Notes on Long versus Hoppe
[Roderick T. Long, the Hoppriori Argument]
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.
Above is Long’s strawman summary restatement of Hoppe’s argument. I want to criticize Long’s argument and analyse some aspects of Hoppe’s idea that still mystify me. This is a preliminary draft.
Long questions the first proposition by writing, “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” which causes an infinite regress. Long’s interpretation is too narrow. There’s a philosophical jargon word I’ve forgotten that means “proving something is true by pointing at it.” This would not be derived from premises, yet is rationally defensible. Perhaps Long would think I am arguing against Hoppe here. I think I am arguing against an uncharitable interpretation of Hoppe.
Does Hoppe need proposition 1 to be true at all? Hoppe wants to show that one cannot argue against a precondition of argument itself. If Hoppe’s opponent can refute self-ownership without using argument, she might cause Hoppe some trouble. I am trying to think of a way. This seems like a remarkably indirect and unpromising tactic for attacking Hoppe’s idea, even if we use Long’s narrow definition of argument. If we use a broad definition, this approach loses all hope.
(In this article, I will use the phrase “self-ownership” to indicate the norm that Hoppe wishes to derive that is among the prerequisites of argument. I wish to ignore just what that means and where Hoppe got it for the moment.)
Actually, Long is correct to point out that the truth of proposition 1 depends on what we mean by argument. I take Hoppe to use argument in a very broad sense. I may argue without an audience, without an opponent, and without speaking out loud or writing. What is required is that I seek to convince someone, perhaps myself, perhaps another, using peaceful transparent means.
Why did Long phrase proposition 1 the way he did? Here is my version: “if something is true, it is possible to argue for it without contradicting yourself.”
Long picks at proposition 2 by again using the narrow definition of the word “argument”. He claims that one of the preconditions of argument would not be satisfied in the circumstances where only one sapient being remained in existence, because he would have no audience or opponent to argue with. Can’t one construct an argument in one’s head? Clearly Hoppe is not using the word in the same sense.
To refute proposition 3, Long discusses the example of a man chained down, yet who argues. Thus, the self-ownership precondition of argument seems to be violated, yet argumentation occurs. Even better, Epictetus, the stoic philosopher, was a slave. His rights of self-ownership were constantly in a state of violation while he composed his philosophy. Ha! Take that, Hoppe! Except of course, this just shows how Long has misunderstood Hoppe. Hoppe does not claim that argument cannot proceed while self-ownership is being violated. This would be absurd. It may not be perfectly clear what it means for self-ownership to be true, but it cannot possibly mean that no one is able to violate self-ownership. Hoppe means that if self-ownership were false, argument would not be argument.
To explain why this is so, I will discuss three different varieties of Hoppe’s basic argument. Hoppe uses a performative contradiction (PC) based on the propositions that argument must presuppose. Basically, Hoppe claims that a debater’s words contradict her actions when she denies a fact that the act of argument must presuppose. This invalidates her argument.
There are three kinds of prerequisite of argument that a PC might make use of (at least). Hoppe does not make this distinction, and many of his critics misinterpret him as a result. A practical prerequisite, if absent, will prevent an argument from completing. An example would be if I were to suffer a stroke while writing this sentence. In that case, a practical prerequisite of argument (the ability to compose words coherently) would suddenly change status from true to false, and my act of arguing would stop immediately. The fact that I am able to finish typing the following sentence proves that the following sentence is false: “I am suffering a stroke right now.” A practical prerequisite can change back and forth from true to false at any time, and the argument will halt when it is false or may continue when it becomes true. An argumentative slave such as Epictetus would indeed refute Hoppe, if Hoppe considered self-ownership to be this sort of prerequisite of argument. Apparently, he does not.
An epistemelogical prerequisite allows the arguer to complete an argument, but it fails to establish its conclusion. The obvious example would be the requirement that arguers obey the rules of logic. For instance:
- All men are mortal.
- Socrates is mortal.
- Therefore Socrates is a man.
If my dog is named Socrates, this argument demonstrates that I’ve made a logic error, since the premises of the argument are true, but in the case of my dog the conclusion is false. Obedience to the rules of logic is an epistemelogical prerequisite of argument. The argument can be made, but the performative contradiction caused by the action of violating the rules of logic discredits the argument. Because the prerequisite is violated, the argument fails to establish the conclusion.
Epistemological prerequisites depend upon the actions of the arguer. For example, in making an argument one either does or does not obey the rules of logic. The outcome of the argument will change depending on whether the prerequisite is satisfied or not, and as in my example about the canine Socrates, an invalid argument may be shown to be false. But their status will not prevent an invalid argument from proceeding to completion, as was the case with practical prerequisites of argument.
Hoppe’s PC does not categorize self-ownership as an epistemelogical prerequisite of argument. How do we know this? We know because obedience to or recognition of the truth of self-ownership is not required for an argument to establish its conclusion, or else Hoppe must deny all of Epictetus, and perhaps all historically existing arguments as well. Hoppe denies that actual violations of self-ownership have any relevance for his argument.
Hoppe’s performative contradiction uses a prerequisite of a third kind, which is a conceptual or metaphysical prerequisite. This sort of prerequisite must be true for argument to be argument. Effectively, Hoppe claims that self-ownership is part of the definition of argument, that if self-ownership were not true, that there would be no argument, only interrogation or indoctrination.
The laws of logic again provide an example here. But where “following the rules of logic” was an epistemelogical prerequisite of argument, and violating those rules derails argument, the existence, content and truth of the rules of logic provide an example of a metaphysical prerequisite of argument. Argument is what it is because the rules of logic are valid. Our understanding of the rules may change over time, but they are pure concepts, part of mathematics. We cannot imagine argument without rules of logic, unless we are remarkably ignorant. So, when a postmodernist uses argument to debunk logic, he creates a performative contradiction closely related to the one that Hoppe describes. (The history of the study of formal logic is long and still not lacking in controversy. Is it still possible to think of it as eternal and universal?)
Exclusive control is confusing. What exactly does Hoppe mean when he talks about argument requiring me to have either the capacity or the right to exclusive control of my body? This aspect of Hoppe’s argument still confuses me, so I will put off my analysis of this issue for another time.
Here is my summary of Hoppe’s argument:
- Argument presupposes self-ownership.
- Argument is universal, so self-ownership is universal.
- Self-ownership can’t be denied without arguing.
- Any argument that denies self-ownership denies argument, and so contradicts itself.
All the action is encapsulated in my first proposition. For Hoppe’s performative contradiction to work, we must already be convinced that argument presupposes self-ownership. Has he succeeded in convincing us? The obvious way to attack Hoppe’s idea is to question the prerequisite status of self-ownership. Once he has persuaded us that argument depends upon self-ownership, he has accomplished the difficult task, and the rest of the argument makes sense.
If Hoppe is correct, argument requires self-ownership to be true always and everywhere in order for it to make sense, in spite of the fact that self-ownership is so frequently violated and vilified. How would argument fail if self-ownership were false? We can’t test it, because it is always and everywhere true. Can we imagine how such a universe would differ from ours?
I have hinted at an explanation of Hoppe’s position above. I hope to expand upon it in a subsequent article.
Where are we now? How can we move forward?