5th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Wollner

Gabriel Wollner

Equality, Talent and Self-Ownership – A Problem for Left-Libertarianism 

The doctrine of left-libertarianism (LL) hosts two normative commitments that other approaches in contemporary political philosophy fail or refuse to reconcile: Leftlibertarians combine a belief in self-ownership with an advocacy of distributive equality. This dual commitment, because it captures deep convictions about the status and separateness of the person and simultaneously recognizes the basic demands of equality, makes for the philosophical attraction of (LL). Michael Otsuka, who takes the egalitarian component of (LL) most serious, formulates the central thesis of this Libertarianism without Inequality: “A robust right of self-ownership is across a fairly wide range of individuals, perfectly compatible with a highly egalitarian principle which calls for a distribution of worldly resources which equalize opportunity for welfare.” My paper challenges this claim and the arguments advanced are intended to reduce the philosophical attraction of (LL). I suggest to take serious the spirit of a verdict formulated by G.A. Cohen: “There is a tendency in self-ownership to produce inequality.” My arguments show that contrary to its aspirations, Otsuka’s Libertarianism without Inequality also possesses the tendency to produce unacceptable inequalities. Because of its commitment to self-ownership, (LL) fails to deliver on its egalitarian promise. My paper unfolds as follows: Section 2 presents the key tenets of Otsuka’s version of (LL). Section 3 produces a set of critical thoughts challenging the core claim of (LL): I argue that self-ownership gives rise to inequality and pre-empt a set of potential libertarian responses. Finally, I offer a brief diagnosis on the notion underlying the predicament of (LL): Talent.