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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5617/kim-davies-on-the-transcendental-foundations-of-ethics/

Kim Davies on the Transcendental Foundations of Ethics

September 15, 2006 by

I have previously posted on Frank Van Dun’s stimulating and promising draft comments on Hoppe’s argumentation ethics defense of libertarianism. I’ve long been fascinated by Hoppe’s argument and any related ones, which led me to publish New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory in 1996. In 1997 I received an email notice about a talk to be given by Kim Davies on “The Transcendental Foundation of Ethics”. I had not been successful locating Davies or any of his work, but recently I located him (the wonders of the Internet and Google); he’s Deputy Principal at Gateshead College. He sent me an outline/summary of The Transcendental Foundation of Ethics.

As Davies wrote to me,

As you can see from the outline of the talks, the argument was rooted in the discussions on transcendental and first philosophy. I published 4 or 5 articles in traditional philosophy journals (Analysis, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research) but these dealt with the initial ground clearing rather than the key developmental arguments. I am currently working on preparing some of the rest of the material for publication … but that will take a while. My view is that the argument, if successful, provides a deeper grounding for ethical principles than argumentation ethics as it grounds them in the necessary conditions of the possibility of thought. Nevertheless, I find the line of thought in Van Dun‘s paper appealing, and his criticisms of the authors in his sights [Callahan & Murphy] compelling. I attach some material which aims to give a clearer summary of my line of thought. Although the argument does not get as far as outlining a position on rights, I think the trajectory is clearly in that direction….

It seems pretty clear to me that Davies’s approach from point 5.15 to the end is basically compatible with and buttresses Hoppe’s argumentation ethics approach. And a correspondent wrote me,

Kim Davies wrote “My view is that the argument, if successful, provides a deeper grounding for ethical principles than argumentation ethics as it grounds them in the necessary conditions of the possibility of thought.” I suppose “If successful” means “If successful in [a series of] argumentation[s]“. The “apriori of argumentation” still stands [i.e., Hoppe's "argumentation ethics" approach]. Otherwise, I have no serious objections to the argument.

I look forward to seeing more from Davies, especially a fleshed out version of his argument. I hope that he can avoid some of the pitfalls identified previously by Hoppe–for example, Hoppe has pointed to the mistake made by Alan Gewirth/Roger Pilon in grounding his ethics in action instead of argumentation (see e.g. endnote 6 to chapter 7 of Hoppe’s A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism and note 18 to ch. 6). Hoppe has also noted many times that one mistake commonly made by discourse ethicists insufficiently familiar with the Austrian (Misesean) school of economics and its praxeology, is that their ignorance of the economic concept of human action and its
praxeological implications leads them to error. For instance, in note 18 to ch. 6 referenced above, Hoppe notes:

Gewirth might have noticed the ethical “neutrality”
of action had he not been painfully unaware of the existence of the well established
“pure science of action” or “praxeolcgy” as espoused by Mim. And
incidentally, an awareness of praxeolcgy also might have spared him many mistakes
that derive from his faulty distinction between “basic:’ “additive” andunonsubtractive”
goods…

[Hoppe has several similar criticisms of other discourse ethicists and philosophers, showing how economic ignorance led to shortcomings in their theorizing; I cannot find them at hand online, and will try to locate and post them later.]

A friend also noted that “Davies apparently does not [fully] appreciate that the proposition in 5.6 ‘Thought is not merely a matter of abstract [something], it must inform a non-conceptual (‘practical/lived’) involvement with reality’ applies par excellence to argumentation (which is involvement with another real person).

Hopefully, Davies can avoid these mistakes and make real progress in this area.

***

Update: Davies sent me his Review of K-O Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy (1980), Radical Philosophy 30 Spring 1982. Davies noted to me, “I am beginning to get a feel for where I differ from the consensus around discourse/argumentation ethics and will try to put something down over the next few weeks – … . I’ll also look at the last section of my thesis and get a version over to you for any comments: this would help with the issue of whether this kind of transcendental argumentation has to start where I start, or can start from the position of practical engagement in discourse/argument.”

Fascinating.

{ 14 comments }

Brett Celinski September 16, 2006 at 3:19 pm

Where are the biggest sources of libertarian thinking that lay out the ethical grounds for individualism, rational self interest, and private charity rather than forced Peter Singer-esque distribution?

JIMB September 19, 2006 at 3:41 pm

Except self ownership, which started as a physical claim (true), is suddenly elevated to a moral claim (false). Plus the obvious problems of an ethic which proposes “self-ownership” but in fact if one owns something, one can give it away. Can one give away oneself (is that what can be meant by contract: to give away oneself?)

The idea that there are NO enforceable positive duties (supporting children, testifying in court if you happen to have evidence that exonerates a murder defendant, etc.) makes society impossible: like desperately accumulating the zeroes of “no positive duty” and calling it a positive number: good society.

Stephan Kinsella September 19, 2006 at 3:48 pm

JimB:

Plus the obvious problems of an ethic which proposes “self-ownership” but in fact if one owns something, one can give it away. Can one give away oneself (is that what can be meant by contract: to give away oneself?)

Actually, I deal with this in detail in my article on contract theory. To own means the right to control. It does not automatically imply the right to sell or give it away. As I explain in the linked article, the right to control an acquired thing (homesteaded, previously-unowned, external object) does imply that one may sell it. But not so for the special case of one’s body.

The idea that there are NO enforceable positive duties (supporting children, testifying in court if you happen to have evidence that exonerates a murder defendant, etc.) makes society impossible: like desperately accumulating the zeroes of “no positive duty” and calling it a positive number: good society.

Libertarians are not against positive obligations, just against those not voluntarily assumed. Where we differ is on whether having children is a type of voluntary action that does give rise to positive obligations; I argue that it does here: How We Come To Own Ourselves.

JIMB September 19, 2006 at 5:04 pm

Stephan – As I understand it, to own means a reversionary right to control (hence renters do not own, and control reverts to the owner at the end of the term).

Given that, what are your thoughts about ..
1 – The logical non-contradictory definition of self-ownership (or a better term denoting the rightful exclusive control of oneself, and how that plays out: if for instance, I could spend 5 cents to save someone’s life should I be obligated by law to do it, or should I be forced to testify in court to exonerate a murder suspect, etc.)
2 – the logical argument from physical self-ownership to a claim to universal morality
3 – the relationship between a voluntary act and the results of that act necessitating an obligation of support — I can just as easily argue that rescuing someone doesn’t obligate me to care for them just like having procreative sex obligates me to care for the offspring.

Unless that can be cleared up, it is still extraordinarily subjective and many times greatly offends our sense of justice and good society.

Stephan Kinsella September 20, 2006 at 2:00 pm

JIm:

Stephan – As I understand it, to own means a reversionary right to control (hence renters do not own, and control reverts to the owner at the end of the term).

I think the conventional legal terms ought not to obscure reality or confuse us. The right to control is what ownership is. Yes, it can be divided in various ways. A landlord and tenant each have partial rights to control the leased property. In legal terms one is owner and the other is not. But in praxeological terms, both have (certain) rights to control. They are co-owners.

Given this, I have no problem saying a person is a self-owner.

JIMB September 20, 2006 at 3:43 pm

Ok. What about

2 – the logical argument from physical self-ownership to a claim to universal morality (and the practicality of it) and

3 – the relationship between a voluntary act and the results of that act necessitating an obligation of support — I can just as easily argue that rescuing someone doesn’t obligate me to care for them just like having procreative sex doesn’t obligate me to care for the offspring, as well as argue for support in these cases — the arguments seem driven more by “I prefer this, let’s fill in the blanks with reasons” than by reasoning itself.

Paul Edwards September 20, 2006 at 7:15 pm

JIMB,

“3 – the relationship between a voluntary act and the results of that act necessitating an obligation of support — I can just as easily argue that rescuing someone doesn’t obligate me to care for them”

Don’t you think it matters whether you were the one responsible for their need of rescue and their subsequent need of care? If you were responsible for their dire situation and you left them to die, then are you not liable to some criminal charge? If not, then all that you say below follows. But if you are liable, then your conclusions below are dubious.

“just like having procreative sex doesn’t obligate me to care for the offspring, as well as argue for support in these cases — the arguments seem driven more by “I prefer this, let’s fill in the blanks with reasons” than by reasoning itself.”

It is not preference, but justification based on reason and the presuppositions demonstrated in the act of argumentation. If in the act of attempting to justify your stance, you happen to necessarily presuppose that no one has the right to act in a way that they know will put the other in a situation of peril, you cannot consistently argue that in doing so, a person has not incurred responsibility to restore the individual back to safety.

JIMB September 20, 2006 at 11:13 pm

Paul – Then you argue for a non-libertarian ethic: because by similar argument, damage to another person could occur by any number of immoral actions on my part …

Paul Edwards September 21, 2006 at 12:24 am

Hey Jim,

Do you mind elaborating? I’m pretty sure i’m not following you.

Thx.

JIMB September 21, 2006 at 7:56 am

Paul – Your last sentence indicates a general rule of morality that exceeds the libertarian “I can do whatever I want as long as it is non-violent (or consensual)”, i.e. damage to another person or a third party is an important criterion for allowed action. RE: “you happen to necessarily presuppose that no one has the right to act in a way that they know will put the other in a situation of peril, you cannot consistently argue that in doing so, a person has not incurred responsibility to restore the individual back to safety.”

Paul Edwards September 21, 2006 at 1:00 pm

JIMB,

“Paul – Your last sentence indicates a general rule of morality that exceeds the libertarian “I can do whatever I want as long as it is non-violent (or consensual)”, i.e. damage to another person or a third party is an important criterion for allowed action. RE: “you happen to necessarily presuppose that no one has the right to act in a way that they know will put the other in a situation of peril, you cannot consistently argue that in doing so, a person has not incurred responsibility to restore the individual back to safety.”"

I hate to be an idiot, but somehow, I feel as if I still am not grasping your point. Are you saying that the libertarian non-aggression axiom bars hitting someone on the head, but not pushing them into water so they drown? I say it bars pushing someone in water so that they drown as well. So, let’s say you push him in by accident. Can you watch him drown with impunity? No you have obligated yourself to help him out of the water. Let’s say you do, but he is no longer breathing. Are you obligated to try to get him breathing again if you have any clue as to how to try? Yes, by your previous action you remain obligated to help him live or get someone else to try to help. Do the same ethical obligations fall on you if you had nothing to do with his falling in the water? No.

If you disagree with anything I’ve said, or agree but think it is unlibertarian of me to argue this way, can you point to the line, and put a comment to it so I get a better feel for where we are disconnected? Thanks.

JIMB September 21, 2006 at 1:28 pm

Paul – Libertarians say

Self-ownership (non-violence, etc.) is the only objective ethic …

I respond: The issues with children (among others) are a case that doesn’t work (it offends our sense of justice and the necessary actions for good society to continue)

You say: it does fit, because the consequences to third parties (children) are to be considered

I say: ok, if that’s the criteria, then we’ve already gone far beyond the exclusively “non-violent” ethic. In fact, there are issues with conferred risk (drunk driving) and a number of other areas.

I think this is a severe problem with the claims to moral objectivity being rooted in libertarian theory

In addition, the basics don’t look right: self-ownership means “I have physical control”; there is no chain of argument (so far) that connects the physical reality to the moral claim. “I have control” doesn’t mean that I SHOULD or SHOULD NOT do X or Y.

I assume you disagree?

Paul Edwards September 21, 2006 at 2:08 pm

JIMB,

I think the problem is that I butted into a discussion you were having with someone else, without fully knowing the details of what was being discussed. This is why I can’t understand your points. You are addressing what must be someone else’s comments. I’ll butt out now and pay closer attention next time before jumping in again. I’ll throw in a few thoughts below…

“Self-ownership (non-violence, etc.) is the only objective ethic …”

I don’t know what this statement means.

“I respond: The issues with children (among others) are a case that doesn’t work (it offends our sense of justice and the necessary actions for good society to continue)
“You say: it does fit, because the consequences to third parties (children) are to be considered”

This must be someone else’s comments, explaining my confusion.

“I say: ok, if that’s the criteria, then we’ve already gone far beyond the exclusively “non-violent” ethic. In fact, there are issues with conferred risk (drunk driving) and a number of other areas.”

Could be, I’m way out to lunch on this conversation and should really be quiet.

“I think this is a severe problem with the claims to moral objectivity being rooted in libertarian theory

“In addition, the basics don’t look right: self-ownership means “I have physical control”; there is no chain of argument (so far) that connects the physical reality to the moral claim. “I have control” doesn’t mean that I SHOULD or SHOULD NOT do X or Y.”

Here’s one I can respond to: self-ownership means the right to exclusive control over one’s body. The moral justification of self-ownership is in the fact that no one can dispute its validity without falling into contradiction. It means, you cannot be both coherent and dispute the validity of self-ownership all in the same breath.

JIMB September 21, 2006 at 2:36 pm

Paul – Thanks for participating.

We can concentrate on this one area if you wish.

In my view, the argument concerning non-violent morality is unsupported. Self-ownership is not the right to control one’s body, it ** IS ** the control of one’s body.

But whether one controls something doesn’t mean one has the right to any sort of action with the object. I.e. I might control (or own) a gun just like I control / own my body, but that doesn’t give me the right to use the gun or my body any way I might wish.

So the fact of self-ownership (as evidenced by control) is not the same thing (nor a valid argument for) a morality of non-violence. Something more must be added.

Do you disagree?

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