Do slaves have "self-ownership"?

I'd like to extend on my criticism of Hoppe's argumentation ethics by concretizing the point about the difference between "self-ownership" as it is used ontologically and "self-ownership" as it is used ethically. I realize that this point has been made in one way or another by others before me, but I am putting it in my own words and using my own conceptual framework to express it.

If all one really means by "self-ownership" is the capacity to purposefully act (and this capacity, at best, is all that "argumentation ethics" proves), then slaves must be said to have "self-ownership", since even though they are slaves their basic nature as human beings has not changed and therefore they retain the capacity to purposefully act despite being a slave. Liberty does not merely mean that someone has the capacity to purposefully act, it more specifically entails that their sphere of action is not infringed upon. A slave has the capacity to purposefully act, but their sphere of action is significantly limited by their master.

This is the problem with trying to prove "self-ownership" by treating it as an ontological given upon the act of argumentation. A slave completely retains the basic capacity to argue and act in general. Presumably, their state of slavery does not eliminate their will. And yet it would be absurd to proclaim that a slave proves that they have rights by engaging in argumentation. They could argue until they are blue in the face, but their rights would still be restricted by their master. In this sense, people are not "inherently free", otherwise there would be absolutely no point in proclaiming that people should be free in the first place.

The slave argues not because they have rights (and by "have rights" I mean their actualization, not "having rights" in the more basic sense of an ought), but because either their master gives them the permission to argue or they manage to argue in spite of their master's control. In terms of the actualization of rights, the slave does not have rights, or at least not completely. And in terms of rights purely as a prescription, the fact that the slave argues by itself does not does not "prove" the validity of rights as a prescription. But if argumentation ethics is to be taken seriously and applied consistent, we would have to say that the slave is "free" and implicitly proves that they have rights by arguing. Surely this is nonsensical if not outrageous.

Clearly, the fact that people engage in argumentation is not sufficient in and of itself to prove that people have rights. For in all times and all places, people who do not completely have rights have engaged in argumentation! Upon them engaging in argumentation, it is not implicitly proven that they have a certain set of rights that is consistent with a specifically libertarian social theory. To treat rights as some sort of inherent ontological fact in this way is to confuse what the meaning and purpose of rights is to begin with. The purpose of a theory of rights is not to prove some sort of ontological characteristic that people inherently have, for rights are ethical norms and not merely descriptive traits. At best, they can only sensibly be treated descriptively upon their realization as ethical norms or as a description of such ethical norms as such.

What's strange about Hoppe's argumentation ethics is that it appears to be attempting to make an "ontological proof" of libertarianism. Unfortunately, there is no such ontological proof, because libertarianism is not an ontological fact. "Liberty", strictly speaking, is not some sort of "natural state" that we cannot possibly escape any more than "tyranny" is such a "natural state". Argumentation ethics seems like a naturalistic fallacy because it treats liberty as if it an intrinsic quality of all humans. Perhaps all people have the capacity for liberty, but the realization of liberty as such is not intrinsic.

Furthermore, the attempt to derive a specific notion of rights and the general premise that people should have liberty from such an assumption of intrinsic ontology inherently is fallacious and bumps into the most obvious sense of the is-ought dichotomy. If liberty is some sort of intrinsic quality in this way, then there is no rational reason to argue that we should have liberty. An "ethics of liberty" would henceforth be completely pointless. On the other hand, if liberty is some sort of capacity that has not yet been fully realized, if liberty is prescriptive in nature and hence constitutes an ethical norm, then it makes no sense whatsoever to appeal to liberty as an intrinsic ontological fact, for in this context it is a goal that has not yet been realized (and hence in this sense it simply is not a "fact").

Published Mon, Mar 16 2009 4:31 PM by Brainpolice


# Brainpolice said on 16 March, 2009 10:36 PM

Apparently it's rather unpopular.

# male sperms said on 27 October, 2014 11:44 PM

Do slaves have "self-ownership"? - Brainpolice