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Explaining Argumentation Ethics and Universalizability Concisely to a Facebook Friend

Lightly edited interchange with a (non-native English-speaking) friend on Facebook who had some questions about Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. Let’s call him “Raphael”.

Raphael: Hello Kinsela. I have a legitimate doubt about Hoppe’s ethics. One of the premises of Hoppe’s ethics is that any assertion can only be justified in an argumentation. That is, in a propositional exchange between individuals. But the question is, when the individual writes an article, or lecture, is he not justifying assertions without arguing with another individual?  FEB 19, 2019, 11:48 PM

Stephan: The idea is simply that justification is argumentative justification. This is undeniable since if people disagree in this they are arguing .  FEB 20, 2019, 8:19 AM

Carlos: So the justification that Hoppe talks is presupposed to argumentative activity? FEB 20, 2019, 9:53 AM

Stephan: I think Hans in his writing has observed that you are engaged in argumentation, of a sort, even if you are reasoning by yourself. But the main point is; you can think on your own and come up with ideas, but when it comes to argumentative justification of proposed norms…. remember, this would never exist for Crusoe alone on his island. There would be no norms. There are no potential human interactions or conflicts to solve with rules or norms. So any norm is proposed as being a norm that applies to multiple people in society. For the norm to work, it must be generally accepted as legitimate by others. That is why it must be “justified.” If it’s just a norm that A believes in but has not explained reasons for it to others, they have no reason to even regard it as a norm they must follow. To be a norm is it be a justified norm. For this to happen–for the norm to become justified–, someone has to propose the norm and provide reasons for its adoption. This is what argumentation is. You simply can’t have a justified norm if it has not been justified, and the process of justification just is this dialogue between multiple actors where reasons are given, discussed, and then accepted as persuasive.

Thus, all norms are justified norms; and all justification just is argumentative justification–the result of dialogue or discourse between members of the relevant community.

This is all simply background about the structure of what norms are and what justification is. It is argumentative justification.

So then Hans’s real insight is to take all this and simply observe: that this argumentative interaction itself has some normative presuppositions–peace, respect for others’ property rights and body, etc.–so that whatever norms you propose, cannot contract these implicit norms. Since all norms are justified norms; and since all justification is argumentative justification; this means that norms and the process of justification are connected–in that no norm could ever be coherently proposed, if that norm undercuts the very norms of argumentation itself. That would be a contradiction.

So in a sense, normative argumentative justification consists in (a) identifying the grundnorms implicit in argumentation itself, and (b) comparing one’s proposed norms to these grundnorms to make sure they are not incompatible.

Raphael: So justification is necessarily argumentative justification? So for me to create a norm do I need to justify it to society by being a rule to individuals?

Stephan: yes. Someone does. The rule needs to be known, and reasons for it need to have been presented, understood, and accepted.

Raphael: Ok, thanks a lot . THU 9:38 PM

Raphael: Kinsella, what exactly is Hoppe’s definition of “justification”? Sorry about these questions, i don’t have good english so I do not feel confident to read Economics and Ethics of Private Property

Stephan: I’d have to look it up to be precise, but probably something like: providing universalizable reasons for a proposition.

Raphael: So providing universalizable reasons is only possible in an argumentation. Hoppe said justification of anything is argumentative justification. When a person says 1+1=3 and justify that with some reason that isn’t justification because justification is only argumentative?

Stephan: You don’t need to “justify” factually statements really–it has to do with proposed norms or rules that can affect the parties to the argument

Raphael: Ah, then it’s applied only for norms and rules that aren’t the libertarian ones? Not any justification of a random topic? 7:49 AM

Stephan: I mean when we make a factual or empirical assertions, there are methods to “justify” that claim–evidence, experiments, data. The empirical methods, the scientific method, etc. But when one proposes a norm to another person, that should be applied and binding to both participants, then the rule must be universalizable in order to be acceptable.

And then, because of the is-ought gap–because we now that you cannot logically deduce an ought (norm) from mere facts or is-statements, the only way the two participants can agree mutually on a norm, is if the proposed rule is derived from or based on some earlier norm that both participants necessarily share–so that basic or grundnorm must be one implied by the activity of argumentation itself, since that is something the participants cannot deny or object to. And so the task is simply to identify what those implied norms of argumentation are, and then see what higher level norms can be derived from or based on them

Hoppe basically points out that if you propose a norm (during argumentation, necessarily) then it cannot be viewed as just–it cannot be accepted as valid by all parties–if it is not universalizable. I.e., it has to be applied equally to all participants unless there is a good reason–grounded in the objective nature of things–to treat participants differently. For example, A says “the rule I propose is I can hit you, and you cannot hit me, because I am me, and you are you”–that is particularizable and not universalizable. To fail to universalize is really to fail to give reasons. You are simply asserting the different treatment. this is, in the end, no different than simply proceeding without an argument, without reason. It is failing to distinguish norm from fact, right from might. Now if A says “I can hit you and you cannot hit me, because you previously committed aggression against me and are now estopped from complaining, while I did not use aggression against you” — that is a fact grounded in the nature of things. In this case the rationale for A being able to hit B (to punish him) and B not being able to hit A in return, is not particularized. It is based on a universal rule: No one may initiate aggression against the other.

And then, you cannot have a rule proposed that contradicts the implied norms of argumentation itself (basically peace, the right to use one’s body and property, etc.) because it is then contradictory and that means it is incoherent and cannot be true (valid).

In short, the essence of justifying interpersonal norms lies in identifying the underlying norms presupposed in argumentation itself–and realizing that these are basically the libertarian norms, or the libertarian grundnorms (basic norms that imply the libertarian norms).

This is why some call it a transcendental argument

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  • Dave Burns March 1, 2019, 2:25 pm

    “The idea is simply that justification is argumentative justification. This is undeniable since if people disagree in this they are arguing . ”

    The fact that I am arguing demonstrates that I think I can justify something by arguing, but does not show that I can’t also justify something in some other way. All argumentative justification is justification, but is all justification argumentative justification? I think so, but the argument above does not establish that.

    Even if we couldn’t show that justification is only argumentative justification, I think this is sufficient. If the critics of private property admit that they cannot justify their conclusions by argument, and must turn to some other method of justification, this alone is a serious retreat (though maybe some postmodernists would feel comfortable about it, but you can’t have a sensible discussion with them in any case). And the burden of proof would clearly be on them to provide this alternative, which they would not be able to do.

    Given your definition of justification provided above, I think we could come up with a more bullet-proof argument, but I am too lazy to actually do it.

    • Stephan Kinsella March 1, 2019, 8:45 pm

      “all justification argumentative justification? I think so, but the argument above does not establish that.” I think it is, but I don’t think i intended to establish it by the above cursory comments. Hoppe does in his more extensive writing, IMO.

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