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July 23, 2004

The Philosophy of Liberty

I might describe myself as a small-l libertarian but there is only so much Flash animation on the subject I can take. By contrast Edward Feser offers a considered article on the variety of libertarianisms to be found at Tech Central Station (via Andrew Ian Dodge). A clarification of John Locke's notion of the limit of self-ownership is particularly useful.

But what grounds the right of self-ownership itself? The answer, according to Locke, was that it derives from God. How? God, being the creator of everything that exists other than Himself - including us - is the ultimate owner of everything that exists - including us. Therefore, when a person harms another person by killing him, stealing from him, and so forth, he in effect violates the rights of God, because he damages what is God's property. To respect God's rights over us, therefore, we must recognize our duty not to kill, harm, or steal from each other, which entails treating each other as having certain rights relative to each other - the rights to life, liberty, and property. And these rights can usefully be summed up as rights of self-ownership. But ultimately, as it turns out, we don't really own ourselves: God does. Relative to Him, we are merely "leasing" ourselves, as it were, and are accountable to Him for how we use His property. Relative to other human beings, however, we are in effect self-owners; we must treat others as if they owned themselves, and not use them as if they were our property.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at July 23, 2004 08:23 AM

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Now if only god existed....

Posted by: James at July 23, 2004 01:30 PM

I imagine that as Locke argues one has to act as if one owned oneself we could take the position that we could act as if God exists. I admit this is difficult to take seriously with a conception of God that is limited to some alpha ape with a white beard telling people how not to have sex. But when God is understand as an absolute or totality or Being itself I find this position wins favour with even my most devout atheist friends.

Posted by: Flea at July 23, 2004 01:36 PM