In "The Wrongness of Rape" by Gardner and Shute, (section 3: Infringing the proprietor's rights), what do the authors mean when they say that

The analogies between rape and burglary here are startling, and may seem to support the idea that rape is wrong because we own our own bodies. But in fact the above remarks tend to undermine this view. Neither the use-value nor the identification-value which support our proprietorial relations with things can apply straightforwardly to our relationship with our own bodies. ... But regarding our bodies there is no question of such an artificial self-extension.

More specifically, I want to ask how, according to the authors, does the identification-value argument not hold in case of the body.

  • 3
    Isn't the point straightforward, ie. there is no value artificially generated by use or identification, but my body is a constitutional part of myself? Our relationship to our bodies is exactly not proprietorial, thus the analogy glosses over an essential difference. You may want to have a look into Torture and Dignity by Bernstein in order to understand how rape (and torture) are qualitatively different exactly because of this difference. Cannot speak for the authors, therefore just a comment, though.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Apr 10, 2021 at 19:58

1 Answer 1



Because the wrong of rape is categorically different from the wrong of violating property rights. The latter is about a kind of disturbance of a relation of interest in a thing. That is what the said "above remarks" emphasised, the kind of relation all proprietorial relations share. The authors hold that body and self have a relation between them that is in very important ways different from a proprietary relation, even partly a relation of unalienable, natural "identity". Therefore, they hold that it would be wrong to frame the wrongness of rape in terms of artificial proprietary relations since they are part of a distinct moral/legal framework. Rape does not (only) go against something artificial, dispensible, a relation of arbitrary interest, but the person themselves.

Long answer

Let me summarise analyse the overall argument of the paper since that provides the context of this conclusion. The argument of the third section starts at the following point:

[R]ape is not only a wrong but a wrong against the person raped, which means that it is based on her interest. That seems correct. But we are still left with the question of which interest of hers it is based on.

Thus, the authors start with the assumption that rape was wrong because it goes against a particular interest of the person in question. They then introduce two known theories which provide us with possible candidates, both stating that rape was wrong because of it violating an interest of the person in their own body: interest or value because the person uses their body as a thing and does not want it to be used by others or interest or value because the person identifies themselves with their body, ie. extends the self to include their body. Both of these are proprietory categories, which applied on rape can be described as follows:

The wrongness of rape, according to this reply, comes of the fact that the victim of rape has a proprietorial interest in, and derived from that a proprietary right over, her own body. It is her body, she owns it, nobody else may use it without her say-so. Rape is none other than the non-consensual ‘borrowing of sexual organs’. So the right not to be raped is, at base, a property right or an aspect of a property right.

On use-value

The authors introduce this kind of position as follows:

The importance of property lies basically in the valuable things we can do with that property that we can’t so easily do without it. This we will call its use-value.

They go on to explain that if the value of a thing is reduced to use-value, the question arises whether the allocation is correct, ie. whether other persons could not "make more" out of that thing, especially in times of scarcity: use-value is closely linked to utilitarian distributions.

Since the basic value of property is instrumental, different policies and practices may serve that value more or less effectively at different times and places, depending on other prevailing conditions.

This would mean two things for the human body: 1) We would only hold a proprietary right over our own body insofar we can make "good use" of it and 2) consequently, it would be part of economic thinking, ie. potentially to disposal and up to the society to decide upon where it is used best or whether other forms of usage by others would not have higher value. This kind of alienating one's own body seems against common moral intuitions.

On identification-value

Identification is another candidate. It seems more appropriate to take this since it seems closer to the intuition of rape violating something very personal:

They regard property as meaning more, as carrying more significance, than just the significance imported by its use-value. Their regarding it as carrying that significance actually endows it with that significance by changing its social meaning. People are increasingly identifying with what they have. So on top of its basic use-value, much more of what people hold now has what we might call identification-value.

Earlier in the text, the following is made clear:

Aspects of property rights other than the right to use property are basically derivative of the use-value of property.

Because of it being derivative of the use-value of property, the very same arguments apply. Identification-value is by no means structurally different, it just extends the very narrow concept of property-by-use. Therefore, it is hard to see how this is any better. Thus, the authors introduce yet another case, the case of pure value of property.

On the pure value of property

Here, they argue that there are cases where there is a burglar stealing something from me for which I do have neither any use, nor do I identify with it, and the burglary remains completely unnoticed. Therefore, the former two cases do not apply to this "pure burglary". In these cases, it is nevertheless a violation of my proprietary rights:

Yet my property right is violated. Why is this? After all, I have no interest [...] that comes of either my use of them or my identification with them. But on top of that, as we already indicated, there is the co-ordinating value of property rights in securing use-value and identification-value at large (ie for people in general). My having this property right [...], which is violated by the intruding estate agent, does not come of any use-value or identification-value to me but of the contribution which my having such a property right makes to the perpetuation of a system of optimal use-value coupled, so far as possible, with optimal identification-value.

Thus, the authors claim, the pure burglary in question violates my proprietary rights because it violates the system of property rights I have an interest in.

Now...what does this mean for rape, anyway?

It is now that the authors write your cited passage:

We call this the pure case for the same reason that we called the pure case of rape the pure case. It is the case of the wrong and nothing but the wrong.
The analogues between rape and burglary here are startling, and may seem to support the idea that rape is wrong because we own our own bodies. But in fact our remarks tend to undermine this view. Neither the use-value nor the identification-value which support our proprietorial relations with things can apply straightforwardly to our relationship with our own bodies.

The authors seem to say that rape is pure wrong because it goes against some fundamental rights that are foundational for our moral/legal system. Against the analogon they seem to say that the relation to our body is in a very important ways not proprietorial and, accordingly, it would be weird to construe the wrongness of rape in terms of property rights. This is exactly what they do:

[T]he main point can be seen through the lens of the identification-value. The identification-value of property holding is the symbolic value of artificially extending oneself out into the world. But regarding our bodies there is no question of such an artificial selfextension. There is a longstanding tradition in western philosophy which diminishes the centrality of the body. The body becomes something like an arbitrary receptacle in which the real business of human life – that special inner thing called ‘the self’ – just happens to live. This strikes us as an unintelligible view. People are, in part, their bodies and their relationship with their bodies cannot, barring strange pathological cases (schizophrenia?) or conceptually testing science-fiction (brains in vats?), be that of artificial self-extension. (bolded mine)

The emphasis here lies in the point that we to not extend our selves to include our bodies in an act of artificial claim. We are our bodies. That is why the reduction of our relations to our bodies into proprietorial terms is misguided: It would mean that our body was some "mere thing" which can be alienated/sold/used/disposed of by others if it so pleases us or is better for the society as a whole. But the authors, with their above remarks and the ones made in the following section, make clear that they think that body and self are related in a manner which is significantly different from a proprietorial relation and that they have to be, at least in part, thought of as identical. That is why the wrongness of rape should not be construed or expressed in terms of proprietorial relation since the wrongness of the violation of property rights is completely based on the relation of interest in a thing.

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