Against Self-Ownership

Picture: CGS (CC)

Rajiv Shah writes at the Social Rationalist:

I. Introduction

I first read Rothbard (For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty) sometime in 2008. I was quickly persuaded by the gist of the arguments offered. At the core was the idea of Self-Ownership (SO), which I found very persuasive and from which I gained considerable intellectual confidence. I knew I could deal with whatever issues of public policy (e.g. drug prohibition) by invoking SO. Of course people could deny SO but such a position appeared to me to be quite implausible.

I have since abandoned those views. I actually stopped believing in SO over a year ago but it has taken me quite some time to articulate why. What follows is my attempt at doing so.

I have three main arguments against SO. The first one is a claim that the concept itself is incoherent. Secondly, libertarian (by that I mean Rothbardian) conclusions do not follow from SO itself, at least two further controversial claims have to be shown. Finally, the main argument in favour of SO is unpersuasive.

The essay is not arranged so as to have the three arguments following each other. I apologise for that. This is because various different discussions make their way into more than one arguments. In the conclusion I draw all the different threads together.

I suggest reading this essay along with a previous essay of mine “The Problem with Property Rights”. Together they form the basis for my rejection of Lockean Natural Rights libertarianism.

II. Referential aspect

A conceptual difficulty with SO is the self referential aspect of it. If I say that I own a slave then the the owner and the object of ownership is different. This is the case for every ownership claim.

However, with SO it seems that there is a self referential aspect. This makes SO at worst incoherent and at best unlike the other ownership claims (and if it is different then why should it not be treated differently).

This can be overcome by appealing to a dualist conception of the self. This would amount to saying that one has a soul which is the owner of the body (and the two are separate).

Now this is a controversial philosophical claim. I do not intend to argue against it here but advocates of SO should be aware of what they are implicitly claiming.

If contrary to what I claim the self referential aspect does not make the concept of SO incoherent then those issues of personal identity can lead to results different than libertarians expect.

Read more here.

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  • charlieprimero

    I’ve noticed a recent flourish of Zeitgeist-Commie-Kiddies all over the net trotting out these retarded arguments against Self-Ownership.  I’m seeing it on forums and comments sections all over the place.

    I suspect one of their opinion leaders finally figured out they were getting stomped over it, so they are making a push.

  • charlieprimero

    I’ve noticed a recent flourish of Zeitgeist-Commie-Kiddies all over the net trotting out these retarded arguments against Self-Ownership.  I’m seeing it on forums and comments sections all over the place.

    I suspect one of their opinion leaders finally figured out they were getting stomped over it, so they are making a push.

    • Matt Staggs

      I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it, myself, and keep finding myself hitting a brick wall.

    • Matt Staggs

      I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it, myself, and keep finding myself hitting a brick wall.

      • Ted Heistman

         That’s because you are not retarded enough.

        • Ted Heistman

           This is the type of philosophy that’s just language games IMO. interesting article though, thought provoking at least.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    the problem with the concept of SO is
    it’s a concept
    concepts inhibit a flexible response to a shifting set of circumstances

    “Studying the Way” is just a figure of speech.
    It is a method of arousing people’s interest
    in the early stages of their development.
    In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied.
    Study leads to the retention of concepts and
    so the Way is entirely misunderstood.
    Huang-po

  • emperorreagan

    [self dosomething];

  • emperorreagan

    [self dosomething];

  • Ted Heistman

    If I could be persuasively argued into believing i didn’t own myself, I would then steal myself. 

  • Ted Heistman

    If I could be persuasively argued into believing i didn’t own myself, I would then steal myself. 

  • Ted Heistman

    I would say I own my body. If I were a materialist, I would believe that is all there is to me.
    I believe consciousness is something that can’t be fully understood from a materialist paradigm. I think what Jung called “the self” is actually a field that all conscious beings are part of. Self awareness implies a duality. Awareness of Awareness. So have a limited perspective being aware of…like the “all in all” The two perspectives become aware of each other and that’s what self awareness is.

    So I don’t believe that my body owns all consciousness. That would be retarded. So in the case of any given human, the total is greater than the sum of the parts. But from the limited perspective of my body, I own it.

  • kowalityjesus

    Good news, guys.  You don’t own your self, God owns your self.

    • Matt Staggs

      Wait, is that pwn?

    • Matt Staggs

      Wait, is that pwn?

      • Ted Heistman

        Pwnd!

        • Andrew

          God has definitely pwned me.

        • Andrew

          God has definitely pwned me.

      • kowalityjesus

        thats only in starcraft 2, where God plays under a variety of mostly Korean monikers

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    There’s nothing wrong with self reference. Its just… very complex.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    There’s nothing wrong with self reference. Its just… very complex.

  • http://twitter.com/laibacute laibacute

    amazing .. loved it .