Sunday, September 16, 2012

Argumentation Ethics: An Exploration

First, let us define what argumenatation ethics is. Pioneered in 1988 by the German libertarian economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, it derives from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Argumentation ethics argues the following: that whoever engages in argument by definition must affirm life and self-ownership, as these are necessary for engaging in it, thus causing a performative contradiction if one argues against them. However, several criticisms immediately arise. People can and do act without attempting to justify themselves in argument or indeed any way at all. One person can kill another, for instance, without arguing over the rightness of their action-they simply do it. A slave and his master could engage in argument, but that would hardly shows us his master in fact respects the slave's right to his life and person. Further, we can take the case of artificial entities, for instance robots, with an ability to speak and engage in argument but that simply follow their programming.

How to address these criticisms? First, while people certainly do act without attempting to justify or explain themselves, if one retaliates or punishes them for their action, how can they object except by protesting how this is somehow "different." If one initiates coercion, how can they protest that retaliation in kind is wrong, if they committed it? What makes the retaliation wrong, if their aggression was right? This all relies on argument. With the master and slave, although the master may not overtly respect it, he does that by engaging in argument with the slave. Of course that leaves us masters who do not engage in argumentation at all, which is no doubt most. Yet again though, if the slave retaliates against what the master does, he may seek to explain what is "wrong" about this if confronted. Of course, that does not mean argumentation on the matter is going to be forthcoming. In the case of a robot that strictly follows programming, with no independent thought, it would be ludicrous to say that argumentation affirms their own existence and self-ownership; they are drones following commands, nothing more.

Another problem arises simply from what qualifies as "argumenation." Some great apes, for instance, have the capability, however limited, to use sign language. If questioned, they would no doubt object to being, say, experimented upon painfully. This does not apply to most animals, of course, for although the bovine cry of protest while being branded or shot is clear, it seems doubtful this would qualify as argumentation. Like with most libertarian ethical theories, animal rights are given no recognition, although perhaps great apes which can sign might be granted an exception, though here as well the ethic is human-centered, with them being our closest relatives, and their communication ability is a result of that. Great apes may thus fall under this criteria. The issue should, I think, be further explored through study of their behavior and communications. Provisionally, it seems that argumentation ethics has some merit, at least in the context of debate where contrary arguments can be revealed as self-refuting. 

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