Why Self-Ownership is Prescriptively Impotent

The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 32, pp. 489-506, 1998

18 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2008 Last revised: 22 Nov 2015

See all articles by Evan Fox-Decent

Evan Fox-Decent

McGill University - Faculty of Law


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.

Keywords: self-ownership, Nozick, Cohen, Arneson, harm

Suggested Citation

Fox-Decent, Evan, Why Self-Ownership is Prescriptively Impotent. The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 32, pp. 489-506, 1998, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1094754

Evan Fox-Decent (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec H3A 1W9

HOME PAGE: http://www.mcgill.ca/law/about/profs/fox-decent-evan

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