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  • Daniel C. Russell (a1)

Many libertarians believe that self-ownership is a separate matter from ownership of extra-personal property. “No-proviso” libertarians hold that property ownership should be free of any “fair share” constraints (e.g., the Lockean Proviso), on the grounds that the inability of the very poor to control property leaves their self-ownership intact. By contrast, left-libertarians hold that while no one need compensate others for owning himself, still property owners must compensate others for owning extra-personal property. What would a “self” have to be for these claims to be true? I argue that both of these camps must conceive of the boundaries of the self as including one's body but no part of the extra-personal world. However, other libertarians draw those boundaries differently, so that self-ownership cannot be separated from the right to control extra-personal property after all. In that case, property ownership must be subject to a fair share constraint, but that constraint does not require appropriators to pay compensation. This view, which I call “right libertarianism,” differs importantly from the other types primarily in its conception of the self, which I argue is independently more plausible.

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1 For fairly typical discussions, see Vallentyne Peter, “Libertarianism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, revised 2006, sec. 1; Taylor Robert, “Self-Ownership and the Limits of Libertarianism,” Social Theory and Practice 31, no. 4 (2005): 465482, at 466–67.

2 Steiner Hillel, An Essay on Rights (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 231.

3 See Rasmussen Douglas and Den Uyl Douglas, Norms of Liberty (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), 209; and Mack Eric, “How to Derive Libertarian Rights,” in Paul Jeffrey, ed., Reading Nozick: Essays on Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981), 288.

4 See, e.g., Van Parijs Philippe, Real Freedom for All (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), chapter 1.

5 See Narveson Jan, “Original Appropriation and Lockean Provisos,” Public Affairs Quarterly 13, no. 3 (1999): 205–27, at 214–15, who says that it is possible to read the proviso more narrowly as a ban on interfering with the use of extrapersonal goods already underway. But this strikes me as a theory of property—viz. that engaging with some such good is sufficient to gain title to it—rather than a constraint on property. In any case, even Narveson (p. 222) acknowledges that the “original intent” of the proviso has to do with fair shares. See also Nozick Robert, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), 176.

6 See Schechtman Marya, The Constitution of Selves (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996); McKenzie Catriona, “Personal Identity, Narrative Integration, and Embodiment,” in Campbell Sue, Meynell Letitia, and Sherwin Susan, eds., Embodiment and Agency (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009). Identity of this sort corresponds also to what Richard Sorabji calls sometimes “persona” and sometimes “identity”; see Sorabji Richard, Self (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

7 On self-ownership and personal identity, see Feser Edward, “Personal Identity and Self-Ownership,” Social Philosophy and Policy 22, no. 2 (2005): 100125.

8 Russell Daniel C., “Happiness and Agency in the Stoics and Aristotle,” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 22 (2009): 83112. This section draws on several of the arguments I made in that article.

9 Seneca, Letters 113.23. See Annas Julia, Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 99100.

10 Epictetus , The Discourses, ed. Gill Christopher, trans. Hard Robin (London: Everyman, 1995), 1.1.23; italics in the original.

11 For discussion, see Gallagher Shaun, “Dimensions of Embodiment: Body Image and Body Schema in Medical Contexts,” in Toombs S. Kay, ed., Handbook of Phenomenology and Medicine (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001).

12 See Gallagher, “Dimensions of Embodiment”; and Merleau-Ponty Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Smith Colin (New York: Routledge, 2002). See also Johnson Mark, The Mind in the Body (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), who argues that rationality and meaning involve “image-schematic structures of imagination that are extended and figuratively elaborated as abstract structures of meaning and patterns of thought,” and as such are among the “principle means by which the body (i.e., physical experience and its structures) works its way up into the mind” (pp. xxxvi–xxxvii).

13 Rybarczyk Bruce, Nyenhuis David L., Nicholas John J., Cash Susan M., and Kaiser James, “Body Image, Perceived Social Stigma, and the Prediction of Psychological Adjustment to Leg Amputation,” Rehabilitation Psychology 40, no. 2 (1995): 95110; Behel J. M., Rybarczyk B., Elliott T. R., Nicholas J. J., and Nyenhuis D. L., “The Role of Perceived Vulnerability in Adjustment to Lower Extremity Amputation,” Rehabilitation Psychology 47, no. 1 (2002): 92105.

14 Fukunishi Isao, “Relationship of Cosmetic Disfigurement to the Severity of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Burn Injury or Digital Amputation,” Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 68, no. 2 (1999): 8286.

15 See S. Kay Toombs, “Reflections on Bodily Change,” in Toombs, ed., Handbook of Phenomenology and Medicine.

16 I thank Mark LeBar for this way of putting the point.

17 Toombs, “Reflections on Bodily Change,” 254.

18 Indeed, note that the self behind John Rawls's veil of ignorance is stripped down even further than the formalized self as I have described it here. See Rawls John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971).

19 For the idea that having rights like those associated with self-ownership is not the same thing as having those rights in virtue of being a self-owner, see also Steiner, An Essay on Rights, chapter 7, esp. 231, 245.

20 Narveson Jan, “Libertarianism vs. Marxism: Reflections on G. A. Cohen's Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality,Journal of Ethics 2, no. 1 (1998): 126, at 21.

21 Narveson, “Libertarianism vs. Marxism,” 21; see also Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 177; Rothbard Murray, The Ethics of Liberty (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1982), 36; Mack Eric, “Self-Ownership, Marxism, and Egalitarianism, Part II: Challenges to the Self-Ownership Thesis,” Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 1, no. 2 (1995): 243–44, at 247–49; and Schmidtz David Schmidtz in and Goodin Robert, Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

22 Narveson, “Original Appropriation,” 220–21.

23 Narveson, “Libertarianism vs. Marxism,” 6–9, 23.

24 Ibid., 4.

25 Narveson, “Original Appropriation,” 215. See also Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, 33–34, 41, 47, 56, 59, 64.

26 Likewise, Edward Feser argues that in order for one's use of some extrapersonal good to be protected as a matter of justice, one must have already engaged with that good so as to transform it in some significant way. See Feser Edward, “There Is No Such Thing as an Unjust Initial Acquisition,” Social Philosophy and Policy 22, no. 1 (2005): 5680, at 61–67.

27 Narveson, “Original Appropriation,” 214–15.

28 Narveson, “Libertarianism vs. Marxism,” 22; emphasis in the original.

29 Ibid., 22–23.

30 For example, G. A. Cohen argues that the poor do have a gun to their heads, “held by the state, whose protection of the property to which they are coercively denied access renders their freedom meager.” See Cohen G. A., “Once More into the Breach of Self-Ownership: Reply to Narveson and Brenkert,” Journal of Ethics 2, no. 1 (1998): 5996, at 74.

31 Mack Eric, “Self-Ownership and the Right of Property,” The Monist 73, no. 4 (1990): 519543, at 528.

32 Cohen, “Once More into the Breach,” 62–67.

33 See Mack Eric, “The Self-Ownership Proviso: A New and Improved Lockean Proviso,” Social Philosophy and Policy 12, no. 1 (1995): 186218.

34 Schmidtz and Goodin, Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility, chapter 1.2.

35 Steiner Hillel, “How Equality Matters,” Social Philosophy and Policy 19, no. 1 (2002): 342–56, at 351; emphasis in the original.

36 And this is exactly what Narveson (“Original Appropriation,” 219) says: “given liberalism, we do not primordially own the world—only ourselves. And even that isn't primordial. We must argue even for that.” That is why Narveson can no longer hold the view that “a right to our persons as our property is the sole fundamental right there is”; see Narveson Jan, The Libertarian Idea (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1988), 66; emphasis in the original.

37 Narveson, “Original Appropriation,” 219. Here he fares better than Rothbard (The Ethics of Liberty, 99–100), who holds that parents own their children, although this ownership must be temporary and of a “trustee” sort, since “it surely would be grotesque for a libertarian who believes in the right of self-ownership to advocate the right of a parent to murder or torture his or her children.” Fair enough, but of course the whole question is whether children are self-owners in the first place.

38 See Mack, “The Self-Ownership Proviso,” 186, 189, 201.

39 See Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, chapter 6.

40 Rasmussen and Den Uyl, Norms of Liberty, chapter 9. See also Arneson Richard, “Lockean Self-Ownership: Towards a Demolition,” Political Studies 39, no. 1 (1991): 3654; Brenkert Robert, “Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Autonomy,” Journal of Ethics 2, no. 1 (1998): 2755 at 52–54; Cohen, “Once More into the Breach,” 94–95.

41 Rasmussen and Den Uyl, Norms of Liberty, 89, 90, 98–100.

42 Ibid., 80–81, 133–34.

43 Ibid., 87.

44 Ibid., 98, 100.

45 Ibid., 106.

46 Ibid., 303–11; see esp. 306–8.

47 Otsuka Michael, Libertarianism Without Inequality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), 15.

48 Ibid., 19–21.

49 Ibid., 24.

50 Ibid., 25.

51 Ibid., 11.

52 Ibid., 27, quoting Arneson Richard, “Primary Goods Reconsidered,” Noûs 24, no. 3 (1990): 429–54, at 448.

53 Otsuka, Libertarianism Without Inequality, 35–38.

54 Ibid., 38–39.

55 See, e.g., Long Roderick, “Land-Locked: A Critique of Carson on Property Rights,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 20, no. 1 (2006): 8795, at 90–91.

56 Mack, “Self-Ownership and the Right of Property,” esp. 534.

57 Otsuka, Libertarianism Without Inequality, 19–21.

58 This strong separation of self-ownership and extrapersonal ownership is particularly clear in Vallentyne Peter, Steiner Hillel, and Otsuka Michael, “Why Left-Libertarianism Is Not Incoherent, Indeterminate, or Irrelevant: A Reply to Fried,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 33, no. 2 (2005): 201–15, at 201, 208–9, who note that the egalitarian dimension of left-libertarianism is distinct from its libertarian dimension (i.e., self-ownership), and that these two dimensions are based on respect for the moral status of different things (things and persons, respectively).

59 This amounts to what Vallentyne (“Libertarianism”) calls “unilateralist” left-libertarianism. I shall not discuss the non-unilateralist alternative of joint world ownership, since it is generally—and, I think, rightly—held to be inconsistent with self-ownership; see, e.g., Cohen G. A., Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Mack, “Self-Ownership, Marxism, and Egalitarianism, Part II,” 243–44, 250–51; and Vallentyne, “Libertarianism.” For a dissenting view, see Jedenheim-Edling Magnus, “The Compatibility of Effective Self-Ownership and Joint World Ownership,” Journal of Political Philosophy 13, no. 3 (2005): 284304.

60 We can therefore set aside Steiner's worries (An Essay on Rights, 249–61) about giving a Hohfeldian analysis of the right of bequest as a right of deceased persons; for even if there turned out to be no such thing as a right of bequest, it would follow only that one could not make compensation for removing goods from the commons by giving up that right. It would not show that no such compensation is called for.

61 Steiner, An Essay on Rights, 235–36.

62 See also Vallentyne, Steiner, and Otsuka, “Why Left-Libertarianism Is Not Incoherent,” 209: Steiner holds “that unchosen germ-line genetic information is a natural resource and thus among the items subject to egalitarian ownership.”

63 Steiner, An Essay on Rights, 277.

64 See Hursthouse Rosalind, “Virtue Theory and Abortion,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 20, no. 3 (1991): 223–46.

65 Van Parijs, Real Freedom for All, 22–25.

66 Ibid., 9.

67 Ibid., 38.

68 To put this another way, a world in which ownership is constrained by agent-neutral welfarist values is not safe for self-owners. See Mack, “Self-Ownership and the Right of Property”; Mack Eric, “Agent-Relativity of Value, Deontic Restraints, and Self-Ownership,” in Frey R. G. and Morris Christopher W., eds., Value, Welfare, and Morality (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Mack Eric, “Moral Individualism and Libertarian Theory,” in Machan Tibor R. and Rasmussen Douglas B., eds., Liberty for the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Libertarian Thought (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995).

69 Mack, “Self-Ownership and the Right of Property,” 532–33; emphasis in the original. See also Mack, “The Self-Ownership Proviso,” 199.

70 See esp. Mack, “Self-Ownership, Marxism, and Egalitarianism, Part II,” and Mack, “The Self-Ownership Proviso.”

71 We saw a similar point made by Narveson in Section IV. See also Schmidtz and Goodin, Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility, chapter 1.2.

72 Russell Daniel, “Locke on Land and Labor,” Philosophical Studies 117, nos. 1-2 (2004): 303–25.

73 See also Mack, “The Self-Ownership Proviso,” 191, 209, 212–14, 218; Mack Eric, “Self-Ownership, Marxism, and Egalitarianism, Part I: Challenges to Historical Entitlement,” Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 1, no. 1 (2002): 75108, at 98; Mack, “Self-Ownership, Marxism, and Egalitarianism, Part II,” 245; Feser, “There Is No Such Thing as an Unjust Initial Acquisition”; and Narveson, “Original Appropriation,” 221, 223.

74 See also Mack, “Self-Ownership and the Right of Property.”

75 I thank Ed Feser and Fred Miller, respectively, for raising these queries.

76 Narveson, “Original Appropriation,” 225 n. 2.

77 I thank Dave Schmidtz for raising this concern, and for the thought experiment.

78 I thank Tom Christiano for raising this concern.

I would like to thank Richard Arneson, Tom Christiano, Ed Feser, Jerry Gaus, Mark LeBar, Eric Mack, Fred Miller, Jan Narveson, Dave Schmidtz, and the other contributors to this volume, for their comments on an earlier version of this essay. Thanks also to Ellen Paul for her helpful editorial comments.

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