Critique of Argumentation Ethics

Wallpaper 1920x1200

category: Argumentation Ethics (Articles & Links)

Argumentation Ethics Overview

The appeal of Hoppean Argumentation Ethics (A.E.) is obvious; a philosophy which claims to have achieved an objective and value free proof of libertarian ethics is far too tempting to pass up. Even if one is unconvinced, the incentive(s) to dispute Argumentation Ethics (abbreviated A.E.) are generally lacking, given one shares most of the values and ethics advocated by A.E.

Perhaps A.E. best feature is contained in the its name - Argumentation - A.E. makes a fantastic hammer to bludgeon, confuse, and otherwise defeat opponents while engaging in battles of wit. If opponents aren't defeated by confusion, there's always saying "I won" after the opponent leaves due to a lack of interest in hundred-page-long arguments. If that doesn't work, there's always pulling the trump card, and claiming A.E. critics don't actually understand A.E.

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." - Abraham Maslow

In a humorous kinda of way, A.E's strongest advocates seem to find incomprehensible that argumentation might not be the best tool for the job, or that ethics could be discussed in terms of anything but A.E.

Support vs Prove

I didn't catch it immediately, but something didn't sit right. Eventually I discovered that A.E. contains a few hidden premises and nuances that lead to it's downfall when used dogmatically. If one re-reads the prior paragraph, one might notice the use of the words 'support' and 'prove.' The problem is A.E. markets itself as a proof, when at best most A.E. arguments are supportive of a conclusion.

Imperfect Premises

To borrow a phase from Ayn Rand, "check your premises." Two hidden premises of A.E. are:

  • premise 1: Argumentation Ethics is superior to other factors of human interaction.
  • premise 2: The act of argumentation 'proves' one must always accept the particular collection of ethics as described by A.E. advocates.

To quickly demonstrate the flaw, let's consider "showering ethics"

  • premise 1: Showering Ethics is superior to all other factors of human interaction.
  • premise 2: The act of showering 'proves' one must always accept the particular collection of ethics descriptive of showering.

Showering and Argumentation are merely two momentary actions that people engage in for particular reasons, whereby each action has only limited implications. The mere momentary act of arguing or showering does not logically imply or conclude that one always accepts a particular set of ethics, beliefs, pursuits, and desires that are descriptive of or extrapolated from argumentation/showering. Further, this action has very limited implications on where any showering or arguing fits among other values, desires and pursuits.

'Logical' Flaws

The prior flawed premises are often compounded by similarly flawed logic and debating styles. Returning to showering ethics:

example: One engages in showering, therefore one values being clean. Because one values being clean, they value not being dirty. Therefore acts which cause a person to become dirty are undesirable. Therefore, who showers does not enjoy becoming dirty and covered in sweat. Therefore, a person who showers does not desire playing football.

In nearly every A.E. proposition I have observed, I have noticed similar logic structures. The debater take a concept "Step A often suggests Step B" and restate it as "Step A always proves Step B." The flaw is subtle enough that it will often go unnoticed by a casual observer.

Further, I've noticed that an A.E. debater will often suggest "Persons who do action-A, but don't support-B are engaging in a performative contradiction" (a.k.a. hypocrisy). Perhaps when the showering results in fewer football games, I might take this statement seriously.

Margin of Error

Similar to the diagram at the beginning of this article, each step in an A.E. argument tends to introduce an increasingly large margin of error. When compounding multiple steps of "often true" statements, the accuracy diminishes at each step, which may eventually result in a complete falsehood that resembles the following diagram:

A.E. Margin of Error

example: If one sees a colored object, which is liquid, sitting in a cup, and smells sweet… each of these observations supports the conclusion that the liquid is likely a sugary drink. This collection of evidence supports the probability that the liquid is a sugary drink, however this collection of evidence does not prove the liquid is a sugary drink. It's entirely possibly that the liquid is something else entirely; perhaps a drink that is not sugary, or perhaps an industrial chemical which smells sweet.


The typical breaking point in each of these objective-ethics philosophies is the hidden presupposition that some particular hidden value is a universal or objective value, and using that value to prove other values. Value is subjective, being unique to each individual, and often unique in the moment. These philosophies' flaws become worse when this particular value is assumed to be superior to other values, sometimes leading to highly questionable conclusions.

A.E. arguments require dissertation sized complex nuanced arguments with a tendency for the flaws above, because they attempt to prove an illogical concept. No matter how compelling an objective ethics argument may be, it will always be as logically broken as attempting to suggest "rocks are sad."

Criticism of Critics

Typically all critiques of A.E. are met with accusations that one simply does not understand A.E. From there, one will typically be met with explanations whose length rivals that of a novel, or vague assertions that A.E. theory has already addressed those criticisms. While that explanation might comfort A.E. supporters, it doesn't reflect that fact that many libertarian critics of A.E. are anything but unfamiliar with A.E., and at some point spent countless hours reading, studying, listening, and otherwise absorbing information from various sources including Hoppe, Rand, Kinsella, and Molyneux… as well as various conversations, debates, and other sources.


Argumentation Ethics is a great method for supporting a philosophical concept, however one is likely to commit serious error if one attempts to use A.E. as 'proof' of a philosophical concept.

Related Articles

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License