Property - a philosophical analysis: Argument

pages: 203-224

  • Jovan Babić Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade


After a short historical survey of philosophical views on property, the article contains an analysis of the argument which justifies property by referring to the universal respect due to anyone’s right to use any thing for any purpose. Usage of things for the realization of set ends (or goals) is among the conditions of action/ agency. The capacity of freedom as a specific causal power in real world is dependent on the possibility of using things as means. However, without a real prospect to finish the process of realization of set goals, this causal power would not be real. Property is a scheme within which this prospect becomes a real possibility. Property is thus a condition of effective successful purposeful agency. In property the normative position of all others, besides the owner, has been changed, as they do not have the right to use things possessed for their ends, although they have a right to use any non-possessed thing as a means for whichever end they might set. As a right, property entails, first, the obligation to respect the fact of any established possession, and, second, an obligation to accept and recognize the established possession as ownership, which does not depend on the fact of factual physical control of the property. Ownership is therefore a guarantee of future possession. For this to be established there is a need for an explicit recognition from all others; however this recognition is normatively necessary for everybody, as no-one has a right to withdraw the recognition of a legitimate right to property. This comes from the ontological and axiological difference between persons and things: persons have a right to use and possess unpossessed things as means for realization of ends they set. Keywords: property, possession, ownership, entitlement, freedom, agency, means-ends relation, persons, things


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