Reflections on Argumentation Ethics
by Michael S. Rozeff
by Michael S. Rozeff
It is necessary by the nature of the subject matter for me to make some preliminary disclaimers. If I were to argue either for or against argumentation ethics in this article, I would perhaps implicitly be endorsing them merely by engaging in argument. I say "perhaps" because this depends on what meaning we attach to "argumentation" and what ethics we suppose is presupposed when we engage in argumentation. But since I wish to take a neutral position at this time, I do not argue for or against argumentation ethics here. I take no position, and by taking no position my remarks cannot be construed as implicitly endorsing argumentation ethics either by direct support or by the indirect support of criticizing it. Neither can they be taken as critical argumentation against argumentation ethics. This article simply records publically a number of my current thoughts about the doctrine of argumentation ethics and its relation to self-ownership. None of my remarks should be construed as either being against or for this doctrine and if at times they seem to, that is the fault of my prose.
In the past, I have occasionally spoken favorably of argumentation ethics as a supporting rationale for property. I do not now deny that position; but neither do I re-affirm it in this article. At this moment, I am merely thinking out loud; I say no more than what occurs to me. I neither affirm nor deny that there is an implied ethics among those who engage in argumentation. I merely record various positions and ideas. However, the fact of the matter is that these positions leave me personally in doubt that such an ethics exists; or, if it does exist, that it has within it the presupposition of full human self-ownership; or, even if the argumentation approach has merit, and it may, that it can provide all that much support to the notion of self-ownership. Due to the peculiarities of the argument for argumentation ethics, this doubt is not and cannot be presented as any kind of direct argument against argumentation ethics without possibly undermining that doubt. This, in its own way, shows one possible strength of the position taken by argumentation ethics. Yet I use the qualifier "possibly" intentionally to underline the position of doubt that is presented here.
If I do not present counter-arguments, then why present anything at all? Why record doubts? Well, why not? This helps me to think through the issues. One or two readers may even be interested. And our understanding of the supports for and nature of property and self-ownership is too important to let rest on foundations that may be useful to have and to think about and yet may be shaky or less firm than one might at first think.
My initial encounter
My first encounter with argumentation ethics occurred some time around 1995. I ran across and read Hoppe's article "The Justice of Economic Efficiency," reprinted in Volume 3 of Austrian Economics, edited by Littlechild. Being ignorant of the background of the argument, I did not fully understand it, yet its importance and newness were obvious. He had brought to bear his own genius in a way that his brilliant precursors (Rothbard, Apel, and Habermas), who had reconnoitered this subject, had not. I was enthusiastic and/or hopeful that argumentation ethics provided some kind of smoking gun in support of property rights. I thought then that Hoppe had made a highly original and useful advance in our knowledge. I think the same today. Argumentation ethics, as he stated the case, provides a support for property. Its basic proposition, among other things, implies that socialism cannot be argumentatively justified. This is very important and, in a sense that needs to be elaborated upon, holds up and yet does not hold up. The support may be more restrictive than supporters of property rights may have hoped for, me being one of them. For any theory, we have to ask such questions as what are the limitations of the argument? How strong a support does it provide? Can no more be said? Does it claim more than it delivers? Does it have any weak spots?
My basic feeling at the time was a favorable attitude combined with suspending judgment. This was and is an ingrained habit of me as a researcher. I needed to learn and ponder more, and especially because my knowledge of philosophy was very rusty, engaged fully as I was in doing finance research. Furthermore, although my feelings led me in the opposite direction, I was accustomed to believing that one could say very little logically about the justice of economic matters. My suspended judgment also relied on intuition. It seemed rather counter-intuitive meaning I could not wholly believe that such important matters as justice and property could be based on a kind of abstract argument built upon the very discussion of these matters. Where could such linguistic approaches get us? I had no firm logical or other basis for suspending judgment. I had merely whispers of thoughts, suspicions, and doubts, various questions, if you will. I could not accept the doctrine wholeheartedly. This attitude is the stock-in-trade of those who do finance research and perhaps all researchers. It leads to a thorough questioning of any new finding in order to understand what it is really saying. At any rate, it was and is my attitude. I actually put the whole matter aside until 2005 when, stimulated by the ongoing Iraq debacle, I began writing for LewRockwell.com. And I kept putting it aside until now, not that the matter is fully settled in my mind; but the time has come to crystallize some reflections.
Hoppe's argument in brief
Let us now quote Hoppe for a condensed version of his argument:
(i) "Whether or not persons have any rights and, if so, which ones, can only be decided in the course of argumentation (propositional exchange). Justification — proof, conjecture, refutation — is argumentative justification. Anyone who denied this proposition would become involved in a performative contradiction because his denial would itself constitute an argument."
(ii) "Moreover, it follows from the a priori of argumentation that everything that must be presupposed in the course of an argumentation as the logical and praxeological precondition of argumentation cannot in turn be argumentatively disputed as regards its validity without becoming thereby entangled in an internal (performative) contradiction."
(iii) "No one could propose anything and expect the other party to convince himself of the validity of this proposition or deny it and propose something else unless his and his opponent's right to exclusive control over their respective bodies and standing rooms were presupposed."
Hoppe makes clear that there are several other matters essential to his full argument such as that the argument must be between moral beings, that the argument is a form of human action and not simply free-floating sounds, and that we must recognize that resources, such as one's body, that are used in argumentation, are scarce. Hoppe also directs us to the roots of his approach that lie in the work on discourse ethics of two modern philosophers, K.O. Apel and Jürgen Habermas. I will use Apel as the source because of one paper, to be mentioned shortly, that criticizes Apel's claims.
And I should note before proceeding further that there are other very good arguments that Hoppe makes, often contiguous to or intermingled with his various presentations of the argumentation ethics argument, that I am not commenting upon here. There are arguments about homesteading. There are critiques of those who wish to maintain values rather than physical integrity. There are arguments favoring a rule of first come, first to appropriate, and criticizing those who fail to make the prior-later distinction, etc. Examining these arguments and the extent to which they can be maintained independently of argumentation ethics is beyond the scope of this article.
The argument's meaning
The basic idea is that a person engaged in argumentation presupposes various ethical conditions by engaging in argument. For example, Apel thinks that those who "engage in serious argumentation...have necessarily already recognized an ethical and normative principle, namely the principle according to which all the disputed questions, all the disagreements, all the conflicts, etc., that arise between the communicating partners, can be resolved only by means of arguments likely to produce a consensus," Habermas believes that the arguers, for example, presuppose that they are using language in the same way, that no relevant argument can be excluded, and that no force will be used to settle the matter. These philosophers are interested in understanding what ethics people adhere to by examining the ethical assumptions that underlie argumentation.
The Wikipedia article on Discourse Ethics accurately explains Hoppe's contribution as follows: Hoppe "argues that because argumentation, or discourse, is by its nature a conflict-free way of interacting, and requires individual control of resources in order to argue and be alive to do so, that certain norms are presupposed as true by anyone engaging in genuine discourse. These norms include the libertarian principle of non-aggression, which itself implies libertarian rights. Therefore, no one can argumentatively deny libertarian rights without self-contradiction." In particular, anyone who argues presupposes that both he and others with whom he argues have self-ownership of their bodies. (Questions about what self-ownership means are beyond my scope here.) Consequently, by the definition of argumentation, no one can argue against self-ownership without self-contradiction. In fact, Apel argues that one cannot argue against the existence of a cognitive and universal foundation for ethics implicit in discourse without the counter-argument negating itself and validating that which it seeks to undermine. It is for this reason that I make no attempt to argue against argumentation ethics directly.
I now get into the heart of this article, which is to examine those matters that raise doubts in my mind about argumentation ethics. For perhaps the last time, I will say that this may be taken as a form of public exhibitionism rather than an attempt to enter an intellectual argument. If the statements sound like arguments against Hoppe's argument, that is only because of my limitations in phrasing them as verbal renderings of my internal doubts. Furthermore, the doubts I raise are subject themselves to doubt. The assertions I may seem to make are not put forward as truth claims. I merely display them as an artist displays a series of paintings.
1. Self-ownership, it has been postulated by Hoppe, "can only be decided in the course of argumentation (propositional exchange)." Argumentation is basically discussion or talk, perhaps of a certain type inasmuch as philosophers disagree on what propositions are. Must self-ownership be settled by talk?
Suppose some people attempt to decide the issue. Are there not ways they may select to decide it that do not involve discussion? They could devise a physical demonstration. They could put it to a vote. They could settle it by force. They could cast lots. They could look at entrails. They could have a test of strength. They could run a gauntlet. They might let a leader, priest, or oracle (an authority) decide the matter. They could appeal to a pre-determined rule or code. They could appeal to a pre-determined scale of values. They could appeal to revelatory sources such as the Word of God.
Perhaps argumentation is not the sole means of deciding the question of self-ownership (or rights in oneself.) Why can't people settle the issue of self-ownership using one or more of the other available means that I have listed?
2. Let us pursue point #1 further and find where it leads us. Argumentation, as the term is used by Apel, Habermas, and Hoppe, apparently refers to deciding matters in some abstract and sanitized sense, that is, deciding in some rational way using thought processes. Argumentation, after all, commonly means reasoning, proving, questioning, making a case, etc. Habermas says that argumentation presupposes that no force is used. Hoppe claims that validity and truth only emerge as an idea in argumentation and only within argumentation are truth claims made and decided upon. If these concepts of argumentation are involved, if argumentation means reasoning about truth claims, then again, we ask, must all truth claims be decided only by reasoning? The answer given by the proponents is "Yes." Yet this claim apparently rules out divine revelation as knowledge as well as intuition and judgment. It gives priority to human reason for no apparent reason, but many of us who are Christians, and some who are not, would argue that human reason is a flawed instrument for arriving at truth.
Leaving revelation aside, why, for example, is force logically excluded as a means of settling (or deciding) self-ownership? This seems implausible. After all, American slave-owners settled the matter of self-ownership by buying and selling slaves. They did not engage in argumentation with their victims. Neither do many criminals argue with their victims. Force is only one particular means of settling matters. Those who use it need not attempt to justify it by argumentation, and if they do use argument, there is no guarantee that their choice of rationales implies that they respect others as self-owners. They may be manipulative in their use of language.
3. If the argumentation theorists insist, as they seem to, that only reasoning is involved in argumentation, then let us go along with them for the moment. But I wonder, as we follow this course, doesn't the definition of argumentation predetermine the results? When people argue, by the stipulated definition of argumentation theorists, they use reasoning, which is neither force nor deception. And then it is no great surprise to notice that not using force is a presupposition of argumentation. In this case, it is surely true that when a socialist argues against self-ownership, there is then a performative contradiction. But it is also true that if the argumentation theorists limit the "deciding" to the use of reasoning, then within the premise of their argument they smuggle in the ethical idea that they then uncover as a presupposition, which is no use of force, or, in Hoppe's context, the respect for self-ownership.
To point out that the reasoning in this argument, whether deductive or inductive, is circular is not new. Human reasoning is circular. Even so, human reasoning still has the extraordinary virtue of providing logical links between one proposition and another, and these links may be very surprising and informative. The simple rules of integer arithmetic lead in amazing directions! Who would have thought that 19x19 + 9 — 74x5 = 0? Who would have thought that the square root of 2 cannot be expressed as a ratio of integers? So the question always becomes: How much do we seem to grasp anew when we follow a reasoning process? In this case, how much do we newly discover when we define argumentation as involving reasoning (and no force) and then examine the beliefs of those who engage in argument? At least while arguing, they are letting the other fellow live. This seems not so surprising. The inference is awfully close to the premise. Do we even know whether they believe what they are saying or what they are secretly planning to do next? Are we so sure that they are affirming private property?
4. Are people even capable of settling all matters by discussion? In particular, is it even possible to decide the matter of self-ownership by discussion? Simply because those who discuss the matter assume self-ownership while they discuss it does not mean that each person owns himself or that justice means that each person should own himself. There is no necessary connection between the discussion and either the actual degree of justice or the truth of what justice may mean. For example, what if the issue has already been decided for us, with the answer being that the ultimate owner is not we but God?
5. The aim of argumentation ethics is to uncover an objective ethics using reason alone. For libertarians, it is to prove that aggressive force is wrong (unjust) and/or that self-ownership is right (just). This is a very old aim. Philosophers have long sought to find objective justice and/or objective ethics by recourse to reason alone. But they have not succeeded. Have Habermas and Apel succeeded where so many others have failed? We are entitled to have our doubts, given the failure-strewn history of inquiry into this matter. A proposed solution may look good for a few years, until another genius points out its failings.
6. But let us examine this matter on its own merits. What Apel and Habermas have done is point out that if a man argues, then he is displaying a certain set of ethics. This shows only that the ethics are, in some sense, accepted or being used. This, however, does not prove that those ethics are just. Such a proof requires criteria of justice. One must go outside of the ethics implicit in argumentation in order to decide whether or not those ethics are just.
And, in fact, Hoppe does not prove that there is justice in economic efficiency or that capitalism is just while socialism is not. He has to bring in, despite his aversion to ad hoceries with which I concur, his own ad hoc "universalization" principle. And in the end, he does not prove that socialism is unjust. He proves that it is not argumentatively justified. That is how he defines justice. But are justice and justifiability the same?
7. Let us now consider matters from a Christian standpoint. Even if the reader is not Christian, the discussion is highly instructive and below, when we discuss skepticism, we will find that an analogous development occurs.
Do we own ourselves? Ultimately? No, we do not. The Creator owns us, says the Christian. Think of the analogy of stockholders that own a corporation but hire managers to run it. In the Christian view, we are not the stockholders of ourselves. God is the sole stockholder. We are more like the Board of Directors and management. More accurately, God has made us more like independent businessmen. We mostly operate our own businesses (ourselves), even if ultimately we do not own them. In a good many matters, we also are instructed to make various concessions to other businessmen. We are not instructed to lead entirely independent lives without regard for others.
According to the Habermas/Apel/Hoppe approach, self-ownership is supposedly a question that we the managers can only decide by discussion among ourselves. God is not needed. In the Christian approach, that question is decided already by Scripture.
When human beings discuss the matter of self-ownership without reference to God, what happens? Some of us insist each of us as a human being owns himself fully. Neither God nor his stipulated property concessions enter the picture. Others of us insist that in some, in fact all sorts of matters, all of us together as human beings must decide things; or a few of us may decide for all of us. We do not each own ourselves. God again need not be considered. All of those in these two opposing camps (roughly Rothbard libertarians versus socialists) claim to be neutral and scientific in their approaches, even though they have already ruled out God. Yet there seems to be no way to settle this conflict between the two groups despite many years trying.
Then, in recent years, a few of us, who follow the argumentation ethics and who also claim neutrality, insist that by discussing the matter amongst ourselves at all, we are endorsing full self-ownership implicitly. They tell us that we have implicitly settled the matter. And if any of us who is Christian protests that this is not so, that human beings are not the ultimate owners of themselves, he is said to contradict himself. He is said to confirm his own endorsement of self-ownership even as he argues against self-ownership. He had better sit down and be quiet because if he argues, he contradicts himself and supports human self-ownership. Really?
We see now that this supposed contradiction is false. The Christian is arguing against human self-ownership because he believes the matter has already been decided in favor of God's ownership. The Christian argues his position, not because he believes that men own themselves, but because God owns them and he is enjoined to argue, not use violence to settle matters. The Christian is following the ethics of argumentation ethics, indeed, but not because he believes in human self-ownership. And it is invalid to infer that he does. The proponent of argumentation ethics sees a contradiction where there is none because he is attempting to infer too much from the observation that the Christian is discussing the matter.
Hoppe's model says that if a person argues against man's self-ownership, he supports it implicitly by arguing. This is not always true. A Christian argues against it because (a) he believes that God is man's owner, not man, and (b) he is not supposed to use violence to make his point. Therefore, to infer that the Christian believes in man's self-ownership (or that he is contradicting himself) when he argues is incorrect. And this difference in belief is non-trivial. The implications of human self-ownership versus God's ownership are considerable.
The Christian belief shows that there is a problem with argumentation ethics, and the problem is this. There are many possible ethics that may undergird a discussion, and from a single-point observation of discussion occurring, there is no way to infer which of the possible ethical systems prevails in a person's mind. We will see next that this same kind of problem occurs with argumentation ethics when we move to a non-Christian skeptical perspective.
8. The philosopher Frédéric Cossutta, in a 2003 paper titled "Toward a Skeptical Criticism of Transcendental Pragmatics," sets forth several discussions that act against the Apel claim of having founded an objective ethics in the process of argumentation. He does this by using skeptical approaches. To show the power of their theories, Apel, Habermas, and Hoppe all bring in what may be called naïve skeptics who argue directly against their doctrines. These straw men are easily defeated because merely by arguing, they validate the doctrinal claims of their opponents.
Cossutta reminds us that the philosophy of true skeptics, such as Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus, is far more sophisticated than these skeptical straw men: "We can raise an objection against Apel's argument grounded upon his misconception of the real nature of historical skepticism. On this point, he shares common prejudices, such as the caricature elaborated by all the doctrines that need the straw man of anti-philosophy to create a contrario their own conditions of possibility. A reappraisal of skepticism as an authentic philosophy and, notably, a reappraisal of the status it gives to contradiction, permits us to reject Apel's argument." Properly applied skepticism "effectively evades the grasp of the performative self-contradiction."
To a limited extent, I have in this article tried to act as a sophisticated skeptic might by not attacking argumentation ethics with argumentation. I do not argue that it is impossible to argue as a naïve skeptic might. I merely present the contradictory arguments for your perusal. As Cossutta writes: "...if the skeptic demonstrated the impossibility of argumentation as would the dogmatist, he would indeed be guilty of a performative contradiction, but he just displays the contradictory arguments, without having to assert anything himself. He lets the contradictory game of appearances play itself out, and notes that this assertion is only valid insofar as it appears to him to be thus."
9. One sophisticated skeptical approach is to hypothesize "an ethically negative orientation of the pragmatic presuppositions of communicative activity." This is done by reversing the argumentation propositions. Cossutta explains: "One could find philosophical analogues of this way of inscribing bad faith or duplicity at the level of origin, for instance in such pessimistic theories of human nature as that of Hobbes, who derives a possessive individualism from a geometry of the passions or in philosophical frameworks in which inauthenticity would be central, and as in the chapter in Sartre's Being and Nothingness dealing with bad faith. Similarly, instead of asserting that ‘the universal claim of discourse is that of an intersubjectively identical validity of meaning,' we could set forth as an a priori rule the primacy of misunderstanding or of ‘interincomprehension,' as does, for instance, the theory of discourse developed by D. Maingueneau, who coined this new word (1983)."
For example, with Hoppe's argument we might proceed as follows. We suppose that discussion is aimed at feigning agreement or faking the process of deciding upon the validity of propositions. Suppose that the parties feign a conflict-free environment. The norm only appears to be that everyone has self-ownership. In fact, it is not the norm. The opposite is the norm, namely, non-self-ownership. We can imagine argumentation that is done using deception, dishonesty, manipulation, and such. The people engaged in this need not be arguing in good faith. There is bad-faith instead of good-faith discussion. Their presuppositions about self-ownership need not be those of libertarians.
This is a special case of skeptical methodology that seeks to reverse the premises in order to show that an alternative exists, so that one should perhaps suspend firm judgment about a model. One cannot then sustain a dogma. For example, the following statement made by Hoppe is falsified in this scenario: "It is only as long as there is at least an implicit recognition of each individual's property right in his or her own body that argumentation can take place."
What I have done is suggest the appearance of argumentation with the actuality being its opposite. In such a situation, someone who argues against self-ownership does not contradict the norm, but someone who argues in favor of it does. Anyone who makes a truth claim now implicitly assumes the norm: "Everyone has the right to aggress uninvitedly against the body of any other person."
This reversal does not prove anything. It does not even argue against Hoppe's theorem, and therefore it avoids performative contradiction. In fact, someone who argues for self-ownership in this negative scenario now has a performative contradiction. What the reversal demonstrates is more basic. It shows that from observing discussion alone, as in the Christian case, we are unable to infer ethics. As Cossutta says: "all the maxims of discourse ethics will have to be doubled by their negative counterparts by asserting that they are on the same level and are associated with the same argumentative force, a determination favorable to one or the other being neutralized by a suspension of judgment (the skeptical epoche). We can thus avoid the performative contradiction taken absolutely..."
Cossutta reaches a very strong negative conclusion that rejects the ability to extract ethics from argumentation: "We are faced with the radical impossibility of deciding and, consequently, with the impossibility of founding the existence of the ethical presuppositions of communicative activity within a transcendental perspective."
The overall result of the preceding is to view discourse from a neutral point of view. Cossutta goes on to bolster his case for language neutrality by citing the work of linguist Antoine Culioli and others.
Cossutta writes: "...no language interaction presupposes understanding as the precondition of a communication, but only as its horizon, its possible goal. Linguistic activity does not presuppose anything other than the possibility of an interactive space, which does not prejudge the nature of the social liaison: neither pro nor contra is assumed, nor is the underlying purpose of the interaction, the will to agree and understand representing only one case amongst others."
10. Cossutta provides a quote that gives us the flavor of skepticism: "But Timon, his disciple, did; he contends that those who want to be happy must pay attention to three principles: first, what things are by nature; secondly, what our attitude toward them is to be; and finally, what will happen if one behaves in conformity to that attitude. He says that, according to Pyrrho, things are indifferent (adiaphora), unstable (astathmeta), and cannot be determined (anepikrita). Consequently, neither our sensations nor our opinions can be true or false. We must not trust them; instead, we must remain free of opinion (adoxastous), free of inclinations (aklineis), and free of agitation (akradantous einai); we must say that each thing is no more than it is not, or that it both is and is not, or that it neither is nor is not."
Pyrrho is saying that human beings on their own can only view all facts in the universe as indifferent, changing, and ultimately indeterminable. This includes themselves and their own thinking. It includes the statements that Pyrrho is making. And the consequence of this is that there is no truth or falsity to be found in phenomena themselves. Furthermore, no meaning or purpose is to be found by looking at these brute facts ("neither our sensations nor our opinions can be true or false.")
Following Cornelius Van Til, we may say that if there is no God to make the facts what they are, then they can have no meaning. I summarize Van Til's position briefly in the next two paragraphs.
If there is no active, sustaining, self-contained, and self-conscious God, then there is no objective meaning to or knowledge of events. Without God, all that happens are particulars and they are open to any interpretation. (This is what the skeptics also conclude.) Man cannot see meaning in facts without interpretation. Facts are therefore theory-laden. Without a grounding in truth, particular events or candidate facts become a jumble. So then, without God, there are really no true facts. There are what Van Til calls "brute facts." There is then no objective knowledge. To be facts, facts must be God-interpreted facts. Men, being in the image of God, can then understand these facts.
Men create realities for themselves but without presuming God these constructions are random creations, neither true nor false. There cannot be true knowledge without an anchor in an objective or absolute knowledge, which is what God is and provides. Do we have true knowledge of how to fly an airplane? Yes, to an extent we do although we still do not understand or know all the forces involved. How do we have such knowledge? Because there is non-randomness that arises because God made it so. Without God, there are only brute facts (really just particulars.) If we do have this true knowledge of how to fly a plane, and we surely do have it, it means we can reject the premise of no God. God suffices to overcome the skeptical position to which all man-based philosophies are condemned.
Ignoring God has to lead to the skeptical position enunciated by Pyrrho. Human beings cannot find their way out of their self-made philosophical puzzles and boxes if they start from the premise that there is no God as self-conscious Creator and sustainer of every aspect of the universe and instead seek to answer all questions using human reason alone. The result of such reasoning, or attempts to find a rational ethics, is that skepticism has to win the day over all the other philosophies that, like it, also ignore God.
Many scientists and philosophers uncomfortably squirm at this conclusion. They would like to have everything in nature be subject to discoverable natural laws (i.e., they'd like to deny an all-powerful and supernatural God) while also they would like to object to the skeptical position. They would prefer that man or nature or some combination deliver the truth and be the God. They basically seek out stable laws, natural and moral, that inhere in nature, man, or man's language. But their discoveries do not ever explain the why and wherefore of such regularities as are discovered. Negating God or else invoking a God created in man's image or to satisfy man's needs, philosopher after philosopher adopts, usually inadequate and untenable, bootstrap theories of values in which man somehow lifts himself up by his own bootstraps to discover who he is and what universal values are. Argumentation ethics is such a theory. In fact, argumentation ethics is simply a natural rights theory of a new kind. But, all such theories that are bereft of the Christian God run aground on the shoals of skepticism. No matter how hard they try and how many laws and regularities they uncover, philosophies, including argumentation ethics, that ignore God cannot overcome the questions raised by sophisticated skepticism. They cannot find a safe harbor and mooring.
Hoppe's position appears to be more sophisticated and less vulnerable. But is it? He makes no claim to have gotten an ought from an is, and he explicitly notes that the ought-is gap cannot be logically bridged. The self-ownership property as derived from argumentation ethics is for him a matter of thought and thought only. Calling it "fair" or "just" does not imply for him that one ought to follow it or strive for it. The norm remains "true" or "valid" in the sense that it is the norm that is argumentatively justifiable. But if there is such a norm, where does this norm come from? Do people socially determine the norm and therefore truth? How can we be sure that this norm is truth?
Hoppe says: "...those people who would propagate and enforce such different, invalid norms would again have to be classified as uninformed or dishonest, insofar as one had made it clear to them that their alternative norm proposals or enforcements cannot and never will be justifiable in argumentation." In other words, the nonaggression axiom is truth because it is the norm that is justifiable via argumentation, and behavior that goes against it is either ignorant or corrupt. The twin concepts of nonaggression and argumentation ethics are being elevated to godly status.
But even if the nonaggression axiom does capture an important aspect of moral truth, if that axiom is supported only by the argumentation ethics defense, then it remains vulnerable to each of the many doubts raised earlier.
Since I am only presenting doubts and not making affirmations, despite my relapses into declarative sentences that seem to dispense truths, and since I have finished presenting them, this article is almost at its end. In this article, I do not leave the questions in the hands of the good reader, because I am not entering the stream of argumentation on these questions. Consider me as merely a mental exhibitionist.
Ordinarily I would send a paper such as this to the man most concerned, Hans Hoppe, whom I have met and have the highest respect for. But if I were to do that, it would imply that I was engaging in the process of argumentation. This, I fear, would undermine my message. So I have not done so.
Hoppe has written: "By being alive and formulating propositions, then, one demonstrates that any ethic except that of private property is invalid." Are matters this simple? Maybe. Maybe not. I have my doubts. Stalin was alive and formulated propositions.
Has Hoppe placed all of us in his sights? Has he slain the objections of both the skeptic and the Christian? Maybe. But I wonder. May there not be a skeptic who is alive and lives so as to fool his neighbor through argumentation and take his belongings? May I not be alive and argue for delegated self-ownership so as to maintain the property of God entrusted to my care?
September 22, 2007
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.
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