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“Reply to Roderick Long on Argumentation Ethics” by Alexander C.

This was originally published as: “Reply to Roderick Long on Argumentation Ethics” (September 17, 2021) by Alexander C., but it is now down and not archived. The original text, which he had emailed to me, is below:

Long presents Hoppe’s argument as follows:

1. No position is rationally defensible unless it can be justified by argument.

2. No position can be justified by argument if it denies one or more of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange.

3. Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy exclusive control over her own body.

4. To deny the right of self-ownership is to deny exclusive control over one’s own body.

5. Therefore, the denial of the right of self-ownership is rationally indefensible

There may be a problem with the representation of 1 and 3. For 1, a position cannot possibly exist if it cannot be argued for or against. This is impossible to prove otherwise because once somebody attempts to present an argument which cannot be argued, they are already arguing said position. So it’s not that a position cannot be defended unless through argument, but that no position exists which cannot be justified through argument. But this interpretation of what Long is representing could be a strawman, I repeat, COULD be, so I will review his full argument later. For 3, this can fall into word-play very quickly, as one could argue that 3 is simply a non-sequitur on its face, so for sake of argument I assume that Long is simply summarizing 3 to be as short as possible, while still implicitly putting forward the entire argument.

Putting the above, possibly meaningless, discussion aside, Roderick Long goes through each point after noting that the argument does, in fact, follow, and tests their validity.

Long writes:

Is premise (1) true? Not obviously so. It depends, I suppose, on what counts as an argument. (Does Aristotelean “negative demonstration” count? Does coherence among propositions count?) But if argument involves deriving a conclusion from premises, then (1) seems to say that no position is rationally defensible unless it can be derived from premises. But presumably the premises themselves must be rationally defensible too; deriving a conclusion from premises that are not rationally defensible is hardly going to confer rational defensibility on the conclusion. So those premises, too, must be justified by argument – and so on for the premises of that argument. Thus we are launched on an infinite regress, with the apparent upshot that no position can be rationally justified – a performatively contradictory assertion if there ever was one.

It should be noted here that all truth claims are made in argumentation, that being any proposition which a proponent or opponent tests the truth value- if it’s correct, undetermined, or incorrect etc- of. So if whatever possible concept can meet this criteria, for example the previously mentioned negative demonstration, then it counts as an argument. We must also not forget that some propositions are starting propositions, usually self-evident ones. So we don’t even need to justify those propositions or premises specifically. Argumentation ethics is built upon these first principles.

For premise 2 Long writes:

Consider the statement “I am the only person left alive.” One can certainly imagine circumstances in which one would be warranted in endorsing this statement on the basis of the available evidence. (The last astronaut left on the space station watches the Earth explode ….) Hence the statement could in principle be justified by argument. Yet it certainly denies one of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange – namely, the existence of other arguers.

First, the statement by itself is a truth claim, but the question of if it is an argument depends on the situation. If he is trying to justify this statement to another person, he would be acting in a contradiction. If he was justifying this to himself, as in the scenario of the exploded earth, then no problem is presented as it is not an argument, as argument, as Long pointed out, is an interpersonal exchange, so the proponent of this statement would be saying things for the sake of saying things instead of arguing. But regardless, the fact that the statement above can be justified by argument is all that matters.

It is also true that, if it were true that only one person was alive, then the problem of norms would not exist, and therefore argumentation ethics does not apply here.

For premise 3 Long writes:

Is premise (3) true? I don’t see why. Do you really have to have exclusive control over your entire body in order to engage in argument with me? Couldn’t I, say, have your body shackled yet leave your mouth free?

This critique is very commonly brought up, so fortunately it has already been refuted. Argumentation ethics does not argue that violations of self-ownership can happen during argument, but rather that they cannot be defended. For further refutation look to Frank van Dun and Marian Eabrasu, who have published papers on the topic.

Premise 4 Long spends the most time on:

Is premise (4) true? I find it ambiguous. What does it mean for me to deny your exclusive control over your body? I might be denying the fact of your control – or the legitimacy of your control – or your right to exercise such control. These are three different things. For example, suppose you aggress against me; then I can acknowledge the fact that you are exercising control over my body, without acknowledging the legitimacy of your doing so. In the same way, then, I can acknowledge the fact that you are exercising control over your own body without committing myself to the legitimacy of your doing so. Indeed, just as I can engage in activities (e.g., self-defense) that presuppose the fact, though not the legitimacy, of your aggression against me, so I can engage in activities (e.g., argumentative exchange) that presuppose the fact, but not the legitimacy, of your control over your own body. Thus acknowledging the fact need not involve acknowledging the legitimacy.

Likewise, acknowledging the legitimacy need not involve acknowledging the right. To say that your action is legitimate is to say that you violate no moral duty in performing the action; but it doesn’t imply – as a right would – that I am morally bound not to interfere with your performance of the action. Suppose a tiger attacks me. I don’t think the tiger is doing anything immoral, since I don’t regard tigers as responsible agents. Hence I grant that the tiger’s attack is legitimate, but I still regard myself as justified in using force to defend myself. Or suppose you and I are shooting hoops, and you try to block my shot. I acknowledge the legitimacy of what you are doing, but I don’t have to let you succeed. In the same way, even if I acknowledge the legitimacy of your exercising control over your own body, that is in principle compatible with my being justified in doing my best to interfere with that control.

Premise (4) is true if denying exclusive control over one’s own body means denying the right to such control – but not if it means merely denying either the fact or the legitimacy of such control. Hence we had better interpret premise (4) as talking about the right, not the legitimacy or the fact – since that is the only interpretation that makes (4) come out true. But then, if the argument is to remain valid, premise (3) must likewise be reinterpreted to mean “Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy a right to exclusive control over her own body.” But why should we grant the truth of (3), under that interpretation? Whatever plausibility (3) had came from interpreting it as talking either about the fact or the legitimacy, not the right. When (3) is interpreted as talking about the right, it starts looking less like a premise and more like the intended conclusion.

It appears that Hoppe has seemingly answered these questions before, some in replies to other people:

    “Arguing is an activity and requires a person’s exclusive control over scarce resources (one’s brain, vocal cords, etc.). More specifically, as long as there is argumentation, there is a mutual recognition of each other’s exclusive control over such resources. It is this which explains the unique feature of communication: that while one may disagree about what has been said, it is still possible to independently agree at least on the fact that there is disagreement. (Lomasky does not seem to dispute this. He claims, however, that it merely proves the fact of mutually exclusive domains of control, not the right of self- ownership. He errs. Whatever [the law of contradiction, for instance] must be presupposed insofar as one argues cannot be meaningfully disputed because it is the very precondition of meaningful doubt; hence, it must be regarded as indisputable or a priori valid. In the same vein, the fact of self-ownership is a praxeological precondition of argumentation. Anyone trying to prove or disprove anything must be a self-owner. It is a self-contradictory absurdity to ask for any further-reaching justification for this fact. Required, of necessity, by all meaningful argumentation, self-ownership is an absolutely and ultimately justified fact.)”

    “To say that this principle [underlying capitalism] is just also does not preclude the possibility of people proposing or even enforcing rules that are incompatible with it. As a matter of fact, with respect to norms the situation is very similar to that in other disciplines of scientific inquiry. The fact, for instance, that certain empirical statements are justified or justifiable and others are not does not imply that everyone only defends objective, valid statements. Rather, people can be wrong, even intentionally. But the distinction between objective and subjective, between true and false, does not lose any of its significance because of this. Rather, people who are wrong would have to be classified as either uninformed or intentionally lying. The case is similar with respect ton orms. Of course there are many people who do not propagate or enforce norms which can be classified as valid according to the meaning of justification which I have given above. But the distinction between justifiable and nonjustifiable norms does not dissolve because of this, just as that between objective and subjective statements does not crumble because of the existence of uninformed or lying people. Rather, and accordingly, those people who would propagate and enforce such different, invalid norms would again have to be classified as uninformed or dishonest, insofar as one had explained to them and indeed made it clear that their alternative norm proposals or enforcements could not and never would be justifiable in argumentation.”1

“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).”2

Long has a few further concerns:

I have two broader, Austro-Athenian worries about Hoppe’s argument. (They may actually just be two different ways of stating the same worry.) First: to defend the existence of libertarian rights is to defend a view about the content of justice – but as an Aristotelean, I’m inclined to doubt that the content of justice can be settled apart from the content of the other virtues, or of the good life generally. Second: Hoppe’s argument, if it worked, would commit us to recognising and respecting libertarian rights regardless of what our goals are – but as a praxeologist, I have trouble seeing how any practical requirement can be justified apart from a means-end structure.

Konrad Graf has an answer to this in his article Action-Based Jurisprudence where he says:

Deductive legal theory, when properly applied in a given context, objectively and descriptively defines the parameters of what justice is in relation to questions of property rights, contracts, torts, and other legal matters. This yields a deeper-than-expected foundation for the traditional libertarian insistence on not mixing law with morality and the corollary opposition to “legislating morality.” Legal theory is a discrete field that, like Mises’s conception of economic theory, can provide descriptive, categorical input for use in “ought” considerations, even as legal theory and ethics remain distinct in foundations, scope, and method.

Also, see the graph on page 66 of the above article.

I still believe Long’s representation of Argumentation Ethics is flawed, so I shall finish with the argument as Hoppe puts it. I hope the above puts Long’s criticism to rest for now.

“1. All truth-claims — all claims that a given proposition is true, false, indeterminate or un-decidable or that an argument is valid and complete or not — are raised, justified and decided upon in the course of an argumentation.

2. The truth of this proposition cannot be disputed without falling into contradiction, as any attempt to do so would itself have to come in the form of an argument. Hence, the“Apriori” of argumentation.

3. Argumentation is not free-floating sounds but a human action, i.e., a purposeful human activity employing physical means — a person’s body and various external things — in order to reach a specific end or goal: the attainment of agreement concerning the truth-value of a given proposition or argument.

4. While motivated by some initial disagreement, dispute or conflict concerning the validity of some truth-claim, every argumentation between a proponent and an opponent is itself a conflict-free — mutually agreed on, peaceful — form of interaction aimed at resolving the initial disagreement and reaching some mutually agreed-on answer as to the truth-value of a given proposition or argument.

5. The truth or validity of the norms or rules of action that make argumentation between a proponent and an opponent at all possible — the praxeological presuppositions of argumentation — cannot be argumentatively disputed without falling into a pragmatic or performative contradiction.

6. The praxeological presuppositions of argumentation, then, i.e., what makes argumentation as a specific form of truth-seeking activity possible, are twofold: a) each person must be entitled to exclusive control or ownership of his physical body (the very mean that he and only he can control directly, at will) so as to be able to act independently of one another and come to a conclusion on his own, i.e., autonomously; and b), for the same reason of mutually independent standing and autonomy, both proponent and opponent must be entitled to their respective prior possessions, i.e., the exclusive control of all other, external means of action appropriated indirectly by them prior to and independent of one another and prior to the on-set of their argumentation.

7. Any argument to the contrary: that either the proponent or the opponent is not entitled to the exclusive ownership of his body and all prior possessions cannot be defended without falling into a pragmatic or performative contradiction. For by engaging in argumentation, both proponent and opponent demonstrate that they seek a peaceful, conflict-free resolution to whatever disagreement gave rise to their arguments. Yet to deny one person the right to self-ownership and prior possessions is to deny his autonomy and his autonomous standing in a trial of arguments. It affirms instead dependency and conflict, i.e.,heteronomy, rather than conflict-free and autonomously reached agreement and is thus contrary to the very purpose of argumentation.”


Roderick Long– The Hoppriori Argument- https://praxeology.net/unblog05-04.htm#10

Conza88 on Roderick Longhttp://archive.freecapitalists.org/forums/p/28575/511336.aspx#511336

The Zeroth Position- Defending the Hoppriori Argument- https://www.zerothposition.com/2016/10/04/defending-hoppriori-argument/

Dave Burns- Notes on Long versus Hoppe- https://roadmap.liberty.me/notes-onlong-versus-hoppe/

Hans-Hermann Hoppe- Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, Eigentum, Anarchie, und Staat, On the Ethics of Argumentation

Frank van Dun- Argumentation Ethics and the Philosophy of Freedom- https://mises.org/library/argumentation-ethics-and-philosophy-freedom

Marian Eabrasu- A Reply to the Current Critiques Formulated Against Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics- https://mises.org/library/reply-current-critiques-formulated-against-hoppes-argumentation-ethics

  1. [From here.] []
  2. [Preceding two paragraphs from here.] []
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