Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Right-Libertarianism and the Destitution Objection

Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Philosophy

First Advisor

Michael Weber (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Fred Miller (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Kevin Vallier (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lubomir Popov (Other)

Abstract

The right-libertarian theory of justice says that the only proper role of government is to protect people from aggression against their person and property. This appears to rule out any form of government assistance to the poor. What I call the destitution objection rests on two claims: (1) any theory of justice which rules out government assistance for the poor is unacceptable; (2) right-libertarianism rules out government assistance for the poor.

My dissertation focuses on two ways right-libertarians can respond to the destitution objection. Right-libertarians can either challenge the claim that any of theory of justice that rules out government assistance to the poor is unjust, or they can challenge the claim that right-libertarianism rules out government assistance to the poor.

After examining variations of these two types of responses, I conclude that right-libertarians cannot make their view compatible with the belief that government assistance for the poor is just. So my dissertation offers support for the second claim underlying the destitution objection. With respect to the first claim, my dissertation is less conclusive. I do argue that one attempt to challenge the first claim, by trying to undermine the belief that persons possess welfare rights, fails. But that leaves open other ways of challenging the claim that any theory of justice must accommodate government assistance for the poor. The plausibility of rejecting that claim, in the end, depends on the plausibility of any argument that can be offered in defense of the right-libertarian’s fundamental commitment to self-ownership and property rights.

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