Now that I have surveyed the main arguments against self-ownership, I will conclude this series of blog posts by taking a detour into the philosophy of science–specifically, by talking about Kuhnian “paradigms” and Lakotian “research programs.” (Four of the world’s leading philosophers of science are pictured below.) In his influential book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (3rd ed., 1996), for example, the late Thomas S. Kuhn introduced the idea of “paradigms” to explain how “normal science” works on a day-to-day basis. Broadly speaking, a paradigm in this Kuhnian sense refers to one’s general world-view or frame of reference. The biologist Ernst Mayr (1991, p. ix) calls this type of paradigm one’s “conceptual framework.” At this higher level of abstraction, one’s paradigm or conceptual framework consists of, in the words of Kuhn (1996, p. 175) himself, “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by members of a given [scientific] community.”
Kuhn’s emphasis on the “shared” nature of our conceptual frameworks has led some philosophers of science to emphasize research programs and traditions in place of paradigms. To the point, in an influential 1971 paper titled “The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,” Imre Lakatos explains that a scientist qua scientist is one who works within an established tradition of research. Either way, the key point here is that some of our beliefs are foundational or pre-theoretical–these beliefs, assumptions, values, etc. shape how we see and make sense of the world around us.
I now want to argue that self-ownership not only operates like a shared research program, something that the left-libertarian literature amply attests to; it is also a pre-theoretical paradigm or foundational moral axiom, something that most people–including myself, before I began this series of blog posts–simply take for granted or assume is true by definition. But should we? Can different conceptual frameworks or moral axioms co-exist at the same time, and if so, how should we choose among them? In my next post, I will present a different moral paradigm–one inspired by John Rawls and others, one that emphasizes duties of mutual aid and duties to help others in need.