Philosophy In Action All the ideas and discussions
46 votes Vote

Is "self-ownership" a valid concept?

Libertarians sometimes stress "self-ownership" -- the principle that you rightfully own yourself -- as a basis for political liberty. However, some criticize the concept of self-ownership is a stolen concept. This criticism says, "If you own X, then it means X is external to yourself. Therefore you cannot own yourself. To say you own yourself is to say that you are external to yourself. That doesn't compute!" But I thought rightful ownership referred to "rightful control." The law recognizes that people own their own hair and gametes and bone marrow, and therefore have a right to sell hair and sperm and eggs and marrow. These organs aren't always external to the body but are part of the body, and ownership of them refers to rightful control over them. If I should have rightful control over my own body and decisions, then do I not rightfully own myself?

legendre007, 25.06.2013, 08:11
Idea status: under consideration


robertgarmong, 15.12.2014, 19:11
John Locke rests heavily on this concept, and I've always thought it was a bit of a dodge on his part. It's one of those places where he uses loose language to smudge over the fact that he doesn't have a very good argument.

Philosophers use this concept as a neat tool for begging the question. They'll say things like "if you can be said to own anything, sure you own yourself." But whether you can be said to have a right to own anything is precisely the question of property rights.

I think the better concept to use is the right to life, the justification for which is not just a question-begging wave of the hand, but a serious argument involving egoism, individualism, and the sovereignty of the individual rational mind. It's fine along the way to say "you have a right to self-ownership," but self-ownership is one of those concepts that, when you put any weight on them, become conceptual fallacies.

Leave a comment