11th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Burri

Susanne Burri

Personal Sovereignty and Our Moral Rights to Non-Interference 

Robert Nozick’s (1974, pp. 28-30) \paradox of deontology” asks why deontologists are opposed to the idea that it should always be permissible to infringe one person’s moral right in order to save several others from having their comparable rights violated. Given that deontologists maintain that rights violations are bad, why don’t they agree that we should minimize their occurrence? In this paper, I defend Frances Kamm’s solution to the paradox against a criticism raised by Michael Otsuka (2011). Kamm (1996) argues that our rights protect our personal sovereignty: they give us authority over our bodies and minds by making it impermissible for others to harm us against our consent. Crucially, our sovereignty is not reduced when others violate our rights. How we should be treated is not affected by how people actually treat us. What does however lower our sovereignty is an increase in the ways in which it is permissible to harm us. It follows that if our rights protect our sovereignty, they need not be infringeable for the sake of preventing more violations; such infringeability would actually reduce our sovereignty. Otsuka argues that Kamm’s solution rests on too narrow an understanding of personal sovereignty. He holds that personal sovereignty is not limited to rights to non-interference, but that it includes enforcement rights also. If this is right, our sovereignty increases not only with the stringency of our rights to non-interference, but also with our moral authority to defend ourselves against illegitimate interference. Otsuka then shows that on his conception of personal sovereignty, Kamms solution is undermined. I maintain that Otsuka’s criticism fails. I argue that while he is right to insist on an enforceability dimension to personal sovereignty, he extends that dimension beyond admissible limits. This restores Kamm’s solution to Nozick’s paradox.