23 Nov 2019

Stephan Kinsella Debates Bob Murphy on Argumentation Ethics

Bob Murphy Show, Gene Callahan, Hans Hoppe 13 Comments

For real, this was awesome. I spent years thinking Stephan didn’t understand what Gene Callahan and I did in our critique of Hoppe’s famous argument for libertarian property rights, and (I’m guessing) Stephan spent years thinking we were morons.

Well, we talked at least a half hour before we even found a spot where we started disagreeing. I think we both walked away with a deeper appreciation of the issues involved.

So take a listen, even if you think (a) “Hoppe’s argument is self-evidently dumb” or (b) “Hoppe’s argument is so awesome only haters don’t get it.” You will probably learn something.

Here’s the link to the audio podcast episode, with a bunch of links in the Show Notes page for further reading.

And here’s the video:

13 Responses to “Stephan Kinsella Debates Bob Murphy on Argumentation Ethics”

  1. PSzar says:

    Been looking forward to this for years!

    • PSzar says:

      “Osterfeld’s fourth objection states that my argument is an instance of ethical naturalism, but that I then fall afoul of the naturalistic fal- lacy of deriving an “ought” from an “is.” The first part of this propo- sition is acceptable, but not the second. What I offer is an entirely value-free system of ethics. I remain exclusively in the realm of is- statements and nowhere try to drive an “ought” from an “is.” The structure of my argument is this: (a) justification is propositional or argumentative (a priori true is-statement); (b) argumentation pre- supposes the recognition of the private property ethic (a priori true is-statement); (c) no deviation from a private property ethic can be justified argumentatively (a priori true is-statement). Thus, my refu- tation of all socialist ethics is a purely cognitive one. That Rawls or other socialists may still advocate such ethics is completely beside the point. That one plus one equals two does not rule out the possibility that someone says it is three, or that one ought not attempt to make one plus one equal three the arithmetic law of the land. However, this does not affect the fact that one plus one still is two. In strict anal- ogy to this, I “only” claim to prove that whatever Rawls or other socialists say is false and can be understood as such by all intellectu- ally competent and honest men. It does not change the fact that incompetence or dishonesty and evil still may exist and may even pre- vail over truth and justice.” — Hoppe

      I couldn’t help thinking you both stayed within a discussion assuming if not explicitly saying this is about “oughts”. I can’t help thinking the reason this is more commonly referred to as the a priori of argumentation rather than the original argumentation ethics is because ethics implies oughts.

      Just my two cents, this has always been what I think is the crux of the issue—The is-ought gap that Hoppe never claims to bridge.

  2. Transformer says:

    2 people live on an island and decide to have a debate to agree property rights.

    Person A says the island is hers since she first discovered and settled it. Person B says that no-one has the right to possess natural resources and the island should be held in common between them.

    Both sides justify the use of violence: A to throw B off the island, and B to resists A’s illegitimate claims to sole ownership.

    I do not see how the Argumentation Ethic helps resolve this dispute – it merely asserts that A is right.

    Am I missing something ?

    • skylien says:

      B goes into A’s (= Transformers) house, and claims that it doesn’t matter that A bought it, and A needs to share it with B. Now A what do you do?

      Throw him out yourself?
      Call the police?
      Accept and live with him in a commune?
      Who is right?

      • Transformer says:

        I would take one of the first 2 options.

        But my point is that Argumentation Ethics does not help me to justify this action.. If the invader is a committed anarcho-communist who thinks that all property is theft he can just as well invoke it to ‘prove’ he is right (and that it is me not him who is initiating violence) as I can !

        • skylien says:

          Well, I am not sure myself. I could try to talk B out of this by pointing out the necessary consequences of this thought put into action consistently.

          If it can’t be As house alone then it also can’t be As and Bs house alone and it follows it is actually the house of 7+ billion people. This can’t possibly work. So B is wrong.

          The other approach is where Kinsella comes from. Which is to say that for being able to have a civilized discussion in the first place you already have to agree that I own myself and you own yourself, not we own us together. This sets a precedent for things that are yours vs mine. If I would at least partly own you then I could decide what you would need to think and vice versa which means you cannot discuss with each other.

          In short it just means, the reason why not everyone owns me, is the same reason why not everyone owns this house. And because you discuss with me civilized proves you agree with me, else you wouldn’t discuss at all.

          I am not sure that works, but for the moment it makes sense to me.

    • Michael says:

      A isn’t right either here, especially depending on the size of the island. There is a limit to what can be claimed. You can’t land in florida and claim alaska, and if the Island is of a large size, then there are natural limits to the extent of A’s claim. B is making the same mistake, because they’re using the same logic – both people own everything – no, most of the island is unowned even with A and B as the only people there, at least as soon as C shows up.

      What those restrictions are should be the nature of debate, not whether they exist.

      • Harold says:

        The limits seem to be poorly defined, but Transformer’s point remains.

        This is one of those arguments that immediately seems wrong but is harder to pin down why.

        Taking his argument

        (a) justification is propositional or argumentative (a priori true is-statement);
        Say we grant this for the sake of argument.

        (b) argumentation pre- supposes the recognition of the private property ethic (a priori true is-statement);
        Well, it presupposes some sort of private property ethic, but quite limited. It presupposes some sort of right to say such and such at that moment, but nothing else. I don’t think that is what Hoppe means by “the private property ethic.” The implicit acceptance of the right to say something does not mean you own your body, just that you have some rights over certain uses of some of it.

        (c) no deviation from a private property ethic can be justified argumentatively (a priori true is-statement). Why? By making an argument, I implicitly accept that I have the right to do so, but I can argue I do not have other rights over my body or my life.

        Take an AI for example, that was created with the minimum capacity for argument about one specific thing only. Say it can only argue about whether cheese is better than ham, for which it has very extensive capacity to analyse. I put it to the AI that ham is better, but it responds that cheese is better because it believes that is the case. By making that argument, does the AI necessarily own itself?

      • Transformer says:

        I had in mind a small island that could be homesteaded by one person, but could easily sustain more.

        The point I was trying to make is that Hoppe does not provide (IMO) a very strong proof that that acceptance of the ‘first appropriator’ principal is the best way to avoid conflict over property rights. There is no reason for example why a anarcho-communist could not claim their view of communal property rights is stronger.

        • Transformer says:

          And of course Hoppe believes that proposing any model for property rights other than ‘first appropriator’ is argumentatively unjustifiable.

        • Tel says:

          Even if Hoppe did provide such a proof, it would require some direct empirical knowledge which cannot be generated out of any “Argumentation Ethics”.

          You would need to know how people behave, what sort of territory one person is likely to make use of, likely conflict situations, and a bunch of other stuff.

          There is no reason for example why a anarcho-communist could not claim their view of communal property rights is stronger.

          There’s no reason they can’t claim that some invisible but all powerful being has bestowed precisely this property unto them and no one else and that only they can correctly interpret the signs that prove this to be true. *shrug*

          • Transformer says:

            What’s cool about natural rights Libertarianism is that it is based on the premise that it is not OK to force people to do what they don’t want to do no matter what justification you may come up with for doing so

            My take away from Hoppe is that he shows that ethics has to be be demonstrated via argumentation. One of the ground rules of argumentation is that the use of (or threat of ) force during argumentation would make said argumentation invalid. So it follows that non-libertarian ‘arguments’ (that is: ones that say its OK to use force) are invalid so can never be derived from pure argumentation.

            I really like this outcome and am very ready to embrace it.!

            The problem for me is when more generalized property rights (rather than more narrow rights to self-ownership) are invoked. Of course its not OK to initiate force against legititmately owned property just as much as its not OK against people – but when Hoppe attempts to use the same argumentation idea to evaluate claims about different system of property rights its seems a bit circular (and he actually uses what seem like utilitarian arguments to justify this) for him to just declare that Lockean property rights are the only ones compatible with the ground rules for argumentation.

  3. Harold says:

    Some notes I made whilst listening.
    14:00. Argumentation is a subset of human action to accept what you are saying and deal with them with peace and respect. You are not coercing them.
    Jordan Peterson rejects the very idea that this is possible. Hierarchies exist and are unavoidable and cannot help but influence the argument. We can see that dogs (and most animals) manage to negotiate well with very little violence. they generally negotiate the use of scarce resources without violence. Humans do as well. I do not usually fall back on Peterson, but he has a point here. Humans cannot engage in pure rational argument. You touch on this in your discussion concerning for example the right not to be fired. Peterson says that the implicit threat of violence in discourse between men is what keeps it civil, which I think is going way too far.

    About 41 mins: Because resources are scarce we have to believe there should be some owner. It depends on what you mean by owner. If I wish to walk on a path you could say I want to own the path I occupy for the duration i pass along it. I wish to use the resource of the space I take up. However, ownership is immaterial unless I meet someone passing the other way – then the resource becomes scarce. We must decide who steps aside, or if you wish, who owns the scarce resource of the space for the duration of the passing. We can say this is a dispute over ownership, but that would be an odd way to put it. There is not necessarily any sense of continuing ownership involved, even if we can argue we are discussing use of scarce resources.

    No one can object to humans finding an unused resource and using it. People can (and pretty much do) object to anything. Unused by humans does not mean unused by other things, and some believe they have rights too.

    Next insight – an earlier user has to have priority. That does not logically follow. What if the earlier user is not using it at present? The resource is then unused and could logically be appropriated by the next person. Stephan says “otherwise there is no such thing as property rights at all” but that is not the case – we can have these temporary property rights. He says the owner has to have ownership until they choose not to but there are alternatives. He can have ownership until he stops using it. We certainly do not have to do so, and if we do it will necessarily result in a lot of scarce resources going very under used.

    45 mins: Bob, you say you are fine with self ownership, but didn’t you say God owned your body?

    You can treat a prisoner differently based on a “relevant difference” – that he committed an act of aggression. A slave being black is not a relevant difference. How do we know what is relevant? Does this mean that anyone that commits an act of aggression can be treated differently? How differently? Since we all commit acts of aggression it leaves the argument in the realms of the hypothetical.

    There is some talk of slippery slopes. The whole argument seems to be a slope. You must have some control to conduct a argument therefore you must own yourself.

    “We don’t need to debate whether we want humanity to die off or to prosper.” Not true. There are many who think humanity ceasing to exist would reduce suffering. Buddha and the Cathars to name two. Basing a supposedly fundamental argument on such misconceptions illustrates why it does not do what it says it does. Stephan says Hoppe’s argument is pointing our attention at this fact, but it is not a fact. It is a false statement.

    If one assume that everyone shares specific values in order to engage in argument one is wrong. The argument must be universal, so it must also apply to non-humans that can argue. This depends on what we mean by argue, but it is certainly supportable that when I tell my dog “no more dinner” and she says “wufff ggrrl” and bounces a bit she is arguing.

    He says you reject the is/ought problem, but I don’t see that. If you want to prosper you ought to follow God’s rules. Gods rules are the “is” for you, whether you obey is the ought. Did I miss something?

    I am with Bob on the stuff surrounding the unicorn justification – Stephan’s position makes little sense. It is trivially obvious that because someone comes up with a fallacious justification for something you believe in, you should not just accept that argument. I don’t understand why he is arguing for that, but I don’t think it is central to the argument.

    He asks “what could the proof be? Maybe there is no proof. There are true statements that have no proof within any systems of axioms. We accept most things without proof, based on evidence. Fermat’s last theorem is a good example – it was accepted as true before the proof. Anything in science is another example. We do not progress in science by proving things.

    Anyway, these were my thoughts as I listened to the podcast.

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