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Iyyun 55:325-336 (2006)
Abstract
All left-libertarians believe that natural resources should be governed by an egalitarian principle of distribution. In my own case, this belief gains its support from what I take to be the most defensible interpretation of the Lockean principle of justice in acquisition, according to which one may privatize land and other worldly resources in a state of nature so long as one leaves enough and as good for others. Axel Gosseries is right to press the question of the moral status of worldly resources in a state of nature prior to private acquisition. For Locke, that status was one of common ownership, underwritten by God’s gift of the earth to humankind in common. For Léon Walras, to whom Vincent Bourdeau draws our attention, the earth both initially and inalienably belongs to humanity, and such collective ownership is grounded, not in theistic assumptions, but in the “scientific observation” that human beings are by nature social beings. By contrast, I regard the earth as initially unowned. This supposition should not, however, be understood, as it is by some, as the claim that each is equally free at the outset to privatize any bit of the world as he sees fit as a matter of right. Rather, it should be understood as an initial non-presumption of any rights with respect to the world. Rather than asserting the existence of rights that, as a moral default position, we have with respect to pristine wilderness, I am making a claim that is motivated by the methodological impropriety of presuming any rights with respect to the world at the outset.
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