Argumentation ethics

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Argumentation ethics is a theory developed in 1988 by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a Professor Emeritus with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas College of Business and Ludwig von Mises Institute Senior Fellow.[1]

Hoppe argues that the mere act of argumentation implies agreement with anarcho-capitalist principles, and therefore, that arguing against anarcho-capitalism is logically contradictory. Hoppe's argument has received marginal attention from philosophers and logicians. Responses have mainly come from Hoppe's colleagues at the Mises Institute, among whom the argument's reception has been mixed.[2]


Hoppe states that his theory is an a priori, value-free praxeological argument for libertarian ethics.[1] Argumentation ethics asserts the recognition of self-ownership is a presupposition of every argument and so cannot be logically denied during an argument. Argumentation ethics draws on ideas from Jürgen Habermas's and Karl-Otto Apel's discourse ethics, from Misesian praxeology and from the political philosophy of Murray Rothbard.

Hoppe observes that, in the course of having an argument about politics (or indeed any subject), people assume certain norms of argumentation, including a prohibition on initiating violence. Hoppe then extrapolates from argumentation to political life in general, arguing that the norms governing argumentation should apply in all political contexts. Finally, Hoppe asserts that, of all political philosophies, only anarcho-capitalist libertarianism prohibits the initiation of aggressive violence. Therefore—Hoppe concludes—any argument for any political philosophy other than anarcho-capitalist libertarianism is logically incoherent.

Responses from scholars[edit]

Responses to Hoppe's argument mainly came from Hoppe's friends and colleagues at the Mises Institute.[2] Some of them accepted his argument, among them attorney Kinsella[3] and economists Walter Block and Murray Rothbard,[4] who called it "a dazzling breakthrough for political philosophy in general and for libertarianism in particular," adding "he has managed to transcend the famous is/ought, fact/value dichotomy that has plagued philosophy since the days of the Scholastics..."[4]

Mises Institute economists Bob Murphy and Gene Callahan rejected Hoppe's argument.[5] The late Austrian Economist David Osterfeld, an adjunct scholar at the Mises Institute, also rejected Hoppe's argument in an essay to which Hoppe subsequently responded.[6]

Ludwig Von Mises Institute Senior Fellow and Auburn University philosopher Roderick Long reconstructed the argument in deductively valid form, specifying four premises on whose truth the argument's soundness depends. Long goes on to argue that each premise is either uncertain, doubtful, or clearly false. He summarizes his views by stating:

I don’t think there's any reason to reject out of hand the kind of argument that Hoppe tries to give; on the contrary, the idea that there might be some deep connection between libertarian rights and the requirements of rational discourse is one I find attractive and eminently plausible. [...] But I am not convinced that the specific argument Hoppe gives us is successful.[7]

A political theorist has concluded in a doctoral dissertation on the political philosophy of several Austrian economists that Hoppe has not provided any non-circular reasons why we "have to regard moral values as something that must be regarded as being established through (consensual) argument instead of 'mere' subjective preferences for situations turning out in certain ways". In other words, the theory relies on "the existence [of] certain intuitions, the acceptance of which cannot itself be the result of 'value-free' reasoning."[8]

Mainstream libertarian philosophers reject Hoppe’s argument. Jason Brennan argues:

For the sake of argument, on Hoppe’s behalf, grant that by saying “I propose such and such,” I take myself to have certain rights over myself. I take myself to have some sort of right to say, “I propose such and such.” I also take you to have some sort of right to control over your own mind and body, to control what you believe. (Nota bene: I don’t think Hoppe can even get this far, but I’m granting him this for the sake of argument.). All I need to avoid a performative contradiction is for me to have a liberty right to say, ‘I propose such and such.’ I need not presuppose I have a claim right to say ‘I propose such and such.’ Instead, at most, I presuppose that it’s permissible for me to say, ‘I propose such and such’. I also at most presuppose that you have a liberty right to believe what I say. I do not need to presuppose that you have a claim right to believe what I say. However, libertarian self-ownership theory consists of claim rights… Hoppe’s argument illicitly conflates a liberty right with a claim right, and so fails.”[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hoppe, Hans-Hermann; Murray N. Rothbard; David Friedman; Leland Yeager; David Gordon; Douglas Rasmussen (November 1988). "Liberty Symposium" (PDF). Liberty. 2.
  2. ^ a b Kinsella, Stephan (March 13, 2009). "Revisiting Argumentation Ethics". Mises Economics Blog. Ludwig von Mises Institute. [A] number of thinkers weighed in, including Rothbard, ... Conway, ... D. Friedman, ... Machan, ... Lomasky, ... Yeager, ...Rasmussen, and others....
  3. ^ Kinsella, Stephan (19 September 2002). "Defending Argumentation Ethics: Reply to Murphy & Callahan". Retrieved 9 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b Rothbard, Murray N. (November 1988). "Beyond Is and Ought". Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  5. ^ Murphy, Robert P.; Callahan, Gene (Spring 2006). "Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Argumentation Ethics: A Critique" (PDF). Journal of Libertarian Studies. 20 (2): 53–6. Retrieved 9 February 2012.
  6. ^ "Comment on Hoppe / Comment on Osterfeld" (PDF). Austrian Economics Newsletter. 1988. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  7. ^ Long, Roderick T. "The Hopperiori Argument".
  8. ^ J. Mikael Olsson, Austrian Economics as Political Philosophy, Stockholm Studies in Politics 161, p. 157, 161.
  9. ^ Jason Brennan (2013-12-12). "Hoppe's Argumentation Ethics Argument Refuted in Under 60 Seconds". Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Retrieved 2019-12-27.

Further reading[edit]

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