Argumentation ethics

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Argumentation ethics, Hans-Hermann Hoppe's "Argumentation Ethics" (1988) is a foundational defense of libertarian rights. Argumentation Ethics relies on the work of philosophers Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel's concept of Discourse Ethics, and further on the deontological ethics of economist Murray Rothbard. Hoppe asserts that since verbal argumentation aims to resolve conflicts in a non-violent way, only the Non-aggression principle is consistent with that aim and therefore only it can be justified without contradiction. Hoppe's approach is a praxeological examination of the act of discourse.


The argument by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a modern proponent of argumentation ethics, goes that an individual cannot consistently logically deny, in the course of argumentation, any of those things which the argument, or discourse, presupposes; doing so is to perform a performative contradiction.

The rationale on behalf of argumentation ethics is found on page 334 of Hoppe's book The Economics and Ethics of Private Property.

Argumentation does not consist of free-floating propositions but is a form of action requiring the employment of scarce means; and that the means which a person demonstrates as preferring by engaging in propositional exchanges are those of private property. For one thing, no one could possibly propose anything, and no one could become convinced of any proposition by argumentative means, if a person’s right to make exclusive use of his physical body were not already presupposed. It is this recognition of each other’s mutually exclusive control over one’s own body which explains the distinctive character of propositional exchanges that, while one may disagree about what has been said, it is still possible to agree at least on the fact that there is disagreement. It is also obvious that such a property right to one’s own body must be said to be justified a priori, for anyone who tried to justify any norm whatsoever would already have to presuppose the exclusive right of control over his body as a valid norm simply in order to say, “I propose such and such.” Anyone disputing such a right would become caught up in a practical contradiction since arguing so would already imply acceptance of the very norm which he was disputing.

Axiomatic Foundation

Hoppe notes that since scarcity exists, conflicts arise over the use of rivalrous goods between different agents. Agents can then choose to resolve their conflicts in a non violent way by engaging in argumentation. Therefore presupposed in the act of argumentation are norms contingent with the goal of non-violent conflict resolution. Among these are "language has objective meaning", "Truth claims are preferable to false claims" and "claims must be justified". These norms Hoppe terms the apriori of argumentation (APoA). The denial of norms presupposed in the act of argumentation constitutes a performative contradiction, thereby voiding the argument of meaning. Hoppe shows that any moral justification for rules of human conduct must take place in an argument, as the very act of the denial of this assertion implies the denier is engaged in an argument.

Non-Aggression Principle

Hoppe argues that only universal norms are consistent with the APoA, as arbitrary categorical distinctions, are not objectively justifiable. Hoppe then argues that since argumentation requires the active use of one's body, all universal norms for resolving conflicts over the human body aside from full self-ownership are inconsistent with argumentation. Hoppe then shows that since the resolution of conflicts over external resources must also be objectively justifiable in a conflict avoiding way, only the establishment of an original objective link vis a vis original appropriation (i.e. homesteading) is consistent with argumentation. From these Hoppe concludes that only the non aggression principle of self ownership and Lockean homesteading can be justified in an argument without an implied performative contradiction[1].

Reception and Criticism

Many modern libertarian scholars have accepted Hoppe's argument, among them Murray Rothbard[2], Walter Block, David Gordon, and Stephan Kinsella. Economists Bob Murphy and Gene Callahan have expressed criticism[3]. Stefan Kinsella has addressed their criticism[4]. Professor David Osterfeld has also expressed criticism, which was addressed by Hoppe[5].

Another criticism is that argumentation ethics conflates the ontological concept of control of one's self with the ethical concept of self-ownership. That is to say, just as someone has the ability to control one's self, that does not give rise to why another ought to refrain from physically interfering with that control.

See also