Saturday, November 10, 2012

Libertarianism ad nauseam

Andrew Louis comments:
I've commented at length on my blog, but in short I'd say the major disagreement that you still seem to be standing on shaky ground with the idea of objectively determinable - i.e. you can't go from possession to ownership (as in, I'm being robbed, someone is taking my property) and still call that plainly objective with a context within which to define ownership.

I dunno. Maybe I'm just not being clear.

First, any short article has to take a lot for granted. The best I can do is try to be explicit about anything controversial I'm taking for granted. It's not really helpful to say, "Well, you have no justification for taking this or that for granted." Well, duh. That's what it means to take something for granted. The question is, how does taking or not taking this or that for granted actually change the argument? The same goes for distinctions of convenience. How does making a different distinction affect the argument? Louis and Horowitz do point out that yes, I'm taking things for granted, and yes, I'm making some distinctions of convenience that might have some gray areas, but I don't see in their work how it affects my argument.

More importantly, I do not go "from possession to ownership... and still call that plainly objective." Louis is skipping over the important bit. I explicitly define ownership as subjective and socially constructed. The question is, how do we evaluate social constructions? One method of evaluation is to say that we can socially construct political judgments (judgments of justice and injustice) only on the basis of objectively determinable facts. If we make different socially constructed political judgments about two situations where the relevant objective facts are the same, we are being inconsistent or hypocritical. Another method of evaluation is to say that we can socially construct not only on the basis of objective facts, but also on subjective facts, such as agreements, laws, etc. If we have agreed, for example, that citizens must pay taxes, or that renters must pay rent, then that agreement becomes relevant: we can consistently and non-hypocritically have different political judgments of two cases with the same objective facts, because they are distinguished on subjective facts, i.e. we might recognize that an agreement exists in one case, and no agreement exists in another.

I want to emphasize again that I do not believe that political and ethical judgments must necessarily be objectively consistent as in the first case above. I am introducing the distinction because I have with my own ears heard Libertarians argue that taxation are objectionable, regardless of any social constructions, because it has the same objective facts as other cases we judge as unjust expropriation. They also argue, however, that enforcement of agreements is permissible, even though they have the same objective facts as unjust expropriation, because of the existence of the social constructions of agreements and ownership. There are, perhaps, other ways to argue for the superiority of ownership, but arguing that social constructions in general cannot establish justice-relevant facts when one does not like a particular construction, and arguing that social constructions in general can establish justice-relevant facts when one does like a particular construction, is self-contradictory.

This distinction goes right over Louis's head:
Secondly I'd suggest that your analogy between taxes and absentee ownership (both being social constructs) isn't a valid analogy. In fact I'd suggest it's a category mistake. Yes they're both social constructions, however the initiated coercion is not against a concept of ownership in both cases. i.e. while they are both social constructs (which all ownership is), they are not both representative of the initiation of coercion against ownership. If I own property, whether directly (in that I, e.g., live there personally) or as an absentee owner, then what I do with that property is to a certain degree my business. If I’m an absentee owner renting space to an individual who fails to pay his rent (and we have some sort of rental agreement), then through coercion I’m going to kick him out. Now to make the analogy work with taxes it would have to presuppose that the government “owned” the money it was taking, but in fact it doesn’t. That we socially agree (to one extent or the other) to pay taxes does not entail ownership over that money and therefore the analogy fails.

Why should it matter that we label one social construction as "taxation" and another social construction as "ownership"? The choice of label seems the most specious distinction possible to make. If we can socially construct the concept of "ownership" to justify coercion, then we can just as easily socially construct the concept of "taxation" justify coercion. (If Louis is especially hung up on labels, then I suppose we could just change our socially constructed notion of ownership to actually give the government ownership of our money.)

Andrew reveals the crux of his argument and the relevance of my analysis: we "have to presuppose that the government “owned” the money it was taking, but in fact it doesn’t [emphasis added]." What facts, precisely, is Louis referring to here? Objectively determinable facts, in which case my argument about whether subjective social constructions must strictly supervene over only objectively determinable facts or whether subjective social constructions can create normatively relevant facts is directly pertinent.

Alternatively, Louis might simply be saying that some social constructions, such as ownership, are in some sense per se factual; some social constructions, such as as taxation, are in some sense per se non-factual, fictitious, or delusional. Another approach might be to say that some social constructions are per se privileged over others: the socially constructed concept of ownership inherently supersedes taxation.

Or maybe Louis has just had a revelation from God.

Perhaps someday, I'll see a Libertarian offer something better than argument from vehement assertion. I've given up on either Louis or Horowitz giving something better.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Libertarian argument

Having laid the philosophical framework in previous posts, I want to restate one fundamentally problematic Libertarian argument.

The problematic argument starts with a common, relatively unobjectionable, moral intuition: if someone comes up to you, points a gun at your head, and takes your stuff (wallet, watch, car, or suchlike), you have been the victim of injustice. They follow with the assertion that the act was unjust precisely because you were deprived of your property by force without your consent. This reasoning isn't philosophically airtight (nothing really is), but most people would not argue the obvious opposite, that walking up to people and taking their property at gunpoint was just or even neutral. This step establishes a moral intuition (seemingly) about nothing but a set of objectively determinable facts about the world.

The second step is to argue that taxation fits this fact pattern. Taxation consists of the government essentially walking up to you with a gun and taking your stuff. Because it fits the same objective facts that we earlier agreed were unjust, taxation is therefore unjust. Anyone who disagrees is either mistaken or hypocritical. They may mistaken or ignorant about the objective facts, not realizing that that taxation entails taking property at gunpoint. They may be mistaken in their moral judgment, believing that taking people's property at gunpoint is just or neutral. Or, they may be hypocritical, judging one behavior at unjust and another just, even though the objective facts are identical. Taxation is just as bad as any other sort of coercive theft because the objective facts are identical. This step establishes consistency of application.

It's noteworthy that, unlike random robbery, the counter-argument that taxation is legitimate by social construction can be rebutted only by saying that the fact of social construction is irrelevant; any social construction that judges one case of coercion as unjust and another case, with identical objective facts, as just, is as mistaken or hypocritical as a single individual making the same judgment. Without this stipulation, the argument for the injustice of taxes falls apart, because the socially constructed legitimacy of taxation is not in doubt.

Up to here, although this Libertarian argument is still controvertible on other grounds, it remains consistent and coherent. We might have to be a little creative and broad about precisely which specific objective facts we attach our moral beliefs to, but we could create a political system that consistently and coherently applies the same political judgments of justice/injustice to the same relevant set of objective facts. It might or might not be a society we like or want, but it cannot be dismissed on the grounds of inconsistency or incoherence.

One type of Libertarian might just stop here. Coercion is bad, period, and should be employed as a necessary evil only to resist another's coercion. No mere social construction legitimatize any form of coercion except resistance.

However, the Libertarian who supports absentee property ownership is now in something of a bind. I define absentee ownership here as the situation where the objectively determinable direct use of physical coercion against the person of the owner is not required to deprive him or her of its objectively determinable use. For example, the occupant of a rented house is already in physical possession of the house; if the renter arbitrarily decides not to pay the rent, no objectively determinable coercion against the person of the owner is necessary. Indeed, it is the owner who must, in a objectively determinable sense, initiate coercion against the possessor to exert meaningful ownership.

One response is that coercion to enforce absentee ownership is socially constructed to be legitimate, even though the absentee owner does not possess the property. However, if social construction can legitimatize coercion to maintain absentee ownership, then social construction can legitimatize coercion to collect taxes. Remember, the argument against taxation above must be in some sense that because it is coercive, taxation is unjust regardless of any social constructions that legitimatize it.

Another response is that absentee ownership creates relevant, objectively determinable facts, such as titles, deeds, and leases*; the distinction between forcibly evicting someone from the house that they own is objectively different from forcibly evicting someone from the house that their landlord owns. But it is again difficult to distinguish absentee ownership from taxation: if absentee ownership can do so, then taxation can also create the same sorts of objectively determinable facts, such as statutes and regulations.

*accepting, arguendo, that titles, deeds, and leases can be classified as objectively determinable facts.

One very bad possibility is to simply declare that the objectively determinable facts magically change in an objectively indeterminate way when one approves of the coercion. Sadly, many Libertarians seem sufficiently philosophically naive to actually argue in a way that is impossible to interpret as anything but that the facts magically change. To paraphrase Jon during my recent debate, when the government is enforcing taxation, it is initiating coercion regardless of the social constructions that might legitimatize it, but when owners enforce their property rights, they are not initiating coercion.

The only other alternative is to simply say that yes, we can subjectively legitimatize differential coercion, applying different political judgments of justice and injustice not just on the objectively determinable facts, but also on socially constructed subjectively determinable facts, such as agreements, titles, deeds, leases, statutes, and regulations. There are, however, better and worse social constructions: the social constructions that legitimatize taxation are worse in some subjectively determinable way than the social constructions that legitimatize absentee ownership. Furthermore, we must determine the quality of social constructions by means other than looking at only the objectively determinable facts. (Alternatively we could allow that all social constructions create objectively determinable facts.)

The problem there is that I don't think the latter case can actually be made, which is why Libertarians don't often try to make it.

Normativity and objective/subjective determinability

Andrew Louis and Eli Horowitz both have extensive and thoughtful responses to my recent post, Social constructions and Libertarianism.

I want to first respond to them indirectly; my original piece was not, I think, a model of clarity, so I want to try again.

Our primary task is to justify the normative aspects of ethical and political ideas. Without too much controversy (excluding the more extreme postmodernists and epistemic relativists), we can justify descriptive aspects of any set of ideas using the scientific method. It's a more problematic task to justify normativity.

To capture these problems, I want to introduce some terms with specific meanings. The first term is consistently determinable; an statement is consistently determinable if, given a context, i.e. some statements and inference rules, everyone will consistently assent or dissent to some statement. A statement for which assent is consistently determinable in some context is valid relative to that context; a statement for which dissent is consistently determinable is invalid; and a statement for which neither assent nor dissent is consistently determinable is indeterminate. Thus, given the axioms and inference rules of arithmetic, for example, everyone will consistently assent that "2 + 2 = 4"; it is a valid statement of arithmetic.

The next terms are objective and subjective. The use of these terms in general philosophical use varies, so I want to be precise about how I'm using them: the objective pertains to the world outside our minds, and the subjective pertains to our minds directly. The union of the objective and the subjective constitute the real: although no unicorns objectively exist, a thought about a unicorn is still a real thought. Similarly, gravity objectively exists, and the law of gravity, i.e. our thoughts about gravity, also subjectively exists.*

*I don't want to get into a theory of truth, but we can say, glossing over a lot of philosophical problems that are not pertinent here, that because our subjective thoughts about gravity seem in some sense to "match" the objective nature of gravity, our subjective thoughts seem in some sense to be "true."

We can combine these ideas. A statement that is consistently determinable without introducing any properties of any minds is objectively determinable. A statement that requires introducing properties of minds to be consistently determinable is subjectively determinable in this sense. This construction can be extremely problematic: it is not at all obvious how to operationalize objective determinability. But I think we can handwave over these objectives for the present moment; my terminology captures, I think, some deep intuitions about the world works, and how our minds conceptualize the world.

Using this terminology, I can express my earlier point more succinctly: all consistently determinable normative statements are subjectively determinable. We must in some way reference the contents of people's minds to consistently determine normative statements.

To illustrate this concept, I divide our notions about property into two classes: the objectively determinable components, which I label more-or-less arbitrarily as possession, and our normative, (potentially) subjectively determinable components as ownership. Thus the statement "Alice possesses that specific blue 2010 Honda Civic" is by definition objectively determinable: we would expect that even a space alien with no knowledge at all about our minds could tell whether or not Alice possesses that specific car: they might observe, for example, that Alice uses the car often and maintains consistent control over it. On the other hand, "Alice owns that specific car" is by definition subjectively determinable: our hypothetical space aliens would necessarily have to learn something about our minds to determine Alice's ownership. Again, these are just arbitrary distinctions for the purpose of clarity.

Given these distinctions, there seem to be two arguable positions about the relationship between ownership and possession. The first is that ownership directly matches possession: given some objectively determinable definition of possession, anyone who possesses an object always owns it. The second is that ownership does not directly match possession: we must in some sense know a lot of things about people's minds to determine whether or not someone owns something; for any objectively determinable definition of possession, it will be the case that people can possess things they do not own and own things they do not possess. Note that the specific definition of possession is irrelevant; what is relevant is only that possession is by definition objectively determinable.

(We can also exclude the case where, by dint of careful examination, we might be able to objectively determine ownership, but only at the "cost" of having enough information about the world to make good inferences about people's minds. Minds are just as real as rocks and trees, and all of reality is causally interconnected; the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity is a distinction of convenience, not a fundamental dualism.)

So finally, after a lot of tedious philosophy, we come to my two main objections to Libertarianism.

The first is that we have a lot of intuitions about ownership that are based directly on possession, and Libertarians use those intuitions as normative justification. If I really possess something, it takes objectively determinable initiation of physical force to expropriate the object without my consent. We need the things we use and possess, and we resent people forcing us to do things without our individual consent. These intuitions are not, by and large, problematic. Even a committed communist such as myself admits that I possess my car, for example; I use it, and I maintain control over it, I need it; and I would be quite peeved if anyone, including the state, arbitrarily expropriated it by force. So these intuitions are not problematic. However, the Libertarian argument then typically "subjectivizes" what appear to be the objectively determinable notions of possession and the initiation of coercion: the subjectively determinable legitimate employment of coercion, to enforce an agreement, for example, is not the "initiation" of coercion. Because Alice subjectively determinably owns something, she thereby possesses it; because she owns something, her use of coercion cannot be initiation. This justification is disingenuous because it intentionally confuses objective and subjectively determinable considerations.

The point is only that this particular justification is untenable. The point is not that people should or should not only own what they possess, nor is the point that a bad justification renders a proposition false. The point is simply that this particular justification, using our intuitions about objectively determinable states to justify states that can be only subjectively determinable, is disingenuous.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Summary and response

One of the disadvantages of not going to college as a young man is that I didn't learn then valuable techniques developed by academia that apparently are not well-propagated to the outside world. One problem that easily solvable by a stock academic technique is the problem of "fisking," creating a running, point-by-point critique of an essay or other written work. I remember fisking other people's posts back in the olden days when I posted a lot at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board. I felt that while it was thorough, fisking was a very ineffective technique. It somehow seems all to easy to miss the forest for the trees. For example, Andrew Louis recently commented on my post, Social constructions and Libertarianism. He's not fisking my post in the sense of trying to show that the post is completely, utterly, absolutely terrible, but the point-by-point form that Louis uses makes it unclear exactly what he is objecting to and why. There is an easy solution to this problem: the classic summary/analysis/response format taught in Freshman Composition at most colleges.

A standard summary/analysis/response (SAR) format consists of three sections, perhaps unsurprisingly, the summary, the analysis, and the response. Each section can be as short as a single paragraph. The summary neutrally summarizes the original work, without revealing the respondent's position. The analysis analyzes the effectiveness of the original work. The response gives the respondent's opinion or judgment of the original work. Essentially, the SAR format is: what did the original author say? How and how well does he or she say it? Is he or she right or wrong (or somewhere in between)? Structuring a critique in this way has some significant benefits.

The summary section begins with a reference to the original work and a statement of the original author's thesis. The thesis summarizes the author's main point in a short clause or sentence. The summary continues with an explanation of how the original author supports the thesis. (If the original author doesn't try to support the thesis, the work is probably not even worth criticizing analytically.) The summary usually ends with a paraphrase or summary of the original author's conclusion, tying the original thesis to the larger world.

After the summary, the analysis section begins with the critic's judgment of the effectiveness of the original work, which will usually include the major rhetorical styles (logos, logical argument; pathos, appeal to emotion; and ethos, credibility) of the original work. The analysis section will then support that judgment and description using evidence from the original work. The response section is not to agree or disagree with the author; it is to show how well or poorly the author employs the rhetorical techniques appropriate to the original work.

Finally, the response section informs the reader of the critic's judgment of the original work. Note that the judgment is often independent of the analysis. It is entirely possible that an author can construct a brilliant, clear, concise, and perspicacious argument that is nonetheless dead wrong. Again, the critic should support his judgment, but, unlike the summary and analysis sections, the judgment should include information outside the original work, including other cited sources, or the critics own experience and opinion.

This structure has some important advantages. The analysis examines the internal strengths and weaknesses of the original work, more-or-less unbiased by the critic's judgment, and the response section shows and supports the critic's actual judgment. But the summary section is the most important: it shows how the critic is reading the original work. The critic's reading may be completely different from the original author's intention. Such a difference would not mean the critic has read the original work incorrectly; the original author may have been unclear or obtuse, or the critic may be seeing valid implications beyond the original intention. In any case, any critical commentary is more intelligible and valuable if the reader of the criticism knows what precisely the critic is examining.

In my own case, most of the content of the blog is pretty much free-writing. I may have a thesis in mind when I begin—I might even state a thesis at its usual position at the end of the first paragraph—but I may swerve hard somewhere in the middle of the essay. I might not even have a thesis at all. (I do tend to ramble sometimes). When reading criticism of my work, the summary and analysis are especially valuable. I very well may not be saying what I want to say, but I can't know that until I learn how readers actually read it. I may well be making a terrible argument, but I need to know why it's a terrible argument, and what the critic thinks I'm arguing for. And finally, I might be dead wrong. I don't care too much that anyone thinks I'm dead wrong (I already know a lot of people disagree with me), but I'm keenly interested in why someone thinks I'm dead wrong. And in that case especially, I really want to know what a critic thinks I'm wrong about.

Summary. Analysis. Response. It's a pretty good structure. Learn it. Use it. Make it your friend.

For example, see Christianity and Suffering. I've slightly varied the format, but it still seems like a pretty good example of the SAR format.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Political arguments

It seems as if there are basically two types of political arguments: the pragmatic, utilitarian argument, and the moral argument. The pragmatic argument says that if we do this or that, we will have the most happiness, satisfaction, or well-being for the most people. The moral argument says that even if this or that were to produce a generally happy society, it is intrinsically immoral and we should not do it.

A model of the moral argument is Ursula K. LeGuin's The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. In this story, LeGuin describes pragmatically successful society: while not saints or angels, its members are very happy and satisfied by most reasonable measures. This happiness, however, is gained at the cost holding a single child in perpetual misery, terror, pain, and degradation. LeGuin implies that this price is too high to pay for any happiness. While it might be true that all else being equal, more happiness overall is better than less, all else is not always equal, and sometimes the general good has to be sacrificed to a more fundamental morality.

Some arguments against slavery, torture, imperialism, and even capitalism take the same form. We do not have to analyze the overall well-being of a society that, for example, condones human chattel slavery; slavery is intrinsically wrong, and if we must sacrifice the general good to abolish slavery, so be it.

I am skeptical of the moral argument type on general grounds. Good moral intuitions without conscious utilitarian calculations are simply those intuitions whose utility has been historically established. It's not that we know slavery is "intrinsically" wrong, regardless of its utilitarian implications, it's that we know historically that slavery compromises the general good. In just the same way that we don't need to consciously do a lot of algebra and calculus to catch a ball, we don't have to do a lot of conscious utilitarian calculus to remember that slavery is a pragmatically bad idea.

But most moral arguments are more easily refuted. We need merely ask, is our conscience so gravely shocked by some action that we can justify ignoring or reversing the actions effects on the general good? In her story, LeGuin has to imagine what is nearly the most morally offensive action to give her argument strength; any lesser sacrifice, and most might well say that the general good in Omelas was worth the sacrifice. For example, in "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" (analysis with quotations), Theodore Sturgeon's posits the utilitarian advantage of what is perhaps the second strongest moral prohibition, incest, and makes a reasonably persuasive case (with perhaps too much exposition at the end) that in this case the utilitarian advantages outweigh our moral intuitions.

I'm writing a lot about Libertarianism here, so I want to connect Libertarianism to the moral argument type. And Libertarians do use the moral argument: taxes, are an inherently unjust, coercive expropriation of property; taxes are inherently immoral, therefore we should abandon taxation regardless of its potential utilitarian benefits. I don't really buy this moral argument. Property is not an end; it is at best a means. I need food, water, shelter, etc. so that I am not distracted from my "pursuit of happiness" by hunger, thirst, cold, etc. So long as taxation does not interfere with the function of property to maintain my bodily integrity, it is hard to see it as at all immoral. And, at least in industrial societies, taxation by itself does not directly deprive anyone of the means of life.

But even if the the moral argument were not generally invalid, either typically or in the case of taxation, simply arguing that some action is "immoral" is a non-starter unless that action truly shocks my conscience. We are not a morally perfect society; by definition we tolerate some moral ambiguity and compromise. It is perhaps true that an ideal society would have no taxation, but we have to get to that ideal society. Unless that element so truly shocks the conscience that its continued presence is intolerable, we can't just abruptly reverse an important element of our social, cultural, and political constructions merely because it is possibly not part of an ideal society.

And, let's face it, except to a fanatic or an actual (or would-be) oligarch, taxation per se is hardly morally intolerable. I've been paying taxes for thirty years, and I do not feel the slightest bit of outrage or oppression at the mere fact of taxation, especially because I have a voice (albeit small) in taxation. Even if taxation were in some sense morally wrong, we do not live in a perfect society, and taxation is a moral compromise I can very easily deal with. Furthermore, I am no more sympathetic to Libertarians' moral outrage at taxation than I am at the conservative religious moral outrage at homosexuality. Even if taxation were immoral, it is not sufficiently immoral for its immorality by itself to justify its abolition.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Critiques of Libertarianism

Since I'm talking a lot about Libertarianism, I should highlight Mike Hubens excellent resource, Critiques of Libertarianism.

Social constructions and Libertarianism

Social constructions are socially and subjectively created facts: a social construction labels some entity that exists only in the minds of (most) people in society. The most obvious example of a social construction is an agreement between two people. The agreement itself does not name any entity in the external, objective world (the physical world that does not include our minds); it names just the fact that some particular mental state is shared between the two people.

There's nothing weird or objectionable about social constructs; we've been creating social constructs since we began speaking. Indeed the primary function of speech is to create social constructs; although of undeniable importance, the utility of speech for communicating information about the external world is only secondary.

Ownership, as distinct from possession, is a social construct. Ownership might reference possession, but ownership and possession are different concepts. Possession is a physical fact; ownership is a shared idea, an idea in the minds of individual members of a society. Even were we to all agree that possession, and only possession, entails ownership, possession would label the physical fact of having some object in a person's physical control, an external fact; ownership would label the ideas in our minds that physical possession was legitimate.

Libertarianism (with absentee ownership) defines a specific social construction of ownership, one that does not correspond to possession. As best I can figure out, Libertarianism establishes ownership as only the unbroken chain of voluntary transfer of property from the original creator to the current owner, and the near-absolute power of the owners of property to use, not use, or destroy that property as they please.

In contrast, non-Libertarian philosophies construct ownership as in some way departing from either or both of the transfer principle or the absolute use principle. Liberal capitalism, for example, permits taxation (i.e. the government may legitimately compel the transfer of some property). Communism, as another example, forbids the private ownership of the means of production; the means of production may no more be privately owned than a human being.

It's more difficult to decide between social constructions than external referents. Both are, in a sense, socially created (e.g. we have simply agreed that the word "mass" refers to an object's tendency to resist acceleration), but a social construction does not refer to anything in the external world, and we cannot distinguish between conflicting social constructions directly on a scientific basis.

Hence the oft-repeated question: why should we prefer to legitimatize the Libertarian social construction of ownership to alternative social constructions of ownership? It cannot be that the Libertarian construction is scientifically determinable, because "ownership comes from the unbroken voluntary transfer from the original creator" does not directly reference anything in the external world, the world we can — if we are to believe the scientists — made decisions about using the evidence of our senses.

We can, of course, always appeal to pragmatism, an indirect scientific justification. We can say that legitimatizing this or that social construction will have specific external, scientifically determinable results, results we find clearly more or less preferable than other results.

The big problem with Libertarianism is that the deontic and the consequentialist justifications for Libertarianism both seem weak. Since Libertarianism is a social construct, not directly scientifically justifiable, I can't see any way to justify Libertarianism deontically by anything but argument by vehement assertion. And the pragmatic justification seems to rely on at best naive optimism and at worst a willful ignorance of facts. (The most administratively efficient* health care systems in the United States, for example, are Medicare/Medicaid and the Veterans Administration.) When the weaknesses in the pragmatic justification become apparent, Libertarians almost always seem to switch instantly to the deontic justification: whether or not it works "better" than current systems, the Libertarian version is intrinsically better because people will have more "choice." Of course, it would be great if any ideology were both deontically and consequentially preferable, but they seem to try to use each justification to shore up weaknesses in the other justification.

The switch between the deontic and pragmatic justification to shore up (and at worst distract) weaknesses in the other justification is most reminiscent of Christian Apologists. (While religious apologists hold no monopoly on fundamental defects of justification, they are the most vigorous and numerous examples.)

To a skeptic, if an argument is good enough to use to support a proposition, then its failure contradicts the proposition, or at least calls the truth of that proposition into serious question. If I believe something because of an argument, then if the argument fails the belief should fail too. If I believe something not because of some particular argument, then it seems dishonest to use that argument to support the belief.

For example, I believe that communism is better than capitalism because I believe the social ownership of the means of production would lead to more happiness and satisfaction in the world. I justify my communism on purely pragmatic grounds. If someone shows me that communism, or some aspect thereof, would lead to a worse outcome, then I will change my conception. For example, we know from experience that while it might be effective at quickly industrializing a poorly-industrialized country, unconstrained political rule by a self-selecting party elite has serious negative consequences when industrialization reaches a certain stage. I therefore abandon the idea of such a party elite. If the theory does not fit the facts, the theory must change.

An apologist, on the other hand, in some sense "just believes." The arguments and reasons proffered really have nothing to do with the foundation of the apologist's beliefs; the arguments are tools only of persuasion, not justification. Either the belief is mystical, revelatory, or the actual foundations of belief are at best subconscious and at worst intentionally covert.

Hence, to a certain extent, arguing with apologists is an exercise in futility. A rebuttal has no effect; they do no believe because of the argument, so even a decisive rebuttal does not undermine the belief. Furthermore, even showing that the argumentation is disingenuous in this sense is such a subtle point that only someone with considerable education, training, and experience in critical thinking and rational belief formation can spot the disingenuity, and those people are already strongly predisposed against mystical or covert belief.

Really, the only value in taking to apologists, religious, political, or ideological, is to try to gain insight into good questions to ask; even though their answers are defective, the questions are almost always valuable. Indeed, a good question is a thousand times better than a good answer. (Happily, there are a thousand times as many good answers as their are good questions.)