Jesse Spafford


A popular argument against the unilateral appropriation of unowned resources maintains that such appropriation is impossible because it implies a power to unilaterally impose novel obligations on others—a power which people cannot have given that they are moral equals. However, Bas van der Vossen has recently argued that initial appropriation does not create obligations in this way; rather, it merely alters the empirical facts that, together with obligations, determine people’s practical moral requirements. This paper argues that van der Vossen is mistaken. Specifically, it contends that the creation of obligations is accompanied by a distinctive kind of variation in the obliged party’s practical requirements across possible worlds. Given that initial appropriation entails such variation, the paper argues that such appropriation does, in fact, create obligations.


Discussion Notes