[Part 1 is here. In the instalment below, I set out the moral viewpoint on just property acquisition to be critically examined and explain why, in the present context, I go along with the principle of self-ownership.]
Self-Ownership in an Unowned World
Here is the chain of moral reasoning in which I am interested.
(1) Individual persons are the full and rightful owners (henceforth, for short, just 'owners') of themselves.
(2) It follows that they are the owners of their capacities and talents and of their labour.
(3) Expending their labour upon previously unowned things, or mixing it with them, yields a moral entitlement to, equivalent to ownership of, those things.
(4) In a world of initially unowned resources, inequality of property holdings will emerge as a consequence of applying these norms; and given the differential ability, luck, efforts and so forth, of different individuals, not to speak of their different positions in the sequence of generations, such inequality is likely to be extreme.
(5) It is mitigated, sometimes, in stories of this kind by a proviso on original acquisition: to the effect that the result of anyone's appropriation either must leave a sufficiency available to be acquired by others or must not make anyone worse off than they would have been had that appropriation not occurred - or something similar.
That some of this comes down from Locke may be seen from the following well-known lines of The Second Treatise of Government:
Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person; this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.2
The inegalitarian tendency of such premises has been emphasized by G.A. Cohen: 'The claim people can make to the fruits of their own labour is the strongest basis for inequality of distribution, and the claim is difficult to reject as long as self-ownership is not denied'.3
I for my part will not challenge the self-ownership thesis. This is primarily for tactical reasons. Even allowing full self-ownership, I think this whole line of justification is inadequate. Conceding as much as reasonably can be conceded to it for the sake of discursive compression, I try to show that it fails anyway on account of one ineradicable deficiency. If there are then other weaknesses as well, so much the worse for the justification.
I do not, in any case, believe the principle of self-ownership to be logically problematic. J.P. Day has urged otherwise, on the grounds that ownership is an irreflexive relation, but this seems an arbitrary stipulation philosophically. The notion of rights of exclusive use, control, power of transfer and so on, involved in full ownership of external things, seems to be extendable without undue semantic or logical strain to people's disposition over themselves.4
As to how ethically compelling the principle is, this is more debatable. Proponents of it see it as a principle of liberty. It erects a moral barrier against the holding of property rights, whether partial or total, in the persons of others without their consent; a barrier, therefore, against slavery in the limit case, and, short of that, against relations sharing something of the essence of slavery. Critics of the principle, on the other hand, say that it is precisely self-ownership that would morally permit slavery, via the voluntary alienation by individuals of what they own and so have a right to alienate, in this case themselves.5 Formally there is no contradiction, of course, since what the principle excludes is only enslavement without consent, slavery involuntarily instituted.
It is at least arguable that we can do without slavery, period. It is a moral abomination, however instituted, and the freedom sacrificed by forbidding consent to it outweighed by the freedoms so secured. Locke himself, it may be noted, in effect restricts individual self-ownership by ruling out enslavement by consent. As God's creatures we are entitled neither to destroy ourselves nor to court our own destruction by putting ourselves under 'the absolute, arbitrary power of another'. Our ownership of ourselves is limited by God's ownership of us, as being his workmanship.6 I set aside, however, all such qualms about unqualified self-ownership, religiously or otherwise inspired, and rest content here with the not altogether reassuring hypothesis that few if any self-owners will ever consent to be enslaved.
The suggestion is often met with also that it is the principle of self-ownership which protects people against the awful contingency of having their organs (an eye, a kidney, etc.) compulsorily confiscated - for the benefit, say, of others less well off than themselves in the way of organs.7 Were it to be pointed out that exacting a pint of blood each from (healthy) people, in circumstances where it might be critically important to do that, also compromises their self-ownership without being on the face of it quite so horrible, the 'slippery slope' would doubtless be invoked: once you can contemplate anything of this kind, who knows where you will stop? A clear boundary is needed. Let us discount the possibility that other principles might supply one.
I go along, then, with (1), the self-ownership thesis. And I abstract in doing so from the problems that will be generated by asking whether it is, exactly, one's person (as according to some commentators it was for Locke)8 or one's body or indeed one's 'self' that one owns. I take it simply that each individual is the owner of everything encompassed by his or her physical frame.
I shall accept also the derivation from this - (2) - that individuals own their capacities, their talents and their labour. In relation to the latter, I disregard again Day's objection: that it is logically improper to speak of owning an activity such as labour. Though the semantic strain is perhaps greater here than in the case of ownership of oneself ('She owns this kick' being odder than 'He owns this leg'), the sense of an exclusive right of control or decision over something can as well be applied to the activity as to the bodily means of it.9
 John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, II, sec. 27.
 G.A. Cohen, 'Self-Ownership, World Ownership and Equality', in Frank S. Lucash (ed.), Justice and Equality Here and Now (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1986), p. 117 - cited hereafter as Cohen I; and cf. his 'Marx and Locke on Land and Labour', Proceedings of the British Academy, 71 (1985), p. 362.
 J. P. Day, 'Locke on Property', Philosophical Quarterly, 16 (1966), pp. 216-18; and see Lawrence C. Becker, Property Rights (London: Routledge, 1977), p. 37, for the contrary view.
 See A. M. Honoré, 'Ownership', in A. G. Guest (ed.), Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence (Oxford: OUP, 1961), pp. 129-30; and 'Property, Title and Redistribution', Archiv fur Rechts- und Sozial-philosophie , 10 (1977), p. 107 n. 5; also James M. Smith, 'The Scope of Property Rights', in Samuel L. Blumenfeld (ed.), Property in a Humane Economy (La Salle Ill.: Open Court, 1974), p. 238.
 Two Treatises, II, secs. 6, 23.
 See, e.g., Eric Mack 'Distributive Justice and the Tensions of Lockeanism', Social Philosophy & Policy, 1 (1983), p. 149; Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), p. 206; and Fred D. Miller, 'The Natural Right to Private Property', in Tibor R. Machan (ed.), The Libertarian Reader (Totowa N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982), p. 284.
 James Tully, A Discourse on Property (Cambridge: CUP, 1980), pp. 105-9; and Waldron, p. 178.
 Day, 'Locke on Property', pp. 211-14; and see Andrew Reeve, Property (London: Macmillan, 1986), pp. 124-5, for the contrary view. Waldron seems inconsistent on this point: compare pp. 181-2, 184, 398, with p. 230 (and his 'The Turfs My Servant Has Cut', The Locke Newsletter, 13 (1982), p. 17).
(Part 3 is here.)