Posts Tagged ‘Self-Ownership’

In the Second Treatise, John Locke posits the concept of self-ownership: “… every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body had any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his,” upon which he bases his labor theory of property (LTP). In brief, since one properly owns one’s body, and thus labor, one acquires ownership over a material object because one invests one’s labor in the material object. Ownership, so to speak, transfers from agent through the labor into the material object. So, e.g., one may come to own a flask of wine by investing one’s labor in the growing and harvesting of the grapes, their vinification, and the construction of the flask. A corollary of the LTP is that one may also acquire ownership via trade, wherein one voluntarily exchanges a material object for agreed upon remuneration, gift, and compensation for material transgressions. Although, ideally, if one were to trace the genealogy of an object’s ownership, whether via gift, trade, or compensation, one will find that it begins in original labor investment. In spite of its prima facie strengths, as formulated by Locke, the LTP admittedly suffers from many difficulties, and thus requires modification. When suitably modified, I would argue, the LTP is essentially correct, but its correctness will not concern us at the present moment. Rather, what will concern us here is the plausibility of the self-ownership concept itself, for if the concept of self-ownership proves to be implausible, so too then does the LTP. (However, this last point is contentious; many proponents of the LTP do not postulate self-ownership, but for reasons I shall not state here I think they are wrong not to do so.) While this post does not address every criticism of self-ownership, it addresses the most significant one.


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