Why self-ownership is prescriptively impotent

Journal of Value Inquiry 32 (4):489-506 (1998)
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Abstract

The self-ownserhip thesis claims that people are the rightful owners of themselves, and that as a consequence that are entitled to do as they please, and appropriate what they will, just so long as they do not harm others. I argue that this no-harm proviso is problematic in that our best conception of harm is not that A harms B if, and only if, A makes B worse off, but rather that A harms B if, and only if, A's action makes B worse off than B ought to be under the lights of our best political and moral theory. A consequence of this analysis of harm is that the self-ownership thesis turns out to be too crude to serve as a foundational principle of any political theory concerned with the distribution of scarce resources.

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Evan Fox-Decent
McGill University

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