Here in Israel there are (relatively) a lot of Objectivists. This is partly due to a historical coincidence (a professor named Moshe Kroy was a charismatic and mentally ill  early adopter), and partly due to Rand’s staunch black & white, pro-Israel, pro-war stances which are appealing to the Israeli right (the fact that she is Jewish doesn’t hurt).

While I think Mrs. Rand has done a large net good to the cause of liberty (drawing very smart people to libertarianism with her novels), she has also done a lot of harm. Along with Rothbard, whom she greatly influenced, they popularized an incredibly naive, extreme, and ridiculously untenable view of morality. This caused them to make bizarre moral claims about things like homosexuality (which Rand thought was “immoral” [m. 12:00]) or suicide (which both Rothbard and Rand thought was “immoral”).

Even worse, these ‘natural rights’ views came after far more sensible positions held by scholars such as Mises, Hayek and Hazlitt. This dogma has unfortunatly now come to plague and be associated with libertarianism as a whole and Austrian-rationalism as well. Such positions are however the epistemological equivalent of crack. It might make you feel high, but you’re making a fool of yourself.

Skip this paragraph if you understand and accept the is-ought dichotomy. In short, descriptive claims about reality, like the real objects they refer to, are of course objectively true or false. There is a tree there or there isn’t. However, moral claims, ought’s and should’s, refer to goals. Goals are not a part of objective reality. Therefor the truth status of normative claims is not, by any stretch of the imagination, that of descriptive statements. It doesn’t matter how natural or intuitive the “right to life” or “self-ownership” appear to you. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy taking the moral high-grounds in arguments. You epistemologically can’t claim such statements are somehow objectively true. What we cannot speak about, we better pass over in silence.

Interestingly, and as has become apparent due to the beautiful breakthroughs of the last 30 years, this is not the end of the story, and we  should not all just become utilitarians.[1]

First, as Hoppe noticed, moral propositions are only really relevant in a certain context, come to think about it –  in the context of discourse. And in this specific context of action, i.e. given the action axiom, some norms are already implied.

This is by the way a common point of confusion to people who fail to understand his argument. Hoppe does not claim the NAP is objectively true in the normal sense of truth, just that it is a logical presupposition of a specific class of actions. Not even the most ardent moral skeptic would deny that given a certain norm as an assumption you can then “objectively” derive other norms (“you ought to smell good”->”you ought to bathe”). Hoppe claims only this, not violating any of the rules of epistemology.

Separately de-Jasay came up with a weaker yet valid and original argument by noting that such normative propositions are still constrained by the epidemiological rules of verifiablity. Since you cannot be called on to prove a negetive, it can be shown that “positive rights” claims are all nonsensical (I’ll publish a post about this argument).

Both of these are value-free, rigorous (and a bit hard to understand) arguments. They are however slowly becoming the basis of a much more powerful and modern libertarian philosophy. We don’t need simplistic views carried from the enlightenment. Let’s move beyound natural rights, easy-life arguments, and hold rigor above emotion.

Both Hoppe and de-Jasay have shown that a humble epistemological view, combined with a strict use of logic are more then enough to establish liberalism in a delightfully dogmatic, non compromising and historically unprecedented way. Until libertarianism won’t shake off some of the more naive views, it will not be able to establish itself in the remarkable historic position it now, uniquely, has the tools to attain.

 A is A.

Up on youtube.com. Find it here. Very enlightening.

Click here for this excellent course on Hoppe taught by Stephan Kinsella.

I often hear that Argumentation Ethics (explained here) is guilty of equivocation. When I ask why, I’m told that since AE deduces self-ownership with reference to the fact a man must act and have control over his body in order to argue (and live at all) it thereby must be simply conflating control for ownership. That is, making an implicit switch from “a participant must have control over his body in argumentation” to “a participant must presuppose ownership of his body in argumentation”.

Such a reference to the basic that a participant in argumentation is independently exerting control over his own body to argue, is indeed relevant but as will be now explained; it is not by resorting to a simple equivocation. I must say however, I can easily see where such a misunderstanding stems from. Mainly, Hoppe does not repeat the full argumentation for this in every exposition of AE, and this can certainly cause confusion, most particularly to people who have read him selectively, or are not previously familiar with Rothbard’s writings on the matter (and to people who do, it might seem trivially valid).

For example, in “The Ultimate Justification of Private Property Ethics” Hoppe simply writes:

“.…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. ….”

To understand this deduction, that is, to understand why it is that only the self-ownership norm is consistent with argumentation we must consider all possible alternatives. As far as ownership over body is discussed, we can sort the rules as such:

  1. Man has no ownership of his physical body.
  2. Man has partial ownership of his physical body.
  3. Man has full ownership of his physical body.

No other options exist. Now, we will show that (3) is the only acceptable option by showing all other possibilities, (1) and (2) to both be inherently stand in contradiction to the act of argumentation.

As for option (1), which is essentially “There is no concept ownership for bodies at all“, as Kinsella argues, the very act of argumentation presupposes that ownership and mere possession are not the same. To assume that the right to control is determined by the the physical ability to control of the resource is to adopt a rule of force, might makes right approach which is in contradiction to the core, most basic common argumentative presupposition of peaceful conflict resolution. Since (1) boils down to a simple rule of violence, the complete opposite of any substantive argument its propounding in argumentation is self-contradictory and inconsistent. It can be said that rule (1) directly contradicts the entire point of argumentation.

As for (2), partial ownership can be formulated in infinitely many ways. We can formulate rules by which particular people are entitled to varying stocks of ownership of other people’s body. Such a rule can for instance give certain people 33% ownership of my body, other people will be awarded 21.2% ownership and I might be entitled to 11%. However, most of those rules are arbitrarily particularistic contradict the basic requirement for justified norms to be non-arbitrarily universal norms. As AE shows universality is not only common sense, but contingent to the presuppositions of argumentation, and must then logically be accepted by all participants. There does exist however a universal formulation of (2). The universal formulation of (2) was termed by Rothbard “global communism”, and by which every man is entitled to an equal share of the body of every man in existence. That is, you own a 1/<number of humans> share in the body of every human being (including yourself). But here, we must note that under such a rule, a man cannot just independently act, by himself, as this now requires permission from others to use his body. Rather he must have at least majority consent of this global collective.

No one can however obtain such permission, as to obtain such permission would itself require a man to independently use his body in order to ask for such permission. Since then, no one can ever actually obtain such permission, under such an absurd law; all actions are not justified by such a law. By choosing to act at all, specifically by using resources or engaging in argumentation, one thereby obviously demonstrates he rejects such a lethal norm. To use one’s body to argue for such a norm is no more consistent than to argue for the norm “no one ought to argue for a norm”, that is also a performative contradiction. One cannot logically be said to accept the basic presuppositions of argumentation, which require action, conflict and proposition making, and also support this norm without contradiction.

And so, if we choose to argue, we must accept (3). Full ownership of each individual over his own physical body.

As AE shows, since norms must be objectively derived from the praxeological grundnorm of peaceful conflict resolution, arbitrary particularistic moral distinctions are unattainable positions. The intuition of slavery norms being inconsistent with the goal of peaceful conflict resolution is indeed grounded in the nature of discourse.

Normative distinctions based on skin-color, height or sexual preference are trivially arbitrary, as people of any skin-color, height or sexual preference can deny them in argument with no implied contradiction. Such a distinction has nothing to do with their ability to respect the rights of others, and implied in that, to resolve conflicts in discourse. They are fully capable moral agents.

However, what about the removal of moral distinctions, that is, broadening the category of moral agents to include animals, for instance? It can be shown that this is not the removal of a moral categorical distinction, but  in fact the introduction of one. It is because animals are cognitively “blind” to the notion of rights and the rights of others; they cannot then be logically held accountable for committing rights violations any more than a blind man can logically be punished for bumping into someone, after taking all possible precautions.  Therefore, to claim that the rights of animals should be respected by man is not to claim that animals are equal to man, but rather that animals are superior to man. Man will be punished for spitting in the face of a lama, but the lama will not be punished for spitting at his*. (*Again, to argue the lama should be punished is a clear reductio ad-absurdum)

Abortions

Abortion poses a different yet very much related question.

As far as I can see, every approach which recognizes a two-celled fetus to be a rights entitled moral agent must also completely appose abortions. The fetus was put in its current hazardous situation inside the mother’s womb by the direct actions of its parents, and so they have a moral responsibility not to kill him. Such approaches, however, are more reminiscent of the old unfounded “natural rights” approach to libertarian ethics, and are in my view inconsistent with the presuppositions of argumentation.

A fetus has been claimed to be comparable to a sleeping man. The fetus, like a sleeping man will in the future become an actor, “waking up”. By this analogy of course a sleeping man does not lose ownership of his body during sleep. This is of nothing special; as a person similarly does not lose ownership of his house while he’s away. Ownership claims must be grounded in past events, which can be known, not in future events. The future is inherently uncertain. A valid AE ownership claim must of course also be traceable to a moral agent. So, given that a fetus will most likely become a moral agent, can he be considered a sleeping man?

Since a fetus lacks the cognitive ability to respect rights, he is most certainly not currently a moral agent. However, unlike ownership over the body of a sleeping man, the body-ownership of a fetus cannot be traced to a moral agent other than his mother (and maybe father, to a lesser extent). The moral agent the fetus will presumably become, and has yet to come to existence is a late-comer with regards to the mother. Such a hypothetical moral agent never showed himself to be capable of argumentation, nor has appropriated anything. No valid rule of ownership can assign ownership to a moral agent who has yet to come into existence.

The implications of relying on nothing but cognitive ability to define moral categories, while in and of itself somewhat intuitive, can lead to some non-intuitive conclusions. The fact animals cannot logically be regarded as moral agents legalizes not only killing and eating them, but also gruesomely torturing them for no apparent reason. While such an act may be socially appalling, AE shows that it does not justify the use of violence against the torturer. Similarly the fact that a fetus is not a moral agent not only allows abortions during the entire term of pregnancy but also during the time the baby is still extremely young. This of course also includes genital mutilation also known as circumcision. While such acts are deemed discussing, they only justify the use of the powerful social sanctions a free-society will surely have in order to prevent their occurrence.

I will also note that a child does not go from having no rights to being a full moral agent in an instant. As a baby grows older and develops some cognitive ability to respect the rights of others, he also gradually gains some rights for himself. Once the child has shown he is able to fully respect the rights of others and maturely resolve disputes, he must be considered full moral agent, and has all the rights of a grownup himself.

All political systems essentially boils down to a particular idea for rules of ownership. Who should have all the guns? Who should own the means of production? Who should decide what goods a person may consume? The context of conflict resolution is therefore found at the base of all ethical discussion. This observation is what gives Argumentation Ethics its strength.

AE shows the non-aggression principle ethics to be presupposed in argumentation and therefor the only justifiable ethics. On that base we can extend, and safely expand and build a rational (libertarian) legal theory in some interesting, often non-trivial ways, relying on nothing but an apriori appeal to rationality in discourse. Let us now observe how we can use the same basic methodology used by Hoppe in AE, to examine legal situations other than simple rational conflict resolution.

Even now, that we have a rational proof that only the NAP is justified, not all people will choose rationality, and some will be criminals. This unfortunate fact poses us with two new legal problems:

  1. Self-defense.
  2. Punishment.

How then can we determine what is justified self-defense and punishment, and even prior to that- can we prove them to be justified at all?

The Hoppean approach to such a question, as Stephan Kinsella expertly shows, is to consider a hypothetical argument between an aggressor and victim. Before we do so, we must first understand the concept of Dialogical Estoppel and how it relates to the concept of a performative contradiction found in AE.

A trivial contradiction occurs in argument when one claims two contradictory propositions, such as:

  1. Yesterday I was in France.
  2. I never visited Europe.

We can only dismiss the arguer position as illogical after he had claimed both propositions. In contrast, when an arguer claims “I am dead”, we can immediately reject his position as illogical because such a claim by itself implies:

  1. The proposition maker is dead (implied by the content of the proposition).
  2. The proposition maker is alive (presupposed in the act of making the proposition).

A performative contradiction is thus an unattainable position in an argument in and of itself with no further propositions or knowledge required. A performative contradiction simply occurs when the content of the proposition (1) contradicts what is presupposed by making it (2).

We will now show that by introducing a single new piece of information we can construct a new type of contradiction called dialogical estoppel. Let the new piece of information be: “Bill cheated on his wife yesterday”(1). Of course given this information we can trivially dismiss his position if he claims “I did not cheat on my wife yesterday.” However, what if Bill makes the following broader normative claim:

  1. Claims made by fornicators should be dismissed as false. (2)

From (1) and (2) it can be deduced-

  1. “Claims made by Fornicators should be dismissed as false”- should be dismissed as false. (3)

Thus, given information about Dave’s actions, certain normative claims also imply a contradiction. Such a contradiction Stephan Kinsella terms Dialogical Estoppel, based on a similar concept in common law (In Hebrew law it is called Heshtek). Given Dave is a fornicator; Dave is estopped from claiming norm (2). Such a claim would render a Dialogical Estoppel contradiction.

Now, let’s return to the argument between the aggressor and victim. The aggressor might want to object to his punishment by claiming “Aggression against me is unjustified, because I own my body.”, and then point to AE. To claim an act is unjustified is essentially to claim such an act justifiably warrant retaliatory use of force. However, given the aggressor has himself committed an act of aggression against another person’s body, if he makes such a normative claim, he then must also accept that aggression against him is justified- in retaliation to his own actions. Therefore, an aggressor cannot object to his punishment without a dialogical estoppel contradiction. His objection, given his previous actions, simply is not logically consistent.

After the punishment has been administered the aggressor and victim are in symmetry, and so neither can be said to have a justified claim against the other. By reflecting on dialogical estoppel we can see that libertarian punishment supports a punishment proportional to the crime. One cannot claim that stealing a bubble-gum is evened by a public execution.

Find out more on Dialogical Estoppel:

Lets review two common objections to the argument in the previous post.

First-

When people engage in argument they don’t use their body, but rather parts of their body. They use the mouth, or the hands, but they don’t use their kidney! Therefor, engaging in argumentation does not imply participants recognize each other’s right to own their kidney, only the parts used for discourse.

In his book Theory of Socialism and Capitalism Hoppe examines various presuppositions of discourse (I didn’t have room to mention all in the previous post). One such presupposition is that language is capable of meaning, that is. words have an objective interpretation both parties can recognize. This of course is assumed by anyone who chooses to speak to someone else. Another such presupposition is that objects have distinct boundries. That is, objects have boundaries which can be recognized by both parties. If I hold a ball it is distinct from the air around it. The boundary of the ball is not arbitrary. I can also say you are distinct from me, we are also separateobjects. To deny this presupposition is the say the world is one big moosh. Nothing is distinct. No meaningful discourse can take place. When the following objection is raised, i.e. that the “mouth” is distinct from the body, what objective border is refered? Which specific line separates the mouth from the rest of the body? Such a line must probably dissect an artery at some point, or otherwise simply pass through flesh, blood vessels ext. To say that the “mouth” or the “hand” are distinct from the body, even the speaker’s kidney, is to deny the universe has any meaning at all.

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Second-

What you say may be relevant for the actual participants in argument, but it is not relevant to a third party. When I’m speaking to you, I can’t logically say I own you body, but, I can say I own someone else’s body with no contradiction. Imagine two slave owners talking to each other.

You must remember, we are talking about dispute resolution. When one say’s “I own someone’s body” he is really saying, I prefer unjustified violence to discourse in some cases. One cannot justify such a claim in an argument, which presupposes  justification has nothing to do with force of violence (and everything to do with content). True, one can, however, babel as much as he wants, If he were to act on his beliefs he then could not justify his actions in argument. Actual violent actions can’t be justified, only the NAP.

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See more replies to critiques here.

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