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Property & Self-Ownership - PHI00126H

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Hannah Carnegy-Arbuthnott
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

This module will introduce students to key philosophical issues around property and self-ownership. These include theories about the justification of private property rights, debates about the limits of property ownership, and what kind of ownership, if any, we have over ourselves.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aim of the module is to explore and assess philosophical debates around property rights and self-ownership. We will do this by reading, discussing, and writing about:

  • Historical and contemporary theories about the justificatory basis of property rights

  • The concept of self-ownership and its relation to political theorizing about property rights and the limits of the state.

  • Implications of the stringency and extent of ownership rights in the context of ethical debates about the limits of what we should be allowed to sell on the market.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should be able to:

  • Understand and assess the strengths and weaknesses of a range of theories about the justificatory basis of property rights and the concept of self-ownership.

  • Read and critically engage with a range of historical and contemporary philosophical works.

  • Synthesize information from a range of sources and across a range of topics.

  • Produce a piece of written work that brings to bear their own critical evaluation of, and develops a detailed argument in response to, a key issue from the module.

Module content

This module will introduce students to key philosophical issues around property and self-ownership. The module will be roughly divided into three inter-related themes:

  1. Key theories of the justification of property rights, including those of Locke, Kant, and Hume, as well as contemporary work on the topic – why do property rights exist, and how do we acquire them?
  2. The concept of self-ownership and its relation to property rights – do we have ownership over ourselves, and is it the same kind of ownership we have over items of property?
  3. Debates about the limits of property rights and self-ownership – what are the limits to what we should be able to trade on the market?


Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

All feedback will be returned according to current University and Departmental policy.

Indicative reading

Cohen, G.A. (1995), Self-ownership, Freedom and Equality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fried, B. H. (2004). Left-libertarianism: A review essay. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 32(1), 66-92.

Honore, A.M. (1961), ‘Ownership’ in A.G. Guest (ed.) Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hume, David (1978), A Treatise of Human Nature [1739] L.A. Selby–Bigge and P. H. Nidditch (eds.), Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kant, Immanuel (1991) The Metaphysics of Morals [1797], Mary Gregor (trans.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Locke, John (1988), Two Treatises of Government [1689] Peter Laslett (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McElwee, Brian (2010), ‘The Appeal of Self-Ownership,’ Social Theory and Practice, 36: 213–232.

Munzer, Stephen R. (1990), A Theory of Property, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Murphy, Liam and Nagel, Thomas (2002), The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (New York: Oxford University Press).

Nozick, Robert (1974), Anarchy, State and Utopia, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Otsuka, Michael (1998), ‘Self-Ownership and Equality: A Lockean Reconciliation,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs, 27: 65–92.

Pateman, C. (2002). Self-ownership and property in the person: Democratization and a tale of two concepts. Journal of Political Philosophy, 10(1), 20-53.

Phillips, A. (2013). Our bodies, whose property?. Princeton University Press.

Radin, M. J. (1982). Property and personhood. Stanford Law Review, 957-1015.

Satz, D. (2010). Why some things should not be for sale: The moral limits of markets. Oxford University Press.

Thomson, J., 1990, The Realm of Rights, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Owens, D. (2019). Property and authority. Journal of Political Philosophy, 27(3), 271-293.

Rasmussen, Kasper-Lippert (2008), ‘Against Self-Ownership,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs, 36: 86–118.

Ripstein, Arthur (2009), Force and Freedom: Kant’s Legal and Political Philosophy, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Stilz, A. (2018). Property rights: Natural or conventional. The Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism. New York: Routledge, 244-258

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.