- This topic has 5 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 7 years ago by gerard.casey.
April 26, 2016 at 7:34 am #21549
First of all congratulations on the terrific course!
Can I have your thoughts on Hoppe and his place in Libertarian thought. One of the participants in a recent Washington think-tank critique of Rothbard dismissed Hoppe and his argumentation ethics on the grounds that academic philosophers don’t take it seriously. What do you think?May 9, 2016 at 4:41 pm #21550
Apologies for the delay in responding to your query (and many thanks for the compliment re the course).
The first thing to say is that H-H Hoppe’s contribution to Libertarian thought is in no way confined to his account of argumentation ethics. From his Democracy: The God that Failed to his The Great Fiction, his libertarian writings (whether one agrees with them in whole or in part or at all) are a hugely significant contribution to the ongoing investigation of the implication of liberty. I never read anything he has written without becoming aware of implications and nuances that I had not perceived before. To take one example, his appropriation of the Marxist doctrine of class warfare (which, of course, antedates Marx) and his application of it to Libertarian ends is really insightful.
Argumentation ethics (AE): here, I’m conflicted. I have examined the arguments pro and con (at one stage, I assembled notes and comments running to about 30 pages or so on the topic) but I wasn’t able to come to a definitive conclusion. AE is an instance of a kind of argumentation sometimes called transcendental. Some thinkers are allergic to this kind of argument in general but I’m not. In fact, in my Libertarian Anarchy, I use just such an argument to argue against strict determinism.
M: No theory can be seriously maintained such that, if it were to be true, its very maintenance would become impossible, meaningless, contradictory or self-refuting.
Apart from the formal constraints on theories of the necessity for consistency and coherence, and the material constraints of explanatory adequacy and coverage, there is also a self-referential constraint on theories, namely, that theories must not render impossible the conditions of their own statement or the conditions of their being maintained. If they do so, they are theoretically self-stultifying. Unless human beings are fundamentally free in their choices and decisions, it is not possible for statements to be meaningfully asserted: that includes the statement of a radical determinism or a radical irrationalism. The statement of a radical determinism is undermined by its own content’s rendering pointless the act of its assertion or by its assertion’s rendering meaningless the content of that assertion; the same holds true for the statement of a radical irrationalism. Iris Murdoch writes: “As a philosophical theory, as contrasted with a theological view or an assumption of popular science or an emotional intuition about fate, determinism fails because it is unstateable. However far we impinge (for instance for legal or moral purposes) upon the area of free will we cannot philosophically exhibit a situation in which, instead of shifting, it vanishes. The phenomena of rationality and morality are involved in the very attempt to banish them.”
Strict determinism falls foul of the maxim since, of necessity, the very attempt to argue for determinism is itself a free act by the arguer which commends itself to the rational judgement of its intended audience. If it is not a free act, we need not regard it; it is only the sighing of the breeze in the vocal chords of the determinist. Irrationalism, on the other hand, while not quite as neatly self-destructive as determinism, is nonetheless obviously rationally unsustainable.
While accepting of transcendental arguments in general, however, I’m not sure if AE is immune from criticism. But then, very few serious philosophical arguments are so immune but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t taken seriously by philosophers.
I wish I could be more definitive in my answer to you query but I hope that I’ve made it clear that I think that Hoppe’s AE cannot be summarily dismissed.
Gerard CaseyMay 10, 2016 at 9:21 pm #21551
Thanks Gerard for answering my question.
I must say I was pleased to read that you too are “conflicted” with Hoppe’s AE but that it cannot be summarily dismissed.
For my part I am more concerned that his argument is incomplete rather than invalid and if he hasn’t quite established his strong case:
“Libertarian private property ethic can be justified argumentatively”
then he has established a strong argument that if we make certain basic assumptions that:
“nonlibertarian ethical proposals are falsified by the reality of actually proposing them”.
RobMay 11, 2016 at 3:37 am #21552
I’ve just finished reading Hoppe’s 2015 A Short History of Man. The first part deals with the origin of private property and the family and I have been happy to add some material from this section into my Freedom’s Progress?, which I hope to publish soon.
The second part is largely concerned with offering an explanation for why the Industrial Revolution occurred when it did and not before. Hoppe’s answer is—not leisure and not clearly defined and protected property rights (however necessary such things might be)but rather the development of human intelligence to a certain critical level. ‘A certain threshold of average and exceptional intelligence had to be reached first for this to become possible and it took time (until about 1800) to “breed” such a level of intelligence.’ [p. 98] Hoppe realises that this thesis is controversial, containing, as it does, ‘a fundamental criticism of the egalitarianism rampant within the social sciences generally but also among many libertarians.’ [p. 100] What is overlooked by egalitarians, non-libertarian and libertarian alike, he believes, is that ‘we, modern man, are a very different breed from our predecessors hundreds or even thousands of years ago.’ [p. 100]
I am disinclined to believe that the evidence shows that human intelligence is the kind of thing that can be raised in an entire population except within certain narrowly defined limits. Instead, I think it more likely that human progress is the result of the accumulation of technological developments and the refinement of social institutions over time that, as it were, raise a platform from which the next generation can work. Nobody can invent the electric light bulb before the discovery of generating electricity. ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’ (Newton) For me, then, human progress is not so much a matter of a rising level of intelligence in the group as a whole as it is the presence of an appropriate level of technology and social institutions that provide the combustion chamber ready to explode from the spark of individual intelligence.
In my Freedom’s Progress? (a version of the course which I hope to publish soon) I have written: ‘In many discussions on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, there is a tendency to suggest that human nature is either something wholly or substantially genetically determined and thus unalterable, or else that it is nothing more than a product of our history and cultural environment, and thus essentially plastic. Neither of these extremes would seem to be correct. [see Duchesne, 33] The genetic basis of human beings is effectively identical; however, the epigenetic expression of those genes is the function of the dynamic interaction of those genes and their environment, resulting in relatively specific character types that, in turn, facilitate character traits (such as trust, capacity for hard work, a disposition to self-restraint and delayed gratification in respect of sex, food and money, etc.) that in their turn, give rise to socio-political institutions such as war, religion, trade and law. Genes hold human culture on a leash, but the leash, as E. O. Wilson remarks, is very long. [Wilson 1978, 167; see also Penman, Carey, Francis and Wade, passim, and Duchesne, 32-38]’
Gerard CaseyMay 11, 2016 at 10:17 pm #21553
Yes, I agree with most of what you say. I have read that book and it is an exciting read.
This question of intelligence is interesting as Hoppe argues the question of what is just only arises because we are capable of argumentation and therefore presumes a minimal level of intellectual capacity. In his discussion of this in “The Economics and Ethics of Private Property” (a wonderful book by the way) he argues that this question doesn’t arise with “a stone or fish” because they are incapable of propositional exchanges. However he doesn’t deal with borderline cases and what the implications of those might be, for example a baby or perhaps someone with a severe mental deficiency?
In relation to the Nature vs Nurture debate I can only relate my personal observations for what they are worth and there I have been surprised by how little a person’s temperament seems to change from birth to adulthood. To use an analogy – people are like trains, they might climb mountains but they always stick to their tracks.
RobMay 12, 2016 at 3:23 am #21554
Hello again, Rob.
This is what I’ve written in response to the second part of Hoppe’s A Short History:
“The second part of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s A Short History of Man is largely concerned with offering an explanation of why the Industrial Revolution occurred when it did and not earlier. Hoppe’s answer is—not leisure and not clearly defined and protected property rights (however necessary such things might be) but rather the development of human intelligence to a certain critical level. ‘A certain threshold of average and exceptional intelligence had to be reached first for this to become possible,’ he writes, ‘and it took time (until about 1800) to “breed” such a level of intelligence.’ [Hoppe 2015, 98] Hoppe realises that this thesis is controversial, containing, as it does, ‘a fundamental criticism of the egalitarianism rampant within the social sciences generally but also among many libertarians.’ [Hoppe 2015, 100] What is overlooked by such egalitarians, non-libertarian and libertarian alike, he believes, is that ‘we, modern man, are a very different breed from our predecessors hundreds or even thousands of years ago.’ [Hoppe 2015, 100] I am disinclined, however, to believe that the historical and theoretical evidence shows that human intelligence is the kind of thing that can be raised in an entire population except within certain narrowly defined limits. Instead, I think it more likely that human progress is the result of the accumulation of technological developments and the refinement of social institutions over time that, as it were, raise a platform from which the next generation can work. Nobody can invent the electric light bulb before the discovery of generating electricity. Newton famously remarked, ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ For me, then, human progress is not so much a matter of a rising level of intelligence in a group as a whole as it is the presence of an appropriate level of technology and social institutions that provide the combustion chamber ready to explode from the spark of individual intelligence. The resultant theoretical advances and technological developments are diffused throughout society and so the platform is raised yet again.”
I agree entirely with you that The Economics and Ethics of Private Property is a wonderful book, and I believe Hoppe is absolutely correct to attack the idea that ethics is merely subjective.
Clearly, there are differences in intellectual capacity between individual human beings. My experience as a teacher tells me that the Bell curve seems to fit the reality of things here: some very small number of individuals are exceptionally brilliant, some small number are irredeemably stupid, and the mass are more or less on the same level – differences in achievement here are directly correlated with the amount of work put it. Measuring the intelligence level of aggregates is subject to the usual methodological problems of aggregate measurement and, as is usual, the best of the worst is better than the worst of the best.
Take the (uncontroversial) example of the heights of men and women. If I were to make the claim that “Men are taller than women”, most people would agree with me. Of course, there are women who are taller than most men but this doesn’t affect the truth of the claim which doesn’t tell us anything about the relative heights of a particular male individual and a particular female individual.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.