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The Contender
Con (against)
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The non-aggression principle is a justified ethical position

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/15/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,335 times Debate No: 22024
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (19)
Votes (1)




===Resolution and BoP===

Pro will have the burden to provide and defend an argument or arguments for why the non-aggression principle (NAP) is a justified ethical position. Con's burden will be to deconstruct Pro's argument(s) and show that the NAP is not a justified ethical position.


The Non-aggression principle (NAP) is defined as an ethical stance which asserts that "aggression" is inherently illegitimate. "Aggression" is defined as the "initiation" of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property.[1]

An ethical position may be defined as any principle governing right or wrong methods of interpersonal actions. An ethical position is justified if it is demonstrated to be just, right, or valid.

===Structure and Rules===

1. Drops will count as concessions.

2. Semantic or abusive arguments will not be counted.

3. New arguments brought in the last round will not be counted.

4. R1 is for acceptance. Argumentation will begin in R2.




Accepted. I look forward to a good and thought-provoking debate.
Debate Round No. 1


First I'll simply list my position in syllogistic form. Then I will move on to defend each of the individual premises.

P1: Any maxim or proposition may only be justified through communicative argumentation.
P2: Any norm necessarily presupposed as a pre requisite for argumentation is therefore justified.
P3: The NAP is necessarily presupposed as a pre requisite for argumentation.
C: The NAP is a justified moral position.

Premise 1: Any maxim or proposition may only be justified through communicative argumentation (Axiom of argumentation).

If one is to attempt to justify a position, one must argue. This is the short version. If one were to attempt to deny this axiom, then one would necessarily contradict one's self. For to deny the axiom of argumentation, one must actually engage in argumentation and so one is admitting that argumentation is necessary. This action is a performative contradiction in that the propositional content of the statement contradicts the presuppositions one makes in making the statement in the first place. The propositional content is the denial of argumentation as a requisite for justification and the contradiction lies in the fact that the speaker attempts to use argumentation in order to justify that proposition. It is impossible to deny the axiom without also affirming it.

Premise 2: Any norm necessarily presupposed as a pre requisite for argumentation is therefore justified.

As has been shown, argumentation is necessary to justify any proposition. As such, it must be accepted that any norm necessarily presupposed in order to argue must also be justified. For without accepting and following such a norm, justification is not possible. If one were to posit a proposition which denied the norms necessary for argumentation, it could not possible be rationally defended since in order to do so it would need to affirm the norms necessary for argumentation. To do otherwise is again to fall into performative contradiction.

Premise 3: The NAP is necessarily presupposed as a pre requisite for argumentation.

When dealing with the possible courses of action one may take, the possibilities are near endless. However, the possible courses of action one may take can be at their very base divided into violent and non-violent actions. One may act violently or may not act violently. Violent behavior will for argumentative purposes be defined synonymously with aggression (defined in the introductory round). If one chooses to take a course of action that involves violent behavior, one must justify that behavior using communicative argumentation (from P1). However, arguing in favor of violence necessarily results in a performative contradiction. Hans Hermann-Hoppe (the founder of discourse ethics of this nature) writes:

"Argumentation is a conflict-free way of interacting. Not in the sense that there is always agreement on the things said, but in the sense that as long as argumentation is in progress it is always possible to agree at least on the fact that there is disagreement about the validity of what has been said."[1]

When one decides to act violently, one is acting antithetically to the nature of argumentation, which is a conflict free manner of settling disputes. When one has a dispute with someone else, this dispute may be resolved either by violence and force or by arguing and coming to a conclusion as to which party is correct in the matter. If one decides to use violence to settle a dispute, they cannot also use argumentation and so the two types of action are conceptually distinct. Since violence is conceptually antithetical to argumentation, argumentation in favor of violence cannot be justified since it would necessarily deny the norm (argumentation) necessary for justification.

Conclusion: The NAP is a justified moral position.

Since the argument presented is valid (in that its premises necessitate the conclusion) and the individual premises making up this argument have been shown to be true, the only rational option is that the NAP is a justified moral position.

Hans Herman-Hoppe, Theory of Socialism and Capitalism. Pg 158.


Introductury remark: I do not drop and concede a single point in Pro's argument.


Before it can be asked whether the non-aggression principle is a justified ethical position, it must be asked if any position at all can be justified. If it turns out some position can be justified, we must follow up with the question of whether an "ethical" position can be justified. Only then can we ask if the NAP is justified as an ethical position.

The various theories of justification are usually split into the foundational and anti-foundational (or pragmatic). Foundationalism posits the existence of foundational beliefs through which other beliefs can be justified; according to this view, foundational beliefs are justified positions that require no argumentative support. Some examples include the cogito of Descartes, the sense data of the empiricists, or the necessary metaphysical truths of the rationalists. One by one, these purportedly certain, indubitable, and unassailable points have been shaken. That is where anti-foundationalism enters the picture, in which pragmatism, logical positivism, and postmodernism unite in a critique of holding foundational beliefs.

Pro's argument clearly rests on foundational beliefs, specifically on the "law of non-contradiction." Before asking whether the NAP can be justified as "ethical," I make two preliminary arguments that dispel the possibility that the NAP can be justified at all: 1) anti-foundationalism/pragmatism, and not foundationalism, is correct; and 2) even if foundationalism is correct, given Pro's foundation, "Premise 1" as well as everything that follows from it is flawed.

1) The pragmatist Charles Peirce held that nothing was indubitable. Each thing was open to doubt, although not all things at once. Each thing could be doubted on the basis of other propositions that were, at that particular moment, not actually in doubt. Their turn could come later. The idea is that any proposition is only justified locally, in a specific time and place or historical and social context. Otto Neurath, followed by W.V. Quine, likened this situation to that of sailors who have to rebuild a ship at sea: while standing on somewhat rotten planks, they must repair and replace the others. Every plank sooner or later gets repaired. Everything is open to transformation. Nothing stays fixed.

Richard Rorty expands on this train of thought, arguing that the "individual, the community, the human body as a whole have a 'means by which they know the world' (this entails language, culture, semiotic systems, mathematics, science etc.). Rorty claims in addition to this that the philosopher, in order to verify a particular means, or a particular statement belonging to a certain means (eg. the propositions of the natural sciences) would have to 'step outside' the means they are judging and critique it neutrally -however, this is quite literally impossible, the only way in which one can know the world is through the means by which they know the world." [1]

In other words, there is no independent epistemological mechanism for determining the validity of a statement. If anti-foundationalism is correct, then it would be the case that the opposition between reason and belief is a false one, and that every situation of contest should be recharacterized as a debate between two sets of belief with no possibility of recourse to a mode of deliberation that was not itself an extension of belief. In other words, any principle will always be a matter of faith, of the assumptions that are bedrock within a discursive or communicative system which because it rests upon them cannot (without self-destructing) call them into question.

The conclusion cannot be avoided by invoking abstract (that is, contentless) logical operations like the “law of non-contradiction.” What is and is not a contradiction will vary depending on the distinctions already in place. A contradiction must be a contradiction between something and something else and the shape of those somethings will always be the product of an interpretive rather than a formal determination.

Pro’s P1, in an attempt to find some belief or view that is unchangeable and foundational, assumes the weakest principle of non-contradiction. Robert Nozick offers a compelling response. He argues that, "the fact that a particular theory has a fixed point does not show that this very same point must or will be held fixed by every plausible theory. And it does not show the theory under consideration is unable successively to transform itself by using its own then accepted standards, so that this point and even these very standards get modified." [2] Nozick continues by giving many examples of the way the principle of non-contradiction can be challenged. I rehearse one of these below:

Suppose an object changes from red to black. If time is continuous (or even if it dense), then between any two instants there are an infinite number of other instants. So with a changing object in continuous time, either there will not be a last instant when it is in one state or there will not be a first instant when it is in the other. If time is continuous, and if there are no instants when the entity is in neither state, no instant when it is neither red nor nonred, then the last instant of the first state and the first instant of the second state would be the very same instant. The object would be both red and nonred. As Nozick explains, "Of course, because these contradictions hold for only an instant, it is no wonder we do not notice them." [2]

Furthermore, Nozick emphasizes that "it is important to realize that logic and reason would not crumble if the law of non-contradiction is given up." Indeed, there are many examples of logics without non-contradiction, e.g., paraconsistent logic or dialetheism. Therefore, no principle can be justified absolutely. As Quine, Rorty, and Nozick argue, no foundational beliefs exist, and without these, the justification of any principle is impossible.

2) Suppose we are generous, and for the sake of argument, grant Pro the use of foundational beliefs to justify NAP. What then? That fact itself demonstrates the inconsistency of Pro's argument. Pro's first premise is predicated on the fact that things can only be justified by "argumentation." The problem is, if there are foundational beliefs, they require no argumentation to be justified. Hence, Pro's claim that "argumentation is necessary to justify any proposition" is simply false: no "argumentation" is required to justify the principle of non-contradiction, and it is that very principle that Pro invokes to justify the "axiom of argumentation." Pro's first premise is unjustified, given the fact that this premise is justified on the basis of foundational beliefs.

As we can see, Pro's entire position is inconsistent. It requires foundational beliefs to have any validity, but if Pro accepts foundational beliefs, Pro admits that argumentation is not necessary to justify every proposition. Hence, P1 is false. If P1 is false, the rest of Pro's premises and conclusions are also false.

Ethical Justification?

Once more let's be generous to Pro. Hypothetically, suppose Pro's argument that the NAP is a justified position is sound. Does it follow that the NAP is an ethical position? It does not. Pro must show that the NAP is not only justified, but that it is itself an ethical position. This means Pro must show how the NAP produces results that are "right" and "just."

So far, Pro has simply made a completely formal argument, using the operations of logic, but Pro has not shown how the NAP is itself an ethical position, and therefore, there is still a lot left for Pro to demonstrate if Pro wants to fulfill the BoP. That said, I will save my arguments for why the NAP is not an ethical position for the next Round, where I imagine Pro will have provided some reasons for supporting the NAP as an ethical position.

[2] Nozick, Robert. Invariances
Debate Round No. 2


Defense of foundationalism

This debate has taken a rather interesting turn. I admit I was a bit taken back upon reading my opponent's response initially. On the justification of foundationalism, the argument runs simply for the most part. The first point or premise is that one is justified in holding at least some beliefs to be true, that justified true beliefs exist. From this we must ask ourselves how we know these things to be true. What justifies that belief and what justifies the belief in that belief and so on ad infinitum. This is called the regress problem in epistemology and foundationalism's method of solving the problem is to ground ultimate justification back to a finite proposition or number of propositions which do not need grounding in other propositions or beliefs. Below I will defend each premise on which foundationalism is founded on individually for the sake of clarity,

Premise 1: Some propositions can be known as with epistemic certainty

This is the main point where my opponent and I disagree. The whole of foundationalism rests on whether any knowledge can be truly justified. Take the famous words of Descartes, "I think, therefore I am." Can it even be denied that one does not exist? Not without intellectual error. The pre-requisite of even making a statement is existence or being. To deny this is to implicitly affirm it. So at the very least we can know with foundational certainty that our own minds exist. However, my opponent seems to also call into question the law of non-contradiction as well.

Sub-1: The law of non-contradiction

My opponent uses his denial of the law of non-contradiction in order to try to refute my points. So even if I can show that the denial of foundationalism or the non-aggression principle is contradictory, that doesn't mean anything. However, by even engaging in communicative argumentation, my opponent has presumed the laws of logic. It would be impossible to argue in any meaningful sense if one did not already presume certain methods of inference. At the base of the norms necessarily presupposed in arguing are the three classic rules of logic i.e. the law of identity, the excluded middle, and non-contradiction. Argumentation would be utterly impossible without a criterion of logic. That isn't to say that this criterion of logic are mere customs agreed upon by people or that they are subjective in any sense. This can be shown from the fact that coming to agreement on the customs of logic would be impossible without already presupposing them in the first place as they are a presupposition necessary for communicative argumentation. Whether my opponent accepts the law of non-contradiction or not, that doesn't detract from it's validity.

Premise 2: The justification of propositions must end at some point

It may be taken as a given that the justification of propositions may not go on ad infinitum. To do so, any initial proposition would never truly be justified as the source would never be able to be drawn on. True justification is not possible without firm and finite grounding. If you say you know how the universe will end, I can ask how you know this. If you say because some reason X I either can or cannot question the further justification. If I cannot question it than we have arrived at the ultimate grounding (foundationalism), however if I can still question the justification than it obviously means that the initial statement about the ending of the universe is not grounded and thus not justified.

Conclusion: Foundationalism is a justified epistemology

If the premises of the argument hold, than the conclusion is necessitated. As I have shown, some true belief does hold and this belief must be ultimately grounded somewhere. An infinite chain of justification would prove insufficient in justifying anything.

Refutation of Premise 1 as incompatible with foundationalism

My opponent here tries to argue that foundationalism (the grounding of knowledge to ultimate principles which cannot be denied) is incompatible with the a priori of argumentation (any proposition must be justified over the course of argumentation). On the face these premises might seem contradictory, however, I fail to see wherein the contradiction lies. The APA argues that in order to justify a proposition one must prove it using argumentative discourse. That does not mean that a proposition is not in itself justified though (see analytic propositions wherein the justification is contained within the statement itself i.e. that all bachelors are unmarried). Just because one has not proven through argumentation that an apple is sitting on my table does not mean that one isn't. All it means is that one is not yet justified in believing so. My opponent here is confusing epistemology (how we know if a proposition is justified) and ontology (whether a proposition actually possesses the characteristic of justification). For instance, the statement 2 2=4 is inherently justified. That does not mean that everyone accepts it as true though. In order to justify that proposition in any epistemic sense, one must resort to argumentation and that is what the a priori of argumentation means.

On whether the NAP is an ethical position

I admit I'm a bit confused by my opponent's point here. He argues that I am not justified in arguing that the NAP is an ethical position. However, in the preliminary round I defined an ethical position as one "governing right or wrong methods of interpersonal actions". The NAP clearly does this. Under the NAP, aggression is defined as wrong action (unjustified and therefore unjust) whereas abstaining from aggression is defined as right action (justified and therefore just). I admit that the argumentation which I base the NAP does not rely on value judgement and is therefore value-neutral but owing to the nature of P1, it need not do so to ground actions as inherently justified or unjustified.


By way of response, I will argue for ethical pragmatism. In doing so, I will offer a counterargument to Pro’s foundationalism (through a pragmatist epistemology) and thus an argument that directly counters the NAP. Before doing so, I will once again address Pro's flawed syllogistic argument for the NAP.

Pro's argument

Pro offers two foundations: 1) our mind's experience of "existence" and 2) the “three classic rules of logic.” But what reason do we have for believing either of these is foundational? Pro provides none. In fact, because foundational beliefs must be self-evident and non-arguable, if Pro's foundational beliefs are true, they must be true for no reason at all.

Hence, Pro's Premise 1 is incompatible with foundationalism. According to Pro, P1 "argues that in order to justify a proposition one must prove it using argumentative discourse." Foundationalism argues that there exist propositions that are justified and proven without using argumentative discourse. Pro states he "fail[s] to see wherein the contradiction lies." I cannot think of a way to make it clearer. Pro's P1 states nothing is justified without argumentation, foundationalism states some things are justified without argumentation.

Pro attempts to avoid the contradiction by creating a false distinction between epistemology and ontology. Whether absolute truths exist or not (ontology) is irrelevant. The question is whether those truths can be justified. To justify those truths implies knowledge of those truths. Justification is a characteristic of epistemic access to truth, and as such, justification is a purely epistemological question.

Pro falsely claims 2+2=4 is "inherently justified." As mathematician Charles Steinmetz states: "Mathematics is the most exact science, and its conclusions are capable of absolute proof. But this is so only because mathematics does not attempt to draw absolute conclusions. All mathematical truths are relative, conditional." [3] The way "2" and "4" are defined is conditional and open to interpretation, as are the operators "+" and "="

Law of non-contradiction

In R2, I argue that a contradiction depends on distinctions between things that are themselves defined by an interpretive act. This means that any contradiction is only a contradiction as the result of beliefs, not truths. I also gave Nozick's example, true contradictions occurring because of time's continuity or infinite denseness. Pro does not contest these. Instead, Pro ignores my arguments and claims that the laws of logic are a "presupposition necessary for communicative argumentation." The laws of logic are a "presupposition" for the kind of "communicative argumentation" that Pro engages in. Communicative argumentation is itself contingent, and there are many different kinds of communicative argumentation that use different laws of logic. In R2, I gave examples. I also cited Nozick, who clearly states that logic and reason would not crumble without the law of non-contradiction.


Kant famously argued the "things-in-themselves" are inaccessible. According to Kant, "intuitions without concepts are blind," which is to say, all experience is always interpreted through the frame of a pre-existing vocabulary or set of "categories."

Pragmatists push Kant one step further, arguing these "categories" are the creations of human subjects who cannot "step outside" their interpretive framework. In other words, epistemic access to reality is necessarily mediated by concepts and descriptions that precede that reality. Of course, this means different interpretive frames produce different beliefs and conceptions of reality. Because there is no independent or neutral mechanism for adjudicating between these different interpretive frames, pragmatists maintain that there are no absolute and certain foundations for knowledge.

In response, Pro argues that the "justification of propositions may not go on ad infinitum," but why not? Pro states: "any initial proposition would never truly be justified as the source would never be able to be drawn on." Yes, exactly. Pragmatists argue that, because we have no access to a foundation or "ultimate grounding," any attempt to justify a proposition absolutely is misguided. Pragmatists are not saying such a foundation does not exist; they are saying that, if a foundation does exist, we do not have epistemic access to that truth. Therefore, pragmatists argue that the justification of any truth is conditional (as in mathematics).

Ethical pragmatism

At first, it might seem that any pragmatist position is ethically relativistic. On the contrary, however, every pragmatist position carries an "ethical justification" in the maxim: do what works. The pragmatist recognizes that, for every principle, there will be an exception. As Rorty states: "our sense of community as having no foundation except shared hope and the trust created by such sharing -- is put forward on practical grounds." [4] In the absence of any metaphysical or epistemological foundation, ethical obligations are a matter of what works practically. "Community" and "shared hope" are things that, according to Rorty, work. Nozick makes the exact same argument using game-theoretic reasoning in a chapter titled "The Genealogy of Ethics." [2]

The NAP is a principle that may work most of the time, but the pragmatist recognizes that there will be exceptions. There will be circumstances in which the NAP does not work, and therefore, is not justified. Non-aggression as an ethical stance can be justified in particular circumstances, but not as a principle that works for all circumstances.

Ethical Critique of the NAP

As I argued in R2, even if readers accept Pro's argument for foundationalism and Pro's "argumentation" argument for the NAP, Pro nevertheless has not proven the NAP is an "ethical position." If readers accept Pro's arguments, readers accept that the NAP is a justified formal or metaphysical or epistemological position. But Pro himself admits "the NAP does not rely on value judgement and is therefore value-neutral." Value-neutral positions are not ethical positions.

Consider Pro's example, 2+2=4. Does that statement say anything about ethics? Is the law of non-contradiction an ethical position? No, sometimes ethical actions require contradictions. Again, a value-neutral position is not an ethics. The whole point of an ethical position is to provide values on which we can determine whether our actions are ethical or not.

Hence, as a value-neutral position, Pro's NAP says nothing about ethics. For example, it does not tell us how to interpret non-aggression. If a stranger interprets the greeting "hello" as aggression, does that justify a violent response to the greeting "hello"? NAP has no way of answering this question because it is value-neutral. It has no content. It is a purely formal determination that depends only on the rules of logic, not on "governing right or wrong methods of interpersonal actions."

Utilitarianism and other forms of consequentialist ethics also critique the NAP as unethical. Utilitarianism is an ethical position in which ethical actions are actions that lead to good consequences. Actions that produce the best results are ethical. The NAP is thus unethical because sometimes the "initiation" of aggression produces better results than non-aggression. Suppose that you could save a million lives by killing one innocent man. The NAP holds that you should not kill that man. But this leads to a million deaths. The famous trolley problem works just as well against the NAP.

Furthermore, recent scholarship has argued that moderate aggression is a positive adaptation. [5] These scholars argue that aggression exists along a continuum, with moderate levels of aggression being most adaptive for the individual, as well as for society as a whole. This clearly makes the NAP unethical, as some aggression is evolutionarily good.

[3] E. T. Bell, Men of Mathematics
Debate Round No. 3


socialpinko forfeited this round.


I'd like to thank my opponent for his unexpected defense of the NAP. It has been educational, to say the last. But unfortunately my opponent has forfeited the final round. Because of Pro's rule that drops count as concessions, I think it is reasonable to assume my opponent has conceded the debate.

In conclusion, I offer a brief summary of my arguments: I deconstructed Pro's argument by locating its inherent contradictions, specifically in its simultaneous reliance on foundationalism and incompatibility with foundationalism. I also made an argument for pragmatism so as to completely negate the force of foundationalism. Finally, I directly argued against the NAP as an "ethical" position, using multiple moral systems to support my critique.
Debate Round No. 4
19 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by socialpinko 4 years ago
His viewpoint is unique to say the least. Value-free ethics (as a method of determining how we ought to interact, differentiated from personal morality) is fascinating to me. Of course Hoppe utilizes the law of non-contradiction a lot.
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
you know I've never read Hans Herman-Hoppe, but he seems to be really popular on this site... you think he's worth reading?
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
after the debate, I'll tell you how I'd argue your position
Posted by socialpinko 4 years ago
I breezed right through the actual ethical part of my response (still writing out my full response) but the d@mm epistemology is killing me. I don't usually argue with people who deny logical axioms. How do you argue against that? Show that it's contradictory? Apparently just showing something to be contradictory isn't enough.
Posted by socialpinko 4 years ago
the FourTrouble character kind of came out of nowhere.
Posted by PARADIGM_L0ST 4 years ago
Can't wait for the conclusion of this one
Posted by Grape 4 years ago
I like this debate a lot so far.
Posted by socialpinko 4 years ago
The one good thing about argumentation ethics is that no one sees it coming. Of course I never hear anti-foundationalist refutations.
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
You can imagine my shock when I saw your response, here I was looking forward to my utilitarian critique of non-aggression and instead I find some obscure argument about argumentation lol
Posted by socialpinko 4 years ago
This is awesome. Totally different type of response than I usually get.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by 16kadams 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: in this debate the FF is an auto loss, see cons last statements.