Article ID: CBB438846852

Self-Ownership and Moral Relations to Self in Early Modern Britain (2016)


This 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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Authors & Contributors
Paster, Gail Kern
Rowe, Katherine
Floyd-Wilson, Mary
Bos, Jacques
Dupont, Jean-Claude
Weisser, Olivia
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
History of the Human Sciences
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies
History of European Ideas
Journal of the History of Ideas
Oxford University Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
Cambridge University Press
University of Iowa
University of Southern California
Emotions; passions
Philosophy of mind
Visual perception
Human body
Descartes, René
Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl
Rufus of Ephesus
Reid, Thomas
Boyle, Robert
Early modern
18th century
17th century

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