Purdue University Graduate School
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(Re)membering Our Self: Organicism as the Foundation of a New Political Economy

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posted on 2021-05-05, 16:34 authored by Tiffany E MontoyaTiffany E Montoya

I argue in my dissertation that the Marxist ethical claim against capitalism could be bolstered through: 1) a recognition of the inaccurate human ontology that capitalist theories of entitlement presuppose, 2) a reconceptualization and replacement of that old paradigm of human ontology with a concept that I call “organicism” and 3) a normative argument for why this new paradigm of human ontology necessitates a new political economy and a new way of structuring society. I use the debate between Robert Nozick and G.A. Cohen as a launching point for my case.

In his book, Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, G.A. Cohen argues that Robert Nozick’s “entitlement theory” is unable to produce the robust sense of freedom that libertarians and capitalist proponents aggrandize. According to Cohen, the reason for this is due to the limitations and consistency errors produced by the libertarian adherence to the “self-ownership principle.” (the moral/natural right that a person is the sole proprietor of their own body and life). Namely, that the pale freedom that the proletariat enjoys within capitalism is inconsistent with the Libertarian’s own standard for freedom. So, Cohen argues for the elimination of the self-ownership principle. My project picks up where Cohen’s leaves off, claiming that the consistency errors don’t lie in entitlement theory’s use of the self-ownership principle (it is important that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater). Rather, the errors lie in the principle’s metaphysics - specifically in the ontology of the human being. The self-ownership principle is only faulty because it presupposes an impossible self. I show that entitlement theory heedlessly presupposes the self (or a human ontology) as a “rational, autonomous, individual.” I then deconstruct each of these three features (rationality, autonomy, and individuality) to show that this picture of the human being is not necessarily incorrect, but it is incomplete.

Although we are indeed rational, autonomous, individual creatures, these are only emergent characteristics that merely arise after the organic and socially interconnected aspects of our selves are nurtured. I encompass these latter features of our selves under the heading: “organicism”. So, my contribution is to provide a different ontological foundation of the human being – “organicism” – to replace the Enlightenment grown: “rational, autonomous, individual”. I draw heavily from Karl Marx’s philosophical anthropology, and G.W.F. Hegel’s theory of the unfolding of Geist/Spirit, with a little inspiration from Aristotle and ecological theory to construct “organicism” – a pancorporealist, naturalistic materialism. It is the theory that the human being is, in essence, an organic creature, inseparable from nature, but through the nurturing of these material, organic, symbiotic relationships (with other humans and with the ecosystem) that these “super”-natural capacities of rationality and autonomy arise along with and because of a full self-consciousness.

Finally, I infer the normative implications of this ontology of subjectivity. This organicist conception of the self has transformational effects on our notions of property and the way we structure society. So, I contend that organicist ontology then serves as the foundation for a normative theory of political economy that sees the flourishing or health (broadly speaking) of the organicist human as the primary ethical goal. I speculate on an alternative political economy that can provide the robust sense of freedom that Nozick’s entitlement theory (capitalism) was lacking because it actually produces the conditions necessary for rationality, autonomy and individual freedom.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Philosophy

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Leonard Harris

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Christopher Yeomans

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Daniel Smith

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Adrian Johnston