Self-Ownership and Moral Relations to Self in Early Modern Britain

History of European Ideas 42 (2) (2016)
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SummaryThis paper scrutinises early modern thinking about our moral relations to ourselves. It begins by reiterating the too-often-ignored point that full self-ownership was not a position defended in Britain—by Locke or anyone else. In fact, the actual early modern positions about the moral relations we have to ourselves have been obscured by our present-day interest in self-ownership. The paper goes on to organise the moral history of the self by examining the reasons available for prohibiting self-harm. Those reasons typically had their source in God, self, and others. Major divisions in the period arose over which kinds of reasons could be invoked and why. The defining feature of this intellectual landscape was the debate between ‘other-regarding’ and ‘dignity’ theorists, who differed over the moral status of the self and over its importance as a source of moral reasons. More dramatically and controversially, various freethinkers and sceptics questioned the importance of God as a source of prohibitions for self-harm. After offering an interpretation of this history, the paper concludes by noting some connections and contrasts between early modern and present-day moral and political philosophy on the moral status of the self.



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Author's Profile

Colin Heydt
University of South Florida

References found in this work

Libertarianism.Peter Vallentyne - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Preface.Rex Butler & Peter Holbrook - 2014 - History of European Ideas 40 (1):1-2.

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