Skip to content

Ep. 86 Further Thoughts on Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics and Essays on Praxeology

Due to listener request, Bob offers further thoughts on Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, following his discussion (on ep. 79) with Stephan Kinsella. Bob then discusses Hoppe’s profound essays on praxeology, in which he argues that Mises has solved the famous mind-body problem in philosophy.

Mentioned in the Episode and Other Links of Interest:

The audio production for this episode was provided by Podsworth Media.

About the author, Robert

Christian and economist, Research Assistant Professor with the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech, Senior Fellow with the Mises Institute, and co-host with Tom Woods of the podcast "Contra Krugman."


  1. Tel on 12/21/2019 at 6:25 AM

    There’s a difference between sport and war, and this difference is easy to explain … Sport is fair and war is unfair.

    When it comes to sport … if you need to cheat in order to win, then that’s only because you cannot win without cheating, therefore you cheat yourself because you admit there is no way for you to win fairly. We play at sport in order to understand the nature of fairness, and to decide these questions while avoiding war. The loser still has the dignity of playing the game and gains the respect of other players.

    When it comes to war … I will not lose, I must protect my family and friends, therefore I use any means, and what matters is nothing but winning. I gave you the option of playing fair and you chose not to do so … that’s your choice and my actions are in response to the choice you made. Do not complain about my unfairness … because this is war.

  2. George Autry on 12/21/2019 at 6:06 PM

    I have listened to episode 79 twice and the first part of this episode, and I think there is a point that Bob is still missing (or misconstruing). His objections, as well as his interpretation of Hoppe’s argument seems to focus almost entirely on the conditions that must be met in order for an argument to even occur. Admittedly, this seems to also be the focus of the argument made by Habermas that served as the starting point for Hoppe’s thinking. However, while Hoppe’s own thoughts may have been sparked by his reflection on Habermas, I believe that the basis of his argument is in a completely different sphere. Hoppe is not saying that arguments cannot occur unless libertarian norms are generally agreed to (obviously), or even that only libertarian norms form the basis for the peaceful conditions which facilitate argumentation. Hoppe is saying this:

    1. The only means by which the truth of any proposition can be established is through the use of language structured as a logical argument. This applies to both the positivist scientific method in which the argument takes the form of a description of factual (empirical) observations and to the praxeological method in which the argument proceeds from a foundation of a priori axioms as well as to any other conceivable method of forming an argument.

    2. The only reason to try to establish the truth of a proposition is so that one may act in accord with true propositions, thus avoiding actions unsuited to the goals or preferences of the actor.

    3. If argument is engaged in, each party to the argument must implicitly accept that the purpose of the argument is as stated above. That is, whether in trying to convince oneself or someone else of the truth of a proposition, the purpose is to influence the behavior of an actor. (Note that the statement “argument is engaged in” is true only if the conditions for argument to occur are present, thus whether or not one can only argue with a full stomach, or while occupying space, or while being conscious and in control of one’s body, or in peaceful circumstances is entirely irrelevant. If argument occurs, then necessary and sufficient conditions for it must have been present, regardless of whether they involve libertarian norms or not.)

    4. As an aside from the main argument presented here, it is clear that one may choose to influence the behavior of another actor by other means than by convincing him or her of the truth of a given proposition, for example by deceit or coercion. These alternative means do not constitute valid argument and are thus irrelevant to Hoppe’s thesis. However, I would point out that each of these methods of exerting influence implicitly recognize the principle of self-ownership, since each is an indirect method of directing the actions of another (obviously one can influence oneself only through introspective argument.) If one knew of a way to negate de facto (as opposed to legalistic) self-ownership and take direct control of another’s mind and body, it seems unlikely from a purely pragmatic standpoint that any other method would be chosen to achieve a highly valued end that required the actions of another actor. This is going rather long for an aside, but my point is simply that self-ownership is an indisputable fact at present. If the scientific means to achieve body-snatching is ever discovered, we will have bigger problems than reaching agreement on Hoppe’s argumentation ethics.

    5. If an actor chooses argumentation as the means for influencing another, with the goal of coming to mutual agreement on the truth of a proposition, or even with the goal of deceiving his correspondent, his act demonstrates that he implicitly accepts the other’s self-ownership, that is, he accepts that neither he nor any other sentient being engaged in argument can accept the truth of a proposition by other than a voluntary choice.

    6. Ergo, any argument that relies on a denial of the principle of self-ownership involves a performative contradiction, and therefore cannot be a valid argument and must be rejected as establishing the truth of any proposition.

    Bob seems to agree that the conclusion at point 6 is true if one already accepts libertarian norms, but that it could be refuted if one views the world through a different lens. But again, as I understand his misgivings, or at least his concerns about what else can be proved based on this conclusion, they tend to fall back on the idea that Hoppe’s argumentation ethics somehow involve the question of whether or not an argument can occur at all, rather than simply whether a particular argument can be advanced without internal contradiction. If I am misunderstanding Bob’s position in this regard, I would appreciate further clarification, since I tend to agree with Rothbard that Hoppe’s insight is of revolutionary significance.

    By the way, I haven’t re-read Hoppe in a while, so I am not sure how much he emphasizes points 2 and 3 above in his explication. and I don’t recall them being mentioned in either episode by Bob or Stefan, but I know they were critical in my own understanding of argumentation ethics. It seems to me that these are essential steps in the train of reasoning, and that they may have been partially overlooked in this discussion.

    • Robert Murphy on 12/22/2019 at 2:55 PM

      George Autry wrote: “6. Ergo, any argument that relies on a denial of the principle of self-ownership involves a performative contradiction, and therefore cannot be a valid argument and must be rejected as establishing the truth of any proposition.”

      I’m just repeating myself from this episode, but I don’t mind doing so because this is important and some subtle stuff:

      Let’s say for the sake of argument, George, that you just successfully proved that it would be a performative contradiction to argue that the average human adult doesn’t own himself.

      But did you also just prove that all convicted murderers own themselves, and hence it would be immoral to keep them in cages?

      What about cows? Did you just prove that all cows own themselves?

      Now presumably you are going to say, “Of course not!” and you might even add, “Is this some kind of trolling?” But when you spell out *why* you think you just proved the first proposition, but not the second or third, I think you have to say, “First, let’s stipulate for the sake of argument all of standard Rothbardian legal theory. Now, in that context, it’s obvious to see…”

      • George Autry on 12/23/2019 at 6:37 PM

        Actually, murderers and cows do own themselves. I didn’t prove this, I simply accept it as obvious. As I see it, however, this fact is irrelevant to Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. Hoppe said that because engaging in argumentation (with the goal of changing a mind) implies that the arguer accepts the principle of self-ownership, ergo … (see above). He did not say that this proves all of standard Rothbardian legal theory. He simply said that it disproves any legal theory that relies on denial of self-ownership. The problem then is to prove that the NAP (including the exception for defensive force) can be logically derived from the principle of self-ownership.

        So maybe this is where we are talking past one another, or perhaps one of us is mistaken: In making my initial comment and in understanding Hoppe’s argument, I assumed that we are talking about de facto self-ownership, rather than legal self-ownership. There is an ambiguity in the term “ownership” that is causing confusion here. For example, for your second proposition to be true, you must define self-ownership to include the right to not be interfered with. However, I suppose I am defining self-ownership as synonymous with, or perhaps more correctly an extension of the axiom of action; Humans act and only individuals control their own actions. Thus to be convinced by an argument requires a voluntary act of changing (or not changing) one’s mind and only a self-owner could perform such an action. I agree that the definition of ownership implied in libertarian ethics is broader than this; not only does it include control of property, including one’s body, it also includes a right to defend one’s property against aggression, which further implies that an aggressor forfeits the right to not be interfered with bodily. Hoppe’s argument, in my view, relies only on the control aspect of ownership. So now I have to figure out whether the flaw (if there is one) in his argument arises from separating these aspects of ownership (control and defense), in other words, can one provide a valid justification of aggression with an argument that affirms self-control but denies self-defense?

        Thanks for making me think so hard.

        • Mike on 05/04/2022 at 12:12 PM


          I’ve been reading about AE for a week or so and I really appreciate the accuracy and clarity of your writing here!

          I know it has been awhile since you wrote this, but I’d like to hear what you have to say about one thing holding me back… I feel I’m missing something.

          Suppose a person of good intent and with an open mind believes that self-ownership (in a legal and moral sphere) is valid but secondary to the “greater good” of mankind or the earth or whatever. This person is willing to engage in argument, acknowledging self-ownership for that purpose. I don’t see a contradiction there. The person accepts self ownership for peaceful and sincere argumentation but believes there is a higher moral duty that at some point justifies coercion.

          Essentially that’s what we’ll-intended socialists believe. Self ownership is fine, it’s just morally inferior to a greater good, and a willingness to engage in peaceful argumentation doesn’t prove otherwise.

          What am I missing?

  3. bob on 12/22/2019 at 1:00 PM

    Thanks for the primer on Kantian epistemology. I hadn’t realized Kant had thought about this so thoroughly. I regularly talk with people who can’t seem to accept that a priori statements can have valid insights into the real world. They contend that “two parallels never meet” but claim that such a priori statements can’t meaningfully predict reality. This comes up in minimum wage discussions a lot. The Pythagoras example is a good one of a synthetic a priori that’s very useful in the real world.

  4. The NAPster on 12/31/2019 at 8:03 PM

    I’m not convinced by Bob’s argument that the concept of argumentation ethics does not necessarily limit itself (presuppose application only) to humans, i.e., that we need a separate assumption outside of argumentation ethics to conclude that libertarian rights should not apply to non-human animals. Among other things, argumentation presupposes that the arguers are (a) trying to develop concepts related to, and then rationalize, a code of personal interaction which should apply between them, and (b) able to communicate in a common language which permits description of and debate on various concepts and rationalizations. While humans are able to conceive of ideas and rationalize them, non-human animals are not; while the human language is sufficiently rich to allow for a nuanced form of argumentation, non-human-animal sounds are not.

    As to human babies or those humans in a coma, I don’t agree that the self-ownership argument fails because these particular humans cannot engage in argument at a particular point in time. All humans are metaphysically equal, and are thus deserving of the same set of rights (at a minimum, someone arguing that some humans should not be entitled to the same set of rights would have the burden of proof). A car is still a car even if its engine does not work properly. Moreover, if the above argument were correct, then you couldn’t own your body (or potentially other property) while sleeping or while you have a mouth full of food or drink, and this would create a very uncertain set of ownership rules, negating the very purpose of having libertarian property rights, i.e., to minimize conflict over rivalrous resources.

    • Robert Murphy on 01/03/2020 at 4:36 PM

      NAPster wrote: “As to human babies or those humans in a coma, I don’t agree that the self-ownership argument fails because these particular humans cannot engage in argument at a particular point in time. All humans are metaphysically equal, and are thus deserving of the same set of rights…”

      OK I think you might have misunderstood what I was doing in that stretch. I was saying initially, “Why can’t we use Hoppe’s argument to prove that all cows own themselves, and it would be immoral for us to enslave and eat them?”

      And so if you come back and say, “Well obviously argumentation ethics doesn’t apply to a cow, which can’t engage in rational argument…” THEN you run into trouble with babies, people in comas, etc.

      Also, when you assert here that humans are metaphysically equal, are you including convicted murderers? And notice that this axiom isn’t derived from Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. So again, you need all sorts of other stuff first, before you can use his argument.

      • The NAPster on 01/03/2020 at 7:03 PM

        Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I take Hoppe’s thesis to be that if A and B engage in a philosophical argument over inter-personal ethics, then they are both necessarily acknowledging that humans own their own bodies, not just that A and B own their own bodies. The ethics portion of philosophy is a search for rules of general application to govern all humans, and so why would A and B believe or proceed on the basis that any ethics that they come up with are applicable ONLY between them? As such, neither A nor B could legitimately argue that it is acceptable to kill another human (other than, perhaps, as a response to initiated violence), including a baby or someone in a coma.

        As to your question about convicted murderers, I’m not exactly sure about what you’re asking. They are humans too, so “yes” to your direct question. However, in case this is what you are focused on, by “same set of rights” I mean the libertarian package of property rights which could be reasoned from the self-ownership principle. Part of that package is that, if you were to initiate violence against someone else, then they or their agents could legitimately respond with force, and thus using force against a murderer would not be inconsistent with this concept.

  5. York Luethje on 01/19/2020 at 12:04 AM

    Not that it matters but that Habermas link was scanned through a potato.

  6. Marko on 02/03/2020 at 12:42 PM

    Did you, or Kinsela, let know Hoppe about this?
    If so, is there any answer from him?

Leave a Comment