(The following is a bit messy–it’s extracted from comments I gave at a colloquium a year ago. But I’d like to share anyways.)

I never make self-ownership-type arguments. Yet, if you ask me whether people are self-owners, I’d say, sure. Some left-liberals claim to find the idea perplexing, but I think that’s because they’re perplexed about how to think about property. In fact, upon reflection, we’ll see that pretty much all liberals accept some version of a self-ownership thesis. They just disagree about what self-ownership amounts to, which is one reason why we can’t use the concept of self-ownership to settle intra-liberal debates.

Let me sketch out a way of understanding self-ownership.

First, ask, what is a property right? Property rights are bundles of rights. The strength and nature of these rights can vary from owned item to owned item. The central right in a property right is the right of exclusion. (Pace Nozick, who says it’s the right to use something.) As David Schmidtz says somewhere, if property rights are a bundle, we might think of the right to exclude as the trunk from which the other rights grow as branches. Property rights can also include the right to use, sell, rent, and destroy at will.

We own different things in different ways. That us, the bundle of rights that constitutes ownership varies from thing owned to thing owned. The strength of these rights also varies. I can own a cat and a car, but my ownership of the cat—which is real ownership—doesn’t allow me to do as much with as with my ownership of the car. (I don’t mean this just to be reflecting current legal rules. Rather, I mean to be making a claim about moral rights of ownership, which the laws of different states may or may not reflect.) The way I own a cat is different from how I own a car, which is different from how I own a guitar, which is different from how I own a plot of land, which is different from how I own… etc, etc. Morally-speaking, not just legally speaking, the kinds of rights I have over these various things varies. But I really can own each of them. If you prefer to say that my ownership is “more extensive” when I have the full bundle of rights with no moral constraints on use, fine. But even if there is more or less extensive ownership, it’s still ownership. My cat is my cat. I am not allowed to torture it, neglect it, or have sex with it, but that’s not because the cat is partially society’s or anyone elses’, or because I don’t really own it. The car is my car. I am not allowed to drive it around the streets without proving competence, but that’s not because the car is partially society’s or anyone else’s. Etc.

Now, let’s imagine that certain kinds of moral arguments–such as Kantian deontological principles, or claims about what it takes to realize certain moral powers, or arguments from a privileged “original position”, or reflections on Strawsonian reactive attitudes, or sophisticated Millian consequentialism, or whatnot–lead us to the conclusion that people have certain rights of exclusion and use over themselves, and possibly as well as some other rights over themselves.

Once you see how these rights shape up, you might notice that people’s rights over themselves strongly resemble that bundle of rights we associate with property rights. We might then decide to call people self-owners. We would not thereby be abusing the concept of “property”. Every liberal thinks we each have certain strong rights of use, exclusion, and so on, over ourselves and our bodies. So, in effect, they all accept a self-ownership thesis, though many of them would not describe their beliefs as such.

In this kind of story, the concept of self-ownership does little work in justifying anything. It’s a conclusion, not a premise or a foundation. We’re self-owners, but we might be self-owners in any number of different ways (just as we might own stuff in any number of different ways). All liberals end up endorsing a self-ownership thesis, but they endorse different self-ownership theses. There’s Nozickian self-ownership, Brennanian self-ownership, Rawlsian self-ownership, Macedoian self-onwership, etc. What exactly goes into our self-ownership rights bundle depends in part on the foundational moral arguments, whatever they might be. The concept of self-ownership won’t lead us to libertarianism. Rather, the more foundational arguments might lead us to one of the many libertarian varieties of self-ownership. Or, they might not.

Rights are necessary for us to live together in peace, harmony, and with feelings of mutual respect. But rights are always problematic.

For example, if external property rights forbade all crossings no matter what, then we could have a system in which someone is forced to starve because someone buys up all the land around her and she can’t get to the supermarket. So, every functioning society invents rules of easement.

These kinds of cases pose a problem for anyone who believes in rights. It’s not special to libertarians. Consider questions of free speech: Does my right to free speech include a right to protest on the street at rush hour? In your classroom while you teach? In your house? In the president’s house? Does it include a right to print my words on your newspaper? To shout down speakers I dislike? To yell “fire” in a crowded theater? Consider questions of political liberty: Do I need to have equal chance to affect electoral outcomes as anyone else? Does that mean giving me equal financial resources? Does it mean giving me more resources so I can counteract others’ charisma? Does it mean giving me extra votes? Do I just need to have formal equality of political power? Does freedom of the press allow them to publish state secrets? The sexual history of non-celebrity readers? Why not?

I think many of these questions can be answered. However, on my view, rights are not really foundational. Rather,  other moral principles are foundational, and these explain what particular rights we have, in what way, and how these questions are to be answered.

This is compatible with holding that the content of our rights is largely conventional. There may be a common core of rights that all just societies must respect. Philosophy alone might be able to tell us what that core is and why. The rest may be something that is discovered–what particular ways of filling out the rights (beyond the core part) help us live together in peace and prosperity? What ways help people live together respectfully–i.e., in ways where they see themselves as respect and in which they see themselves as respecting others?

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  • Aeon Skoble

    What do you make of Locke’s use of Self-Ownership? On a standard way of reading his use of it, it would seem to point to libertarianism.

  • Dan

    While I’m always reluctant to contribute to what seems like a terminological dispute, isn’t all of this easily avoided by your concession that we can speak of “more extensive” ownership? The self-ownership thesis as used by libertarians says, to a pretty good first approximation, that we are owners of ourselves and, for each ownership right in the bundle of rights, we possess that right in the most extensive way possible . If you want to call it “maximal self-ownership” or whatever, and save “self-ownership” for the watered down version, that’s fine.

    What’s important is that the concept is (or so it seems to me) (a) determinate (or, at least, as determinate as concepts in political philosophy get); (b) a premise of many libertarian arguments (albeit one that is sometimes argued for on the basis of more fundamental commitments); (c) widely denied by left-liberals. I wonder if you’d disagree with any of (a-c).

  • RickDiMare

    What I don’t understand is how libertarians can talk about self-ownership without making ownership of one’s labor, actions and energy central to the definition. Otherwise we’re just talking about ourselves as though we were corpses, or minds disconnected from our bodies.

    Property rights in everything else make no sense if they’re not an extension of the property right we have in our actions/energy (that we often “sell” to employers).

    • Murali

      Property rights in everything else make no sense if they’re not an extension of the property right we have in our actions/energy (that we often “sell” to employers).

      Errm, Not really. Here is a way o talking about property rights that doesn’t involve any tendentious attempt to derive property rights by extending our rights over ourselves. private property rights are the best set of rules and practices that allow us to solve various kinds of coordination problems.
      Of course the very same kind of argument can be used to justify rights in our own person, but it does not follow that the former are an extension of the latter.

      • RickDiMare

        Not sure what a “coordination problem” is, but you seem to be looking at things from a macro-economic perspective.

        The point I’m trying to make is that the U.S. Constitution provides an opportunity, from the perspective of the individual worker, to claim a property right in his/her labor, regardless of the effect on macro-economic policy, and the legal system is obligated to support and enforce such a right.

    • http://www.facebook.com/les.nearhood Les Kyle Nearhood

      I agree. Basically my problem is that if the state has any say so in how I use or deport my property (or my body) then I do not have complete property rights.

      I am not talking about easements, or interactions with the commons. I am talking about simple control. For instance, if the State decides that I cannot have sex with another willing partner, or I cannot ingest a certain level of soda drink then I have an incomplete right over my own body.

      If the sate says that my restaurant must serve or hire people that I do not want, then I have an incomplete right over my own property.

      In both cases one can see the state as the threat to property. (although the state also guarantees my property against outsiders.)

      • RickDiMare

        This reminds me of a great quote by Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia (though I disagree that business profits or excessive salaries earned through the use of money substitutes should not be taxed):

        “Whether it is done through taxation on wages or on wages over a certain amount, or through seizure of profits, or through there being a big social pot so that it’s not clear what’s coming from where and what’s going where, patterned principles of distributive justice involve appropriating the actions of other persons. Seizing the results of someone’s labor is equivalent to seizing hours from him and directing him to carry on various activities. If people force you to do certain work, or unrewarded work, for a certain period of time., they decide what you are to do and what purposes your work is to serve apart from your decisions. This process whereby they take this decision from you makes them a *part-owner* of you; it gives them a property right in you. Just as having such partial control and power of decision, by right, over an animal or inanimate object would be to have a property right in it.”

        • RickDiMare

          Working off of Nozick’s quote above, I’d like to briefly mention what I think is a big stumbling block to understanding the meaning of “self ownership.”

          I had planned a long explanation of C.G. Jung’s conception of “self”—which he often described in two ways: the ego or local self with a lower case “s,” and the more expansive Self (with an upper case “S”) which contains elements of the collective in it—but I’ll try to keep it short.

          When libertarians talk about the self and the prospect of “owning” it (in relation to the government) they are talking about ego self (with the lower case “s”) that has a burning need to “individuate” or express its life in a certain unique way. And, as Nozick so well describes, individuation becomes impossible if the government is a part owner of one’s labor and is, in effect, “seizing hours from him and directing him to carry on various activities.”

          The trouble with communism, in my view, is that it ignores the individual’s need to “individuate” and insists that the individual see him/herself strictly from a collective perspective.

          Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s “principle of individuation:” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_individuation

  • j r

    How about self-ownership as a basic biological and physiological fact. That’s how I’ve always interpreted Locke when he wrote that all men have property in themselves. If rights are truly self-evident, then they ought to be grounded firmly in physical reality and not just asserted through philosophical frameworks.

  • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

    “As David Schmidtz says somewhere, if property rights are a bundle, we might think of the right to exclude as the trunk…”

    He says it in a number of places, one of them being ‘Property and Justice,’ p.80, in Social Philosophy and Policy 27 (1):79-100 (2010).

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.lebar1 Mark LeBar

    J, this seems to me exactly right. Which is why it puzzles me when libertarians are willing to throw over “self-ownership” (as for example John Tomasi does). It seems to me the interesting questions are what such ownership consists in. That is (as you suggest) we agree that we are self-owners but disagree about exactly what that entails. But for those who think self-ownership makes no sense, I wonder: who does have the rights of exclusion over me that ownership entails, if not me?

    • Aeon Skoble

      I am not entitely convinced we should give up on the idea, at least as a heuristic. If nothing else, it’s the flip side of denying that others own me. I go back and forth on whether SOT should be regarded as a premise or a conclusion, but it’s a useful concept.

  • Ethan Pooley (furball4)

    Great topic, and I wish there were more comments on it. Theories of property are fundamental to political morality. Our understanding of this is why libertarians have more (intellectually) in common with communists than with modern liberals.

    I’m curious where I can read more about Nozick’s alternative formulation of the core property right being a right to use, rather than to exclude. I arrived at that conclusion independently a few years ago, but have not since found it thoroughly discussed anywhere. It seems to me that exclusion is a means merely, and not an end unto itself. Even the desire for complete privacy within one’s own land is actually a desire to enjoy the land in a certain way; a way that happens to involve the exclusion of others, and thus creates a subsidiary right to effect that exclusion.

    It think this is a hugely important distinction, and it forms the basis (for me) of a rejection of all intellectual property rights. The need to exclude others from land to enjoy privacy is not one that we would ordinarily categorize as contingent – it seems almost analytic. But the intellectual property discussion demonstrates that it really is contingent after all: contingent upon the tangible and singular nature of the property in question. Thus the right to enjoy is the fundamental right across all property types, and the right to exclude is merely supportive of that, justified only under certain circumstances.

  • erkmin

    It’s a trap! “Self-ownership” is impossible, and possibly one of the odd conundrums of libertarianism, not to mention its just bad grammar (or logic). First, ownership = owner + owned. Which is it? We can’t be both (unless you believe in dualism, but even then I deny it’s possible). How can ‘it’ “be” us and ‘it’ “own” us at the same time? A cat is a cat and the owner of the cat? Are we subject or object? Is the will and self(body) the same or separate? For ownership they have to be separate. Second, how can we “own” our body, and at the same time not “own” anyone else? Ownership is a property claim, or rights claim, so this is a problem, as on one hand we say ‘yes,’ the other ‘no.’ Third, and I’m going to butcher this third point…where do property rights come from? If self-ownership is supposedly the foundation of property rights how do we justify using and owning a right? If property rights are the foundation how do we justify owning a self, or another self? I don’t know that I can spell out this third issue so well, but it leads to problems with inalienability. We can’t separate action from responsibility, nor liberty from person. Self-ownership claims responsibility is owned, like people can be owned, when both responsibility and people are acts, not objects. I suggest a look to Alex Strekal (BrainPolice/polycentricorder) and Francois Tremblay, as they might make more sense on this last point, especially the former. According to the latter, “either humans can be owned, or can’t, there is no middle ground.”

    We may control our body, but I wouldn’t call that ‘ownership.’ I think sovereignty or autonomy is a better term. To me self-ownership is part of the libertarian vernacular, and it may not go away, despite the illogic surrounding its use. I do sympathize however, as we live in a world where people and animals are owned like property, and proclaiming self-ownership as a virtue makes sense, if only as a self-defense mechanism to an affront on liberty.

    Are people that believe in self-ownership likely to have respect for the concept of inalienability, or see people as property regardless? Or would people that think self-ownership is nonsense be more likely to behave as a Master? Who is likely to believe you can’t escape the self, or act as a Master, or think they really don’t have “total” ownership of you even if they attempt to be your Master?

    “It ain’t the whole story, but the moment at which you recognize that “I am myself” and “I own myself” might be at odds is the moment things start to get interesting, and, arguably, the moment when “self-ownership” starts to get useful” (Shawn Wilbur). It’s the useful part that matters to me, as it seems we live a world where people and animals are owned or rented like property (see David Ellerman on the rental problem). Most people are not going to nit-pick or care about the logical inconsistency of the word. They will understand however, that the word basically alludes to sovereignty or autonomy, and that’s what matters. I have a feeling abandoning ‘self-ownership’ is going to be as hard as going from standard to metric here in America. Whatever you do, measure carefully.

    • RickDiMare

      I think your definition of what it means “to own” is what makes self-ownership seem impossible or absurd. It’s true we don’t own our minds and bodies like we can own a personal item or a house, but as Jason’s article describes, we own different things in different ways (and, I would add, there should be a hierarchy or prioritization of property rights, with rights over our minds/bodies/labor at the top of the list).

      My particular definition of “self ownership” has evolved over decades of trying to get the IRS to stop treating my wages as “income” (which, conveniently, gives them much easier legal access to me under the Constitution’s Indirect Tax Clause than if they were forced to deal with my wages as my personal “property” under the Direct Tax Clauses).

      So, with that said—that is, showing my definition of “ownership” to be largely about a right to exclude others, or to control others’ access to my body/labor, including the IRS—I also believe there’s some legitimacy to the idea that we have positive rights to our minds and bodies, including the energy/actions/labor that proceed from them:

      “The idea that one’s body and actions are ‘property’ in a legal sense was not novel in Locke’s time. According to earlier Natural Law theory, each man has a sphere of what is ‘his own’ or ‘suum‘ over which he has rights. The primitive or original or natural ‘suum‘ includes, according to Grotius, life, body, limbs, reputation, honor and actiones propriae, our own actions. Thus all wrong-doing or ‘iniuria’ (including, for example, murder) is treated as an infringement of property rights. Property in the normal sense is in turn treated as a conventional extension of the sphere of that which is one’s own by nature. Such a model is not absurd. That actions are legal property is a natural thought, since we can sell them. To take the fruits of another’s actions is to invade his property rights over his actions, to invade his personal sphere. The effect of the theory, however, is to blur the distinction between violence to the person and violence to property, not to speak of the distinction between the person and his property.” Ayers, Michael, Locke: Epistemology & Ontology, Routledge (1991) Ontology pg. 267.

      • erkmin

        Thank you. I suppose “my definition” is how I frame a possession/property right, thus my hardheadedness. I agree to a degree on Jason’s “variability” given the circumstances, and that “moral principles are foundational” for rights. I suppose I just don’t think this is not a “controversial” premise/conclusion per the post’s title. As he states, “rights are problematic.” Thus my diatribe, and ‘measuring’ and ‘usefulness’ thoughts tied to the fact that the term ‘self-ownership’ is ubiquitous in libertarian discourse. I agree that self-ownership has the usefulness of a “way [to] help people live together respectful” as I noted, but as hardheaded as I am, I take exception to the ‘owning’ of the cat or a car owning a wheel for that matter, but I do know what he’s getting at;)

        I think many people see the dangers I do, but some don’t and they even use SOT as a premise, like Nozick and most employers, to illegitimate ends like slavery and human rental contracts. Hume strikes a chord with me: liberty = acting or will. It’s when we treat will, i.e. a self, as an alienable object that things get ‘problematic.’ I suppose I have misgivings about SOT or a hierarchy or list making the confusion any better than just understanding the basics of measurement.

        Have you posted your success on your dealing with the IRS anywhere btw, as I’d like to learn about it? Sorry to hear you get “wages” too btw.

        • RickDiMare

          I’m still stuck in the raising awareness phase, so I can’t say I’ve had any success in dealing with the IRS.

          Ultimately my goal is to find a law firm in the Boston area who’s willing to hire a new lawyer like myself, so I can prosecute my theories of self ownership against banks, the IRS, and employers. But the legal system has been far more resistant to change than I expected.

          I also started a nonprofit legal referral service several years ago called the “American Association for Lockean Liberty, Inc.,” but again, lawyers don’t seem to understand and/or are unwilling to practice in this area of law right now, and this is the only area of law I’m really interested in, so I’ll have to keep waiting.

          But if you’d like to learn more about the legal term of art called “income” and other related tax and monetary stuff, feel free to join my Facebook group “Common Wealth Tax:” http://www.facebook.com/groups/CommonWealthTax/

    • TracyW

      First, ownership = owner + owned. Which is it? We can’t be both (unless you believe in dualism, but even then I deny it’s possible). How can ‘it’ “be” us and ‘it’ “own” us at the same time? A cat is a cat and the owner of the cat? Are we subject or object? Is the will and self(body) the same or separate? For ownership they have to be separate.

      This strikes me as a list of unsupported assertions and unanswered questions. Why can’t the owner be also the owned, entirely independently of dualism? Why can’t anyone be both subject and object? “Boys will be boys” has the same things (“boys”) as both subject and object.

      Why would will and self need to be separate for ownership?

      We can’t separate action from responsibility, nor liberty from person.

      Why not? Plenty of people do, and indeed blame others for their own actions. I’ve noticed myself falling into that trap a fair few times, and I suspect I’ve done it far more often than I’ve realised. And it’s quite easy to separate liberty from person, that’s what jails do, and kidnappers, and so forth.

      According to the latter, “either humans can be owned, or can’t, there is no middle ground.”

      This is false. There is all sorts of middle ground. For example, the law can give me rights to control of my own body, to emigrate, etc, but it can’t give me the right not to die. On the other hand, as some philosophers have pointed out, even if someone holds a gun against your head and threatens you to do something, you are free to refuse, for some senses of the word free. The middle ground between full ownership, and no ownership, is, so far from being impossible, is instead the only place that humanity lives.

      We may control our body, but I wouldn’t call that ‘ownership.’

      And I would call control of my own body (to the extent that the laws of nature permit) “ownership”. Why do you assume that Brennan is using your sense of the word “ownership” and not something that makes his writing internally consistent?

      • erkmin

        Sorry in advance for the long post, but I hope this is my last post on this issue.

        As I said, SOT can be useful (probably the most important point, and perhaps Brennan’s), and I agree that we “disagree about what self-ownership amounts to.” Therefore, I don’t think SOT is an “uncontroversial” premise/conclusion (or know which is which— S/O, O/S). I suppose I’m one of the “perplexed,” as Brennan says. If we stick to Brennan’s idea that we “don’t abuse the concept of property” then SOT premises and conclusions are invalid, so I don’t give him the “might then decide to call people self-owners” or that “all accept a SOT” because as he said “many [people] would not describe their beliefs as such.” So why would all accept what they wouldn’t agree to describe as acceptable? I’ll describe what I don’t and do accept by answering your questions.

        “…Why can’t the owner be also the owned, entirely independently of dualism? Why can’t anyone be both subject and object? “Boys will be boys” has the same things (“boys”) as both subject and object.”

        If not dualism, then monism, pluralism, or some other perspective? Being that I defined ownership as owner + owned you can see why “I” don’t think an owner can be the owned. We may disagree on ‘ownership’, or whether I ‘own myself’ based on property rights or property rights exist based on self-ownership, or whether property rights are a self/being. SOT can become circular: property rights are true because SOT is true; SOT is true because property rights are true.

        What about Brennan’s definitions? Can I ‘use, sell, rent, destroy, and exclude’ myself? I can ‘use’ my body, I can commit suicide/destroy, but I don’t see how to exclude I from I, how to sell I to I, or rent I to I. This supposes owner and thing owned are separate. What if they aren’t separate like SOT suggests? Then alienation or transfer of ownership of the self like property occurs: I can sell myself, and rent myself because I own me. On the flip-side I still don’t see how this jibes with exclusion, as I can’t escape me (and I also happen to believe in certain inalienable rights).

        I’m not doubting that SOT is useful, it’s just weird, and it can be used to ill ends. This may be why Brennan says he “never make[s] self-ownership-type arguments.” However, the essay seems to be making a SO argument, but thankfully he’s not advocating ill ends. Self-ownership is a ubiquitous buzzword in libertarian discourse, but a controversial misnomer for individual sovereignty or autonomy.

        “Why would will and self need to be separate for ownership?”

        I slipped. I don’t think self and will are separable, but that ownership is separate from the former (as stated earlier). Ownership is a right of a being if we consider the ‘can I’ relationships described above. The self/being/nature is a descriptive statement (what is), and the right to own a self is a prescriptive/normative statement (what ought to be). Hume’s Guillotine separates the two. “I own myself” seems axiomatic or self-evident, but what rights or moral duties derive from a self? “Ownership” only matters in a dispute between two people/selves, or a schizophrenic, over who ought to own what— exclusion. Can you exclude you from you to self-own? Why even say “self-ownership”? Because it’s easy, and some think it’s useful? Self-ownership as a “bundle” confuses existence and free will (metaphysics, epistemology) with rights of individual sovereignty and property (ethics).

        “Why not [separate action from responsibility, liberty from person]? Plenty of people do, and indeed blame others for their own actions. I’ve noticed myself falling into that trap a fair few times, and I suspect I’ve done it far more often than I’ve realised. And it’s quite easy to separate liberty from person, that’s what jails do, and kidnappers, and so forth.”

        Blaming person A for the actions of person B is not truth. Action can’t be separated from responsibility, despite the attempt. I am defining person as responsible actor, and liberty as action. Jail takes away liberty to a degree. If you believe in inalienability (and criminal ‘justice’) then action is inseparable from actor, i.e. “with liberty comes responsibility.”

        ” ‘either humans can be owned, or can’t, there is no middle ground.’ ” “This is false. There is all sorts of middle ground. For example, the law can give me rights to control of my own body, to emigrate, etc, but it can’t give me the right not to die. On the other hand, as some philosophers have pointed out, even if someone holds a gun against your head and threatens you to do something, you are free to refuse, for some senses of the word free. The middle ground between full ownership, and no ownership, is, so far from being impossible, is instead the only place that humanity lives.”

        In the grand scheme of life or big picture I agree that we never own or don’t own. Maybe it’s “borrow.” Back to the small scale, what I, and perhaps Francois, mean is that owning humans has no middle ground because of a belief in inalienability and monism. The existence of inalienable rights won’t change the *possibility* of turning someone into a slave. Nevertheless, I don’t know that I’d call this middle ground, nor acceptable, as its still slavery. David Ellerman in a clever twist against Nozick, Philmore, and Block shows inalienability extends to the inability to rent humans, not just own them. If our being is a property right as SOT seems to indicate, then we can be sold, or sell ourselves, destroying liberty. If we can contract away our will, then we could contract away responsibility (for murder, rape etc.), destroying justice.

        ” ‘And I would call control of my own body (to the extent that the laws of nature permit) ‘ownership’.” “Why do you assume that Brennan is using your sense of the word “ownership” and not something that makes his writing internally consistent?”

        How Brennan defined ownership leaves me perplexed as I have shown. The rights to exclusion/control vs. the fact of possessing. I act, but my act/will does not prove that others ought not interfere. My control over something does not imply that I ought to control it or that I ought to own it. So who owns anything? Do “I” even exist or just my actions, my liberty? Yes, I am being absurd to a degree, but self-ownership begs questions because it’s controversial; it’s not so obvious that it’s self-evident as to what one means when they use the term. Sovereign or autonomy on the other hand…

        • TracyW

          Reading through this, I think you are disputing definitions. You have defined ownership in a particular way, and then criticise other people’s use of the word “self-ownership” based on your definition of ownership, not their own definition of the word.

          I also note that sovereign or autonomy, your preferred words, are also not self-evident when someone uses them. The Wikipedia article on sovereignty in its definition section starts off with:

          There exists perhaps no conception the meaning of which is more controversial than that of sovereignty.

          And I have yet to meet a word or idea that can’t be mis-used to ill ends.

          • erkmin

            “What about Brennan’s definitions? Can I…”

          • TracyW

            Brennan’s definitions are explicitly loose.

            The strength and nature of these rights can vary from owned item to owned item. The central right in a property right is the right of exclusion. (Pace Nozick, who says it’s the right to use something.)

            That us[sic], the bundle of rights that constitutes ownership varies from thing owned to thing owned.

            …The way I own a cat is different from how I own a car, which is different from how I own a guitar, which is different from how I own a plot of land, which is different from how I own… etc, etc.

            So, while Brennan talks about the right to exclude as being central, the looseness of his definition (“the way I own a cat is different from how I own a car…”) is quite compatible with that it’s physically impossible to exclude yourself from your own body. In the case of self-ownership, the way we own ourselves is subtly different to how we own a car, or a plot of land, which we can sell away from ourselves. But, by Brennan’s loose definition of ownership, our inability to alienate ourselves from ourselves doesn’t stop us from being able to own ourselves in all sorts of other ways.

          • erkmin

            What sorts of ways?

  • SimpleMachine88

    I don’t believe in self ownership. I think the right to property is one of a set of “certain rights”, and the right to free speech, freedom of religion, trial by jury, are coequal, but separate. There’s no reason they all have to be the same basic thing.

    Property includes the right to alienate the property, by selling it or giving it away or whatever. But, while you can sell property, you cannot sell your right to own property. You may not alienate any of your rights, that’s why they’re called “certain inalienable rights”, nor may you alienate yourself (that’s the 13th Amendment).

  • SimpleMachine88

    “My cat is my cat. I am not allowed to torture it, neglect it, or have
    sex with it, but that’s not because the cat is partially society’s or
    anyone elses’, or because I don’t really own it.”

    No, I think you may, or at least I’m not permitted to stop you. This is why the classical idea of virtue in a republic is so important. I think you may do with your cat as you will, but that’s because I trust that you don’t want to have sex with it. Right?

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