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Four Arguments for Self Ownership

April 12th, 2019. Written by S. A. Clark

Ethics has to do with the inherent value of things that helps to inform choices that effect those values. It asks the question “What should be done?” We have already begun to look at this.

A Right is a domain of authority, or a moral claim to ownership of a thing. It asks, “Who may decide what is done?” Or “Who has the greatest claim over a thing to choose how it is used?”

A duty is a subset of a right, but requires the person with the authority use it in a certain manner.

The first and most obvious argument for self-ownership is that a person is literally possessing his own body. He has “planted the flag” as it were by being the soul user of his physical person. This remains true for the duration of his life. Others never possess his body, soul, and spirit in the same way and to the same extent that he does. He is the defacto owner.


Next, a person will experience the consequences of the use of his body, soul, and spirit for the duration of his life necessarily more than others. He has the greatest interest in its use. If he does not own himself, he owns nothing at all. I would also add because each person is a unique consciousness, they are not replaceable. Because they are not replaceable, they are not exchangeable. Therefore one person’s body, soul, and spirit cannot be exchanged for the “sum” of a greater number of individuals.

Therefore the right to self-ownership is demonstrated both in regards to deontology and consequentialism.

Third, it is not functionally possible for people to not own themselves. Here are the possibilities:

  • A person owns himself entirely
  • A person does not own himself entirely
    • A group partially or wholly owns another group
      • ​This is false, because it violates the universal ethic. There must be some differentiating factor that gives greater claim of some people over others. In the absence of this burden of evidence, each person owns himself entirely.
    • ​Everyone partially or wholly owns each other
      • ​This is not functionally possible for two reasons. One, everyone cannot surveil, analyze, and interpret what everyone else is doing. They are not technologically or cognitively capable. Second, everyone is not capable of thinking in concert and coming to a consensus. If there is no consensus, there is no decision, no maintenance of life, and no survival.
  • A person being owned by others is either morally unsubstantiated or functionally impossible. Therefore each person wholly owns himself.

My last argument is a sort of Pascal’s Wager. I argue that we are more likely to reach an ideal ethical outcome if we subscribe to self-ownership.

First, I will repeat, one should assume that ethics exist.

  • We have two options: there is no meaning in life, or there is.
    • If there is no meaning, then we lose nothing to assume that there is.
    • But if there is meaning, then we may do wrong if we assume that there is not.
  • Therefore, without clear evidence to the contrary, it is ethically necessary to act under the assumption that there is meaning to life and there are such things as ethics.


Second, one should assume that ethics are knowable.

  • Either ethics are knowable or they are not.
    • If they are not knowable, whether we believe they are knowable or not has no effect on whether we know them. It does not matter either way.
    • If they are knowable, and
      • ​we believe they are not, we will not know and follow them, and may do wrong.
      • we believe that they are, we may discover and follow them, and may do right.
  • ​Therefore we should assume ethics are knowable.​

Third, if ethics are knowable, they are known through reason.

  • Ethical statements entail comprehension of possible future actions, as well as the means to compare them.

Fourth, human beings capable of reason are morally obligated to use their reason to discover ethical values.

  • Because of premises 1, 2, and 3, If a person chooses to not use reason, they are losing a potential means, if not a necessary means to discover how they can act ethically.
  • If they fail to discover how to act ethically, they increase the chances they will fail to act ethically.
  • Therefore they are ethically obligated to use reason to discover how they should act.


Fifth, ethical reasoning cannot be delegated to another person.

  • It is possible that one person’s ethical instructions to another may be in error.
  • The person receiving ethical instruction must filter the instruction through their capacity to reason to distinguish between truth and error, in the same way they must filter all other sources.
  • Therefore each person must reason ethically for himself.

Sixth, to discover ethical truths and to act ethically requires self-ownership.

  • In order to use one’s faculty of reason, one must use oneself
  •  If one ought to reason, then one ought to use oneself.
  • Therefore each person has a right to themselves.
  • In order to perform the discovered ethical acts, one must use oneself.
  • If one ought to act ethically, then one ought to use oneself.
  • Therefore each person has a right to themselves.

Therefore, each person has a right self-ownership.


Now that I have established self-ownership, I would like to extend the right of ownership to things beyond the person’s physical body.

The natural world is initially separate from and neutral to which persons have a special claim to ownership over it. If a right is a domain of authority, how does one get the authority where it was not before? Authority comes first through authorship. To author something is to extend your body, soul, and spirit to that unclaimed object. Property is an extension of self through time, your ingenuity and energy poured into matter. Once you have mixed your labor with the physical material, it becomes your property. Because it is your property, you have the right to decide what is done with it, including transferring ownership to another person. If property is rejected or abandoned, it once again returns to its unclaimed state, available for another owner. Therefore the three ways a person can come to own a piece of property is to 1) be the first one to claim it and mix it with your labor, 2) agree with the previous owner that you may own it, and 3) claim and use property that has been abandoned. Theft deprives you of a part of your past, present, and future. It takes your past the time and heart poured into your creations, your present ability to enjoy your property, and the future that you have sacrificed your past to procure.


When property is used in such a way that goes against the will of the rightful owner, this can be called murder, rape, assault, theft, fraud, etc. In the same way that a person has the right to “use force” to control those things within their domain, there is also the right to use force to “return” property unjustly used by someone who is not its owner. This is the concept of restitution. To set things right again, the person who did the harm must make their victim whole as much as humanly possible. This process is verified through “due process,” or proving the who is the victim and victimizer, and what is the proportional remedy. Due process protects both the victim, and all other innocent bystanders.

“Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Romans 13:10

In this way each person is free to define his own life, and contribute to the life of the other only in so far as each person sees the benefit of that exchange. By accepting the principle of laisse faire, “live and let live,” and not initiating force against another’s life and property, we are upholding the ideals discussed in part one. While we are affirming honest and voluntary trade, we help build each other’s lives and dreams.

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