Property and Justice : A Liberal Theory of Natural Rights book cover
1st Edition

Property and Justice
A Liberal Theory of Natural Rights

ISBN 9780367275167
Published March 30, 2021 by Routledge
194 Pages

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Book Description

This book gives an account of a full spectrum of property rights and their relationship to individual liberty. It shows that a purely deontological approach to justice can deal with the most complex questions regarding the property system. Moreover, the author considers the economic, ecological, and technological complexities of our real-world property systems. The result is a more conceptually sound account of natural rights and the property system they demand.

If we think that liberty should be at the centre of justice, what does that mean for the property system? Economists and lawyers widely agree that a property system must be composed of many different types of property: the kind of private ownership one has over one’s person and immediate possessions, as well as the kinds of common ownership we each have in our local streets, as well as many more. However, theories of property and justice have not given anything approaching an adequate account of the relationship between liberty and any other form of property other than private ownership. It is often thought that a basic commitment to liberty cannot really tell us how to arrange the major complexities of the property system, which diverge from simple private ownership.

Property and Justice demonstrates how philosophical rigour coupled with interdisciplinary engagement enables us to think clearly about how to deal with real-world problems. It will be of interest to political philosophers, political theorists, and legal theorists working on property rights and justice.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Property and Justice 1

Original Acquisition: Connecting Property to Personhood 3

Beyond Private Property 5

Natural Rights and Social Conventions 8

The Not-So-Minimum Content of Natural Rights 9

The Theory 11

1 The Form of Justice 16

Introduction 16

The Circumstances of Justice and Deontology 17

Individual Rights 22

Compossibility 24

Conclusion 32

2 The Substance of Justice 37

Introduction 37

The Right to Non-Interference in Our Non-Interfering Actions 37

The One and Only Right 43

Kinds of Interference 45

Self-Ownership 48

Necessity 51

Conclusion 54

3 Original Acquisition 59

Introduction 59

Use, Exclusion, and Ownership 60

Extended Activity 68

Contra Labour-Mixing 73

Abandonment and Transfer 77

Conclusion 81

4 The Commons 87

Introduction 87

Liberty and Property After Ostrom 88

Public Property 94

Collective Property 95

Conclusion 99

5 The Limits to Appropriation 103

Introduction 103

Necessity, Revisited 103

Against Engrossment 107

Against Intellectual Property 109

Intellectual Property as Ownership of Ideas 109

Intellectual Property as Usufruct 111

Conclusion 114

6 Against the Proviso 118

Introduction 118

Nozick’s Proviso 119

The Egalitarian Proviso 126

Internal Accounts of the Provisos 129

Conclusion 131

7 Intentions and Conventions 135

Introduction 135

Intentions: Public and Private 136

Conventions: Constitutive and Regulative 145

Natural Rights and Social Change 152

Conclusion 155

Conclusion: Natural Rights and Liberal Politics 158

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Billy Christmas is a Lecturer in Political Theory at King’s College London in the Department of Political Economy, where he is also the PPE Programme Director. As a philosopher his research interests lie in Rights, Property, and Political Authority. He has previously published articles in journals such as The Journal of Politics, Economics and Philosophy, and The Philosophical Quarterly


"Property is arguably the foundational issue in legal and political philosophy. Billy Christmas insightfully illuminates this foundational issue by elaborating a radical liberal—libertarian—theory of property. This provocative book will surely spur controversy and deepen understanding by showing how a libertarian account of property rights can address the perennial concerns of libertarianism’s critics while grounding robust safeguards for autonomy and flourishing."Gary Chartier, La Sierra University, USA

"This book is the first serious attempt to combine a right-libertarian theory of individual private property with a solid theory of other forms of property, such as collective, public, and common property. It makes for a much more plausible and humane theory of property."Karl Widerquist, Georgetown University-Qatar