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Libertarian Answer Man: Argumentation Ethics and Particularistic Claims


A high school student sent me a question. Here’s my dashed-off reply:

On Thu, Apr 21, 2022 at 4:21 PM E wrote:

Hey Mr. Kinsella, I’ve found myself very interested in your works concerning argumentation ethics. I find myself pretty convinced of it, but I do have a few questions about it. I think I have a hang-up on particularistic norms, and their invalidity.

Your justification seems to be that when two agents are engaging in argumentation, they (prima facie) assume some common, morally relevant quality which is sufficient to grant self ownership to both of them. If they posit another property (such as only people with brown eyes have rights), they have to demonstrate how it is grounded in the nature of things.

Well the point is this. Proponents in discourse, since it is an inherently peaceful activity (you are trying to persuade each other by the force of argument alone; you are not coercing each other; which means there is an implicit agreement to agree to disagree if necessary) and it’s also inherently a practical activity involving living human beings with corporeal bodies in a world of scarcity– do presuppose the validity of peace and of each other’s ability to survive and control their own bodies, which implies self-ownership (control of their bodies) as well as the right to acquire external resources by homesteading and contract (otherwise neither one would be alive since you need to do this to survive). In other words, each participant in argumentation presupposes HE is a self-owner and has the right to acquire property rights in scarce resources by homesteading. All we know ab initio is that each person in the argument is more or less equally situated: each participant is roughly similar in relevant respects to the other; otherwise he would not be arguing with the other, he would treat the other as an animal or mere means. By engaging in discourse you necessarily regard the other as a fellow participant in discourse, that is, he has similar capacities as you have. So since you maintain that you have your natural body and property rights — it must be by virtue of your nature, your capacities; and thus, since the initial assumption is that both parties have similar natures and capacities, the guy claiming rights for himself by virtue of his nature, must grant that the other guy has similar rights by virtue of HIS nature.
If you want to claim rights for yourself and DENY rights to the other person, the burden of arguing is on you to show (a) what about your nature it is exactly that gives you rights, and (b) what about your opponent is different to justify treating him differently. That is, justice means treating likes alike and not treating unalikes alike. So you need to show a relevant difference. The difference must be both objectively (or intersubjectively) demonstrable AND relevant. So for example you could say I have rights and you don’t because I am 6′ tall and you are only 5′ tall. This is an objective difference grounded in the nature of things, but it is not a relevant difference. It is not relevance since you have not shown that you have rights because of your height. If you can show this, show it. Until you do, it’s just an “arbitrary” distinction, which is to say, it’s particularistic–“I have rights because I’m me and you don’t because you are not me”; that is, it’s not universalizable and it’s not a type of reason given that could possibly appeal to all potential participants in discourse. In other words, that is to say, it’s not a reason at all. The entire purpose of the universalizability requirement is *to give reasons*. Particularistic “reasons” are simply not.
By the way, suppose someone is burglarized my home and threatening or trying to harm my family, and i catch and subdue him until we can take the next step in whatever justice system is extant. During that time I could have a discourse with him and I would be claiming rights for myself but denying rights for him. But I can ground it in objective, relevant facts–namely, HE USED AGGRESSION AGAINST ME. That is an objective fact and a relevant one that justifies me treating him differently. Again, justice means treating like alike but it permits and even can require treating unalikes by different rules. (This answers the stupid “well slaveowners can argue with their slaves” “counterexample” by some of Hoppe’s critics; if the enslavement is unjust, then the slave owner is contradicting himself by claiming rights and denying them to the slave, since the distinction is based on arbitrary, particularistic “reasons”; but if you have justly enslaved someone as a result of some incapacitation or punishment for a crime they committed, you can in fact point to a relevant difference between you and the slave.)
As for the rest, read the above and let me know if you have further. Have you read into Hoppe’s own work on this and my elaborations? If not, you should, then come back to me.
You should read through these to make sure you have covered what’s out there, and then come back to me with any further quesitons.
I am a bit confused about two things:
1) Why the since-then norm being presupposed in argumentation only includes what is presupposed in the universal category of argumentation, as opposed to what is presupposed in the particular instance of argumentation. Essentially, why is that the prima facie assumption?
2) Wouldn’t the difference of the additional property be morally relevant if it’s the only reason that one of the agents agrees to argumentation? For example, if I say that I will only argue with you if you have brown eyes (and I will initiate force against people without brown eyes), wouldn’t that be a morally relevant difference, since it is the only reason I am granting you self-ownership?
I feel like I’m missing something and I couldn’t really find anything on it, so I’m just wondering.

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