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Kim Davies on the Transcendental Foundations of Ethics


I have previously posted on Frank Van Dun's stimulating and promising draft comments on Hoppe's argumentation ethics defense of libertarianism. I've long been fascinated by Hoppe's argument and any related ones, which led me to publish New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory in 1996. In 1997 I received an email notice about a talk to be given by Kim Davies on "The Transcendental Foundation of Ethics". I had not been successful locating Davies or any of his work, but recently I located him (the wonders of the Internet and Google); he's Deputy Principal at Gateshead College. He sent me an outline/summary of The Transcendental Foundation of Ethics.

As Davies wrote to me,

As you can see from the outline of the talks, the argument was rooted in the discussions on transcendental and first philosophy. I published 4 or 5 articles in traditional philosophy journals (Analysis, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research) but these dealt with the initial ground clearing rather than the key developmental arguments. I am currently working on preparing some of the rest of the material for publication ... but that will take a while. My view is that the argument, if successful, provides a deeper grounding for ethical principles than argumentation ethics as it grounds them in the necessary conditions of the possibility of thought. Nevertheless, I find the line of thought in Van Dun's paper appealing, and his criticisms of the authors in his sights [Callahan & Murphy] compelling. I attach some material which aims to give a clearer summary of my line of thought. Although the argument does not get as far as outlining a position on rights, I think the trajectory is clearly in that direction....

It seems pretty clear to me that Davies's approach from point 5.15 to the end is basically compatible with and buttresses Hoppe's argumentation ethics approach. And a correspondent wrote me,

Kim Davies wrote "My view is that the argument, if successful, provides a deeper grounding for ethical principles than argumentation ethics as it grounds them in the necessary conditions of the possibility of thought." I suppose "If successful" means "If successful in [a series of] argumentation[s]". The "apriori of argumentation" still stands [i.e., Hoppe's "argumentation ethics" approach]. Otherwise, I have no serious objections to the argument.

I look forward to seeing more from Davies, especially a fleshed out version of his argument. I hope that he can avoid some of the pitfalls identified previously by Hoppe--for example, Hoppe has pointed to the mistake made by Alan Gewirth/Roger Pilon in grounding his ethics in action instead of argumentation (see e.g. endnote 6 to chapter 7 of Hoppe's A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism and note 18 to ch. 6). Hoppe has also noted many times that one mistake commonly made by discourse ethicists insufficiently familiar with the Austrian (Misesean) school of economics and its praxeology, is that their ignorance of the economic concept of human action and its praxeological implications leads them to error. For instance, in note 18 to ch. 6 referenced above, Hoppe notes:

Gewirth might have noticed the ethical "neutrality" of action had he not been painfully unaware of the existence of the well established "pure science of action" or "praxeolcgy" as espoused by Mim. And incidentally, an awareness of praxeolcgy also might have spared him many mistakes that derive from his faulty distinction between "basic:' "additive" andunonsubtractive" goods...

[Hoppe has several similar criticisms of other discourse ethicists and philosophers, showing how economic ignorance led to shortcomings in their theorizing; I cannot find them at hand online, and will try to locate and post them later.]

A friend also noted that "Davies apparently does not [fully] appreciate that the proposition in 5.6 'Thought is not merely a matter of abstract [something], it must inform a non-conceptual ('practical/lived') involvement with reality' applies par excellence to argumentation (which is involvement with another real person).

Hopefully, Davies can avoid these mistakes and make real progress in this area.


Update: Davies sent me his Review of K-O Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy (1980), Radical Philosophy 30 Spring 1982. Davies noted to me, "I am beginning to get a feel for where I differ from the consensus around discourse/argumentation ethics and will try to put something down over the next few weeks - ... . I'll also look at the last section of my thesis and get a version over to you for any comments: this would help with the issue of whether this kind of transcendental argumentation has to start where I start, or can start from the position of practical engagement in discourse/argument."


Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.

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