I don’t intend to reproduce their arguments.

If you, Stephan Kinsella, cannot produce your own arguments in your own words (or at least a synopsis) then you don’t understand what you are talking about and are merely a follower, rather than an independent thinker. And BTW, your classification of yourself as a “Misesian” is little different that the classification of followers of Christ as Christians and the followers of Ayn Rand as Randians (or “students of Objectivism”) – all of these being “true believers” in contrast to independent critical thinkers about the ideas espoused by those individuals.

Further, I would maintain that, again in this regard, it is their thinking that is “stunted” (to use your word), or better still, that none of them had/have the logical, mathematical and scientific background (mathematics, physics, computer and biological sciences) that I have and which has enabled me to become convinced that they are all wrong in this regard, even though they are correct and their ideas/writings have been highly beneficial in other regards.

This is typical of the way engineers think.

[And later]

since I do agree that praxeology is a fundamentally “harder” science in certain ways than are physics, chemistry and biology. Correctly viewed, praxeology is closer in type and method to mathematics than to any other science. I have always thought it a shame that Mises did not have sufficient knowledge of mathematical axiomatic theoretics to found praxeology in that manner.

This view is typical of the engineering mindset mired in empiricism.

Here Kinsella seems to forget that it is engineers who made the modern technological world, by standing on the shoulders of scientists, who in turn stood on the shoulders of mathematicians. Without engineers, whose fundamental thinking he so disparages, we would not be having this discussion in this format. I also note that Kinsella continues to use categorizations rather than individual ideas, attributes and characterizations, which, of course, is the antithesis of methodological individualism.

“Praxeology is in a sense a “harder” science than the natural sciences ever can be”Do you really not know that the word “hard” used in this manner refers to the sciences concerned with physics, chemistry and biology? But perhaps you are merely making a kind of pun,

No, it’s not a pun. I am serious. You positivist-monists often classify the “harder” sciences (physics, etc.) to distinguish them from “softer” ones–those that are less rigorous or less amenable to empirical testing and falsification. By “harder” you mean it is more rigorous, and you can get more certain results out of it. But economic science, due to its apodictic nature, is in a sense much “harder” than even physics since it results in apodictically true knowledge, much more rigorous, while in physics the knowledge is always contingent and subject to revision.

Here Kinsella really shows his ignorance. The term “hard sciences” has no relationship to “rigor” (Kinsella appears to not know the meaning of that word). Rather the term “hard sciences” had its origin in the fact that certain sciences dealt more directly with the matter/energy of reality and, in particular, can make better and easier use of measurement (although it is now the case that much of psychology does make good use of measurement), than is the case for the other sciences (sometime called the “soft sciences”, but not by me since that term is often used disparagingly). I, as with many others, simply use “hard sciences” as a short form instead of listing them all as physics, chemistry and biology. Note that l do not include mathematics as one of the hard sciences although it appears most people do. Also note that until recent times biology was also not included among the hard sciences – mainly because it did not use the scientific method but rather was mostly an observational and classificational science.

Well there can be arbitrary maths based on arbitrary axioms, while praxeology is based on undeniable, apodictically true foundations.

Spoken like a true believer and a devout follower of a prophet!
Again Kinsella shows that he has no fundamental understanding of his subject matter nor even of the words that he so glibly spouts. In which case, of course, he should, in all fairness and honesty to his readers, refrain from writing on such subjects.

Getting back to substance, however, just as mathematics can be based on different (and even opposed) self-consistent sets of axioms, both of which resulting theories can still model different aspects of reality (eg Euclidean geometry and non-Euclidean geometries), so too can praxeology (the study of human action and conduct – Mises did not invent the word) be based on different (and even opposing) sets of axioms/assumptions only some of which will model some part of human reality as verified by observation, prediction and, if possible, experimentation, while others of which may model other aspects of human reality (or perhaps the “action and conduct” of some other species). The only apodictic truth is that which interrelates concepts and other constructs of meta-reality and which is based entirely on the logic of manipulating such constructs.

OTOH, the reason why mathematics is apodictic is that it is based on pure abstractions from reality which are all in meta-reality where truth can be absolute

here we go with the crank-sounding talk that makes people’s eyes glaze over.

Interesting how the word “crank” is so often used by people who are regarded that way by the vast majority of the world and/or have no understanding whatever of the subject area of their correspondent’s writing. As for “eyes glaze over”, that is what happens when one’s intellect is so low and/or one’s knowledge so shallow that one has no inkling of what the other person means.

“I continue to wait for a substantive response to the essential points of my critique.”” I am not aware of any obligation for anyone to give a point by point reply to you.”While it is certainly true that you have no “obligation” for that (I and you have not executed any contract obligating you in that manner)

Even if I had, that would not give me an obligation. Contracts are title transfers. Not binding promises. (See Rothbard, and Evers.)

This is coming from a lawyer?!? Contracts can deal with service obligations just as they deal with transfers of ownership of material objects. In that manner, they can deal with binding promises. The major flaw in most conceptions of a valid contract is that any valid contract must have penalty and escape clauses – which prevent any promise (or contract clause of any type) from being totally binding. Again see the definitions and clauses of the Natural Social Contract for all such definitions and connections between the definitions.

As stated at the beginning, this will be my last response on this blog entry unless there are substantive responses to my original critique.

Julien Couvreur April 11, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I wonder about the notion of “natural rights” and Lockean property too. Aren’t those rules arbitrary in some sense too?

I’m not sure that empathy is the best explanation. What about self-preservation instead?

You can see society as a prisoner’s dilema. Each player has options: respect others and the non-aggression principle (which are fairly neutral and defendable from a negotiation point of view) or not.
Honoring the simple rule is probably the most rational choice.
A few people choosing to betray are taking a risk of retaliation, and a large number of people choosing to betray create a self-destructive environment.

Paul Wakfer April 13, 2010 at 3:36 pm

@Julien Couvreur

It was nice to see your thoughtful comment.

I maintain that the notion of “natural rights” is inconsistent and therefore essentially vacuous. See see my critique of Randy Barnett’s The Imperative of Natural Rights in Today’s World

Concerning “Lockean property”, for which I use the phrase “Real Estate” to distinguish a volume of space from “Property” that consists of “Material Objects” (matter/energy), I agree that any definition for it is somewhat arbitrary. Still I think that some definitions and methods of social operation concerning Real Estate are more useful than others for the establishment and maintenance of an optimally self-ordered truly free society. You may be interested to read my own such definitions and methods of operation which are detailed in the Natural Social Contract.

Yes, “self-preservation” is more in tune with Ayn Rand and certainly closer to the evidence behind this matter than is any notion of empathy. To get at the correct source one needs to first discover the answer to the question “what it the purpose of any human’s life”.For an answer derived from the evidence of human reality I direct you to my treatise Social Meta-Needs: A New Basis for Optimal Interaction.

Julien Couvreur April 14, 2010 at 1:02 am

@Paul Wakfer
Thanks for the pointers. I’ll check them out.
This thread prompted me to think and learn some more on this topic. Craig Biddle has a series of lectures on The Source and Nature of Rights. It also focuses on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but it starts with a broader analysis of three other explanations of the source of rights: god, nature and society.
I’m still processing through (this is pretty heavy stuff), but it is interesting to notice how a central concept emerges, that of human action. Just like praxeology.

Julien Couvreur April 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm
Paul Wakfer April 27, 2010 at 2:52 am

Thanks Julien, but video presentations are of no value to me unless a full written transcript is available on the Internet attached to commenting capability. If that is not the case, then I have no interest, because without that my ability to critically analyze the details and respond to them is far too limited. Furthermore I would contend that this limitation is true for everyone else. Those who think that merely listening to such presentations can gain them truly deep understanding are just fooling themselves.

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