Exploding Argumentation Ethics
The assertion isn't without its challengers. Bob Murphy and Gene Callahan chastised it pretty strongly, Stephen Kinsella wrote a rebuttal to their criticism.
While I agree with much of what Murphy and Callahan wrote, most of their arguments relate to the physical and contextual requirements of argumentation. My approach is hopefully simpler: I want to attack the claims about the purpose of argumentation itself. If that falls apart, then anything contextually related to argumentation also falls apart.
What Argumentation Ethics is in a nutshell
- Scarcity exists, conflicts arise over the use of rivalrous goods between moral agents.
- Agents can then choose to resolve their conflicts in a non-violent way by engaging in argumentation.
- Conflict-free ways of interacting requires individual control over scarce resources
- Presupposed in the act of political argumentation are norms contingent to the grundnorm of non-violent conflict resolution such as: "Language has accepted intersubjective meaning," "Argumentative propositions need to be justifiable as true," "Claims must be justified as true"
- The denial of these norms presupposed in the act of argumentation constitutes a performative contradiction, thereby voiding the argument of any meaning.
- Agents engaging in argument must have control over the scarce resources of their body to argue
Argumentation is a conflict-free way of interacting. Not in the sense that there is always agreement on the things said, but in the sense that as long as argumentation is in progress it is always possible to agree at least on the fact that there is disagreement about the validity of what has been said. And this is to say nothing else than that a mutual recognition of each person's exclusive control over his own body must be presupposed as long as there is argumentation (note again, that it is impossible to deny this and claim this denial to be true without implicitly having to admit its truth).
- The body is "the prototype of a scarce good for the use of which property rights, i.e., rights of exclusive ownership, somehow have to be established, in order to avoid clashes"
First, it should be noted that if no one had the right to acquire and control anything except his own body … then we would all cease to exist and the problem of the justification of normative statements … simply would not exist. The existence of this problem is only possible because we are alive, and our existence is due to the fact that we do not, indeed cannot, accept a norm outlawing property in other scarce goods next and in addition to that of one's physical body. Hence, the right to acquire such goods must be assumed to exist
- Agents demonstrate a preference for the homesteading justification of property
by engaging in discussions about welfare criteria that may or may not end up in agreement, and instead result in a mere agreement on the fact of continuing disagreements — as in any intellectual enterprise — an actor invariably demonstrates a specific preference for the first-use-first-own rule of property acquisition as his ultimate welfare criterion: without it no one could independently act and say anything at any time, and no one else could act independently at the same time and agree or disagree independently with whatever had been initially said or proposed.
Libertarian moralism: I move my fingers, therefore you shouldn't hurt me, therefore capitalism.
Conflict-free ways of interacting requires individual control over scarce resources
Murphy and Callahan argue that one doesn't need control over his or her legs to argue. One doesn't need control of his or her body pre- or post-debate. Those two examples place boundaries on the extent or duration of necessary control over resources. There are other prerequisites to existence and, transitively, to argumentation. One is access to a place to be. As a geoist, I've argued that unbounded ownership of things external to one's body necessarily limits equal ability (and rights) to self-ownership under conditions of scarcity. The ability for one to be somewhere, if it is subject to conflict, can cause the process of argumentation in that location to be tainted by conflict.
This indicates that individual control over scarce resources is not enough to guarantee something is conflict-free and it may even create conflict. For instance, take the example of the commons. Individual ownership and enforcement of exclusion can create conflicts of interests where there were none before. In that same vein, every human interaction contains a useful and political aspect. The political aspect can cause individuals to self-censor causing an individual who ostensibly has self-ownership to be subject to internal conflicts.
Under all conflict-free ways of interacting, some individuals will control scarce resources. Note that it may be the case that they do not rightfully control these resources with respect to third parties or uninformed individuals or per a specific standard of rightful control. This control does not have to actually or rightfully extend beyond the scope of necessity or duration of the argument itself. This doesn't discount argumentation ethics wholly, it just constrains the performative contradictions to actions within the appropriate scope and duration.
I think that Murphy and Callahan pointed out obvious flaws but that the flaws were not sufficient to destroy argumentation ethics - it was the wrong tactic.
Agents can then choose to resolve their conflicts in a non-violent way by engaging in argumentation
- the act or process of forming reasons and of drawing conclusions and applying them to a case in discussion
- debate, discussion
- the formal discussion of a motion before a deliberative body according to the rules of parliamentary procedure
- a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides
The first definition of argumentation may imply a logical process, then again it might not.
If it does, people can argue logically for certain means once the ends are given. As a value subjectivist, I completely deny the possibility of a valueless ethical derivation. Pick any claim that purportedly objective moral systems make. Human flourishing? Why is that good? Happiness? Wealth? Pain avoidance? It appears to me that eventually it devolves into what the participants and/or potential converts of the moral system desire; it just looks objective when the desires are near universal. Take something like the abortion debate. One side is pro-human body, and so is the other side - they just have different hidden goals. Their beliefs can be incorrect, of course, but how the hell are their goals wrong unless they're means to other goals they have?
And that's presuming that most argumentation is logical or for the purpose of formulating true or more accurate beliefs. I highly suspect that those instances of argumentation are in a minority. The argumentative theory of reasoning indicates humans primarily argue to win.
All that's required for debate is that there is some discussion of a proposition and some regulation which may take the form of debate norms. Argumentation Ethics claims that these norms are agreed upon by arguing. I disagree with that claim. While it's true that arguments are regulated to some degree by the participants themselves - that is any participant who notices that a certain action is a violation of one of their unexpressed norms and express that norm by terminating the process or announcing to the others that they do not accept it - that doesn't mean that the other agrees to those norms prior to their expression. At best, it could be said that if a participant continues arguing after those norms are expressed, then he or she consents to it.
Well, not so fast. Consent implies awareness and that an individual correctly interprets the expression of a norm via observation of action is certainly not a given. People argue for various reasons and their norms are expressed by the action but may be difficult to tease out solely from observation. Those who are not aware of some action cannot form a normative opinion on it and threaten to walk away from the debate if the other engages in such an action.
The fact of hidden norms in specific and mind-hacks, lying, posturing and a whole slew of human debate tactics in general allows argumentation to be used for more than finding truth or resolving conflicts in a violence-free manner. I have elsewhere argued that lying to others is as qualitatively violative (and thus violent) as spraying someone in the face with cyanide. Just because something doesn't appear to be force doesn't mean it's not force. Hell, forget violence, argumentation may not even be about resolving conflicts. Here are just some purposes I can see for arguing:
- Converting the other debater to your way of thinking solely using truth and relating to the others' desires (truth + violence-free)
- Converting the other debater to your way of thinking by incorporating lies and mind hacks (neither truth, nor violence-free)
- Sharpening your own debate skills (maybe truth, not related to conflict at all)
- Converting the audience to your way of thinking by "winning" (probably not truth, probably not violence-free)
- Converting the other debater with truth (or lies) because you realize it's easier than beating them up or using threats (maybe truth, intent isn't violence-free even if the action is)
Humans can and do employ argumentation in all five of these manners. These five are probably a subset of the argumentation purpose-space. Broadly though, the purpose can be one of mutual gain, or personal gain agnostic to the welfare of another, or personal gain at the explicit expense of another. The mere appearance of an argument may not provide enough information to indicate the purpose the debaters have when engaging in it.
Still, argumentation ethics is technically correct that participants can engage in (certain forms of) argumentation to resolve conflicts in a violence-free manner. This just clarifies that some of what takes the form of argumentation may not be for purposes which are non-violent. However, non-violent argumentation is prima facie possible.
Presupposed in the act of political argumentation are norms contingent to the grundnorm of non-violent conflict resolution such as: "Language has accepted intersubjective meaning," "Argumentative propositions need to be justifiable as true," "Claims must be justified as true"
In a previous section, I outlined at least five purposes for which one could be using argumentation. Which purpose one is using argumentation for will determine the norms accepted both before and when engaging in it. Trying to shoehorn argumentation into only one purpose skirts around the boundary of becoming a "No True Scotsman" fallacy. As stated, the claim is only true if and only if:
- The purpose of all agents engaging in debate is to convince another to change beliefs or desires in such a way as to remove conflict only by appealing to truth and values. Any veiled threats, any lies, any mind hacks done intentionally reveals a different purpose which uses violence. Any violence done unintentionally does not make it non-violent only unintentionally violent.
- All agents engaging in the debate are aware of the norms and recognize when they are being violated such that, if they are being violated, they can cease engaging in argumentation or point it out.
- The norms are determined to be relevant and meaningful by all participants. I'd argue that all of the ones listed in the header of this section have relevance problems.
I can, through two examples, prove the presupposition claim of argumentation ethics false.
Suppose there is a person who is so desperate to resolve a conflict with another that they engage in non-truth tactics which lead to false beliefs on the part of the other. They have polluted the mind of the other for their gain. They have violated the mind of the other and hence engaged in a subtle form of violence. Either before or when engaging in argumentation they chose other values for themselves which were likely not the norms chosen by the other participant. Thus two people were engaged in functional argumentation both with the meta-goal of conflict resolution but operating by different norms or instrumental values to achieve that end. If done carefully, the innocent participant did not recognize that the other did not agree to their norms and gave the appearance of implicit consent by continuing the argument.
This example destroys both parts of the argument - that both parties accept the same norms to engage in debate rather than expressing and discovering norms during the act of arguing, that discovery and expression of norms is always possible, and that the norms are necessarily non-violent.
Is Versus Ought, Actual Versus Rightful
I do want to go a little further just to finish things off.
I've discussed the problems with treating rights like a mathematical construct or some self-evident aspect of nature. Essentially it comes down to whether or not rights are true (as described by "rights fanatics") and whether or not truth actually matters. I deny their definition of rights actually makes sense but, even if it did, what use would it be if people could ignore it and get what they wanted? Truth demonstrably has instrumental value most of the time, but it doesn't need to have value in itself.
First, it must be noted that the question of what is just or unjust—or for that matter the even more general question of what is a valid proposition and what is not—only arises insofar as I am, and others are, capable of propositional exchanges, i.e., of argumentation.
- On the Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property
In addition to rights, universality is problematic because one must still draw a line somewhere. That line will contain a value judgement because pertinence is a value-laden-word! So one must determine what rights fall out of argumentation and the scope of universal application. That cannot be done in a non-evaluative manner. Let me repeat: it can't be done through pure (non-dispositionally-tainted) reason. Yes, things may be good (as in effective of) certain ends. However, they cannot be good (efficient = effective of non-primary ends) without including those ends for no logical reason.
As an example: a hammer is good (effective) at making nails be in wood. So is a shoe. So is your hand. But the former would ruin the shoe and take longer, the latter would hurt (inefficient). So what? Why are those pertinent? That has no non-value-referencing logical answer.
Those are my common complaints for any failed attempt to jump Hume's is/ought gap which is, in my estimation, the biggest flaw with the conclusion of argumentation ethics. Hoppe wants to take one form of argumentation and extrapolate rights which those engaged in it may or may not consider to be rights.
For one thing, no one could possibly propose anything, and no one could become convinced of any proposition by argumentative means, if a person’s right to make exclusive use of his physical body were not already presupposed. It is this recognition of each other’s mutually exclusive control over one’s own body which explains the distinctive character of propositional exchanges that, while one may disagree about what has been said, it is still possible to agree at least on the fact that there is disagreement.
It is also obvious that such a property right to one’s own body must be said to be justified a priori, for anyone who tried to justify any norm whatsoever would already have to presuppose the exclusive right of control over his body as a valid norm simply in order to say, ‘I propose such and such.’
- On the Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property
When person A is communicating with person B, the only thing that he momentarily demonstrates as preferring is that A momentarily has enough control over his body to have the conversation, and that B momentarily has enough control over his body to have the conversation. There are many non-libertarian ethical systems compatible with that preference.
Hoppe here substitutes the smallest of freedoms (temporal conditional control) with (what he perceives as) the largest of freedoms.
I will start with a strained example and then make it more relevant to show how actual and rightful control are two separate things.
You have a computer which is doing something you disagree with. Now, a conflict exists. You want to get the problem to go away and the computer "wants" (has a disposition to) continue the problem. Maybe it has false "beliefs" - it's programmed wrong. Maybe it has a "bad" "desire" - it wants to shut down due to a short circuit or something. The computer clearly has control over the resources which comprise its "body" at the time it's doing things. So, you have three choices. You either ignore the problem which resolves the conflict from your end. You get a new computer and trash the other one which doesn't respect any right of the previous computer to its "body," or you engage the computer in "argumentation" to correct its beliefs (programming or input) or its desires (programming or hardware). The latter may be a mind-hack because you are not justifying your changes with reference to what the computer "wants."
Let's say that the computer is programmed wrong. You enter into "argumentation" with the computer precisely because you recognize that it has actual control over its resources more directly and functionally than you do. You need to get it to "change" its "mind." You're entering into "argumentation" with it (accepting the norms of programming and boolean logic) but not with any regard to the computer's "welfare" - you're doing it completely selfishly because it's cheaper than wiping the hard drive with a fresh install or throwing away the computer and getting a new one.
Just because you recognize that another has control over some aspect of itself doesn't mean you recognize that it should have such control or that it should be in any given state which you find distasteful.
I know it's strained, but the example translates nicely to the inter-human realm. I need you to stop doing action X. You either don't know that I find it distasteful or don't care. I have to change that, or eliminate you or shield myself from your effects if I want the action to stop (or stop being "bad"). So I engage you in debate because I figure it's easier than dumping your body in the woods which I'll do if argumentation fails. I'm not entering debate with non-violent intentions - it's purely a cost/benefit analysis on my part. I may resort to mind hacks or lies ("doing X makes god mad") which is violent. During argumentation under such a situation, I clearly know that you're in the most proximate control of yourself but I don't think you should be configured to take action X, so I'm changing you without your knowledge or consent. I recognize your ability for control, but I grant you no right.
Argumentation ethics has at least one critical false premise and several premises which are problematic outside of a narrow definition.
It also contains an unfounded is/ought leap from actual states of affairs to rights.
It's a dead end. Libertarianism can be defended from a consequentialist standpoint for those who care about certain things, but there are those who don't care about what you care about. You need to give them a reason to care or make it irrelevant: you're going to have to shield yourself, or deny opportunities, or truthfully argue, or commit actual or potential violence against those others to get what you want. Using argumentation ethics as a noble lie is violence, using it because you believe its "the one true answer" is just sad.
I'd argue that you're better served by either going moral relativist or moral eliminativist.