"Hoppe’s most important breakthrough has been to start from standard praxeological axioms (e.g., that every human being acts, that is, employs means to arrive at goals), and, remarkably, to arrive at a hard-nosed anarcho-Lockean political ethic. For over 30 years I have been preaching to the economics profession that this cannot be done: that economists cannot arrive at any policy conclusions (e.g., that government should do X or should not do Y) strictly from value-free economics.
In order to come to a policy conclusion, I have long maintained, economists have to come up with some kind of ethical system. Note that all branches of modern “welfare economics” have attempted to do just that: to continue to be “scientific” and therefore value-free, and yet to make all sorts of cherished policy pronouncements (since most economists would like at some point to get beyond their mathematical models and draw politically relevant conclusions). Most economists would not be caught dead with an ethical system or principle, believing that this would detract from their “scientific” status.
And yet, remarkably and extraordinarily, Hans Hoppe has proven me wrong. He has done it: he has deduced an anarcho-Lockean rights ethic from self-evident axioms. Not only that: he has demonstrated that, just like the action axiom itself, it is impossible to deny or disagree with the anarcho-Lockean rights ethic without falling immediately into self-contradiction and self-refutation.
In other worlds, Hans Hoppe has brought to political ethics what Misesians are familiar with in praxeology and Aristotelian-Randians are familiar with in metaphysics: what we might call “hard-core axiomatics.” It is self-contradictory and therefore self-refuting for anyone to deny the Misesian action axiom (that everyone acts), since the very attempt to deny it is itself an action. It is self-contradictory and therefore self-refuting to deny the Randian axiom of consciousness, since some consciousness has to be making this attempt at denial. For if someone cannot attempt to deny a proposition without employing it, he is not only caught in an inextricable self-contradiction; he is also granting to that proposition the status of an axiom.”
Some humor for Conza.
"…It is not difficult to detect that both a priori axioms—of action and argumentation—are intimately related. On the one hand, actions are more fundamental than argumentations with whose existence the idea of validity emerges, as argumentation is only a subclass of action. On the other hand, to recognize what has just been recognized regarding action and argumentation and their relation to each other requires argumentation, and so, in this sense, argumentation must be considered more fundamental than action: without argumentation nothing could be said to be-known about action. But then, as it is in argumentation that the insight is revealed that—while it might not be known to be so prior to any argumentation—in fact the possibility of argumentation presupposes action in that validity claims can only be explicitly discussed in the course of an argumentation if the individuals doing so already know what it means to act and to have knowledge implied in action—both the meaning of action in general and argumentation in particular must be thought of as logically necessary interwoven strands of a priori knowledge.
What this insight into the interrelation between the a priori of action and the a priori of argumentation suggests is the following:
- Traditionally, the task of epistemology has been conceived of as that of formulating what can be known to be true a priori and also what can be known a priori not to be the subject of a priori knowledge. Recognizing, as we have just done, that knowledge claims are raised and decided upon in the course of argumentation and that this is undeniably so, one can now reconstruct the task of epistemology more precisely as that of formulating those propositions which are argumentatively indisputable in that their truth is already implied in the very fact of making one’s argument and so cannot be denied argumentatively; and to delineate the range of such a priori knowledge from the realm of propositions whose validity cannot be established in this way but require additional, contingent in formation for their validation, or that cannot be validated at all and so are mere metaphysical statements in the pejorative sense of the term metaphysical.
Yet what is implied in the very fact of arguing? It is to this question that our insight into the inextricable interconnection between the a priori of argumentation and that of action provides an answer:
- On a very general level, it cannot be denied argumentatively that argumentation presupposes action and that arguments, and the knowledge embodied in them, are those of actors. And more specifically it cannot then be denied that knowledge itself is a category of action; that the structure of knowledge must be constrained by the peculiar function which knowledge fulfills with in the framework of action categories; and that the existence of such structural constraints can never be disproved by any knowledge whatsoever.
It is in this sense that the insights contained in praxeology must be regarded as providing the foundations of epistemology. Knowledge is a category quite distinct from those that I have explained earlier—from ends and means. The ends which we strive to attain through our actions, and the means which we employ in order to do so, are both scarce values. The values attached to our goals are subject to consumption and are exterminated and destroyed in consumption and thus must forever be produced a new. And the means employed must be economized, too. Not so, however, with respect to knowledge—regardless of whether one considers it a means or an end in itself. Of course, the acquisition of knowledge requires scarce means—at least one’s body and time. Yet once knowledge is acquired, it is no longer scarce. It can neither be consumed, no rare the services that it can render as a means subject to depletion. Once there, it is an inexhaustible resource and incorporates an everlasting value provided that it is not simply forgotten. Yet knowledge is not a free good in the same sense that air, under normal circumstances, is a free good. Instead, it is a category of action.
It is not only a mental ingredient of each and every action, quite unlike air, but more importantly; knowledge, and not air, is subject to validation, which is to say that it must prove to fulfill a positive function for an actor within the invariant constraints of the categorical framework of actions. It is the task of epistemology to clarify what these constraints are and what one can thus know about the structure of knowledge as such.
While such recognition of the praxeological constraints on the structure of knowledge might not immediately strike one as in itself of great significance, it does have some highly important implications.”
"Since considerations such as these are irrelevant in order to judge the validity of a mathematical proof, for instance, so are they beside the point here. In the same way as the validity of a mathematical proof is not restricted to the moment of proving it, so is the validity of the libertarian property theory not limited to instances of argumentation. If correct, the argument demonstrates its universal justification. (Of all utilitarian critics only Steele takes up the challenge that I had posed for them: that the assignment of property rights cannot be dependent on any later outcome because in this case no one could ever know before the outcome what he was or was not justified to do; and that in advocating a consequentialist position utilitarianism is [strictly speaking] no ethic at all if it fails to answer the all decisive question “what am I justified to do now?” Steele solves this problem in the same way as he proceeds throughout his comment: by misunderstanding what it is.
He misconceives my argument as subject to empirical testing and misrepresents it as claiming to show that “I favor a libertarian ethic” follows from “I am saying something,” while in fact it claims that entirely independent of whatever people happen to favor or utter “the libertarian ethic can be given an ultimate propositional justification” follows from “I claim such and such to be valid, i.e., capable of propositional justification.” His response to the consequentialist problem is yet another stroke of genius: No, says Steele, consequentialism must not involve a praxeologically absurd waiting-for-the-outcome ethic. His example: Certain rules are advocated first, then implemented, and later adjusted depending on outcomes. While this is indeed an example of consequentialism, I fail to see how it should provide an answer to “what are we justified in doing now?” and so escape the absurdities of a waiting- for-the-outcome ethic.
The starting point is unjustified [Which rules? Not only the outcome depends on this!]; and the consequentialist procedure is unjustified, too. [Why not adopt rules and stick to them regardless of the outcome?] Steele’s answer to the question “what am I justified in doing?” is “that depends on whatever rules you start out with, then on the outcome of whatever this leads to, and finally on whether or not you care about such an outcome.” Whatever this is, it is no ethic.”
not, as the mentioned critics seem to think, a proof that means to
show the impossibility of certain empirical events so that it could be refuted by empirical evidence. Instead, it is a proof that it is impossible to justify nonlibertarian property principles propositionally without falling into contradictions. Whatever such a thing is worth (and I’ll come to this shortly), it should be clear that empirical evidence has absolutely no bearing on it. So what if there is slavery, the gulag, taxation? The proof concerns the issue that claiming such institutions can be justified involves a performative contradiction. It is purely intellectual in nature, like logical, mathematical,or praxeological proofs. Its validity, like theirs, can be established independent of any contingent experiences. Nor is its validity in any way affected, as several critics—most notoriously Waters—seem to think, by whether or not people like, favor, understand, or come to a consensus regarding it, or whether or not they are actually engaged in argumentation.
"Second, there is the logical gap between “is-” and “ought-statements” which natural rights proponents have failed to bridge successfully—except for advancing some general critical remarks regarding the ultimate validity of the fact-value dichotomy. Here the praxeological proof of libertarianism has the advantage of offering a completely value-free justification of private property. It remains entirely in the realm of is-statements and never tries to derive an “ought” from an “is.”
The structure of the argument is this:
- (a) justification is propositional justification—a priori true is-statement;
- (b) argumentation presupposes property in one’s body and the homesteading principle—a priori true is-statement; and
- (c) then, no deviation from this ethic can be argumentatively justified—a priori true is-statement.
The proof also offers a key to an understanding of the nature of the fact-value dichotomy: Ought-statements cannot be derived from is-statements. They belong to different logical realms. It is also clear, however, that one cannot even state that there are facts and values if no propositional exchanges exist, and that this practice of propositional exchanges in turn presupposes the acceptance of the private property ethic as valid. In other words, cognition and truth-seeking as such have a normative foundation, and the normative foundation on which cognition and truth rest is the recognition of private property rights.”
— Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Economics and Ethics of Private Property
"In general, I am moving in the direction of a one-step argument in which self-ownership is not treated separately from homesteading, but as a special example of homesteading such that there is a single unified justification of both “self-ownership” and homesteading of external resources. I think the key to resolving this issue more clearly is once again better applying the subject/object distinction, in this case to the precise meaning of “self.”
In this view, the act of making use of one’s own physical body before anyone else does as part of the natural process of human development is simply the prototype of a first-appropriation (“homesteading”) act. The whole body is a “relevant technological unit” in Rothbard’s sense, a natural unity for appropriation by an actor (Let’s say you are hunting and kill a deer. If a stranger shows up and tries to arbitrarily claim a section of it, which part of the deer is yours? The whole deer; not just the patch where the arrow struck! That would be another application of the RTU idea).
Now, in the idea of self-ownership, who is doing the appropriating of the “self”? Can the “self” appropriate the “self?” What does that mean? This is where this literature has sometimes gotten confusing. The answer is there, but it’s not always clarified as well as I think it could be.
Much of the confusion stems from a double meaning attached to “self” (sorting this out is also a resolution path for the larger “mind-body problem” controversy, as Ken Wilber has suggested). To unpack this, I define the “self” as the subject, the actor. That subject can claim the physical body associated with itself, which is the “self” as an object, that is, “empirically” measurable in the physical world. Thus, the human being considered as an acting person is a SUBJECT and not any kind of physical “object.” An acting person is not just a body, not just an empirical object, like a kidney or a stone (or a kidney stone…). A subject as contrasted with a physical object is not measurable or claimable as property at all. This (subject) “self” is an intangible like an idea (the basis of anti-IP thought too, is that ideas are not scarce objects and can therefore not be properly owned). The acting person has a physically observable aspect, but is not reducible to physical substance. We are subjects-and-objects by nature.
This is why I try to bring in Ken Wilber to re-emphasize the importance of better refining our differentiation of the interior perspective of a subject (an acting person) and the exterior perspective of an object, which can be a non-bodily external “object” or a bodily “object” such as a particular part of the body in just the same sense. AE [Argumentation Ethics] is talking about subjects making statements and the nature of justifiability of claims so made. It bridges subject/object in that it treats claim-making as a physical action, which it is, rather than a disembodied one, which is impossible. It depicts a subject making use of physical resources (objects) to make propositional claims. Such resources include the acting person’s physical body, etc. In contrast to this necessary dualism, two flavors of reductionism will get you either “an object making claims” (an internal contradiction) or “a subject making claims without any physical means for making them” (an absurdity).
Actually appropriating physical objects through a process of action and claiming is a different layer from having a consciousness capable of acting/claiming. The prototype of appropriation, as I said, is using and claiming one’s own physical body. It may already be evident from the above that I am working to develop this into a one-step argument, whereas Hoppe’s presentations have been multi-step, in that self-ownership is given first and then the justifiability of other appropriations are based on it in step two. However, if we maintain a clear subject-object duality of personhood the whole way through, “self-ownership” (meaning an acting subject’s ownership of its own physical body) is not any different from any other case of homesteading scarce physical resources; it is just another result of the acquisition by an actor/subject of a physical resource, in this case, the acting subject making use of the physical body that is associated with that subject in “a subject/object duality pair” (that is, “a person” ☺). This has also been harder to see, because relative to the case of a truly external resource such as an apple, a subject is uniquely positioned to make use of and claim the physical body uniquely associated with itself, the alternative being some kind of fantastic neurobiological remote control system (although guardianship of someone incapable of acting, as below, is a more realistic alternative).
So we actually embody methodological dualism because we are more or less integrated subject/objects. Yet in theorizing, we always have to go back to asking which perspective we are talking about or taking. We may have been missing that self(own-body)-appropriation is just another case of homesteading, simply because it is so obvious that it is hard to even reflect on it. The physical body is one case of first appropriation in which it is basically impossible for it to be otherwise. (I say, “basically” because, in extremis, one could imagine a hypothetical human who was born, but never developed in such a way as to be able to discernibly act or make choices. Such a person would never develop the ability to “take over” the reigns of their own life from their initial caretakers and would presumably remain a ward of a parent or guardian).”
"Think of it this way. You don’t care about all this if people are leaving you alone. You just go about your business. But if there is a dispute over your body—say someone wants to rape you or enslave you. Then either they are willing to try to justify it, or not. If not, then they are just criminals and you have to deal with them with force or whatever. If they try to justify then they have to do so in a peaceful context. And remember: all justification is necessarily argumentative justification. That means any conceivable justification, that is, any possible norm that could conceivably be justified, has to be compatible with the norms of argumentation. And those include: peace; the presumption that there is value to cooperation; the presumption that it is desirable that people have the ability to control their own bodies (not only to argue during the argument, but to have survived in the world to the point of making the argument, which requires (unmolested) use of scarce means; etc.
The point is that you can never justify a socialist or criminal ethic. How could you do so? You would have to make an argument, in the course of a peaceful argumentation, that peace is bad. This cannot be done. It is a contradiction. So if you want to commit aggression, you either have to just do it and give up on the idea that you can justify it; or, if you try to justify it, you have to recognize that it cannot be done. By examining the structure of this from the outside, we can recognize that no socialist ethic can ever, in practice, be argumentatively justified.
And to say you do not own yourself outside of argument, is simply to say that some form of socialism is justified. How can two supposedly civilized, mutually-rights-respecting, peace-desiring people (in an argument) ever argue that it’s okay to hit people who have done nothing wrong? If you make that argument, then you have no grounds for refusing to coerce the other guy into accepting your argument—which is contrary to the nature of argumentation which presupposes that each side has the right to disagree with the other and is not being coerced.”
— Stephan Kinsella
The answer to the question what makes my body “mine” lies in the obvious fact that this is not merely an assertion but that, for everyone to see, this is indeed the case. Why do we say “this is my body”? For this a twofold requirement exists.
- On the one hand it must be the case that the body called “mine” must indeed (in an intersubjectively ascertainable way) express or “objectify” my will. Proof of this, as far as my body is concerned, is easy enough to demonstrate: When I announce that I will now lift my arm, turn my head, relax in my chair (or whatever else) and these announcements then become true (are fulfilled), then this shows that the body which does this has been indeed appropriated by my will. If, to the contrary, my announcements showed no systematic relation to my body’s actual behavior, then the proposition “this is my body” would have to be considered as an empty, objectively unfounded assertion; and likewise this proposition would be rejected as incorrect if following my announcement not my arm would rise but always that of Müller, Meier, or Schulze (in which case one would more likely be inclined to consider Müller’s, Meier’s, or Schulze’s body “mine”).
- On the other hand, apart from demonstrating that my will has been “objectified” in the body called “mine,” it must be demonstrated that my appropriation has priority as compared to the possible appropriation of the same body by another person.
As far as bodies are concerned, it is also easy to prove this. We demonstrate it by showing that it is under my direct control, while every other person can objectify (express) itself in my body only indirectly, i.e., by means of their own bodies, and direct control must obviously have logical-temporal priority (precedence) as compared to any indirect control. The latter simply follows from the fact that any indirect control of a good by a person presupposes the direct control of this person regarding his own body; thus, in order for a scarce good to become justifiably appropriated, the appropriation of one’s directly controlled “own” body must already be presupposed as justified.
It thus follows: If the justice of an appropriation by means of direct control must be presupposed by any further-reaching indirect appropriation, and if only I have direct control of my body, then no one except me can ever justifiably own my body (or, put differently, then property in/of my body cannot be transferred onto another person), and every attempt of an indirect control of my body by another person must, unless I have explicitly agreed to it, be regarded as unjust(ified).
— Informal translation from Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Eigentum, Anarchie und Staat (Manuscriptum Verlag, 2005, pp. 98-100; originally published in 1985).
Rothbard on Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics
This is an excerpt where he discusses Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics.
- Nevertheless, by coming out with a genuinely new theory (amazing in itself, considering the long history of political philosophy) Hoppe is in danger of offending all the intellectual vested interests of the libertarian camp. Utilitarians, who should be happy that value-freedom was preserved, will be appalled to find that Hoppean rights are even more absolutist and “dogmatic” than natural rights. Natural rightsers, while happy at the “dogmatism,” will be unwilling to accept an ethics not grounded in the broad nature of things. Randians will be particularly upset because the Hoppean system is grounded (as was the Misesian) on the Satanic Immanuel Kant and his “synthetic a priori.”
Randians might be mollified, however, to learn that Hoppe is influenced by a group of German Kantians (headed by mathematician Paul Lorenzen) who interpret Kant as a deeply realistic Aristotelian, in contrast to the idealist interpretation common in the United States.
As a natural rightser, I don’t see any real contradiction here, or why one cannot hold to both the natural-rights and the Hoppean-rights ethic at the same time. Both rights ethics, after all, are grounded, like the realist version of Kantianism, in the nature of reality.
— Murray N. Rothbard, Beyond Is and Ought
Let me start by asking what is wrong with the position taken by Mises and so many others that the choice between values is ultimately arbitrary? First, it should be noted that such a position assumes that at least the question of whether or not value judgments or normative statements can be justified is itself a cognitive problem. If this were not assumed, Mises could not even say what he evidently says and claims to be the case. His position simply could not exist as an arguable intellectual position.
At first glance this does not seem to take one very far. Indeed, it still seems to be a far cry from this insight to the actual proof that normative statements can be justified and that it is only the libertarian ethic which can be defended. This impression is wrong, however, and there is already much more won here than might be suspected. The argument shows us that 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.”
Arguing never consists of just free-floating propositions claiming to be true. Rather, argumentation is always an activity, too. However, given that truth claims are raised and settled in argumentation and that argumentation, aside from whatever it is that is said in its course, is a practical affair, it follows that intersubjectively meaningful norms must exist—precisely those which make some action an argumentation—which have a special cognitive status in that they are the practical preconditions of objectivity and truth.
- Libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life… Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism.
— Myth and Truth About Libertarianism
That is essentially libertarianism in a nutshell. The above definition provides the big tent perspective. As long as you are attempting to apply the non-aggression principle there can be general agreement about most conclusions. However, what one bases their justifications on does matter otherwise the agreement is merely superficial. There is no problem with fellow travelers who differ with their epistemology as long as they are radical abolitionists.
Put simply libertarianism begins from first principles with the concept of self-ownership, and original appropriation which necessarily leads to the non-aggression principle. The a priori of argumentation, or argumentation ethics offers the praxeological proof which establishes self-ownership as an axiom. It serves as a negative critique of justifiable norms. It bounds the scope of norms that can be consistently justified without pain of contradiction.
- Here the praxeological proof of libertarianism has the advantage of offering a completely value-free justification of private property. It remains entirely in the realm of is-statements and never tries to derive an “ought” from an “is.” — Hoppe, Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p345.
- My entire argument, then, claims to be an impossibility proof. But not, as the mentioned critics seem to think, a proof that means to show the impossibility of certain empirical events, so that it could be refuted by empirical evidence [such as the existence of non-libertarian societies-RPM and GC]. Instead, it is a proof that it is impossible to justify non-libertarian property principles without falling into contradictions … empirical evidence has absolutely no bearing on it. — Hoppe, p406.
Libertarianism is meta-normative, it establishes what you have a right to do. It does not say what you ought or should do. In this sense, being an axiomatic-deductive legal theory based on action it is not a part of ethics at all. , , , .
I thought I would recommend some of the not so well known but nevertheless mind-blowing journal articles that should be read by everyone in the movement, especially by those outside it. This will be the first in a series of many.
If you’re just starting out it is probably best to study the classics and introductory books. However, understanding the framework of knowledge, praxeology — the science of human action — and where the two important fields of economics and jurisprudence (political philosophy) reside is very helpful. This is the most cutting edge article out there that exists today.
Action-based legal theory is a discrete branch of praxeology and the basis of an emerging school of jurisprudence related to, but distinct from, natural law. Legal theory and economic theory share content that is part of praxeology itself: the action axiom, the a priori of argumentation, universalizable property theory, and counterfactual-deductive methodology. Praxeological property-norm justification is separate from the strictly ethical “ought” question of selecting ends in an action context. Examples of action-based jurisprudence are found in existing “Austro-libertarian” literature. Legal theory and legal practice must remain distinct and work closely together if justice is to be found in real cases. Legal theorizing was shaped in religious ethical contexts, which contributed to confused field boundaries between law and ethics. The carrot and stick influence of rulers on theorists has distorted conventional economics and jurisprudence in particular directions over the course of centuries. An action-based approach is relatively immune to such sources of distortion in its methods and conclusions, but has tended historically to be marginalized from conventional institutions for this same reason.
I don’t think the above will be bested in a very long time. It is a big read for a journal article, but do not let that put you off. It is well worth it. If you’re not a fan of reading online, I would suggest printing it out - which can be done very easily for around $5. It’s something you will come back to often. A one stop shop for understanding Austro-Libertarianism in one read.