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Critique Of Rothbardian Ethics

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Nielsio Posted: Sat, Dec 24 2011 11:37 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGahZSS_T8w

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Conza88 replied on Sun, Dec 25 2011 2:27 AM

Much of what you have said is a re-hashing of the argument Adam Knott made (re: objective morality, mushroom example), and was addressed completely (refuted) here. You've essentially erected a strawman.

As I said in the youtube comment which was removed, we can for the sake of argument concede absolutely everything you say attacking Natural Law and Rothbard's defense of natural rights, that still leaves the a priori of argumentation / argumentation ethics - which Rothbard agreed with. Granted you addressed several sentences to it in the OP video, but I don't think that's adequate. 

I have a lot of problems with other points raised, but that fleshes them out adequately (first link), i.e the complaint about no framework etc. Rothbard actually states his intention in the book, it's not to defend natural law, or provide that framework in any considerable length. Other objections you raised against AE are already mentioned by Hoppe in the above, and are not so much "objections" at all. As always I'll be interested in your arguments against AE, which is what you need to do if you really want to 'take down' deontological libertarianism.

A consequentialist ethic is an absurdity. I can absolutely understand the need to discuss consequences - but that is what Austrian Economics is for. The strongest case for liberty is both - rights based (a priori of argumentation) and consequences (Austrian Economics). Ron Paul uses both. Different strokes for different folks, others are drawn to either.

"You guys" however, want to remove one of the legitimate methods & I think that is crippling.

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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gocrew replied on Mon, Dec 26 2011 1:58 PM

 

Four minutes in and we run into our first fatal flaw in the argument. You are imposing your definition of ownership onto Rothbard's analysis (later claiming that Rothbard does not give us a good definition of his terms, which is false).

 

Of course it is silly to talk about ownership for someone living outside society if you define ownership as the control permitted to you by other human beings. But that is not what Rothbard was talking about. You have failed to take on his argument on his terms, as you must.

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Nielsio replied on Mon, Dec 26 2011 11:07 PM

Then why is he using a term that is used by others as a legal term? See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ownership

He also discovers the natural fact of his mind’s command over his body and its actions: that is, of his natural ownership over his self.

If the subject person is not in a society, then all you can say is he is in control of the object. So I would say he is conflating the two things. How is that not a valid criticism when he hasn't given his own framework yet?

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Nielsio:

Then why is he using a term that is used by others as a legal term? See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ownership

I doesn't matter how others use the term.  He is using the term as he clearly defined it.  To credibly attack his argument, you must use it in the same manner.

 

X=2

Y=X+3

Y=5

 

False!  Even though you've defined X as 2, it is well known that X is the Roman numeral representing 10.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_numerals

Therefore, Y must be 13!


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Nielsio replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 8:25 AM

Are you saying we should accept 'ownership' as 'momentary control'?

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Are you saying we should accept 'ownership' as 'momentary control'?

I'm not saying we should accept anything, but if you want to critique and argument, you should accept the definitions presented in that argument in the context of that argument.


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Autolykos replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 9:27 AM

Like Nielsio, I prefer to define "ownership" not as "control per se", but rather as "legitimate control". However, I also think that GoCrew and JackCuyler are right - in constructing a logical critique of another's argument, one must show how the other's conclusions do not follow from his premises. The definitions he has used belong to the former.

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Autolykos replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 10:24 AM

One problem I see with Rothbard's "ethics of liberty" is that he posits human life as an "objective ultimate value". By this, he seems to mean that it's impossible for a person to deny valuing life, for in doing so, he is living. However, there have been people who committed suicide. Even if there hadn't ever been anyone who did so, we can conceive of someone ending his own life. It seems, then, that one's own life (let alone human life in general) is not, in fact, an "objective ultimate value" - for there have been people who stopped valuing it.

Another issue is valuing human life in general versus simply valuing one's own life. The latter does not necessitate the former. I see no reason why one must himself adhere to a universalizable morality or ethics. Again, there have been people who valued their own lives even at the expense of others' lives. At least some of them, furthermore, believed that their own lives would benefit by damaging or destroying the lives of others. And again, even if there had never existed any such person, we can surely conceive of him. So there's a clear difference between valuing one's own life and valuing human life in general.

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Wesker1982 replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 10:26 AM

Rothbard means  "exclusive control". So if Robinson Crusoe has exclusive control over some property, he is  the owner. Exclusive control over ones self = self ownership. 

"If the subject person is not in a society, then all you can say is he is in control of the object."

That is all that needs to be said. Exclusive control over an object is ownership. 

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Nielsio replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 10:49 AM

Jack,

I'm asking if we should accept ownership as momentary control as far as Rothbard's reasoning goes.

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gocrew replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 10:50 AM

I think Cuyler made an excellent reply.

As for Nielsio's question about what we should accept as a proper meaning for ownership, I'll go Wittgenstein and just say in the broader context of society, the interplay between speakers will settle upon a definition. If Rothbard uses a non-standard definition of his words, we must accept his definitions if we are to critique him, even if it galls us. For instance, I find it galling that progressives refer to our current system as Capitalism, but if I am to reach a meeting of the minds with them, I must accept that this is how they are using the word. It does me no good to reply to the statement, "There are a bunch of thieves at the top of this Capitalist hierarchy," with the statement, "Nu uh, because Capitalism presupposes a respect for property rights and therefore there is no thievery in pure Capitalism!" I might also note that I use the word differently, in case they run into some of my brethren sometime, but I must engage them on their own terms if I am to engage them.

By the way, Nielsio, I love a lot of your stuff. Keep up the good work. As far as this piece goes, I would like to highlight what Conza said: It is crippling to take away the moral approach and focus purely on the practical.

Autolykos,

Autolykos:
One problem I see with Rothbard's "ethics of liberty" is that he posits human life as an "objective ultimate value". By this, he seems to mean that it's impossible for a person to deny valuing life, for in doing so, he is living. However, there have been people who committed suicide.

It is important here to consider demonstrated preference. I can say I love eating cookies, but if I never demonstrate that I love to eat them by eating them, it is simply so much hot air, of virtually no practical value. If a person actually commits suicide, he has demonstrated that he prefers not to live. But while he is busy living, which he must be doing if he is telling us he does not want to live, he is demonstrating a preference for living, even if it is only for a few seconds longer to deliver that message to us.

Autolykos:
Another issue is valuing human life in general versus simply valuing one's own life. The latter does not necessitate the former.

Of course not, but as I recall, it doesn't need to according to what Rothbard was doing. Everyone who works to stay alive is demonstrating a preference for life, which presupposes a few things.

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Nielsio replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 11:15 AM

gocrew,

Misessian utilitarianism is not anti-morality.

 

Characterizing the deontological approach as the "moral" one can be misleading. It can make it seem as if those who exclusively take the utilitarian approach are somehow "antimorality." But that is not the case. Utilitarians consider morality to be essential. The two approaches simply operate under different conceptions of what morality is.

http://mises.org/daily/5669/A-Utilitarian-Foundation-of-Morality

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Autolykos replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 11:38 AM

gocrew:
It is important here to consider demonstrated preference. I can say I love eating cookies, but if I never demonstrate that I love to eat them by eating them, it is simply so much hot air, of virtually no practical value. If a person actually commits suicide, he has demonstrated that he prefers not to live. But while he is busy living, which he must be doing if he is telling us he does not want to live, he is demonstrating a preference for living, even if it is only for a few seconds longer to deliver that message to us.

It appears, then, that we run into a contradiction. One must first be alive in order to die - whether by his own hand or another's. Furthermore, ending his own life takes some sort of action. If taking action while one is alive in order to die means demonstrating a preference for living, then how does one ever demonstrate a preference for non-living while he is alive?

This is why the notion that "life" is an "objective ultimate value" cannot stand. The words "objective" and "ultimate" there are key. If "life" is an "objective value", then presumably one cannot ever refrain from valuing it. Furthermore, if "life" is an "ultimate value", then presumably one cannot value anything higher than it. Put those two together and we get the notion that one cannot ever refrain from valuing "life" over everything else. However, a person who commits suicide would appear to value something else over "life". If that's the case, then it seems that this person was certainly able to do it, which implies that "life" is not an "objective ultimate value".

Finally, the implicit notion that preferences can only be demonstrated instantaneously forgoes all notion of intertemporality, including time preference. By that notion, a person who's currently engaging in labor is demonstrating a preference for that labor and nothing else. But that runs counter to our experience, including our introspection. People typically have "higher-order" preferences that they're laboring toward. That is, they don't prefer labor in and of itself - they prefer labor because of what (they think) they can obtain from it. So intertemporality resolves the apparent contradiction I noted above. A person can demonstrate a preference for living, but only in order to die - and thus demonstrates a "higher-order" preference for dying.

gocrew:
Of course not, but as I recall, it doesn't need to according to what Rothbard was doing. Everyone who works to stay alive is demonstrating a preference for life, which presupposes a few things.

The phrase "for life" strikes me as referring to life in general, at least by default. Is that what you mean here? Or are you referring to demonstrating a preference only for one's own life?

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gocrew replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 1:13 PM

It seems to me that you are working in a lot of fudge factors here to try to beat a contradiction into Rothbard's writing.

Autolykos:
If taking action while one is alive in order to die means demonstrating a preference for living,

It does not. It demonstrates the precise opposite, which is what I said: "If a person actually commits suicide, he has demonstrated that he prefers not to live." You only get a contradiction if you claim the exact opposite of what I said.

Autolykos:
This is why the notion that "life" is an "objective ultimate value" cannot stand.

Did Rothbard ever make this claim? I think he confined himself to saying that anyone in the business of being alive has demonstrated that he prefers life for himself.

Autolykos:
Finally, the implicit notion that preferences can only be demonstrated instantaneously forgoes all notion of intertemporality,

Why should this be a problem? A preference is not demonstrated until it is demonstrated. And if you demonstrated it once, in the past, that does not mean that you continue to have that preference forever.

Autolykos:
By that notion, a person who's currently engaging in labor is demonstrating a preference for that labor and nothing else. But that runs counter to our experience, including our introspection. People typically have "higher-order" preferences that they're laboring toward. That is, they don't prefer labor in and of itself - they prefer labor because of what (they think) they can obtain from it.

Absolutely correct. The preference for labor is derived from a preference for something else that labor helps them achieve. I have a preference for lap dances, so I work to earn money so I can buy some. I prefer, at this moment, to work, because of what that will allow me to do. I might rather, in a world without scarcity, enjoy my lap dance now, but I am unable to. So indeed I might prefer a lap dance, but I cannot demonstrate that as of yet.

Autolykos:
The phrase "for life" strikes me as referring to life in general, at least by default. Is that what you mean here? Or are you referring to demonstrating a preference only for one's own life?

Yes, and as I recall, that is what Rothbard was saying as well.

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Finally, the implicit notion that preferences can only be demonstrated instantaneously forgoes all notion of intertemporality, including time preference. By that notion, a person who's currently engaging in labor is demonstrating a preference for that labor and nothing else. But that runs counter to our experience, including our introspection. People typically have "higher-order" preferences that they're laboring toward. That is, they don't prefer labor in and of itself - they prefer labor because of what (they think) they can obtain from it.

At that moment, the actor would rather labor for leisure in the future than enjoying leisure in the present.  Why one is laboring is pretty incosequential.  We can only see a demonstrated preference for laboring right now over all other available actions.


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Autolykos replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 3:42 PM

gocrew:
It seems to me that you are working in a lot of fudge factors here to try to beat a contradiction into Rothbard's writing.

I'm very sorry to hear that. Could you please point out what you think are the fudge factors? Or have you already done so below?

Either way, in my last post, I wasn't simply responding to Rothbard's writing - I was also responding to (what looked to me like) your explication of it.

gocrew:
It does not. It demonstrates the precise opposite, which is what I said: "If a person actually commits suicide, he has demonstrated that he prefers not to live." You only get a contradiction if you claim the exact opposite of what I said.

But you also said, "But while [a suicidal person] is busy living, which he must be doing if he is telling us he does not want to live, he is demonstrating a preference for living, even if it is only for a few seconds longer to deliver that message to us." I figured that your point also applies to any action(s) he takes to end his own life, as he's still alive (even if for only a few seconds) while performing it/them. That's why your paragraph - and, by extension, Rothbard's assertion of life as an "objective universal value" that you were explicating - seemed to me to contain a contradiction.

gocrew:
Did Rothbard ever make this claim? I think he confined himself to saying that anyone in the business of being alive has demonstrated that he prefers life for himself.

In The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 6, Rothbard writes: "It may well be asked why life should be an objective ultimate value, why man should opt for life (in duration and quality)." He then goes on to argue why it not only should be, but must be.

gocrew:
Why should this be a problem? A preference is not demonstrated until it is demonstrated. And if you demonstrated it once, in the past, that does not mean that you continue to have that preference forever.

I understand and agree with both of those statements. However, I think there can be multiple "levels" of preferences that one is working toward simultaneously. For example, I prefer to go to school in order to get a degree in order to get a job in a given field. Or I prefer to work in order to get money in order to get lapdances at a strip club. Granted, we can only directly observe what a person is doing in the present moment, but I fail to see how we can't infer any "higher-level" or longer-term preferences that a person is demonstrating - however indirectly. Even Mises wrote about the disutility of labor and so forth.

gocrew:
Absolutely correct. The preference for labor is derived from a preference for something else that labor helps them achieve. I have a preference for lap dances, so I work to earn money so I can buy some. I prefer, at this moment, to work, because of what that will allow me to do. I might rather, in a world without scarcity, enjoy my lap dance now, but I am unable to. So indeed I might prefer a lap dance, but I cannot demonstrate that as of yet.

I think you are demonstrating your preference for lapdances, but not directly. Also, no one else may be able to observe the progression from you working, to you getting paid, to you getting a lapdance at a strip club. To put it another way, the "because of" clause in what you wrote above is what I'd call a "higher-order" or "higher-level" preference - a more ultimate value, in other words.

gocrew:
Yes, and as I recall, that is what Rothbard was saying as well.

I'm not quite sure which question you were answering with "yes", but I'll assume you were answering the last one. In that case, even assuming arguendo that one's own life is an objective ultimate value for him, there seems to be no way to make any conclusions from that about the (im)morality of any interpersonal behavior. A person can go through life without exchanging anything voluntarily - only producing for himself and/or stealing from others (what Mises termed "autistic exchange") - and still be considered to hold his own life as an objective ultimate value.

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Autolykos replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 3:44 PM

JackCuyler:
At that moment, the actor would rather labor for leisure in the future than enjoying leisure in the present.  Why one is laboring is pretty incosequential.  We can only see a demonstrated preference for laboring right now over all other available actions.

It's certainly not inconsequential to him, is it? How can we say anything about a person's time preference if we can't make inferences about his "higher-order" preferences? Indeed, how can the notion of time preference even exist without that ability?

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gocrew replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 8:19 PM

Autolykos:
But you also said, "But while [a suicidal person] is busy living, which he must be doing if he is telling us he does not want to live, he is demonstrating a preference for living, even if it is only for a few seconds longer to deliver that message to us." I figured that your point also applies to any action(s) he takes to end his own life, as he's still alive (even if for only a few seconds) while performing it/them. That's why your paragraph - and, by extension, Rothbard's assertion of life as an "objective universal value" that you were explicating - seemed to me to contain a contradiction.

If he is ending his own life, he is not demonstrating a preference for life, just as a man who is eating food is not demonstrating a preference for hunger. I don't think this could be any clearer, so I wonder whether I am just not understanding what you are getting at. All Rothbard was saying was that someone who is in the business of being alive is demonstrating a preference for life. There are, moreover, certain behaviors that are in accordance with life, and certain behaviors which are not.

Autolykos:
In The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 6, Rothbard writes: "It may well be asked why life should be an objective ultimate value, why man should opt for life (in duration and quality)." He then goes on to argue why it not only should be, but must be.

He points out that anyone making an argument against life is alive and affirming life and therefore is actions contradict his message. Anyone who commits suicide has demonstrated their preference not to be alive, and this does not apply to them.

Autolykos:
Granted, we can only directly observe what a person is doing in the present moment, but I fail to see how we can't infer any "higher-level" or longer-term preferences that a person is demonstrating - however indirectly.

We can, as per my example of the demonstrated preference for labor. None of this shows a weakness in Rothbard's approach, though.

Autolykos:
I think you are demonstrating your preference for lapdances, but not directly. Also, no one else may be able to observe the progression from you working, to you getting paid, to you getting a lapdance at a strip club. To put it another way, the "because of" clause in what you wrote above is what I'd call a "higher-order" or "higher-level" preference - a more ultimate value, in other words.

Sure. But how does this refute Rothbard?

Autolykos:
assuming arguendo that one's own life is an objective ultimate value for him, there seems to be no way to make any conclusions from that about the (im)morality of any interpersonal behavior.

Not from that alone. But there is a lot more to the framework than just the affirmation of life of anyone making an argument.

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Conza88 replied on Tue, Dec 27 2011 9:35 PM

Because it's more than a legal term.

    "The answer to the question what makes my body "mine" lies in the obvious fact that this is not merely an assertion but that, for everyone to see, this is indeed the case. Why do we say "this is my body"? For this a twofold requirement exists. On the one hand it must be the case that the body called "mine" must indeed (in an intersubjectively ascertainable way) express or "objectify" my will. Proof of this, as far as my body is concerned, is easy enough to demonstrate: When I announce that I will now lift my arm, turn my head, relax in my chair (or whatever else) and these announcements then become true (are fulfilled), then this shows that the body which does this has been indeed appropriated by my will. If, to the contrary, my announcements showed no systematic relation to my body's actual behavior, then the proposition "this is my body" would have to be considered as an empty, objectively unfounded assertion; and likewise this proposition would be rejected as incorrect if following my announcement not my arm would rise but always that of Müller, Meier, or Schulze (in which case one would more likely be inclined to consider Müller's, Meier's, or Schulze's body "mine"). On the other hand, apart from demonstrating that my will has been "objectified" in the body called "mine," it must be demonstrated that my appropriation has priority as compared to the possible appropriation of the same body by another person.

    As far as bodies are concerned, it is also easy to prove this. We demonstrate it by showing that it is under my direct control, while every other person can objectify (express) itself in my body only indirectly, i.e., by means of their own bodies, and direct control must obviously have logical-temporal priority (precedence) as compared to any indirect control. The latter simply follows from the fact that any indirect control of a good by a person presupposes the direct control of this person regarding his own body; thus, in order for a scarce good to become justifiably appropriated, the appropriation of one's directly controlled "own" body must already be presupposed as justified. It thus follows: If the justice of an appropriation by means of direct control must be presupposed by any further-reaching indirect appropriation, and if only I have direct control of my body, then no one except me can ever justifiably own my body (or, put differently, then property in/of my body cannot be transferred onto another person), and every attempt of an indirect control of my body by another person must, unless I have explicitly agreed to it, be regarded as unjust(ified).[7]

[7]Informal translation from Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Eigentum, Anarchie und Staat (Manuscriptum Verlag, 2005, pp. 98-100; originally published in 1985)."

But as I referred to earlier the points raised here:

"Chapter 6 - Crusoe Economics, Rothbard is dealing with the individual [personal] here,

"If Crusoe economics can and does supply the indispensable groundwork for the entire structure of economics and praxeology—the broad, formal analysis of human action—a similar procedure should be able to do the same thing for social philosophy, for the analysis of the fundamental truths of the nature of man vis-à-vis the nature of the world into which he is born, as well as the world of other men. Specifically, it can aid greatly in solving such problems of political philosophy as the nature and role of liberty property, and violence.[2]"

Tell me, where any of your out of context quote deals with anything that is political, refers to violence, sphere of rights, aggression or criminality. No where - because he's talking about the individual here, personal ethics. Not political philosophy.

Once again, your post fails to make the distinction - as Rothbard has CLEARLY done, yet obviously not clear enough for some... or maybe he did, and those who continue to turn a blind eye should realise it is their failing, not his:

"For we are not, in constructing a theory of liberty and property, i.e., a "political" ethic, concerned with all personal moral principles. We are not herewith concerned whether it is moral or immoral for someone to lie, to be a good person, to develop his faculties, or be kind or mean to his neighbors. We are concerned, in this sort of discussion, solely with such "political ethical" questions as the proper role of violence, the sphere of rights, or the definitions of criminality and aggression. Whether or not it is moral or immoral for "Smith" — the fellow excluded by the owner from the plank or the lifeboat — to force someone else out of the lifeboat, or whether he should die heroically instead, is not our concern, and not the proper concern of a theory of political ethics.[5]" - Chp 20 TEOL"

Back to the above, it's an aid. Given no-one else on the island, there is no conflict, so no need for 'property rights'... At least not in the sense that you would need them for conflict resolution. But in the sense of knowing that you have the right to do things, and:

"After all, a property right is simply the exclusive right to control a scarce resource.[4] Property rights specify which persons own — that is, have the right to control — various scarce resources in a given region or jurisdiction. Yet everyone and every political theory advance some theory of property. None of the various forms of socialism deny property rights; each version will specify an owner for every scarce resource.[5] If the state nationalizes an industry, it is asserting ownership of these means of production. If the state taxes you, it is implicitly asserting ownership of the funds taken. If my land is transferred to a private developer by eminent domain statutes, the developer is now the owner. If the law allows a recipient of racial discrimination to sue his employer for a sum of money, he is the owner of the money.[6]

Protection of and respect for property rights is thus not unique to libertarianism. What is distinctive about libertarianism is its particular property assignment rules: its view concerning who is the owner of each contestable resource, and how to determine this."

 ~ What Libertarianism Is, Stephan Kinsella

[4] As Professor Yiannopoulos explains:

Property may be defined as an exclusive right to control an economic good …; it is the name of a concept that refers to the rights and obligations, privileges and restrictions that govern the relations of man with respect to things of value. People everywhere and at all times desire the possession of things that are necessary for survival or valuable by cultural definition and which, as a result of the demand placed upon them, become scarce. Laws enforced by organized society control the competition for, and guarantee the enjoyment of, these desired things. What is guaranteed to be one's own is property… [Property rights] confer a direct and immediate authority over a thing.

A.N. Yiannopoulos, Louisiana Civil Law Treatise, Property (West Group, 4th ed. 2001), §§ 1, 2 (first emphasis in original; remaining emphasis added). See also Louisiana Civil Code, Art. 477 ("Ownership is the right that confers on a person direct, immediate, and exclusive authority over a thing. The owner of a thing may use, enjoy, and dispose of it within the limits and under the conditions established by law").

"Consider the universal status of the ethic of liberty, and of the natural right of person and property that obtains under such an ethic.

For every person, at any time or place, can be covered by the basic rules:
• ownership of one's own self,
• ownership of the previously unused resources which one has occupied and transformed; and
• ownership of all titles derived from that basic ownership -either through voluntary exchanges or voluntary gifts.

These rules -which we might call the “rules of natural ownership”- can clearly be applied, and such ownership defended, regardless of the time or place, and regardless of the economic attainments of the society. It is impossible for any other social system to qualify as universal natural law; for if there is any coercive rule by one person or group over another (and all rule partakes of such hegemony), then it is impossible to apply the same rule for all; only a rulerless, purely libertarian world can fulfill the qualifications of natural rights and natural law, or, more important, can fulfill the conditions of a universal ethic for all mankind." - Rothbard, TEOL
 

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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Autolykos:

JackCuyler:
At that moment, the actor would rather labor for leisure in the future than enjoying leisure in the present.  Why one is laboring is pretty incosequential.  We can only see a demonstrated preference for laboring right now over all other available actions.

It's certainly not inconsequential to him, is it? How can we say anything about a person's time preference if we can't make inferences about his "higher-order" preferences? Indeed, how can the notion of time preference even exist without that ability?

We cannot possibly know with certainty why another acts the way he does in a given moment.  We can never know his higher-order preferences, which change, or at least can change, from moment to moment.  We can only make guesses, or, "inferences," about these things.  However, we can observe that at the moment, the laborer is choosing to labor rather than performing any of the other activities available to him.


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Autolykos replied on Thu, Dec 29 2011 8:49 AM

gocrew:
If he is ending his own life, he is not demonstrating a preference for life, just as a man who is eating food is not demonstrating a preference for hunger. I don't think this could be any clearer, so I wonder whether I am just not understanding what you are getting at. All Rothbard was saying was that someone who is in the business of being alive is demonstrating a preference for life. There are, moreover, certain behaviors that are in accordance with life, and certain behaviors which are not.

He's still alive while he's in the process of ending his own life, isn't he? So because he's living while e.g. putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger, by your reasoning, he's demonstrating a preference for life (i.e. his own life). Another way of saying this last part is that he's demonstrating that he holds value for his life - right?. Yet his actions will presumably result in his death, so it follows that he must be valuing something else at least more ultimately than his life. Therefore life cannot be the "objective ultimate value".

Again, I'll note that "objective ultimate value" to me means "a value that one must hold above all other values (i.e. it's impossible for him to do otherwise)". I see no other way to parse that phrase of Rothbard's.

gocrew:
He points out that anyone making an argument against life is alive and affirming life and therefore is actions contradict his message. Anyone who commits suicide has demonstrated their preference not to be alive, and this does not apply to them.

No, it seems to me that Rothbard is arguing that it's literally impossible for anyone to ever hold anything as a value over his own life. It's one thing to argue that one can't refute certain notions within argumentation. This is the same sort of argument as the one for the self-evidence of Hoppe's argumentation ethics. However, argumentation does not encompass all human action.

Rothbard's argument means that, if a person states that he no longer wants to live, right before pulling the trigger of a gun he's put to his head, that person is necessarily contradicting himself. The contradiction appears because, according to my reading of Rothbard, it's literally impossible for a person to hold anything as a value over his own life. Yet pulling the trigger of a gun one has put to his head will presumably result in his death, which means he's contradicting his own necessary value scale (again, with his own life as the highest value).

gocrew:
We can, as per my example of the demonstrated preference for labor. None of this shows a weakness in Rothbard's approach, though.

How not? If "higher-order" preferences or values can also be revealed through action, then it's possible for a person to reveal that he now values something more than his own life.

gocrew:
Sure. But how does this refute Rothbard?

Again, because a person can reveal that he now rules something more than his own life, this means that one's own life is not the objective ultimate value.

gocrew:
Not from that alone. But there is a lot more to the framework than just the affirmation of life of anyone making an argument.

Rothbard argues in Chapter 7 of The Ethics of Liberty that not only is production necessary for life, but exchange is also necessary. I fail to see how the latter is true, because a person can survive without ever entering into any exchange. But if it can be shown that life is not the objective ultimate value, then the above isn't necessary to refute Rothbardian ethics.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Dec 29 2011 9:09 AM

JackCuyler:
We cannot possibly know with certainty why another acts the way he does in a given moment.  We can never know his higher-order preferences, which change, or at least can change, from moment to moment.  We can only make guesses, or, "inferences," about these things.  However, we can observe that at the moment, the laborer is choosing to labor rather than performing any of the other activities available to him.

I understand and agree with all of that. But I don't think it answers my questions about "higher-order" preferences and time preference.

Strictly speaking, we don't observe time preference. All we observe - and thus know with certainty, as you point out - is what someone is doing in a given moment. However, I don't see that as meaning that time preference does not, let alone cannot, exist. Indeed, Mises argues in Human Action (Chapter XVIII) that time preference must exist in spite of the fact that it's not directly observable. Not only does he argue for the necessary existence of time preference per se, he also argues that present goods must be held more valuable than future goods.

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gocrew replied on Thu, Dec 29 2011 11:28 AM

He's still alive while he's in the process of ending his own life, isn't he? So because he's living while e.g. putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger, by your reasoning, he's demonstrating a preference for life (i.e. his own life).

This is getting really weird. The above is an example of what I meant by the fudge factors I mentioned earlier. As I have explicitly stated, someone who commits suicide is not demonstrating a preference for life. He is ending it. Does a man who eats demonstrate a preference for hunger? Does a man who showers demonstrate a preference for body odor? Does a woman who cleans demonstrate a preference for filth?

I really don't understand what you're trying to get at with this, nor why you are trying to get at it in this manner. Yes, if one is not alive, one cannot commit suicide, nor do anything else. But committing suicide is not an affirmation of life. Arguing is.

No, it seems to me that Rothbard is arguing that it's literally impossible for anyone to ever hold anything as a value over his own life.

Well, let's find some evidence. If Rothbard ever made the argument you attribute to him, I will immediately agree with you that there is (at least) one problem with The Ethics of Liberty. I have others, actually, but on other topics.

What I believe he argued is that anyone who bothered to argue against life as a highest value had lost the argument as soon as he started it. Anyone in the business of being alive is demonstrating a preference for life, without which none of the rest can occur or be enjoyed. If he in fact argued that it was "literally impossible for anyone to ever hold anything as a value over his own life", let's see that passage, because I would disagree with Rothbard and agree with you.

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JackCuyler replied on Thu, Dec 29 2011 11:42 AM

Autolykos:

Strictly speaking, we don't observe time preference. All we observe - and thus know with certainty, as you point out - is what someone is doing in a given moment. However, I don't see that as meaning that time preference does not, let alone cannot, exist.

I didn't mean to imply that it doesn't exist.  I was answering your post to which I first replied:

Autolykos:

Finally, the implicit notion that preferences can only be demonstrated instantaneously forgoes all notion of intertemporality, including time preference.

We can't observe time preference because preferences can only be demonstrated instantaneously.  You kind of made my point.  Time preference exists, and we can deduce it, but it cannot be demonstrated.


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Nielsio replied on Sun, Jan 1 2012 7:14 PM

Re: EtymologiaAnarkhos -- Commentary on Nielsio's Critique of Rothbardian Political Philosophy

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