The Review of Politics

Research Article

For and Against Ownership: William Godwin's Theory of Property

Robert Lamb


This article offers an interpretation of British philosopher William Godwin's theory of property ownership, as outlined in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. Godwin's work can be read as presenting an incoherent account of property rights, which, on the one hand, justifies its existence on seemingly utilitarian grounds while, on the other, impugns its legitimacy on egalitarian grounds. But the contradiction apparent in Godwin's position is actually illusory and can in fact be plausibly interpreted as comprising a coherent two-level understanding of political morality, wherein the right to own private property is best comprehended as a “right to do wrong.”


I am grateful to the Editor of The Review of Politics, the journal's referees, and Dario Castiglione, Iain Hampsher-Monk, and Mark Philp for their helpful comments.