Self-Ownership and Non-Culpable Proviso Violations

PRESTON J. WERNER
POLITICS, PHILOSOPHY & ECONOMICS 14.1 (2015): 67-83

Abstract: Left and right libertarians alike are attracted to the thesis of self-ownership (SO) because, as Eric Mack says, they ‘believe that it best captures our common perception of the moral inviolability of persons’. Further, most libertarians, left and right, accept that some version of the Lockean Proviso (LP) restricts agents’ ability to acquire worldly resources. The inviolability of SO purports to make libertarianism more appealing than its (non-libertarian) egalitarian counterparts, since traditional egalitarian theories cannot straightforwardly explain why, e.g. forced organ donation and forced labor are serious wrongs even when they generate more equitable outcomes or benefit the greater good. I argue that, when SO is coupled with LP, this appeal is unfounded. SO, as usually construed, allows for the possibility of justified incursions of non-culpable agents up to and including forced organ donation. I conclude by considering a few possible responses on behalf of the libertarian, assessing each one’s plausibility.