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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6992/thoughts-on-the-latecomer-and-homesteading-ideas-or-why-the-very-idea-of-ownership-implies-that-only-libertarian-principles-are-justifiable/

Thoughts on the Latecomer and Homesteading Ideas; or, why the very idea of “ownership” implies that only libertarian principles are justifiable

August 15, 2007 by

The following is an edited version of my recent post on a libertarian discussion list. I’ve often noted how Hoppe’s writings on libertarian ethics stress the importance of the “prior-later” distinction and the problems with the “latecomer” ethic. A few thoughts on this, which occurred to me while daydreaming earlier today. Much of it is redundant with what has been said before.

Often we have emphasized the importance of the first-use (Lockean homesteading) rule as the only objective, fair, rational principle for allocating property rights. Hoppe repeatedly blends this in with his defense of the first-use, first-own idea.

Let me first note simply that if there is any dispute about ownership, it recognizes ownership as distinct from mere possession. Ownership may be thought of as the right to possess. As Yiannopoulos notes (2):

Property may be defined as an exclusive right to control an economic good, corporeal or incorporeal; it is the name of a concept that refers to the rights and obligations, privileges and restrictions that govern the relations of man with respect to things of value. People everywhere and at all times desire the possession of things that are necessary for survival or valuable by cultural definition and which, as a result of the demand placed upon them, become scarce. Laws enforced by organized society control the competition for, and guarantee the enjoyment of, these desired things. What is guaranteed to be one’s own is property. …. [Property rights are those] rights that confer a direct and immediate authority over a thing.”

But what is implied in the idea that the right to possess–ownership, that is–is distinct from mere possession? It means that if there is any ownership at all–and those who quarrel over things are all asserting different ownership claims and thus presupposing ownership and its distinction from possession–then it does not accrue merely to those who take things from others. That is, if B takes a thing by force from A, this cannot in and of itself make B the owner. Why? Because if it did, it means that C could take it from B, and thereby become owner. But this just means there is no such thing as ownership; there is only possession. “Might makes right,” so to speak. But this contradicts the presumption that ownership and possession are different.From this very simple idea, we see that the entire Lockean idea of first-use, first-own, follows. Why? Because if taking some good by force from its previous is not sufficient to ground an ownership claim, then by Misesian-style “regression” it becomes obvious that only the first possessor/user can have an ownership claim. Every other person takes it from a previous possessor, and is thus a mere possessor–not an owner. The first possessor–the person who plucks the resource from its unowned state out of the commons–is the only possessor who does not take it from someone else; this is why first possession imbues the homesteader with the unique status of ownership.

I.e., the first user and possessor of a good is either its owner or he is not. If he is not, then who is? The person who takes it from him by force? If forcefully taking possession from a prior owner entitles the new possessor to the thing, then there is no such thing as ownership, but only mere possession. But such a rule – that a later user may acquire something by taking it from the previous owner – does not avoid conflicts, it rather authorizes them.

In other words, we can see not only that Lockean homesteading (which is essential to libertarian ethics) is inextricably bound up with the prior-later distinction (and opposed to the late-comer ethic), but that the very idea of ownership implies that only libertarian-style ownership is justifiable.

***

Now this kind of reasoning is inherent in Hoppe’s repeated emphasis on the latecomer ethic being inherent to all forms of socialism. See, e.g., Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism. Some relevant excerpts are appended below.

Note also de Jasay’s way of putting this: his “let exclusion stand” principle (see extended quotes/discussion below). In a nutshell: de Jasay equates property with its owner’s “excluding” others from using it, for example by fencing in immovable property (e.g. land) or finding or creating (and keeping) movable property. Thus, the principle means “let ownership stand,” i.e., that claims to ownership of property appropriated from the state of nature or acquired ultimately through a chain of title tracing back to such an appropriation should be respected. De Jasay uses this idea to demolish the criticism that homesteading unowned resources unilaterally and unjustifiably imposes on others moral duties to refrain from interfering. He writes:

“The basic defense, however, is quite general and straightforward. It is that if a prospective owner can in fact perform it, taking first possession of a thing is a feasible act of his that is admissible if it is not a tort (in this case not trespass) and violates no right; but this is the case by definition, i.e., by the thing being identified as “unowned” [p. 173].”

In other words, if everyone is generally free to act unless they are violating others rights, there is simply no reason not to allow a person to appropriate unowned property. For who could object, if not another, prior owner? To be entitled to object is to be able to “exclude” the claimant, but the right to exclude is an incident of ownership, and the property is by presumption unowned. No one can validly object to my appropriating unowned property, then, because, assuming feasible actions are free, any objection itself must claim a right, and this itself raises a type of ownership claim.

Note that the de Jasayan idea of “let exclusion stand” or the Hoppean idea that the prior-later distinction is of crucial importance also sheds light on the nature of homesteading itself. Often the question is asked as to what types of acts constitute or are sufficient for homesteading (or “embordering” as Hoppe sometimes refers to it); what type of “labor” must be “mixed with” a thing; and to what property does the homesteading extend? What “counts” as “sufficient” homesteading? Etc. And we can see that in a way the answer to these questions is related to the issue of what is the thing in dispute. In other words, if B claims ownership of a thing possessed (or formerly possessed) by A, then the very framing of the dispute helps to identify what the thing is and what counts as possession of it. If B claims ownership of a given resource, he must want the right to control it according to its nature. Then the question becomes, did someone else previously control it (according to its nature); i.e., did someone else already homestead it, so that B is only a latecomer? This ties in with de Jasay’s “let exclusion stand” principle, which rests on the idea that if someone is actually able to control a resource such that others are excluded, then this exclusion should “stand.” Of course, the physical nature of a given scarce resource and the way in which humans use such resources will determine the nature of actions needed to “control” it and exclude others.

De Jasay, as a matter of fact, considers two basic types of appropriation: “finding and keeping” and “enclosure” (p. 174). The former applies primarily to movable objects that may be found, taken, and hidden or used exclusively. Since the thing has no other owner, prima facie no one is entitled to object to the first possessor claiming ownership.

For immovable property (land), possession is taken by “enclosing” the land and incurring exclusion costs, e.g., erecting a fence (again, similar to Hoppe’s “embordering”–establishing an objective, intersubjectively ascertainable border). As in the case with movables, others’ loss of the opportunity to appropriate the property does not give rise to a claim sufficient to oust the first possessor (if it did, it would be an ownership claim).

One more tie-in to note: as the above discussion makes clear, different types of scarce resources are homesteaded (and controlled) in different ways. E.g., land is appropriated by embordering and/or transforming it; other things, such as movables, things that may be “found, taken, and hidden or used exclusively”, by “finding and keeping” the good in question.

But note that this applies to unowned resources–not to bodies, which are never unowned. Unowned resources, as I point out in How We Come To Own Ourselves, are unowned, non-bodily things appropriated by actors-with-bodies. As I note in that article, appropriation (first use) is the general way of establishing ownership of–an objective link with–an unowned resource; but in the case of bodies, the objective link is established by the unique relationship between a person and “his” body — his direct and immediate control over the body, and the fact that, at least in some sense, a body is a given person and vice versa.

Thus, just as there are different ways to appropriate–first use, or possess–an unowned resource, according to its nature and the way it in which it is controlled, so there is a difference in how ownership is established over one’s body, and over (unowned) things one (already having a body) acquires from the commons. But in all cases, one’s control over the resource in question (and it is “direct and immediate control” in the case of oen’s body) is relevant to ownership claims.

*******

Below are some extended relevant excerpts from Hoppe and de Jasay (or my summary/discussion of de Jasay):

Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, pp. 141-43:

“The basic norms of capitalism were characterized not only by the fact that [p. 142] property and aggression were defined in physical terms; it was of no less importance that in addition property was defined as private, individualized property and that the meaning of original appropriation, which evidently implies making a distinction between prior and later, had been specified. It is with this additional specification as well that socialism comes into conflict. Instead of recognizing the vital importance of the prior-later distinction in deciding between conflicting property claims, socialism proposes norms which in effect state that priority is irrelevant in making such a decision and that late-comers have as much of a right to ownership as first-comers. Clearly, this idea is involved when social-democratic socialism, for instance, makes the natural owners of wealth and/or their heirs pay a tax so that the unfortunate latecomers might be able to participate in its consumption. And this idea is also involved, for instance, when the owner of a natural resource is forced to reduce (or increase) its present exploitation in the interest of posterity. Both times it only makes sense to do so when it is assumed that the person accumulating wealth first, or using the natural resource first, thereby commits an aggression against some late-comers. If they have done nothing wrong, then the late-comers could have no such claim against them.[19]

“What is wrong with this idea of dropping the prior-later distinction as morally irrelevant? First, if the late-comers, i.e., those who did not in fact do something with some scarce goods, had indeed as much of a right to them as the first-comers, i.e., those who did do something with the scarce goods, then literally no one would be allowed to do anything with anything, as one would have to have all of the late-comers’ consent prior to doing whatever one wanted to do. Indeed, as posterity would include one’s children’s children—people, that is, who come so late that one could never possibly ask them—advocating a legal system that does not make use of the prior-later distinction as part of its underlying property theory is simply absurd in [p. 143] that it implies advocating death but must presuppose life to advocate any thing. Neither we, our forefathers, nor our progeny could, do, or will survive and say or argue anything if one were to follow this rule. In order for any person—past, present, or future—to argue anything it must be possible to survive now. Nobody can wait and suspend acting until everyone of an indeterminate class of late-comers happens to appear and agree to what one wants to do. Rather, insofar as a person finds himself alone, he must be able to act, to use, produce, consume goods straightaway, prior to any agreement with people who are simply not around yet (and perhaps never will be). And insofar as a person finds himself in the company of others and there is conflict over how to use a given scarce resource, he must be able to resolve the problem at a definite point in time with a definite number of people instead of having to wait unspecified periods of time for unspecified numbers of people. Simply in order to survive, then, which is a prerequisite to arguing in favor of or against anything, property rights cannot be conceived of as being timeless and nonspecific regarding the number of people concerned. Rather, they must necessarily be thought of as originating through acting at definite points in time for definite acting individuals.[20]

“Furthermore, the idea of abandoning the prior-later distinction, which socialism finds so attractive, would again simply be incompatible with the nonaggression principle as the practical foundation of argumentation. To argue and possibly agree with someone (if only on the fact that there is dis agreement) means to recognize each other’s prior right of exclusive control over his own body. Otherwise, it would be impossible for anyone to first say anything at a definite point in time and for someone else to then be able to reply, or vice versa, as neither the first nor the second speaker would be independent physical decision-making units anymore, at any time. Eliminating the prior-later distinction then, as socialism attempts to do, is tantamount to eliminating the possibility of arguing and reaching agreement. However, [p. 144] as one cannot argue that there is no possibility for discussion without the prior control of every person over his own body being recognized and accepted as fair, a late-comer ethic that does not wish to make this difference could never be agreed upon by anyone. Simply saying that it could implies a contradiction, as one’s being able to say so would presuppose one’s existence as an independent decision-making unit at a definite point in time.”

“19. For an awkward philosophical attempt to justify a late-comer ethic cf. J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, 1971, pp.284ff; J. Sterba, The Demands of Justice, Notre Dame, 1980, esp. pp.58ff, pp.137ff ; On the absurdity of such an ethic cf. M. N. Rothbard, Man, Economy and State, Los Angeles, 1972, p.427.

“20. It should be noted here, too, that only if property rights are conceptualized as private property rights originating in time, does it then become possible to make contracts. Clearly enough, contracts are agreements between enumerable physically independent units which are based on the mutual recognition of each contractor’s private ownership claims to things acquired prior to the agreement, and which then concern the transfer of property titles to definite things from a specific prior to a specific later owner. No such thing as contracts could conceivably exist in the framework of a late-comer ethic! [p. 239]“

***

See also my discussion of Hoppe and embordering in the thread to the Owning Thoughts and Labor post. Note first Hoppe’s discussion of the notion of scarcity, from A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (p. 134):

I will first state this general theory of property as a set of rules applicable to all goods with the purpose of helping one to avoid all possible conflicts by means of uniform principles, and will then demonstrate how this general theory is implied in the nonaggression principle. Since according to the nonaggression principle a person can do with his body whatever he wants as long as he does not thereby aggress against another person’s body, that person could also make use of other scarce means, just as one makes use of one’s own body, provided these other things have not already been appropriated by someone else but are still in a natural, unowned state. As soon as scarce resources are visibly appropriated—as soon as someone “mixes his labor,” as John Locke phrased it,10 with them and there are objective traces of this—then property, i.e., the right of exclusive control, can only be acquired by a contractual transfer of property titles from a previous to a later owner, and any attempt to unilaterally delimit this exclusive control of previous owners or any unsolicited transformation of the physical characteristics of the scarce means in question is, in strict analogy with aggressions against other people’s bodies, an unjustifiable action.11 [p. 135]

Note hoppe nowhere assumes you own your labor, any more than you own your acts, thoughts, knowledge, intentions, etc., all of which are needed to do possess something. Hoppe focuses on embordering something–being the first to demark an unowned thing as one’s own. As Hoppe writes: “… property claims … which can be derived from past, embordering productive efforts and which can be tied to specific individuals as producers… ” [TSC, p. 13] So, according to Hoppe, it’s not because you own your labor; it’s because you have the best connection to the resource because you were the first; note elsewhere Hoppe focuses repeatedly on the significance of the prior-later distinction.

Hoppe also writes:

Hence, the right to acquire such goods must be assumed to exist. Now, if this is so, and if one does not have the right to acquire such rights of exclusive control over unused, nature-given things through one’s own work, i.e., by doing something with things with which no one else had ever done anything before, and if other people had the right to disregard one’s ownership claim with respect to such things which they had not worked on or put to some particular use before, then this would only be possible if one could acquire property titles not through labor, i.e., by establishing some objective, intersubjectively controllable link between a particular person and a particular scarce resource, but simply by verbal declaration; by decree. [] The separation is based on the observation that some particular scarce resource had in fact – for everyone to see and verify, as objective indicators for this would exist – been made an expression or materialization of one’s own will, or, as the case may be, of someone else’s will.” (TSC, pp. 135-136; see also pp. 142-144)

Here Hoppe talks about acquiring property by one’s labor, which he equates to “establishing some objective, intersubjectively controllable link between a particular person and a particular scarce resource”, and which he contrasts with “simply by verbal declaration; by decree”. I.e., for Hoppe, ownership of a thing is established by establishing an objective link between the person and the resource. Once this is done, that person has the best claim to it, by virtue of the prior-later distinction. Nowhere does Hoppe accept the ridiculous notion that you “own” your “labor.”

***

Also, from my review of de Jasay’s great book, against politics:

“As noted above, however, de Jasay does not seem to believe that normative propositions can be justified, and he does not really try to do so. He just uses the occasional “should” and normative premise where it is unavoidable and appears to simply presume that the reader shares these (uncontroversial) premises, perhaps counting on the reader’s own good will or love of consistency. For example, he merely asserts that “[i]t is dubious in the extreme that a political authority is entitled to employ its power of coercion for imposing value choices on society . . . and on individual members” (p. 151). Yet the force of the normative concepts “dubious” and “entitled” here is diluted by the lack of even an attempt at justification.

De Jasay’s argument is thus a hypothetical one—and I am not sure if he would disagree for I am not sure he thinks anything better is possible—for it relies for its persuasiveness on the listener already valuing (for some reason) the goals of justice, efficiency, and order. Nevertheless, because most of these principles are certainly sound and justifiable anyway (for example, using Rothbard’s or Hoppe’s ethical theory), and because de Jasay’s critical and analytical skills are so acute, much of interest emerges from this essay.

His three principles of politics are: (1) if in doubt, abstain from political action (pp. 147 et seq.); (2) the feasible is presumed free (pp. 158 et seq.); and (3) let exclusion stand (pp. 171 et seq.). … … I found the justification of principle (3), “let exclusion stand,” to be of most interest, especially the discussion of homesteading or appropriation of unowned goods. De Jasay equates property with its owner’s “excluding” others from using it, for example by fencing in immovable property (land) or finding or creating (and keeping) movable property (corporeal, tangible objects). Thus, the principle means “let ownership stand,” i.e., that claims to ownership of property appropriated from the state of nature or acquired ultimately through a chain of title tracing back to such an appropriation should be respected.

The basic defense of the Lockean proposition that the first or original appropriator of property is entitled to appropriate it draws on his previous “feasible” principle (2) as well as his distinction between rights and liberties. Others have objected to the idea that one can appropriate unowned property on the grounds that such an action unilaterally (and thus unjustifiably) imposes on others moral duties to refrain from interfering.

The basic defense, however, is quite general and straightforward. It is that if a prospective owner can in fact perform it, taking first possession of a thing is a feasible act of his that is admissible if it is not a tort (in this case not trespass) and violates no right; but this is the case by definition, i.e., by the thing being identified as “unowned” [p. 173].

Thus, by treating individuals as being free to act unless it contravenes a right (claim) of another, there is simply no reason not to allow a person to appropriate unowned property. For who could object, if not another, prior owner? To be entitled to object is to be able to “exclude” the claimant, but the right to exclude is an incident of ownership, and the property is by presumption unowned. No one can validly object to my appropriating unowned property, then, because, assuming feasible actions are free, any objection itself must claim a right, and this itself raises a type of ownership claim.[2]

[1]See Hans-Hermann Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, ch. 7; idem, Economics and Ethics of Private Property, chs. 8-11.

[2]Similar reasoning is employed in my estoppel theory of rights to preclude someone from denying the rights that they necessarily presume exist in a certain context (punishment). This theory is related to and draws on Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. See Kinsella, “A Libertarian Theory of Punishment and Rights”; idem, “New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory.” Hoppe’s insights into why the first appropriator has a better moral claim than late-comers is also of relevance here. See Hans-Hermann Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, p.141-44; idem, Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p. 191-93.

Also, an excerpt from my Defending Argumentation Ethics:

Objective Links: First Use, Verbal Claims, and the Prior-Later Distinction

So now we come to libertarianism. It turns out that libertarianism is the only theory of rights that satisfies the presuppositions of discourse, because only it advocates assigning ownership by means of objective links between the owner and the property. This link, of course, is first use, or original appropriation. Only the norm assigning ownership in a thing to its first user, or his transferee in title, could fulfill this requirement, or the other presuppositions of argumentation.

There is clearly an objective link between the person who first begins to use something, and emborders it, and all others in the world. Everyone can see this. No goods are ever subject to conflict unless they are first acquired by someone. The first user and possessor of a good is either its owner or he is not. If he is not, then who is? The person who takes it from him by force? If forcefully taking possession from a prior owner entitles the new possessor to the thing, then there is no such thing as ownership, but only mere possession. But such a rule – that a later user may acquire something by taking it from the previous owner – does not avoid conflicts, it rather authorizes them. It is nothing more than mights-makes-right writ large. This is not what peaceful, cooperative, conflict-free argumentative justification is about.

What about the person who verbally declares that he owns the good that another has appropriated? Again, this rule is not justifiable because it does not avoid conflicts – because everyone in the world can simultaneously decree that they own any thing. With multiple claimants for a piece of property, each having an “equally good” verbal decree, there is no way to avoid conflict by allocating ownership to a particular person. No way, other than an objective link, that is, which again shows why there must be an objective link between the claimant and the resource.

As Hoppe states:

“Hence, the right to acquire such goods must be assumed to exist. Now, if this is so, and if one does not have the right to acquire such rights of exclusive control over unused, nature-given things through one’s own work, i.e., by doing something with things with which no one else had ever done anything before, and if other people had the right to disregard one’s ownership claim with respect to such things which they had not worked on or put to some particular use before, then this would only be possible if one could acquire property titles not through labor, i.e., by establishing some objective, intersubjectively controllable link between a particular person and a particular scarce resource, but simply by verbal declaration; by decree. [] The separation is based on the observation that some particular scarce resource had in fact – for everyone to see and verify, as objective indicators for this would exist – been made an expression or materialization of one’s own will, or, as the case may be, of someone else’s will.” (TSC, pp. 135-136; see also pp. 142-144)

As Hoppe notes, assigning ownership based on verbal decree would be incompatible with the “nonaggression principle regarding bodies,” which is presupposed due to the cooperative, peaceful, conflict-free nature of argumentative justification. Moreover, it would not addess the problem of conflict avoidance, as explained above.

Thus, Hoppe is correct, when he writes:

“Hence, one is forced to conclude that the socialist ethic is a complete failure. In all of its practical versions, it is no better than a rule such as ‘I can hit you, but you cannot hit me,’ which even fails to pass the universalization test. And if it did adopt universalizable rules, which would basically amount to saying ‘everybody can hit everybody else,’ such rulings could not conceivably be said to be universally acceptable on account of their very material specification. Simply to say and argue so must presuppose a person’s property right over his own body. Thus, only the first-come-first-own ethic of capitalism can be defended effectively as it is implied in argumentation. And no other ethic could be so justified, as justifying something in the course of argumentation implies presupposing the validity of precisely this ethic of the natural theory of property.” (144)

***

Excerpt from my How We Come To Own Ourselves:

Recall that the purpose of property rights is to permit conflicts over scarce (rivalrous) resources to be avoided. To fulfill this purpose, property titles to particular resources are assigned to particular owners. The assignment must not, however, be random, arbitrary, or biased, if it is to actually be a property norm and possibly help conflict to be avoided. What this means is that title has to be assigned to one of the competing claimants based on “the existence of an objective, intersubjectively ascertainable link between owner and the” resource claimed.[3]

Thus, it is the concept of objective link between claimants and a claimed resource that determines property ownership. First use is merely what constitutes the objective link in the case of previously unowned resources. In this case, the only objective link to the thing is that between the first user — the appropriator — and the thing. Any other supposed link is not objective, and is merely based on verbal decree, or on some type of formulation that violates the prior-later distinction. But the prior-later distinction is crucial if property rights are to actually establish rights, and to make conflict avoidable. Moreover, ownership claims cannot be based on mere verbal decree, as this also would not help to reduce conflict, since any number of people could simply decree their ownership of the thing.[4]

So for homesteaded things — previously unowned resources — the objective link is first use. It has to be by the nature of the situation.

[4]Hoppe elaborates on these themes in ch. 1, 2, and 7 of A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism.

{ 116 comments }

TGGP August 30, 2007 at 11:14 am

But presuming I value the truth, is it not true that I ought to agree with the above, if it is indeed the truth?
Presuming you value rape and murder, is it not true that you ought to agree with those who support rapists and murderers? It begs the question of whether you ought to support your beliefs and whether you ought to believe in something like truth.

Your comments were both an attempt at a justification of your position, and an attempt to show its validity, by the way.
I have not said that anyone ought to take my position. I am simply explaining what it is I believe.

Is this “objective sense” as you put it, to mean that you have an objective view, or only a subjective opinion not based in reason, which disapproves of Hitler?
Yes, I only subjectively dislike Hitler and his actions. I also disagree with Hitler on certain positive issues (will war and massacre bring Germany back to prominence and save it from Bolshevism? history showed that was not the case). If given the opportunity I might attempt to argue with Hitler using such positive points of disagreement, but in his final days he expressed a willingness to destroy Germany as it had failed to achieve his aims, so perhaps that would not work.

Are you conceding that there is nothing superior to your view that his actions were wrong, compared to his view that his actions were right?
Yes, there is no way to resolve the issue.

Would you two simply agree with each other that you have different values, neither superior to the other?
I don’t know what Hitler would do, but I would recognize that we have very different values. Mencius Moldbug discussed those values here.

Yes it does. In order to satisfactorily justify anything, one logically must argue correctly, logically, factually, and truthfully. This is a logical necessity. A true justification does not succeed by force, fraud, deceit or plain brute ignorance. A true justification must necessarily be made via correct arguments.
The mathematician Kurt Godel proved that there are infinitely many truths that cannot be proved. A great book on this is “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” by Douglas Hofstadter.

true argumentation
I hope we’re not getting in No True Scotsman territory here.

It must proceed with reason and truth.
Incorrect arguments do not proceed from truth and reason, so are they not true arguments then?

What you might believe is irrelevant.
Presuppositions are beliefs, and since you said I must presuppose something, my beliefs are relevant.

All this means is that you are uninterested or incapable of argumentation and justification.
The fact that someone who desires to bash you over the head is purposefully arguing over the internet shows that they are in fact interested in argumentation!

and to do this, they must – logically – in advance, agree to norms of civilized behavior. They must logically agree to the libertarian ethic to even attempt to justify their propositions.
The master may elect not to do this before arguing with is slave.

And they cannot justify any ethic that is a contradiction to these norms.
If, hypothetically, the libertarian ethic is objectively false, perhaps one could justify something contrary to it.

I also thought one day that it was a little peculiar that generally societies forbade physical violence and theft.
No they don’t, they have instances where it is ok and instances where it is not. Except perhaps odd groups like the Amish or Jains.

If all principles are purely subjectively undertaken, why do societies generally forbid physical violence and theft
If taste is subjective, why do all societies believe bread tastes better than mud? If they encountered a species that believed mud is tastier than bread and could converse, could they prove bread is in fact more delicious?

Rightly or wrongly societies are ultimately guided by some moral principles whether we like it or not.
Societies are ultimately guided by people, and people are prone to self-serving post-facto rationalizations.

In our societies laws must be enacted to keep the peace.
And I thought this place was full of anarchists!

Obviously the principle of democracy and utilitarianism couldn’t logically be defended as true and just.
I believe in neither, but I don’t see where you showed it was obvious.

Later I realized that the truthfulness of some ethical principles do not rest upon if all people support them or not.
Hooray, you’ve discovered that argumentum ad populum is a fallacy.

What supports them is whether they can be derived from an axiom and by this procedure be logically defended.
How is any ethical axion shown to be true?

The superficial belief in moral relativism is the very cause of the high crime rates we have in our societies.
You haven’t even proved a correlation, let alone causation. Also, I think you need to read some Steven Pinker.

No they can’t.
0 is false, 1 is true conventionally. Even if they distinguished them incorrectly they would still be distinguishing them. Our brains are ultimately not that different from computers and operate according to the same laws of physics.

If there was no disagreement, there’d be no need for argument in the first place
But people will still argue, perhaps believing incorrectly that there is disagreement. I plug this from Eliezer Yudkowsky again.

and if the argument is resolvable (not merely a matter of opinion)
I believe all normative arguments are of the latter type.

If you persist in the use of fallacies/logical errors after having them pointed out, you’re not really arguing, except in the childish sense (“are too!”, “am not!”, “are too!”, “am not!”), are you?!
Arguing in the childish sense is still arguing, and a person who was incorrect at first might also incorrectly argue against those who claim they made incorrect claims.

TLWP Sam, you are right on the first part. However, I don’t see why ethical philosophy is necessary to live your life without contradictions.

TGGP August 30, 2007 at 11:15 am

But presuming I value the truth, is it not true that I ought to agree with the above, if it is indeed the truth?
Presuming you value rape and murder, is it not true that you ought to agree with those who support rapists and murderers? It begs the question of whether you ought to support your beliefs and whether you ought to believe in something like truth.

Your comments were both an attempt at a justification of your position, and an attempt to show its validity, by the way.
I have not said that anyone ought to take my position. I am simply explaining what it is I believe.

Is this “objective sense” as you put it, to mean that you have an objective view, or only a subjective opinion not based in reason, which disapproves of Hitler?
Yes, I only subjectively dislike Hitler and his actions. I also disagree with Hitler on certain positive issues (will war and massacre bring Germany back to prominence and save it from Bolshevism? history showed that was not the case). If given the opportunity I might attempt to argue with Hitler using such positive points of disagreement, but in his final days he expressed a willingness to destroy Germany as it had failed to achieve his aims, so perhaps that would not work.

Are you conceding that there is nothing superior to your view that his actions were wrong, compared to his view that his actions were right?
Yes, there is no way to resolve the issue.

Would you two simply agree with each other that you have different values, neither superior to the other?
I don’t know what Hitler would do, but I would recognize that we have very different values. Mencius Moldbug discussed those values here.

Yes it does. In order to satisfactorily justify anything, one logically must argue correctly, logically, factually, and truthfully. This is a logical necessity. A true justification does not succeed by force, fraud, deceit or plain brute ignorance. A true justification must necessarily be made via correct arguments.
The mathematician Kurt Godel proved that there are infinitely many truths that cannot be proved. A great book on this is “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” by Douglas Hofstadter.

true argumentation
I hope we’re not getting in No True Scotsman territory here.

It must proceed with reason and truth.
Incorrect arguments do not proceed from truth and reason, so are they not true arguments then?

What you might believe is irrelevant.
Presuppositions are beliefs, and since you said I must presuppose something, my beliefs are relevant.

All this means is that you are uninterested or incapable of argumentation and justification.
The fact that someone who desires to bash you over the head is purposefully arguing over the internet shows that they are in fact interested in argumentation!

and to do this, they must – logically – in advance, agree to norms of civilized behavior. They must logically agree to the libertarian ethic to even attempt to justify their propositions.
The master may elect not to do this before arguing with is slave.

And they cannot justify any ethic that is a contradiction to these norms.
If, hypothetically, the libertarian ethic is objectively false, perhaps one could justify something contrary to it.

I also thought one day that it was a little peculiar that generally societies forbade physical violence and theft.
No they don’t, they have instances where it is ok and instances where it is not. Except perhaps odd groups like the Amish or Jains.

If all principles are purely subjectively undertaken, why do societies generally forbid physical violence and theft
If taste is subjective, why do all societies believe bread tastes better than mud? If they encountered a species that believed mud is tastier than bread and could converse, could they prove bread is in fact more delicious?

Rightly or wrongly societies are ultimately guided by some moral principles whether we like it or not.
Societies are ultimately guided by people, and people are prone to self-serving post-facto rationalizations.

In our societies laws must be enacted to keep the peace.
And I thought this place was full of anarchists!

Obviously the principle of democracy and utilitarianism couldn’t logically be defended as true and just.
I believe in neither, but I don’t see where you showed it was obvious.

Later I realized that the truthfulness of some ethical principles do not rest upon if all people support them or not.
Hooray, you’ve discovered that argumentum ad populum is a fallacy.

What supports them is whether they can be derived from an axiom and by this procedure be logically defended.
How is any ethical axion shown to be true?

The superficial belief in moral relativism is the very cause of the high crime rates we have in our societies.
You haven’t even proved a correlation, let alone causation. Also, I think you need to read some Steven Pinker.

No they can’t.
0 is false, 1 is true conventionally. Even if they distinguished them incorrectly they would still be distinguishing them. Our brains are ultimately not that different from computers and operate according to the same laws of physics.

If there was no disagreement, there’d be no need for argument in the first place
But people will still argue, perhaps believing incorrectly that there is disagreement. I plug this from Eliezer Yudkowsky again.

and if the argument is resolvable (not merely a matter of opinion)
I believe all normative arguments are of the latter type.

If you persist in the use of fallacies/logical errors after having them pointed out, you’re not really arguing, except in the childish sense (“are too!”, “am not!”, “are too!”, “am not!”), are you?!
Arguing in the childish sense is still arguing, and a person who was incorrect at first might also incorrectly argue against those who claim they made incorrect claims.

TLWP Sam, you are right on the first part. However, I don’t see why ethical philosophy is necessary to live your life without contradictions.

Björn Lundahl August 30, 2007 at 1:08 pm

Anthony “Exactly the same thoughts were passing through my mind yesterday. It seems a little too easy for these moral nihilists/subjectivists to brush aside ethical theory. I wonder what philosophers have to say about it – that will be my next topic of inquiry.”

Yes, nihilists/subjectivists should logically prove their relativistic points of views which they naturally cannot. So we really are logically, because of justice, forced to brush aside their “opinions.”

Ktibuk “”this might be a simulation” and not get away when a car is coming at him on the street.”

A while ago when I thought of the subjectivist point of view I also thought of exactly the same example. Subjectivists do not really act in accordance with their beliefs. As Mises said “We may say that action is the manifestation of a man’s will.”

Peter “If you persist in the use of fallacies/logical errors after having them pointed out, you’re not really arguing, except in the childish sense (“are too!”, “am not!”, “are too!”, “am not!”), are you?! That’s all anyone is saying.”

This is also a correct statement, very childish “arguments” indeed. Why bother to answer childish statements in return for another one? A waste of energy I would say. He does a terrible job in “defending” the nihilist/moral relativist/subjectivist points of view. Actually in reality he does a good job in defending the opposite point of view as it seems that no real argument exist for subjectivism regarding ethical principles.

Paul Edwards August 30, 2007 at 1:12 pm

TGGP:

“I have not said that anyone ought to take my position. I am simply explaining what it is I believe.”

I think this sums up what we you doing here. You do not think it is possible to, much less are you inclined to, demonstrate that there is any truth to your argument regarding ethics. In this field, you are content to describe your position, which to you is hardly a justification; as such a thing is necessarily beyond reach. Naturally, according to this view, any justification showing your ethical position is incorrect is impossible as well, as reason and logic are both outside the domain of such considerations.

Therefore, what we have been doing here has been to play a game void of purpose aside from perhaps the entertainment value we derive from it.

Fair enough. I cannot convince you of the rational foundation of justice because reason is not relevant to you on this question. And likewise, you do not attempt to, and indeed cannot even hope to convince me of the validity of your position, and for the very same reason.

I think this discussion has been a battle of psychology, with one participant refusing to do what the other insists is necessary for a logical argumentation: to acknowledge and admit the necessary element of logic and reason to the discussion.

Anthony August 30, 2007 at 1:17 pm

TWLP Sam: “But then I realised that Mark, Anthony. Björn, etc were simply talking about living their own lives without personal contradiction and not talking about trying to the world. Much clearer now. :P”

Umm, no. Sorry. We were referring to the formulation of libertarian ethics vs. libertarian strategy (i.e. proselytization.) My point was simply that in order to combat contrary ethics, a well-formulated libertarian ethic is needed. TGGP disagrees (TT doesn’t – he just seems to think our emphasis is misplaced.) Clearer now?

Anthony August 30, 2007 at 1:26 pm

TGGP: “Incorrect arguments do not proceed from truth and reason, so are they not true arguments then?”

Incorrect arguments do not reach truth or reason – but they attempt to.

“The fact that someone who desires to bash you over the head is purposefully arguing over the internet shows that they are in fact interested in argumentation!”

For the last time, argumentation ethics is not about what people want; it is about what is presupposed in the action of argumentation. Argumentation is specifically defined for the purposes of AE. All ethical justifications take the form of argumentation, that is they seek to reach some truth. There exist childish arguments, but these are not what the term subsumes. If you don’t like the term argumentation, imagine some other word to take its place.

TGGP August 30, 2007 at 7:51 pm

Yes, nihilists/subjectivists should logically prove their relativistic points of views which they naturally cannot.
It is my belief that normative statements are unfalsifiable and thus have no truth value. This meta-ethical statement is in principle falsifiable: in order to falsify it, falsify a normative statement.

So we really are logically, because of justice, forced to brush aside their “opinions.”
Logic does not seem to have applied many pounds of force on you as you continue to converse with me! Also, I like how you put scare-quotes around “opinion” (those aren’t scare-quotes, remember the use-mention distinction) as if somebody else was claiming I had an opinion but you are not willing to concur! You might like this blog: http://quotation-marks.blogspot.com/

A while ago when I thought of the subjectivist point of view I also thought of exactly the same example. Subjectivists do not really act in accordance with their beliefs. As Mises said “We may say that action is the manifestation of a man’s will.”
I already explained why I would get out of the way of the truck if I were in a simulation, and I have never stated that I actually believe I am in a simulation (Robin Hanson suggests there is a 5% probability and I am willing to defer to his expertise).

This is also a correct statement, very childish “arguments” indeed.
Now this is a proper use of quotation marks! The issue was whether what the child was doing constitutes argument and by your use of quotation marks you indicate it does not.

Why bother to answer childish statements in return for another one? A waste of energy I would say. He does a terrible job in “defending” the nihilist/moral relativist/subjectivist points of view.
So you have slipped from discussing the hypothetical child to me? Where have I said “am not/are too” or used any logical fallacies? You disagree with my premise, that normative statements do not have truth value, and now you say it is useless to argue with me. Wasn’t it your position that false beliefs need to be met with true arguments?

Actually in reality he does a good job in defending the opposite point of view as it seems that no real argument exist for subjectivism regarding ethical principles.
Above I point out how to argue against emotivism: falsify a normative statement. You will not be able to do that if you start by assuming another normative statement, because its truth has not yet been established. Either it is elephants all the way down or you will have to derive a normative from a positive somewhere.

I think this sums up what we you doing here. You do not think it is possible to, much less are you inclined to, demonstrate that there is any truth to your argument regarding ethics.
My meta-ethical belief that ethical beliefs have no truth value is itself a positive belief and does have truth value. If I stated you ought to believe the truth, that would be a normative statement. So even though I believe that belief of mine is true, it is not then objectively the case that you ought to believe it, and subjectively I would not be too concerned if you didn’t.

In this field, you are content to describe your position, which to you is hardly a justification
I don’t think there are any justifications, and it would be odd (though not impossible) to demonstrate the validity of statement X without understanding what statement X actually says.

Naturally, according to this view, any justification showing your ethical position is incorrect is impossible as well, as reason and logic are both outside the domain of such considerations.
It is a meta-ethical position, and can be correct or incorrect.

Therefore, what we have been doing here has been to play a game void of purpose aside from perhaps the entertainment value we derive from it.
I can’t speak for you guys, but I know I’ve been entertained.

Fair enough. I cannot convince you of the rational foundation of justice because reason is not relevant to you on this question.
Whatever happened to the primacy of existence over consciousness? Or was that someone else? At any rate, I am looking to observe something so that I can say “Ah, there is such a thing as justice!”. Imaginary things in your head will not cut the mustard.

And likewise, you do not attempt to, and indeed cannot even hope to convince me of the validity of your position, and for the very same reason.
Oh, I wouldn’t assign a probability of 0 to that, but since you display a reluctance to engage in conversation here I would certainly put the likelihood that you will accept my position at less than 0.5.

I think this discussion has been a battle of psychology
That sounds a bit overdramatic.

with one participant refusing to do what the other insists is necessary for a logical argumentation: to acknowledge and admit the necessary element of logic and reason to the discussion.
I don’t have any beef with logic and reason though I hold Bayesian rationality above all those (they can be considered special cases of Bayes), I just think it is a non-standard use of the term “argument” to refer only to logical argumentation. Otherwise arguments would consist of at most one arguer.

We were referring to the formulation of libertarian ethics vs. libertarian strategy (i.e. proselytization.)
None of the examples I gave (Bell, Moldbug, Patri Friedman) were of proselytizers. I don’t think certain thugs can’t be successfully proselytized into accepting libertarianism. Bell wants to set up a market for anonymously killing rights-violators which will deter people from violating our rights. Patri Friedman wants to dramatically decrease exit costs and allow us to get away from governments we want no part in. Mencius Moldbug (who perhaps advocates proselytizing to government, but not convincing them to give up their power!) wants to formalize the State into a joint-stock corporation that will avoid idiotic and destructive actions in favor of those which provide value to its customers (the tax-payers) because this in turn will maximize revenue for the shareholders (those who currently but informally hold power).

My point was simply that in order to combat contrary ethics, a well-formulated libertarian ethic is needed.
Leonard Reed said communism was a problem to argued away, not shot or blown up. I think some communists cannot be argued with and must be shot or blown up. If you can convince any communists by arguing, go for it, but I don’t think much of your chances.

For the last time, argumentation ethics is not about what people want; it is about what is presupposed in the action of argumentation.
If I can show that person is 1 arguing and 2 not presupposing the libertarian ethic then that would show that the ethic is not a necessary presupposition of argument.

There exist childish arguments, but these are not what the term subsumes. If you don’t like the term argumentation, imagine some other word to take its place.
The common definition of “arguing” includes the childish type. If you want to refer to something else it is up to you to use a different term!

Anthony August 30, 2007 at 9:09 pm

TGGP: “None of the examples I gave (Bell, Moldbug, Patri Friedman) were of proselytizers.”

My bad then.

“Leonard Reed said communism was a problem to argued away, not shot or blown up. I think some communists cannot be argued with and must be shot or blown up. If you can convince any communists by arguing, go for it, but I don’t think much of your chances.”

If force in self-defence against their hate preaching is necessary, then so be it. Otherwise I prefer the field of intellectual inquiry. Are you a market anarchist, minarchist, something else perhaps, or what?

“If I can show that person is 1 arguing and 2 not presupposing the libertarian ethic then that would show that the ethic is not a necessary presupposition of argument.”

You’d have to show that the action of argumentation does not presuppose certain things logically.

“The common definition of “arguing” includes the childish type. If you want to refer to something else it is up to you to use a different term!”

Well AE provides a definition of the term to go with it, so it is not really ambiguous at all. Terms are used in certain differing ways all the time.

TGGP August 31, 2007 at 9:40 am

If force in self-defence against their hate preaching is necessary, then so be it. Otherwise I prefer the field of intellectual inquiry.
Intellectual inquiry doesn’t seem to have made a dent on the Mugabes and Castros of the world.

Are you a market anarchist, minarchist, something else perhaps, or what?
Like Randall Holcombe, I do not think anarchy can be sustained and would like a minimal state to fill the power vacuum.

You’d have to show that the action of argumentation does not presuppose certain things logically.
How is that different from what I said?

Well AE provides a definition of the term to go with it, so it is not really ambiguous at all. Terms are used in certain differing ways all the time.
If they aren’t actually talking about arguing in the common sense of the term, perhaps it’s not really all that relevant.

Anthony August 31, 2007 at 9:58 am

“Intellectual inquiry doesn’t seem to have made a dent on the Mugabes and Castros of the world.”

And given that they are not persons I either encounter on a regular basis or aim to convert any time soon, they are irrelevant to me for the time being.

“How is that different from what I said?”

From what I can tell you seem to be thinking that if one can show that the motivations of the individual involved in argumentation are contrary to what it states that they are, then AE does not hold. However, AE is solely based on the presuppositions inherent in argumentation itself and the demonstrated preferences involved. If you mean that you can show that the presuppositions it claims exist in argumentation in fact do not, then that is an entirely different matter.

“If they aren’t actually talking about arguing in the common sense of the term, perhaps it’s not really all that relevant.”

For any ethical theory to be proposed, argumentation in the sense used in AE must be engaged in. So it is relevant for such purposes.

Paul Edwards August 31, 2007 at 2:12 pm

“My meta-ethical belief that ethical beliefs have no truth…”

And no amount of reason can persuade you otherwise. I understand this now.

“So even though I believe that belief of mine is true, it is not then objectively the case that you ought to believe it, and subjectively I would not be too concerned if you didn’t.”

Because when you say you “believe” something is true, it means as much to you as to say you “believe” apples taste better than oranges. It’s subjective and arbitrary – not based on reasons which justify it. This is why you do not think that people who value the truth should necessarily agree with you. Because you do not think it ultimately is the truth – just your belief – and you don’t think you can justify your believe with reason. Again, I get it.

“I don’t think there are any justifications,” Yes, I now recognize this is what you believe. This is why it is futile for me to attempt to present you with one. The criminal has his own beliefs as well. Perhaps he also doesn’t think there are any justifications.

“It is a meta-ethical position, and can be correct or incorrect.” I know, I know. LOL!

“I can’t speak for you guys, but I know I’ve been entertained.” This I believe. And this is a fine thing. It just doesn’t get you any closer to the truth.

“At any rate, I am looking to observe something so that I can say “Ah, there is such a thing as justice!”. Imaginary things in your head will not cut the mustard.”

To observe that there is such a thing as justice requires first observing that there is such a thing as reason and that the two are implied in each other and in the act of argumentation geared to the determining of truth. Why did I just say that? – another impossible justification.

“…but since you display a reluctance to engage in conversation here”

Finally, this conversation gets entertaining.

“I would certainly put the likelihood that you will accept my position at less than 0.5.”

Given that I require a logical justification for an ethical truth, and your contention that such a justification is utterly impossible, I would put the likelihood at considerably less than that.

“That sounds a bit overdramatic.” That is entertaining as well. I don’t call our discussions a psychological battle to dramatize, but rather to distinguish it from logical argumentation: which I claim must presuppose the pursuit of truth via the cooperative application of reason. Something you persistently contend is not necessary. And I see that you perhaps unintentionally demonstrate what you mean by that in the course of our discourse. However all this confirms to me is that we have not been engaged in argumentation.

Björn Lundahl August 31, 2007 at 3:21 pm
TGGP August 31, 2007 at 4:17 pm

And given that they are not persons I either encounter on a regular basis or aim to convert any time soon, they are irrelevant to me for the time being.
I don’t know about you, but I am an American which means I do not encounter them either. They serve as extreme examples. However, I do live under the rule of American politicians, who might be said to be a tastier flavor of dirt.

From what I can tell you seem to be thinking that if one can show that the motivations of the individual involved in argumentation are contrary to what it states that they are, then AE does not hold. However, AE is solely based on the presuppositions inherent in argumentation itself and the demonstrated preferences involved.
How is it inherent in argumentation itself if people argue without it?

For any ethical theory to be proposed, argumentation in the sense used in AE must be engaged in.
“Might makes right. Finders keepers, losers weepers, nana-nana boo-boo you poopie-pants.” That is clearly proposing an ethical theory and arguing in a childish way.

And no amount of reason can persuade you otherwise. I understand this now.
I already explained what could change my mind.

Because when you say you “believe” something is true, it means as much to you as to say you “believe” apples taste better than oranges. It’s subjective and arbitrary – not based on reasons which justify it.
No, it is a meta-normative belief, not a normative one.

This is why you do not think that people who value the truth should necessarily agree with you.
The post Two Cheers for Ignoring Plain Facts greatly angered me from the title alone, but I must concede there are situations in which I would prefer for people not to believe the truth because of the consequences of their belief. I think if Hitler had more accurate beliefs about the probability of military success, he might have been more cautious and stayed in power. I cannot answer for your perspective because I am not and can never be you.

To observe that there is such a thing as justice requires first observing that there is such a thing as reason
I don’t intend on denying reason here!

and that the two are implied in each other and in the act of argumentation geared to the determining of truth.
I do not concede that part.

Given that I require a logical justification for an ethical truth
But I am not arguing for an ethical truth but a meta-ethical one!

And I see that you perhaps unintentionally demonstrate what you mean by that in the course of our discourse. However all this confirms to me is that we have not been engaged in argumentation.
What have I said that was a logical fallacy? I bet if there was a poll of random web users in which they read our posts up until now and were asked if we were engaged in argumentation, a huge majority would say we were.

Mr. Lundahl, if you hadn’t posted substantive comments before your most recent one, I would have assumed your were a spam-bot!

Anthony August 31, 2007 at 7:23 pm

“I don’t know about you, but I am an American which means I do not encounter them either. They serve as extreme examples. However, I do live under the rule of American politicians, who might be said to be a tastier flavor of dirt.”

And I suppose you think justice must come out of the barrel of a gun? Again, I aim at convincing people of the veracity of my position; the more who come to agree with me, the more potential revolutionaires out there when things do come to justice out of the barrel of a gun.
“How is it inherent in argumentation itself if people argue without it?”

Argue without what spefically?

” “Might makes right. Finders keepers, losers weepers, nana-nana boo-boo you poopie-pants.” That is clearly proposing an ethical theory and arguing in a childish way.”

Sure, with no justification behind it. Anyone serious about reaching the truthfulness of an ethic will aim at justifying it.

Björn Lundahl August 31, 2007 at 9:27 pm

I feel that the book Human Action is quite correct. My feelings about the truthfulness of the book Man, Economy, and State are quite high too. Does anyone share those feelings as well?

Björn Lundahl August 31, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Really, I should explain in a more detailed manner what I meant with my sincere feelings about above mentioned books:

I feel that the conclusions made in the book Human Action are quite correct. My feelings about the truthfulness of the conclusions made in the book Man, Economy, and State are quite high too. Does anyone share those feelings as well?

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