Property, Persons, Boundaries: The Argument from Other-Ownership

Social Theory and Practice 37 (2):189-210 (2011)
A question of interpersonal sovereignty dating back to the early modern era has resurfaced in contemporary political philosophy: viz. Should one individual have, prior to any consent, property rights in another person? Libertarians answer that they should not – and that this commitment requires us to reject all positive duties. Liberal-egalitarians largely agree with the libertarian’s answer to the question, but deny the corollary they draw from it, arguing instead that egalitarian regimes do not require other-ownership. Drawing on recent property theory I argue the libertarians are wrong that positive duties necessarily imply other-ownership, and the egalitarians are wrong that egalitarian entitlements largely avoid other-ownership. Instead, a prohibition on other-ownership guides us towards a middling political position, both allowing and constraining our positive duties and liabilities to others. I conclude by suggesting that a prohibition on other-ownership creates an attractive boundary condition for property in general.
Keywords Property Rights  Self-Ownership  Robert Nozick  John Locke  John Rawls
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