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Revisiting Argumentation Ethics

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Since 1988 I've been fascinated with Hans-Hermann Hoppe's "argumentation ethics" defense of libertarian rights. This was around the time I was exposed to the legal concept "estoppel" in a contracts law class, which I ended up using in my own arguments for libertarian rights. I gave an overview of Hoppe's and related rights theories in my 1996 JLS article "New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory" and in the "Discourse Ethics" Wikipedia article, which I started.

When Hoppe's theory was sprung on the libertarian world in the late 1980s, a number of thinkers weighed in, including Rothbard, David Conway, David Friedman, Tibor Machan, Loren Lomasky, Leland Yeager, Douglas Rasmussen, and others (linked here). Rothbard, in particular, saw the magnitude of Hoppe's achievement (as I noted in "The Other Fields of Praxeology: War, Games, Voting…and Ethics?"; see also the related comments in my post "Hoppe and Intellectual Property: On Standing on the Shoulders of Giants"). He wrote:

In a dazzling breakthrough for political philosophy in general and for libertarianism in particular, he has managed to transcend the famous is/ought, fact/value dichotomy that has plagued philosophy since the days of the scholastics, and that had brought modern libertarianism into a tiresome deadlock. Not only that: Hans Hoppe has managed to establish the case for anarcho-capitalist-Lockean rights in an unprecedentedly hard-core manner, one that makes my own natural law/natural rights position seem almost wimpy in comparison. (Rothbard, "Beyond Is and Ought"; see also Rothbard, "Hoppephobia")

Tantalizingly, Rothbard concludes his piece:

A future research program for Hoppe and other libertarian philosophers would be (a) to see how far axiomatics can be extended into other spheres of ethics, or (b) to see if and how this axiomatic could be integrated into the standard natural law approach. These questions provide fascinating philosophical opportunities. Hoppe has lifted the American movement out of decades of sterile debate and deadlock, and provided us a route for future development of the libertarian discipline.

(Hoppe's responses to some of his earlier critics, collected and reprinted in the appendix to his 1993 book The Economics and Ethics of Private Property are powerful and decisive.)

Since then there have been other commentaries on Hoppe's argument, including Roderick Long's "The Hoppriori Argument" (stating that, though he has some misgivings and is not yet convinced, "I think a Hoppe-style argument might well work") and Murphy and Callahan's "Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Argumentation Ethic: A Critique" (Anti-state.com, Sept. 19, 2002). I tried to explain—no doubt inadequately—some problems I had with Murphy and Callahan's critique in my article "Defending Argumentation Ethics: Reply to Murphy and Callahan" (Anti-state.com, Sept. 19, 2002); there was an ensuing discussion in the Anti-state.com forum, but if memory serves, M&C never did respond directly to most of my points. Nor did they in their 2006 JLS article, based on their 2002 Anti-state piece (it did not so much as cite my previous criticism of their earlier piece). The Murphy-Callahan critique of Hoppe was also itself criticized in a draft paper by Frank van Dun.

This week Libertarian Papers published two interesting pieces on argumentation ethics: Frank van Dun's powerful, sublime, and deeply learned "Argumentation Ethics and the Philosophy of Freedom" (based on his earlier working paper mentioned above) and Marian Eabrasu's thorough and scholarly "A Reply to the Current Critiques Formulated against Hoppe's Argumentation Ethics."

It's a veritable feast for libertarian argumentation ethicists and Hoppeites!


Some may also find of interest my post "Extreme Praxeology." My post "Quotes on the Logic of Liberty" contains a number of gorgeous quotes from famous and libertarian thinkers compatible with many of Hoppe's themes and arguments, as does my "New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory" and the Wikipedia article on discourse ethics.


Stephan Kinsella

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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