Libertarianism and Modern Philosophers, Lecture 6 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
Libertarianism and the
Philosophers Lecture 6
The Argumentation Ethics of Hans
Hoppe and Frank van Dun
●Argumentation ethics is usually studied
separately by libertarians, but it can
usefully be considered together with the
contractualist views we have been
●Hoppe and van Dun are trying to adapt
to libertarian use a well-established way
of doing ethics.
Habermas and Apel
●Hoppe was a student of Juergen Habermas
who developed discourse or argumentation
●Another German philosopher, Karl-Otto Apel,
came up with a very similar approach.
●These writers aren’t libertarians, Habermas
began as a Marxist associated with the
Frankfurt School. Although he has become
more moderate than he was in his younger
days, he is still well to the left-of-center.
A Fundamental Mistake
●Discourse ethics, as Habermas and
Apel develop it, is an attempt to
discover the rules of conduct toward
one another that people would
●It is not an attempt to show that certain
moral judgments are requirements of
logic, i.e, that if you reject AE, you are
Types of Reason
●When we talk about reason, we can mean:
●Logical consistency. Here, someone who
violates logical laws has gone against reason,
but not otherwise. Suppose, e.g., that
someone does something very much against
his interest, e.g., walk into moving traffic.
Unless you can show that doing this violates
a logical law, it isn’t irrational in the logical
Hume on Reason
●Hume was famously skeptical about the
possibility of showing that actions were
irrational in this logical sense:
●“Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the
destruction of the whole world to the
scratching of my finger. ‘Tis not contrary to
reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to
prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or
person wholly unknown to me. ‘Tis as little
contrary to reason to prefer even my own
acknowledg’d lesser good to my greater, and
●Reason can mean something other than
logical consistency. It can deal with whether
your means will achieve your ends.
●Given that I want x, I should do do y. Mises
uses this meaning of reason. He argues that
given the ends people have, we should
establish a free market.
●Gauthier also is an instrumentalist about
reason. He asks, why is it rational for us to
have moral dispositions? By “rational”, he has
in mind instrumental reason.
Reason and the Good Life
●Another sense of reason goes beyond
instrumental rationality. Here, the claim is that
reason can establish the nature of the good
life for each person.
●Aristotle can be viewed in this way.
●Ayn Rand thought that values depend on
each person taking his own life as the highest
value. Other values are instrumental to this
Argumentation Ethics and
●AE uses a different sense of reason from the
ones discussed so far.
●Here the issue is, what would it be
reasonable for people to agree on, under the
requirement that they agree on rules that
apply to everyone equally.
●This is very much like Scanlon’s rules we
couldn’t reasonably reject. These rules
express our respect for persons.
AE and Reason, Continued
●The basic idea here comes from the second
version of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. This
requires us to treat every person as an end-
in-himself, not as only as a means.
●AE says that they way we do this is to reason
together about the norms that should apply in
our relations with each other.
●AE applies only to this part of morality. It
doesn’t apply to ethical issues that concern
how to lead a good life.
Two Mistakes to Avoid
●AE is not trying to answer the “what’s in it for
me?” question. It isn’t an attempt to argue
that it’s in our self-interest to observe the
rules it comes up with. That is a different
approach to morality.
●AE isn’t an attempt to say that you are
violating the laws of logic if you violate its
rules. As we’ll see, this leads to trouble later.
How to Get the Rules
●Habermas and Apel have an interesting
idea on how to find out what rules
people would agree on. They say,
doesn’t the process of trying to find out
the rules itself impose certain
requirements on us?
●This is what they mean by discourse or
●The claim they make is that
argumentation for this purpose, i.e., to
decide on universalizable rules,
imposes certain norms.
●AE doesn’t cover every use of argument
or communication, e.g., trying to
deceive someone. It doesn’t cover
Danny Sanchez’s fable of the lion.
●One objection sometimes advanced against
AE is that the norms it come up with apply
only to the process of argument itself. If, e.g.,
you have to recognize that everyone is a self-
owner when he argues, why does this apply
once you stop arguing?
●This misconceives what AE is trying to do.
The point is that the norms of argument
suggest what the general norms should be.
●Hoppe and van Dun suggest that the
AE norms would be libertarian.
●Wouldn’t people accept the rule that
everyone was a self-owner? If someone
suggested that one group of people
should enslave others, this wouldn’t win
agreement. This is an important point.
●To understand the next argument we have to
grasp the notion of a pragmatic paradox or
●This is different from a logical contradiction, e.
g., “HHH is both German and non-German”.
●A performative contradiction is a statement
that is false if you say it. E.g, you could say “I
am totally unconscious”, only if you were
conscious, so your saying it shows the
statement is false. Note that the statement
need not be self-contradictory. I could be
●Is it a performative contradiction if you deny
that you own yourself? Suppose you say, “I
don’t own myself.” Could you say this only if
you do own yourself?
●Why is there supposed to be a performative
contradiction? The contention is that in order
to say something, you must have control over
your own body. But just what you are implying
if you deny that you own yourself is that you
don’t have such control.
A Bad Objection
●Some people have objected, “Maybe
you only need part of your body in order
to speak, so you are not guilty of a
performative contradiction unless you
deny that you own any part of yourself.”
●Both the original claim of performative
contradiction and this objection suffer
from the same mistake.
What Is Self-Ownership?
●The statement “I own myself” is
deceptive in its form. It appears to be a
descriptive statement, one stating a
fact, like “I am an old man.”
●But it really isn’t descriptive. It’s a covert
ought-statement, something like, “I
ought to be the person who gets to
decide what to do with my body, not
Why Is This Relevant?
●If this is kept in mind, we’ll see what is
wrong with the claim that if you deny
you own yourself, you have fallen into a
●If someone denies that he owns
himself, he is saying, “It’s not the case
that I ought to be the person who
decides what to do with my body”.
●Then, if you say to this person, “But
you’re speaking!”, you haven’t pointed
to a contradiction.
●If you say, “It’s not the case that I ought
to be the person who decides what to
do with my body,” this is consistent with
the fact that you are deciding what to do
with your body.
●Why might one think that there was a
●You might think that if I’m doing something,
this implies that I think I have a right to do it ,
but this need not be true. If a thief steals your
wallet, he need not in doing so implicitly claim
to own it.
●The English philosopher William Wollaston
(1659-1754) argued that all immorality rests
on lies. A thief has made the false claim,
“This property is mine.” This is the fallacy we
●This leaves intact the basic contention
that it wouldn’t be reasonable for people
seeking agreement on universal
principles to reject self-ownership.
●Also, it seems reasonable to think that
people might agree on a libertarian
homesteading principle. But why need
this be the only logically possible rule?
●All sorts of rules are logically possible.
What’s contradictory about saying, the
third person to own property acquires
it? This would not make property
●Of course, the libertarian principle is
reasonable, but we shouldn’t make
stronger claims for it than are justifiable.