Private property

Published 22 Dec 2016

Private property is generally defined (De Soto, 1989) as commonly recognized possessions, which belong to an inpidual. The concept of private property is close-knit to the right to ownership, described in numerous philosophical perspectives and declared nowadays in the most world’s constitutions. As one knows from the history, the implications of ownership appeared a long age, in prehistoric societies, where social stratification was at its sunrise, and with the development of Roman law, it was included into the first statute book (De Soto, 1989) . The present paper is intended to discuss philosophical approaches to private property and focus on Locke’s perspective, clearly relating to the idea of business.

Aristotle was among the first philosophers who advocated private property in his writings, namely in “Politics”. The ancient thinker reveals the truth about ‘acquisitive’ human nature; “that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an inpidual” (Bellamy and Ross, 1996, p. 139). In addition, the scholar states that common property is inconvenient, as although inpiduals have approximately the same needs, some of them tend to work less that others, still consuming communal resources of the basis of equality (ibid). Private property is therefore viewed as a means of social justice and ‘workload-sensitive’ distribution of material resources.

Hobbes, the Enlightenment philosopher, sought to present private property of government’s responsibility. First of all, he insists on ‘giving to every man his own” (Bellamy and Ross, 1996, p. 148), but the extent of ownership is vague therefore and therefore vulnerable to violent usurpation – in his sense, the scholar recommends that the government or executive power determine, declare and control the observance of property rights. Hobbes in his writings describes law-abiding approach, so that ‘power’ is only political force, entitled to use compulsion and rigid control over social relations, so that the scholar truly believed in the importance of regulating property rights ‘from above’, or in hierarchical order (De Soto, 2006).

James Harrington, who wrote his ‘Oceana’ approximately simultaneously with Hobbes’ creative activity, states that property right is natural, but applicable in limited number of contexts: for instance, political power in its pure structure appeared as a result of property distribution, not conversely, as Hobbes claims (De Soto, 2006). Due to the fact that political order is secondary and that its development was close-knit to the emergence of the conception of ownership, it is important to remember that the ‘noble crown’ might abuse or usurp property and hold the great part of national possessions (Bellamy and Ross, 1996; De Soto and Cheneval, 2006).

D.Hume, another outstanding philosopher, hold conservative views on property and states that customs and traditions in fact determined the development of political and legal apparatuses, including those norms and conventions, which put certain orders or restraints upon private property. “A regard for liberty, though a laudable passion, ought commonly to be subordinate to a reverence for established government”, which means, government is responsible for the distribution of private property, moreover: “There are property rights because of and to the extent that the existing law, supported by social customs, secure them” (De Soto and Cheneval, 2006, p. 352). In addition, the philosopher recommends “the spur of industry” (ibid, p. 355), which engenders property.

Hegel, in his “Philosophy of Right” takes rather inpidual than macrosocial approach to property and describes it in relation to the person’s needs and willing. The scholar pides human needs into biological and social and states that the satisfaction of these needs is the main constituent of human willing (Ellickson, 1993). “The things of the objective world become property only in relation to one’s will, they are not property by themselves. On the other hand, only through the mastery and transformation of the world can the will be actualized and personality made concrete” (Ellickson, 1993, p. 1317).

Property is viewed as a tool of achieving appropriateness in the social context within which the inpidual operates – for instance, the members of top class need much more property that necessary for meeting their physical needs, as in this case social stimulus becomes stronger that instinctive. This means, private property is not merely material possessions, but rather a mode, which determines social relations as well as the development of human cognition (Ellickson, 1993; De Soto and Cheneval, 2006) .

Locke’s (Locke, 2003) account defends private property and combines theological and philosophical standpoints. First of all, the thinker refers to property as to a right, provided by God, namely, the right to make use of natural facilities and resources. Nevertheless, the Deity gave the Earth to the entire humanity in common, rather than distributing the resources among inpiduals, so Locke seeks to answer the question concerning the measurement of the amount of possessions each person deserves/is entitled to use. According to his theory, inpiduals own themselves and their own labor, but as soon as the labor “enters into the object” (Locke, 2003, p. 372), the inpidual receives this object as their private property.

For instance, a peasant who grows potatoes, puts his labor into this activity and therefore its material results (the crops) become his property (Bellamy and Ross, 1996). This is Locke’s principle of labor-mixing: if one’s labor is mixed with ‘unowned’ object, this inpidual is entitled to use it as their property (Locke, 2003; De Soto and Cheneval, 2006) .

In addition, the scholar persifies property rights: for instance, he alleges that everyone is entitled to use their belongings in accordance with their will, i.e. allow another inpidual to use them, exclude others from their use or announce another person’s right for this object. Those are the components of his idea of liberty in terms of private property. The other constituents include: “ 1.Each person has the natural right to do whatever she chooses with whatever she legitimately owns so long as she does not harm other people (in ways that violate their rights). Each person also has the corresponding natural right not be harmed by anyone else (in any way that violates her rights.

2. Each person is a full owner of herself” (Bellamy and Ross, 1996, p. 297). On the other hand, the scholar convinces that an inpidual is not entitled to sell themselves into slavery, this means, the only restriction, placed upon self-ownership right is the impossibility of one’s voluntary renounce (Locke, 2003) of this particular right (integral right). Furthermore, the third point (condition) of Locke’s concept of liberty in possession is the right to have the same benefit from their labor as others receive from the efforts of the same nature (Locke, 2003; Bellamy and Ross, 1996): for instance, a programmer should earn the same amount as paid to other programmers with identical job responsibilities.

Furthermore, the scholar states that inpiduals should respect the others’ property rights and avoid using another person’s possessions without the latter’s compliance. Furthermore, the philosopher states that making use of material objects (first and foremost, land, as the scholar presents real property as a basic pattern) doesn’t imply destroying them; on the contrary, each inpidual should care about the ‘applicability’ or ‘usability’ of such objects or avoid wasting the resources (Locke, 2003; McKay, 2004). Logically, resources should belong to those who can use them in productive way: “Locke holds that at least when third condition obtaines and the No Waste rule is observed by private appropriators, then one has a right to appropriate unowned land as one’s private property and this appropriation establishes genuine full property rights held by the appropriator over that particular parcel of land” (McKay, 2004, p. 517).

Locke also mentions his explanation of scarcity of natural resources: e.g. he holds that inequality in real possessions point to social consent concerning the use of money, intended to compensate for the lack of land for certain inpiduals. This statement can be proved through the following fact: in the period of natural households, inpiduals hadn’t yet invented money and therefore manifested their property rights in accordance with Locke’s approach: they appropriated unowned land and employed natural exchange to get the products, grown on the others’ lands.

To sum up, interpreting Locke’s doctrine in the context of contemporary business, one can understand that the scholar provides the basic principles of business ethics, related to private property: first of all, the corresponding right of an entrepreneur is inviolable, secondly, employees should receive sufficient salaries (according to the standards in this area), thirdly, social responsibility should be among the major concerns of contemporary businesses, as this concept includes environment preservation and observation of No Waste norm, i.e. resources, which constitute property, should be utilized rationally and cautiously.

It is clear that business or company is the entrepreneur’s property, whereas employee’s labor is possessed exclusively by the latter, so that they should receive certain compensation (unless the worker is a volunteer) for providing their property to the businessman. Finally, market competition among enterprises should not include the abuse of other entrepreneurs’ ownership-based rights (e.g.stealth, including plagiarism or information theft).

Reference list

  • Bellamy, R. and Ross, A. (1996). A Textual Introduction to Social and Political Theory. Manchester.
  • De Soto, H. (1989). The Other Path. Harper and Row.
  • De Soto, H. and Cheneval, F. (2006). Realizing Property Rights. Ruffer and Rub.
  • Ellickson, R. (1993). Property in Land. Yale Law Journal, 102: 1315-1400.
  • Locke, J. (2003). Two Treatises of Government, ed. P.Laslett. Cambridge University Press.
  • McKay, J. (2004). A History of world Societies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
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