The Justification of Private Property
March 4th 2015
The notion of property is one that has long preceded us, or anyone we know. We know that the earliest social theory of property originated in the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas who had said that humans have a natural right to the use of or ownership of an unspecified amount of property. He also said that the amount of property to which you are entitled, is based on your need and no one was entitled to more than they needed to survive. The communal aspect of early property began as the bible implied in its teachings that earth and everything on it was available as property to be taken by everyone. Therefore, everyone can take from nature and convert to her own use anything she needs in relation to what uniquely you need, as a person to survive. Private property was therefore thought of, as the outcome of personality and it did not exist until someone made it their own. In this essay I will discuss the notion of private property first by examining it in terms of the justifications of private property and the rules that govern private property and subsequently the origins of private property. I will then discuss the notion of the justification of private property as depicted by “The Father of Classical Liberalism”, John Locke. Lastly, I will then parallel Locke’s illustration of private property with that of the Genevan philosopher, John Jacques Rousseau. To begin, private property can be classified in one of four existing property right regimes. Private property is defined as being owned and controlled by private individuals or companies. Private property can even exist in the control of corporations. The right to private property is grounded on three things; the want of a human being, the ability to separate yourself from others and lastly the ability to exclude others from what is yours. Keeping this in mind, these three grounding principles lead us to base property law on two assumptions. The first is that every rationale person knows what is in her best interest. Second, based on the belief that individuals know better than anyone else what is on their best interest. The notion of private property also had a moral element to its existence. The right of private property is a moral necessity for making the pursuit of happiness possible. If humans have the right to life, then they have two further rights connected to it. These rights include the right to live in whatever manner you choose; provided only that you do not infringe on the rights of others. Despite all these doctrines and justifications surrounding private property “closer investigation has shown that private property has not always existed as an institution. It was the tribe, the clan, which first said, This is mine” (Sheldon, 24). As W.L. Sheldon states in his article entitled What Justifies Private Property: “It was not the individual but society, which first asserted the principle of ownership. We are forced to recognize that communal possession was the preliminary stage in the evolution of property. Private ownership came as a later step in the long series of changes, by which the human race has developed into its present condition” (Sheldon, 24). Furthermore as we trace the origins of private property back through time we find it clear that the origins of justifying private property had its derivation in another way. “It came through violence and aggression. Men took what they could get and kept it as long as they could. It was appropriation by the strongest which probably first established the principle of individual ownership”(Sheldon, 26).
In present day, the law in Canada now holds that things found on private property belong to the property owner, where as things found on private property to which the public is invited, things found belong to the finder.
Moving on, “John Locke, was...
Cited: Delaney, Tim. The march of unreason: science, democracy, and the new fundamentalism Oxford University Press, New York, 2005. p. 18
" Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712—1778)," by James D. Delaney, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, http://www.iep.utm.edu/, February 17th 2015.
Sheldon, W. L. "What Justifies Private Property?" International Journal of Ethics 4.1 (1893): 17-40. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
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