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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9605/a-reply-to-the-current-critiques-formulated-against-hoppes-argumentation-ethics-by-marian-eabrasu-libertarian-papers/

“A Reply to the Current Critiques Formulated Against Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics” by Marian Eabrasu (Libertarian Papers)

March 12, 2009 by

Libertarian Papers Facebook Group20. “A Reply to the Current Critiques Formulated Against Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics”,” by Marian Eabrasu

Abstract: This article responds to current critiques directed against Hoppe’s justification by performative contradiction of the self-ownership axiom. Maintaining that ethics should be grounded on sound principles, Hoppe observes that only self-ownership can pass the test of performative contradiction. From this idea, he concludes that only libertarianism (the ethical system grounded on the axiom of self-ownership) can be justified. Any other ethic is self-defeating. An important debate in ethics was stimulated by numerous critiques formulated against the performative contradiction and more precisely against the use that Hoppe makes of it in justifying libertarianism. Without endorsing Hoppe’s argumentation, this article prevents some common misunderstandings, systemizes the types of critiques and thoroughly replies to them.

{ 21 comments }

P.M.Lawrence March 13, 2009 at 8:51 am

“Any person who would try to dispute the property right in his own body would become caught up in a contradiction, as arguing in this way and claiming his argument to be true, would already implicitly accept precisely this norm as being valid”.

It is easy to construct a hypothetical counterexample, one which may actually have existed in other times and places. Suppose someone sincerely accepts that he is a slave (or a conscript, or a soldier who has volunteered and so ceased to be free, or something of that sort), belonging to another. Such a person could easily deny that he owns himself, and his act of denial, far from being a contradiction, is merely an assertion of his other-owned status – his statement is one he makes not for himself but as an agent or instrument of that other. It should be clear that anyone denying the argument on the grounds that the slave actually owns himself, is himself engaged in a contradiction by denying the slave’s own right to assess himself, unless he is also denying that the slave is actually sincere – but see below, about constructing this counterexample. Also, if one person can deny the slave’s sincerity in denial of self-ownership, another person can deny the meaningfulness of statements made by someone claiming self-ownership; it begs the question to accept answers selectively. It might seem that slave codes that prevented slaves from being freed against their will recognised and reserved things to slaves and prevented full ownership by another from being possible, but on closer inspection it turns out that those did not give rights to slaves but to former slaves freed against their wishes.

Furthermore, it has not been exhaustively established that other ethical bases fall prey to these contradictions, or that self-ownership (without further qualification) does not – there is no logical impossibility to the proposition that all systems of ethics contradict themselves, of course, so the latter must also be tested and not merely inferred from the former. Indeed, I would argue that self-ownership pure and simple implies the legitimacy of self-alienation – selling or otherwise handing oneself over to another – which leads to just such a contradiction as that of the slave above; the self-ownership concept, if true, implies that the hypothetical counter-example above can be constructed. It is because of these and related problems that I consider self-ownership a fundamentally flawed concept, and that the starting point should be an understanding of the self, followed by the insight that property is the extension of the self (for detail, we need to look into concepts like “entity” and “emanation”, and become familiar with the distinctions between them). Self-ownership is then a vacuous circumstance of no particular significance in itself, adding nothing to the fundamental concept of the self, which it is logically impossible to remove since one cannot take oneself out of oneself (whereas other property presents no intrinsic obstacles to being transferred). This basis does avoid contradictions of the sort brought up, and also avoids the problems that the self-ownership basis presents.

RWW March 13, 2009 at 9:38 am

“Argumentation Ethics” is little more than argumentum ad hominem dressed-up in technical jargon.

While I accept Austrian economics as true, a priori, along with the ethical implications for liberals (i.e. those who hold human material well-being as a principal value), I recognize that there is no truly objective reason to be a liberal. The attempts on all sides to establish some objective basis for morality/ethics are tiresome and distracting.

laukarlueng March 13, 2009 at 10:42 am

P. M. Lawrence: “is himself engaged in a contradiction by denying the slave’s own right to assess himself”

1) Right to assess himself? Not sure what that means…

2) How can a slave assess their self when (as you claim) they do not own their self?

3) If the slave acquiesces to their master’s claim of ownership, are they not demonstrating their self ownership? Their giving in is only a decision to “play along” with their master. Correct?

Karlos March 13, 2009 at 10:47 am

Lawrence – as I understand Hoppe’s argument, everyone has the right to self-ownership. If somebody decide to give this right up voluntarily, it’s his problem. Indeed, I would argue, that many (and maybe most!) people would gladly give up a portion of their freedoms in exchange of some kinds of material or other benefits.

I have a different problem with Hoppe’s (or Rothbard’s, for that matter) axiom – if you claim something first, you own it. I’m not questioning it per se, it only strike me as not nearly as self-evident as the self-ownership. In other words, I think it’s not an axiom and it needs to be supported by further arguments.

For example, if a habitable planet is discovered by a freelance astronomer, should he be allowed to claim it just for himself? Sure, it’s an extreme example, but I don’t see it too unreal in foreseeable future.

Inquisitor March 13, 2009 at 11:38 am

Discovery and claims would not suffice alone. He needs to create some sort of objective link, i.e. transform the land in question. Hoppe addresses this issue in both A Theory of Socialism & Capitalism and The Economics of Ethics and Private Property.

PM Lawrence, your formulation sounds much more like that of neo-Aristotelians like Douglas Rasmussen, though Hoppe is in favour of inalienability so I wonder how much his notion of self-ownership differs from that one in practice.

RWW March 13, 2009 at 11:54 am

He needs to create some sort of objective link, i.e. transform the land in question.

Could you precisely define what you mean by “transform”?

Inquisitor March 13, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Alter it somehow, e.g. plough a field. Depends on the resource in question what standards apply.

RWW March 13, 2009 at 8:32 pm

So it doesn’t have to be for the better?

Clayton Reeder March 13, 2009 at 9:41 pm

RWW:

If it is consistent with private property ethics, it _is_ “for the better”.

Also: Just because Austrian economics describes how economic growth (and with it “material well-being”) occurs, does not in itself give a reason for economic growth to be justified. There is either a objective justification of moral principles, or there is not. If there is not, and there are only subjective preferences but no justification, then there is no real _reason_ to be a “liberal” rather than a socialist or whatever. So then why should anyone care what you think?

RWW March 13, 2009 at 10:12 pm

If it is consistent with private property ethics, it _is_ “for the better”.

Just to make sure I understand you, are you saying that the legitimate acquisition of property is “for the better,” or are you saying that a transformation must be “for the better” in order to legitimately imply ownership?

My core question is this: What is the criterion for legitimate ownership?

There is either a[n] objective justification of moral principles, or there is not. If there is not, and there are only subjective preferences but no justification, then there is no real _reason_ to be a “liberal” rather than a socialist or whatever.

There is if you value the material well-being to which liberalism leads.

So then why should anyone care what you think?

Because they share my values.

Inquisitor March 14, 2009 at 2:39 am

“So it doesn’t have to be for the better?”

No? By appropriating it the individual is demonstrating they prefer the intended outcome, so it is certainly “Better” in their view, but I’m unsure that that’s what you mean. Standards of appropriation may differ from case to case (the intersubjective/local element in what counts as instances of appropriation), but I’m not sure how “for the better” could even develop into such a standard absent the labour theory of value. Absent some determination or other of property righrs conflict over scarce resources will persist, so any ethical solution to the problem needs to consider that.

RWW March 14, 2009 at 8:19 am

Right, this is exactly what I’m getting at. So, does any level of physical contact with an unowned resource make it mine, or is there some other criterion I’m missing?

RWW March 14, 2009 at 8:31 am

The reason I’m bringing this up is that the usual argument for a supposedly objective basis for property rights that I have read and heard is as follows:

A man owns his labor, so if he mixes it with some unowned resource, that resource becomes his property.

A somewhat careful argument will include a proviso about either the level, or the quality, of that “mixing” of labor. But the only form of this proviso that I’ve seen is that the mixing must improve the unowned resource. As Inquisitor points out, this is unworkable, so what is the proper statement of this proviso? Or is there none at all?

Karlos March 14, 2009 at 2:33 pm

“A somewhat careful argument will include a proviso about either the level, or the quality, of that “mixing” of labor.” – exactly my point. What kind of mixing and to what extent? If I discover for example a gold vein, can I claim the whole vein for myself (it can go on kilometres into the ground), or can I claim only the gold I mix my labor with, i.e. only what I actually mine out?

Inquisitor March 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm

http://mises.org/daily/2291

Standards of appropriation would most likely be derived from local custom and intersubjective agreements between courts, per Hoppe. Rothbard evokes the RTU (relevant technological unit) as a measure.

RWW March 14, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Then what is the objective basis for man’s supposed property rights?

Brian Macker March 15, 2009 at 9:00 pm

“Hoppe observes that only self-ownership can pass the test of performative contradiction. From this idea, he concludes that only libertarianism (the ethical system grounded on the axiom of self-ownership) can be justified.”

Even accepting the argument, and I don’t, you still have more than just libertarianism as an option. For example, one could have a ethical system where one can sell oneself into slavery. After all full ownership includes the right to disposal and trade of your ownership rights.

I think it best not to think of ourselves as self-owners. Control over our bodies is inalienable, unlike property.

Brian Macker March 15, 2009 at 9:02 pm

In other words a libertarianism based on self ownership may be philosophically invalid. So why shoot for that as a goal?

B Ready April 24, 2009 at 2:52 am

I’d like to revive this thread and ask a question if anybody is still watching. :-)

As near as I can tell from the article cited in this post, Eabrasu defines ownership as “ultimate control”. He then argues that a person cannot not have (and cannot get rid of) ultimate control over one’s body. He uses this to refute the argument of Murphy and Callahan, who argue that Hoppe is conflating “use” with “ownership”.

So you cannot use a body without being the ultimate decision maker about (i.e. owner of) that body.

Why do we know that we have ultimate control over our bodies? I do not want to start a religious or metaphysical discussion here about whether we have free will, but it seems to me that arguing with someone does not necessarily presume that they are the ultimate decision maker about their own body (which is the essence of Hoppe’s claim).

Murphy and Callahan, for instance, point out that a theist could argue that God owns all human bodies (that is, that he is really the ultimate decision maker, in the sense that he could take control of anyone’s body at any time, and make them do or say whatever he wishes), and argue for restriction of libertarian rights on this grounds.

Equivalently, suppose someone develops a mind control (or more accurately, body control) device that allows them to make ultimate decisions about the actions of another. Could not one argue that the possessor of such a device is the true “owner” (ultimate decision maker) of all bodies, and thus deny the self-ownership axiom?

Put another way, isn’t Hoppe really, truly conflating ownership and use, as Murphy and Callahan claim?

Eabrasu does not address this counterexample, that I can see.

Am I off base here? Can someone point out why this is not a valid counterexample to Hoppe’s claim that argumentation implies self ownership?

Incidentally, I definitely echo Murphy and Callahan’s statement (quoting Mitchell Jones):

“I am a believer in the theory of natural rights. But this does not obligate me to endorse blindly every argument that is offered in its support. The cause of liberty is poorly served when its proponents march into battle with unsound arguments.”

Jonathan September 24, 2009 at 3:28 pm

You don’t need to argue at all to accept the point that any living thing is, as much as it thinks, is in control of itself, whether that is humans arguing or fish swimming… both acts demonstrate control so why the obsession over argument? If you say I dont own myself you contradict yourself because your action shows you do.. but ANY action shows you do to the same extent.
Problem is, this means logically that rights extend to more than humans. Where is the flaw in my logic which is simply following Hoppe on a broader level

Andrew March 15, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I think if we own ourselves, then we cannot transfer ownership to another, because the item being transferred would be a self-owning person, and its status as such would remain so before and after the transfer. Assuming we own ourselves, or have the right to exclusive control.

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