chapter  11
16 Pages

Who Owns Me: Me or my Mother? How to Escape Okin’s Problem for Nozick’s and Narveson’s Theory of Entitlement

As Jan Narveson notes, Robert Nozick is usually seen as grounding his libertarianism in individual property rights, rights he is then criticized for not grounding in turn.2 But, in fact, Nozick grounds the rights of individuals to hold property in their rights to liberty.3 And he grounds their liberty rights in two other things: first, in their capacities and inclinations to exercise them, that is, their personhood;4 second, in the idea that it requires argument to say that individuals have coercible duties to others, and that the only way this can be argued is by showing that these duties are required in order to optimize the freedom of all agents.5 The morally uncontroversial baseline from which positive duties are a departure requiring justification is a situation of unfettered freedom to act, to exercise the capacity for liberty.6 And to establish coercible duties, one must derive them from the liberty rights that all people possess presumptively: immorality is unjust interference with others, interference which does not aim to preserve equal freedom from interference for all. From these assumptions derive property rights: since freedom is freedom to act, and all action is interaction with the material world, all freedom is freedom to interact in some way with the world. To have freedom to interact with something material in some way is to have property in it to that extent: thus the relation between liberty and property. This is how Narveson elucidates Nozick; and Narveson has taken on the prosecution of this idea.7