What is incompatible with argumentation?
My purpose in this blog post is to try to separate and identify the various critical issues within Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, so that critics and proponents may agree on the basic logic and concentrate their attention instead on areas of actual disagreement. Several of Hoppe’s critics have provided attempts to formalize his logic and have pointed out various fallacies in the versions they supplied. Frederick is foremost in my mind as an example, though Long and perhaps Murphy and Callahan qualify. However, anyone can write down a sketch of an opponent’s argument and then attack the straw man. A charitable critic will try to find the strongest version of the opponent’s idea and attack that, if it can be done. Critics of Hoppe may be given some credit, in that his argument seems difficult to follow, but I believe they have misunderstood his argument. Here and in my previous post I try to provide an interpretation of Hoppe that avoids logical fallacies.
First let’s discuss the difference between the pragmatic contradiction and ordinary hypocrisy. Some of Hoppe’s defenders seem to be arguing against hypocrisy, and some of his critics also misinterpret his argument this way. What is the difference between hypocrisy and a pragmatic contradiction? Pragmatic contradictions contain conflicting descriptive truth claims, one of which is an utterance and one of which is implied in the action taken. The truth of the utterance is denied by the action of the speaker at the time of speaking. Here are some examples of a pragmatic contradiction:
- Man standing up says “I am not able to stand.”
- I am not able to communicate.
- I am dead.
Hypocrisy is about prescriptive ought-statements, the speaker expresses a prescription she does not obey, with the conflicting ideas not necessarily coinciding in time:
- “People should give to charity.” (Has never given to charity.)
- “You should not tell lies.” (Lies frequently.)
In my previous blog post, I sketched out a variant of Frederick’s logic that I believe remains consistent with Hoppe’s ideas, yet lacks the logical fallacies noted by Frederick in his own version. In my excitement to reveal my argument to the public, I failed to take enough time to make the argument clear and precise. Fortunately, that exercise revealed for me the objectives that I shall pursue in this post. Primarily, I wish to specify the logic of the pragmatic contradiction very explicitly, so that the issues raised with regard to logic may be resolved. This means I must show exactly what it means for a proposition to be compatible with argumentation or not. Once that is done, the discussion can move on to more central issues in the dispute. These other issues will be laid aside for the moment.
But I do want to re-emphasize how someone who wants to oppose Hoppe can do so within the constraints of the logic. Here is my list of approaches I think a serious critic of Hoppe may take to attack argumentation ethics:
- Argue that property ethics may be historically contingent (they change from time to time, so what was just becomes unjust) or particularistic (rules applied to one moral agent do not necessarily apply to another).
- Argue that Hoppe has not explicitly provided a proposition (referred to in the logic as q) that satisfies both of the important assumptions of the logic, that q is a precondition of argument and q is denied by non-private-property ethics.
All the above are associated in my mind with assumptions I make in my interpretation of Hoppe’s argument, and so are fair game. I am less willing, at the moment, to take seriously some other popular critiques: that the pragmatic contradiction is fallacious or somehow less damning than some other sort of self-contradiction, or referring to Hume’s is-ought problem without pointing at a specific place in the argument to say “there it is!” I also feel impatient with nihilistic arguments or discussions of non-cognitivism.
Anyhow, if we can agree on the basic logic, then we can turn to the job of establishing whether argumentation compatibility actually excludes any alternative property ethics or not, by examining what candidates we can find to act as q. Once again, I will put off that effort for later.
Here is Hoppe’s original sketch of the argument:
- (a) justification is propositional justification;
- (b) argumentation presupposes property in one’s body and the homesteading principle;
- (c) then, no deviation from this ethic can be argumentatively justified.
This sketch is too vague for us to get a grip on it. All the action happens within step (b) or by implication and is difficult to follow. Frederick sought to make the argument more explicit. Steps (a) through (d) in the following are borrowed directly from Frederick.
(a) A necessary condition of argumentation is that q is true.
This is Frederick’s interpretation of Hoppe’s step (b). At this point, I will accept Frederick’s interpretation, which is that according to the pure logic, we know nothing at all about q, except that (by assumption) when someone argues, q is true for that person at that time only. We make no claim to know anything about q for other persons or other times. So it is possible for q to be false, and we can easily imagine examples of q that are sometimes false. For example, argumentation presupposes that participants are awake. Sometimes they may sleep, though they do not argue while they sleep. So if argumentation happens, we may conclude that the participants are awake.
(b) In order to decide a truth claim, one must argue.
This is Frederick’s interpretation of Hoppe’s premise (a). Why change the order? I don’t know. There are various quibbles we can make about this (see comments section of previous blog entry), but in the context of the argument, it is innocuous. That is, the odd exceptions we might list would not convince anyone to believe something without reasons being given.
(c) Therefore, one can dispute the truth of q, only if q is true.
(d) Therefore, anyone who disputes the truth of q is mistaken.
Frederick expands Hoppe’s step (c) into 2 statements. He then proceeded to conclude (e) therefore q is true, completing his interpretation of Hoppe. But then he shows how this conclusion is fallacious. So we will not go there.
Hoppe talks about his argument as an impossibility proof. He does not need to directly show that anything is true, he instead may show that a category of propositions must be false. Here we go; we continue Frederick’s argument, adding steps to reveal my interpretation of Hoppe.
(e) Let P be any proposition that entails q is false for all times and persons.
Peeking ahead, P is a proposition that is incompatible with argumentation. It denies q is ever true for any person at any time.
(f) If there exists a counterexample where q is true for one person at one time, P is refuted.
Since P makes such a universal and timeless claim, one counterexample is enough to refute it. What sort of counterexample can we provide? Why this very syllogism!
(g) I am arguing now.
(h) q is true for me now.
Frederick assumed in (a) that q must be true for an arguer when that person argues. Combine that with (g) I’m arguing, and we know q is true for me now.
(i) P is refuted.
We showed in (h) that q was true for one person (me) at a particular time (when I wrote this) and one counter-example is all we need to refute a proposition that makes a universal claim.
Frederick noted how banal Hoppe’s assumptions are. How much more impressive is it to accomplish something remarkable with such banal assumptions? But the result at first seems weak and unassuming. We imagine a set of universally quantified propositions (statements about all people and all times) and divide them into two subgroups, according to whether they deny q, in which case they are incompatible with argumentation, or if they affirm q or ignore q altogether, in which case they are compatible with argumentation.
How do we know whether a particular proposition is compatible with argumentation or not? We need to know all the propositions that fulfill the assumption about q, that argumentation presupposes it. We can easily think of a number of trivial examples, similar to the one above about sleeping. Very few propositions are disqualified from compatibility with argumentation by such examples. Yes, “I am asleep” is incompatible with argumentation. This is not a surprise, and we didn’t need this painful logical exercise to inform us of this. But I hope that this painful exercise has clarified the logical issues. Hoppe or his defenders must show us some proposition that argumentation presupposes but that also is denied by non-private-property ethics. Implicit within Hoppe’s text is the assumption that a valid property ethic must take the form of a universal, timeless propositon, one that claims to be true for all time and for all persons. In my previous post, I argued that this assumption is plausible, though I am not sure I nailed it down beyond question.
A weakness of my approach is that my syllogism only eliminates universal, timeless propositions from argumentative compatibility. We can imagine that there could be other, less general propositions that we can eliminate, but I dealt here only with the relevant group in the context of Hoppe’s argument. I believe that is compatible with Hoppe’s text, in that his attitude toward property ethics is that they are either true always for all persons or they are simply false. So the sort of proposition my syllogism addresses are precisely those of interest to Hoppe.
Let me summarize what this exercise has taught me. If we stick to the syllogism, the pure logic, outside the context of Hoppe’s specific application of it, it divides universal propositions into two categories, those that are compatible with argumentation, and so may possibly (but not necessarily) be true, and those that are incompatible with argumentation, and so must be false. Different propositions may be disqualified by different values of q. Particular values of q are not necessarily universal or timeless propositions. If you wish to accuse Hoppe’s argument of sneaking an is-ought, you must look at his specific q. If q can be normative, it can disqualify a normative P. And even a descriptive q might disqualify a normative P (if q makes P impossible). q is where all the action is!
So, a critic who accepts this syllogism can either show that the assumptions about P (universal and timeless) need not be true of a rival non-private-property ethic, or that there is no proposition q that disqualifies the rival ethic. Hoppe’s supporters should provide a q that explicitly accomplishes Hoppe’s goal. q must be true when I argue, and it must be denied by non-private-property ethics.
Where are we now? How can we move forward?