THE MORAL INDIVIDUAL

Libertarianism, Economics, and Other Absurdities


Solving The World's Problems

It is not generally very useful in philosophy to address every wrong or mistaken view of various philosophers that have gained acceptance or popularity, especially among those who style themselves intellectuals or academics. From the beginning, with the exception of a few bursts of brilliance, the history of philosophy has been plagued with sophism, mysticism, and baseless rationalism. It would take a lifetime to even begin to address all that has been wrong with philosophy.

I am going to make an exception in this case because it is a perfect illustration of the consequences of the most common mistake in philosophy, or any discipline, which is beginning with a mistaken or rationally baseless premise.

In this case there are at least four wrong premises:

1. That ethics is social in nature.
2. That the purpose language is communication.
3. That logical argument (reason) means "debate."
4. That there is a priori (mystic unlearned) knowledge.

Economics

Economics is a branch of the pseudo-science, "sociology." The idea that a science of society, like the sciences of physics, chemistry, or biology, could be developed using the same or similar methods as the physical sciences was originally proposed by Hume, but it was Auguste Comte who first attempted to develop a science of society and coined the term, "sociology."

The whole idea of sociology was to discover the principles governing how societies, "worked," as the physical sciences discovered how the physical world, "works," which principles could then be applied to solving social problems just as the principles of biology are used to solve medical problems such as disease. The application of scientific principles to practical problems is called technology. Technology used to produce devices and methods for solving problems is called engineering. The use of sociological principles to solve social problems is called, "social engineering."

Economics assumes that societies can be understood entirely in terms of "wealth," and when the entire nature of wealth is understood, the principles determining wealth can be used to solve all (or most) social problems, from the smallest social groups to international relations. [This is an intentional simplification. The point is that economics is "social" in nature and pertains only to societies.] Like all other aspects of social science, the ultimate objective of economics is to determine how societies ought to be organized. The application of economic principles to societies is also, "social engineering."

Libertarians and Economics

There are many different views or "schools" of economics, all in disagreement with each other, and all certain they explain the nature of society. Many libertarians have a favorite variety of economics they use as the basis for their libertarian views. The school of economics popular with Libertarians is usually identified as the Austrian School of economics, identified with such economists as Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Murray N. Rothbard, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. I have no interest in criticizing any school of economics, and will address only one as my example of the four essential mistakes mentioned at the beginning of this article. That one is a version of Austrian economics attributed to Hans-Hermann Hoppe which is based on something called, "Argumentation Ethics."

Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is a German-born American, presently Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Nevada. His PhD advisor was Jürgen Habermas and associate Karl-Otto Apel, who developed a theory of "discourse ethics" or "argumentation ethics," all of the Frankfurt School, where Cultural Marxism was spawned and brought to America by Georg Lukacs, Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer; its most well known versions are critical theory and political correctness.

Argumentation Ethics

Hoppe moved to the United States in late 1980s and became closely associated with his mentor and friend Murray Rothbard. In the US, he developed his economic hypothesis of "argumentation-ethics" as a defense of libertarian rights.

I will not attempt my own explanation argumentation ethics and instead refer you to the article, "Argumentation Ethics and Liberty: A Concise Guide," which claims to explain it. Quotes and comments will be in reference to that article.

"Argumentation Ethics" is not about ethics at all. It is strictly a view of social relationships which is politics, not ethics.

Ethics consists of those principles by which individuals must live to live moral, successful, happy lives in this world. No economic hypothesis or libertarian view has anything to say about ethics. When either claims it is about ethics it is either ignorance or lie.

Hoppe says, "the concept of human nature is far 'too diffuse and varied to provide a determinate set of contents of natural law.' Furthermore, its description of rationality is equally ambiguous in that it does not seem to distinguish between the role of reason in establishing empirical laws of nature on the one hand and normative laws of human conduct on the other."

Perhaps Hoppe's understanding of human nature is diffuse, but it is human nature and the nature of the world that determines ethical principles. Ethics is determined by the requirements of human nature and the nature of reality and one either conforms to those principles or fails at life.

Having found nothing in reality (human nature) to base ethical principles on, Hoppe says, "The praxeological approach solves this problem by recognizing that it is not the wider concept of human nature but the narrower one of propositional exchanges and argumentation which must serve as the starting point in deriving an ethic."

Though Hoppe finds nothing in human nature to base moral principles on, he nevertheless assumes humans have a nature that makes them capable of making, "propositional exchanges and argumentation," without any concept of a human mind capable of knowledge and reason, or what knowledge, reason, or logical argument are—they are just assumed as one big stolen concept.

Nevertheless, he presses on, "any truth claim, the claim connected with any proposition that it is true, objective or valid (all terms used synonymously here), is and must be raised and settled in the course of an argumentation. Since it cannot be disputed that this is so (one cannot communicate and argue that one cannot communicate and argue), and since it must be assumed that everyone knows what it means to claim something to be true (one cannot deny this statement without claiming its negation to be true), this very fact has been aptly called "the a priori of communication and argumentation."

There is some very bad logic in this paragraph which I'll only mention. It is not obvious because of his odd use of order in making his argument. The normal order would be:

Premise: It cannot be disputed that ... one cannot communicate and argue that one cannot communicate and argue.

Conclusion: Any truth claim ... must be raised and settled in the course of an argumentation.

Which of course does not follow at all from the premise. In fact it is not true. It is not worth analyzing beyond the observation that what Hoppe means by argumentation is not "logical argument," but, "debate."

The basis of his argument is called, "performative contradiction." To understand what Hoppe means by that it is unfortunately necessary to quote Hoppe at some length. The following is supposedly his view of Argumentation Ethics, "in a nut shell."

[NOTE: You do need to read the entire quote. I make reference to all pertinent parts in my discussion following it. I've included it only to demonstrate I have not distorted his argument in any way.]

... the argument runs like this:

That: All truth-claims – all claims that a given proposition is true, false, indeterminate or undecidable or that an argument is valid and complete or not – are raised, justified and decided upon in the course of an argumentation.

That: The truth of this proposition cannot be disputed without falling into contradiction, as any attempt to do so would itself have to come in the form of an argument. Hence, the “Apriori” of argumentation.

That: Argumentation is not free-floating sounds but a human action, i.e., a purposeful human activity employing physical means – a person’s body and various external things – in order to reach a specific end or goal: the attainment of agreement concerning the truth-value of a given proposition or argument.

That: While motivated by some initial disagreement, dispute or conflict concerning the validity of some truth-claim, every argumentation between a proponent and an opponent is itself a conflict-free – mutually agreed on, peaceful – form of interaction aimed at resolving the initial disagreement and reaching some mutually agreed-on answer as to the truth-value of a given proposition or argument.

That: The truth or validity of the norms or rules of action that make argumentation between a proponent and an opponent at all possible – the praxeological presuppositions of argumentation – cannot be argumentatively disputed without falling into a pragmatic or performative contradiction.

That: The praxeological presuppositions of argumentation, then, i.e., what makes argumentation as a specific form of truth-seeking activity possible, are twofold: a) each person must be entitled to exclusive control or ownership of his physical body (the very mean that he and only he can control directly, at will) so as to be able to act independently of one another and come to a conclusion on his own, i.e., autonomously; and b), for the same reason of mutually independent standing and autonomy, both proponent and opponent must be entitled to their respective prior possessions, i.e., the exclusive control of all other, external means of action appropriated indirectly by them prior to and independent of one another and prior to the onset of their argumentation.

And that: Any argument to the contrary: that either the proponent or the opponent is not entitled to the exclusive ownership of his body and all prior possessions cannot be defended without falling into a pragmatic or performative contradiction. For by engaging in argumentation, both proponent and opponent demonstrate that they seek a peaceful, conflict-free resolution to whatever disagreement gave rise to their arguments. Yet to deny one person the right to self-ownership and prior possessions is to deny his autonomy and his autonomous standing in a trial of arguments. It affirms instead dependency and conflict, i.e., heteronomy, rather than conflict-free and autonomously reached an agreement and is thus contrary to the very purpose of argumentation.

"All truth-claims – all claims that a given proposition is true, false, indeterminate or undecidable or that an argument is valid and complete or not – are raised, justified and decided upon in the course of an argumentation."

This is an example of Hoppe's odd language. It is not, "truth-claims," that matter, but truth itself, and truth cannot be determined by means of debate, which is what Hoppe means by, "argumentation." As he says, "While motivated by some initial disagreement, dispute or conflict concerning the validity of some truth-claim, every argumentation [is] between a proponent and an opponent ...."

"That: The truth of this proposition cannot be disputed without falling into contradiction, as any attempt to do so would itself have to come in the form of an argument. Hence, the “Apriori” of argumentation."

Any argument based on a false premise is false. The false premise here is a subtle substitution of "debate" (which hoppe misidentifies as argumentation") for, "argument," (which is using reason to reach a valid conclusion).

Logical argument (or reason) is not "inter-personal." Every individual has their own mind and must do their own thinking. The purpose of reason, is not to convince others, but to think correctly. The purpose of language is not communication, but as the means to knowledge and thinking. One must know something before they can communicate it.

No argument between two or more individuals determines the truth of any proposition. Since every proposition that can be true must be a statement about some aspect of reality, the truth of any proposition is determined by reality, not someone else's agreement with it.

Truth is not established by agreement? If one knows the truth they know it, even if no other person in the world knows it. If Hoppe's view were correct, no one could know the truth until there was at least one other individual with whom to debate it. Absurd!

[NOTE: In case some sophist attempts to twist this obvious truth into an argument, "aren't you arguing that all truth must be established by argument is not true?" No, I'm pointing out that truth is established by individuals using their own minds to identify the facts of reality. Truth exists only in individual minds as the attribute of every proposition they know that correctly identifies or describes any fact or aspect of reality and must be achieved by their own reason. To make debate between individuals the basis for establishing truth is a denial of both the nature of the human mind and the nature of truth.]

This brings us to Hoppe's convoluted argument for what is called a, "performative contradiction." There are a million references to this phrase and, "Discourse Ethics," from which the concept is derived, which can easily be researched if you are interested. (See Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel.) His so-called argument above for the "Apriori of argumentation," is one example. The following is his longer, "explanation."

"That: The truth or validity of the norms or rules of action that make argumentation between a proponent and an opponent at all possible – the praxeological presuppositions of argumentation – cannot be argumentatively disputed without falling into a pragmatic or performative contradiction.

"That: The praxeological presuppositions of argumentation, then, i.e., what makes argumentation as a specific form of truth-seeking activity possible, are twofold: a) each person must be entitled to exclusive control or ownership of his physical body (the very mean that he and only he can control directly, at will) so as to be able to act independently of one another and come to a conclusion on his own, i.e., autonomously; and b), for the same reason of mutually independent standing and autonomy, both proponent and opponent must be entitled to their respective prior possessions, i.e., the exclusive control of all other, external means of action appropriated indirectly by them prior to and independent of one another and prior to the onset of their argumentation."

Here is a, "close as possible," plain English explanation of what the above two paragraphs say. I was going to say, "mean," but it doesn't actually "mean" anything:

"The practical rules for legitimate argument cannot be disputed, because disputing them is precisely the kind of argument that assumes them. For argument that seeks truth, those practical rules are: the arguers must agree beforehand that each arguer must be totally free to use his body or property without any interference from the other arguer."

Hoppe is saying that the act of arguing against the practical rules of argument contradicts itself because rules must be assumed to make that argument. But that is before the rules are defined. The rules essentially mean that no threat of coercion by either participant is allowed. Obviously, if someone argues against those rules he does not believe in them and would have no compunction about using force. If one rejects the rules, there is no contradiction in using force. (It happens in bar rooms all the time.)

But Hoppe specified the rules only apply to argument that seeks truth. His words were, "what makes argumentation as a specific form of truth-seeking activity possible," are the rules. But argument (debate) is never a truth-seeking activity, and almost never about truth, but about opinions, preferences, procedures, prices, feelings, or ideologies. It is not possible to establish truth by means of debate.

Check Your Premises

The whole purpose of this article is not to criticize any particular view, even though that has been one practical, (perhaps I should say "praxeological," or "pragmatic") consequence. For those who embrace Austrian Economics, or Hoppe's version in particular, I wish you well. I really have no personal argument with you.

The article is only for those who are interested in using their own minds to pursue and understand truth. While we can learn from others, and it is from others we do learn most of what we know, it remains true that only what we learn from others that we have used our own minds to understand how and why it is true, never accepting anything as true on the basis of the authority or influence of another's mind, that what we have learned is true knowledge.

That is why we must always be careful that we understand the premises that form the basis of what others teach, and why we must always discover what those premises are and whether they are based on fact or principle (based on reasoning from facts) or are just made up or guessed or assumed without logical basis.

—(10/12/16)
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