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.

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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.