Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2019


Self-ownership has fallen out of favor as a core moral and political concept. I argue that this is because the most popular conception of self-ownership, what I call the property conception, is typically linked to a libertarian (of the left or right) political program. Seeing self-ownership and libertarianism as being necessarily linked leads those who are not inclined toward libertarianism to reject the idea of self-ownership altogether. This, I argue, is mistaken. Self-ownership is a crucial moral and political concept that can earn its keep if we understand it not as type of property right in the self, but rather as a set of territorial rights one has over one’s body. This territorial conception of self-ownership, which I call the sovereignty conception of self-ownership avoids the traditional arguments raised against the property conception of self-ownership and has other benefits besides. Accepting this conception of self-ownership, I argue, has considerable moral and political benefits without taking on the costs associated with other forms of self-ownership.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Social Philosophy & Policy, volume 36, issue 2, in 2019 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at

Peer Reviewed



Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.