Evangelical Philosophical SocietyArticle Reprint

You Are Not Your Own: A Critique of Liberal Social Ethics

by Timothy Hsiao

Appeals to consent, autonomy, and self-ownership form the basis of much of contemporary liberal and libertarian social ethics. Call these 'individualist theories' of social ethics.

The plausibility of individualist theories, this paper argues, depends upon a number of background metaphysical commitments that are often left unstated and undefended. These commitments and their problems are the chief subject of this paper.

Individualist accounts of social ethics are essentially incomplete. They have no substantive content unless attached to a prior moral theory. Specifically, they are all attempts at specifying rights without reference to responsibilities. Once these responsibilities are fleshed out, however, we arrive at a set of conclusions that differ radically from that of the contemporary liberal and libertarian.

What makes consent, autonomy, and self-ownership worthy of moral protection in the first place is the fact that we are obligated to be stewards of ourselves. There are no rights without duties, and no self-ownership without self-stewardship.

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