On the question of Ownership

Ownership is the power of exclusive use of certain things for the designated individual(s). These days, we own things because we have the legal power to prevent someone else from using the things. Prior, we had physical power in preventing others from using things which we desire and have power over.

The question of ownership is not derived from reason as most people assume, but from the power of the “owner”. Let’s have an example. I have currently in possession a $5 bill. I have ownership over it, because I have the legal and physical power to prevent others from using the bill. What happens if I have died? Do I still own the bill even if I have ceased to exist? The phrase, I own the bill becomes, ( ) own the bill.
Existence has bestowed upon me both legal and physical power. And anti-existence has made me powerless and dissolved my ownership over things while alive.

One of the most popular argument in support of ownership is this, I own it because I have worked for it. I own my house because I have laid the bricks and mortar. The argument that I own it because I have paid for it is really flimsy. Let’s say a robber, in order to rob you, he first have to make the effort of conjuring up a plot, and have to execute the plot bearing the risk of being caught. Can we reasonably say that the robber has done the “work” to acquire your property, and therefore deserves the property as much as you deserve it by your own line of argument?


“Property is theft!” -Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Its just that many forms of theft are government sanctioned.


I didn’t know you had dollars in Australia. What’s one worth in money? :stuck_out_tongue:

what does he mean by property is theft? I don’t see how the two terms relate.


Proudhon was an anarchist who came to believe in a loose federations of peoples, but against the state per se. But one need not turn to anarchism to understand the idea. Any form of possession is the segmenting off a portion of something from everything else. Primary behind this segmentation is the use of force or violence, either as an individual or institutional threat or actually exercised. There seems to me to be a fundamental, but perhaps necessary, violence in the idea of property, just as there is a fundamental violence in the Law.



Hi good to see you again? how are things? I’ve just read Bertrant’s Problems of philosophy and now I am reading Fear and Trembling by Kieddkerger.


I don’t believe in anarchism because I see it as another form of power abuse. I mean, are we really free when we are alone? Are we better off when we all become loners?

Any form of possession is the segmenting off a portion of something from everything else.

Why is property theft?

Posession is not segmenting something from the population because the idea of possession is only psychological. Imagine this, there are 2 goods in society and 2 people

G1, G2

P1, P2

From the perspective of goods themselves, they will remain in society no matter who owns them, so you can’t segment them.


From the perspective of goods themselves, they will remain in society no matter who owns them, so you can’t segment them.

But it is a perspective that is “real”, in that if P1 wants to use G2, its not permitted. If there are 10 Goods and 10 people and

P1 has rights to G1-G9 and P2-P10 have rights to G10 and the “G” is food, you can understand how property might seem like theft to those starving.


But unequal distribution of income is hardly theft, and often isn’t theft. Ownership is the power either legal, physical or both to property. If property is theft, and we all own property, i.e our bodies, then are we all theives?

If 1 person as you suggested owns 90% of things is theft, are 9 people who own 10% of things minor theft?


“If property is theft, and we all own property, i.e our bodies, then are we all theives?”

I think that is the point of the slogan, to get everyone to “think” about how we are all thieves.


Dear Dunamis

If we are all indeed theives, then what is the point of the slogan?


I suppose to think about the violence, implicit and explict, that was involved in the accumulation of our weath. But really, you think about what it might mean, and that would be the best answer for you. :slight_smile:


My unstructured thoughts

If an authority is not their to permit people to own things, everything would belong to everyone, on this basis those people who OWN things, or have sole use of something, will have earned it with strength or whatever means he used to attain and keep it. Property is theft if you believe that people have an equal right to things. There must be a line or something to say at what point people deserve things, do they deserve it becuase they can get it? if they planned out the logistics, is it the lack of merit of the other person if it were easily stolen and thus right for him to take it??

These days we have an authority which we cant escape telling us who owns what, and people have got the things through supposed “merit” . It all depends if you believe we live in justice,a dn what form this takes. Me personally, i would give the robber credit, just for the fact that he has ignored the system which is no more just than him.

Pinnacle, I think it’s better to start not with “ownership” but with “property”. I think the question of what can be owned logically precedes the question of ownership itself, in the same way that “rock that is handily lying on the ground before me” precedes “weapon”. I think we can more easily trace the history of property than we can of ownership. And it has a history.

You may consider this a semantic issue only, but you may find it a useful one. “Property” is just a little more “concrete” an idea than “ownership”.

These-adays, ownership is a legal concept only - the physical control you have over a five-dollar bill is of no consequence. Theft is not a question of a change in ownership - that makes no sense. It is a transfer of control over the property, but this is why focusing on “ownership” itself may be a little fuzzy without first conceiving of “property”.

Just an idea.

This is a hugely important question, I believe, because entire economic systems are based on the answer.

I think the concept of value precedes ownership. We’re only concerned about owning things because we perceive them to have value. And since value is created by the productive means of individuals (turning raw material into items of value), then why shouldn’t the ends of the creative and productive means of an individual belong to him as opposed to somebody else? What right would somebody else have to the ends of somebody else’s creative means, unless the creative person voluntarily traded their ends for something they perceive to be of at least equal value?

Pinnacle, your robber hasn’t created anything. He may have added value to something (by making it available to the black market, let‘s say) but he didn’t create the item. Now, the current owner might not have created the item either, but probably traded something of value - from his own creative efforts - for it in a voluntary trade.

And so creative value, owned rightly by the person who created the value, gets voluntarily traded for creative value. And traded again. And you have an economy. In this case it would be one based on the idea that ownership of an item properly belongs to the person who’s created it, unless and until that person wishes to trade it away.

(An economic system I can appreciate).

But we’re only concerned with either value or ownership because we recognize what property is - what the candidates are. I think that nomadic societies would have a little trouble with the idea of suburban subdivisions as property, and therefore a little trouble with not just why they are valued, but how they could be. A rock, which I have obtained for use as a weapon, is not the result of my productive means (unless you mean that I produced the idea of using it as a weapon). But the rock was a rock before it became a weapon. Likewise, the idea of intellectual property is not cut and dried - even now. You can’t own what you don’t even think can be owned.

But, in the end, I don’t think there is only one answer here - for all these ideas - property, value and ownership - are abstractions. Only the rock is real. I suggested that it might be easier to begin with property because Pinnacle’s example addressed only ownership by an individual - and there are other types of ownership, partly becasue there are different types of property - but it can be seen both ways. This may make no difference to you - I don’t even know if you read my post. I think that any entry point into this subject will eventually lead to the need to address all these issues.

I think any debate about which is truly logically precedent is one of methodology, in the end. Or of a pre-conceived notion of what the political or moral ramifications are, or should be.

Yes we are. A human body is not yours. It is a debt that you must constantly pay with food from the environement. You must take other life to sustain your own. This is a forceful act.

In our post-industrial age food production is almost invisible and we only see the finished product. It is a transaction of theft where resources are taken for our exclusive use. We take the land from other organisms. Food preparers take the lives of animals for our consumption.

The biomass of the planet increasingly gets transformed into more human bodies.

How did this happen? Because we “own” the Earth. We the most powerful organisms used our power to dominate and control all other organisms and resources. We stole what once belonged to the entire community of life.

We kill all organims that threated us or threaten our food.

We discovered the trick to turn biomass into human bodies in the agricultural revolution. We could expand our numbers because we had higher concentrations of what it take to build bodies, food. This way of life destroyed all others because more bodies meant more potential fighters which meant more force.

Hi, faust. Yes, actually that’s exactly what I mean. It was just a rock until you came along. Now it’s a weapon. A berry bush is just a bush until somebody’s production (picking the berries, and even firstly having the idea to pick the berries) turns it into a source of food.

I would venture that your nomads understood value (the value of a rock or a berry bush) but probably just didn’t quantify it like we would. Still, those things would have value to them and consequently they would want to, in some way, make those things their own.

You’re right though that all the issues (ownership, possession, value) need to be considered in a discussion like this.


Would it be your position that there’s no such thing as an inherent or natural right? Does a being in existence not have a right to pursue its continued existence?

And how are we very different from the rest of the food chain that, too, takes from the earth to survive?

Hi, Jerry. I’ll tell you what I am getting at. Your “point of entry” is a particularly good one if you’re coming at it from a socialist point of view. It’s a good one if you’re not, too. Starting with ownership is a good way to begin if you’re a capitalist. That doesn’t mean that I now know that you are a socialist, or that PoR is a capitalist.

In any event, there’s nothing wrong with starting from your already-established point of view. I naturally gravitated to property not from a political or ideological perspective, but from that of a materialist/nominalist. I think it’s neutral in a socialist/capitalist context. If I thought about it more, I may decide that another point of entry would be even better. But I wish, myself, to avoid a political ideology when thinking about philosophy. Doesn’t mean that you can’t do that, too, with your starting point, if that’s what you want to do.

We can start anywhere, but I think it best as philsophisers to be aware that we may wind up where we started if we don’t consider all the (or a lot of the) perspectives in some way. To come at an issue from several directions. We may wind up where we started anyway, of course. But examining a given issue from within several contexts can be a help in keeping us honest. I say this in full admission that I would shock myself if, in looking at ownership, I broke camp. Kicking and screaming, maybe.


“A human body is not yours. It is a debt that you must constantly pay with food from the environement.”

I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with this, but I do really like the way you put it.