The Kantian Person/Thing Principle in Political Economy

This is Chapter 4 in my book: Ellerman, David. 1995. Intellectual Trespassing as a Way of Life: Essays in Philosophy, Economics, and Mathematics. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Ethical theories can be broadly grouped into utilitarian theories and rights-based theories.  Modern economics is so thoroughly utilitarian that most economists would be hard-pressed to cite the application of a rights-based argument to economic institutions.  Yet the normative principles outlined in the first two chapters, the labor theory of property and the de facto theory of inalienability, are squarely within the rights-based tradition.  The democratic principle of self-determination is also a closely allied rights-based theory [see Ellerman 1992].

Immanual Kant occupied the pinnacle of the philosophical tradition of rights-based theorists.  His categorical imperative, particularly in the form of the “personhood principle” always to treat human beings as persons rather than as things, seems to be quite fruitful when coupled with institutional analysis of property rights and governance rights.  The purpose of this essay is to use the institutional analysis outlined in the first two chapters to show how the labor theory of property, the de facto theory of inalienability, and the democratic principle coherently fit into a Kantian framework (in the sense of the personhood principle).

Click here to download Chapter 4.