Free Capitalist Network - Community Archive
Mises Community Archive
An online community for fans of Austrian economics and libertarianism, featuring forums, user blogs, and more.

How do you define "ownership" epistemically?

rated by 0 users
This post has 22 Replies | 4 Followers

Top 500 Contributor
Male
Posts 126
Points 3,080
Luminar Posted: Fri, Oct 5 2012 10:13 AM

Now you and I are looking at a cat and the man.
I say - The cat is black.
You answer - Yes, I see that too.
The man says - I own the cat.
Me to the man - Yes!
You to me - How do you see that?

  • | Post Points: 65
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 165
Points 2,745

After reading your question a word popped up in my mind. Superfluous. You could rephrase your question by asking, "What is ownership?", which has been explained numerous times on this forum most likely. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, defining things is already part of epistemology, because how can you define something without first knowing what it is?

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Male
Posts 126
Points 3,080
Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 10:40 AM

What is ownership, then?

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Male
Posts 126
Points 3,080
Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 12:19 PM

Seiously, what is the difference between the cat is black and the cat is mine?

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,258
Points 34,610
Anenome replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 12:49 PM

Luminar:

Seiously, what is the difference between the cat is black and the cat is mine?

'The cat is black' is a description of the cat.

'The cat is mine' is a characterization of your relationship to the cat, that of ownership.

Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,922
Points 79,590

Luminar:
Seiously, what is the difference between the cat is black and the cat is mine?

Saying "this is mine" is shorthand for "I have the right to use this". There's no empirical observation there.

The keyboard is mightier than the gun.

Non parit potestas ipsius auctoritatem.

Voluntaryism Forum

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 100 Contributor
Male
Posts 853
Points 17,830

The term "ownership" refers to a special relationship between an individual and a rivalrous object: namely, that the individual (the "owner"), and not his rivals, has ultimate decision-making jurisdiction (or "rights") over the object (the "property").

All political philosophies advocate some set of rules for determining what constitutes legitimate ownership, i.e. who has legitimate ultimate decision-making jurisidiction over what, or simply: who owns what.

Libertarians uniquely insist upon ownership being legitimate only when there exists an objective intersubjectively-ascertainable link between the individual and the object.  This link can be established by homesteading previously unowned objects, it can be transferred between individuals through voluntary exchange, and it can be severed through abandonment.

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 500 Contributor
Male
Posts 126
Points 3,080
Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 6:46 PM

 

The term "ownership" refers to a special relationship between an individual and a rivalrous object: namely, that the individual (the "owner"), and not his rivals, has ultimate decision-making jurisdiction (or "rights") over the object (the "property").

All political philosophies advocate some set of rules for determining what constitutes legitimate ownership, i.e. who has legitimate ultimate decision-making jurisidiction over what, or simply: who owns what.

Libertarians uniquely insist upon ownership being legitimate only when there exists an objective intersubjectively-ascertainable link between the individual and the object.  This link can be established by homesteading previously unowned objects, it can be transferred between individuals through voluntary exchange, and it can be severed through abandonment.

I love your videos!

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,258
Points 34,610
Anenome replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 7:02 PM

Graham: how do we define abandoment? Is it some reasonable yet arbitrary amount of time decided on a per-society basis? Like say, a year of inactivity or w/e?

 

Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,439
Points 44,650
Neodoxy replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 1:01 AM

Gonna throw out a bombshell here.

Property is a social construct, and its definition is ultimately arbitrary.

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 75 Contributor
Posts 1,288
Points 22,350

Property is a social construct, and its definition is ultimately arbitrary.

I think a specific definition of legitimate ownership can be called a social construct.  Ownership itself is physically verifiable (though not necessarily absolute), and refers to control.  It seems that the two meanings are usually conflated, since - as George Costanza would say - "we're living in a society".

EDIT: 1000th post.

The Voluntaryist Reader: http://voluntaryistreader.wordpress.com/ Libertarian forums that actually work: http://voluntaryism.freeforums.org/index.php
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 233
Points 5,375

Ownership, according to the Oxford Dictionary Online, is "the act, state, or right of possessing something." According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, etymologically, the verb "'own' evolved in early Middle English from O.E. geagnian, from root agan 'to have, to own' (see own), and in part from the adjective own (q.v.). It became obsolete after c.1300, but was revived early 17c., in part as a back-formation of owner (mid-14c.), which continued. Related: Owned; owning. To own up "make full confession" is from 1853." As an adjective, it originally meant "'one's own,'" lit. 'possessed by,' from P.Gmc. *aigana- 'possessed, owned' (cf. O.S. egan, O.Fris. egin, O.N. eiginn, Du. eigen, Ger. eigen 'own'), from pp. of PIE *aik- 'to be master of, possess,' source of O.E. agan 'to have' (see owe)."

Thus, I believe that ownership is probably better defined as "rightful possession."

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,679
Points 45,110
gotlucky replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 11:38 AM

thetabularasa:

Thus, I believe that ownership is probably better defined as "rightful possession."

Don't forget the distinction between descriptions and prescriptions about rights. The law might say that it is illegal to possess marijuana. If the police don't arrest people for possessing marijuana, then there is a de facto right to possess marijuana, regardless of the law. That is the description. The prescriptions are what I call just rights, which are people's opinions as to what the law ought to be (or what ought to be practiced).

Also, don't forget that possession is not necessary to ownership. If you lend a friend a book, it's still your book even if it isn't in your possession. Graham's above definition of ownership is spot on. I only disagree with him as to the importance of homesteading and objective links.

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,439
Points 44,650
Neodoxy replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 11:51 AM

Aristippus,

It does appear that the actual dictionary definition of "ownership" is rather synonymous with the word "property". Still, the dichotomy which you are making is an important one. Control does not mean that your control would be upheld within a court of law, nor that those around you support your ability to control something, where as property generally does, with the former emphasized over the latter, and as Gotlucky pointed out property need not necessarily imply control. I could currently own mars, but this would be objectively meaningless for my influence over the planet.

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
  • | Post Points: 35
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,493
Points 39,355
Malachi replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 2:46 PM
Darn tootin! I got this place homesteaded! At least my ranch is!
Keep the faith, Strannix. -Casey Ryback, Under Siege (Steven Seagal)
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 100 Contributor
Male
Posts 853
Points 17,830

@ Luminar: Thanks!

Anenome:
Graham: how do we define abandoment? Is it some reasonable yet arbitrary amount of time decided on a per-society basis? Like say, a year of inactivity or w/e?

What specific actions constitute abandonment is for the courts to work out, which means it will end up reflecting what people perceive as reasonable.  It will depend on the property in question and the local social customs.  So whatever amount of time you think is reasonable is probably close to the mark.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,258
Points 34,610
Anenome replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 7:33 PM
 
 

Graham Wright:

Anenome:
Graham: how do we define abandoment? Is it some reasonable yet arbitrary amount of time decided on a per-society basis? Like say, a year of inactivity or w/e?

What specific actions constitute abandonment is for the courts to work out, which means it will end up reflecting what people perceive as reasonable.  It will depend on the property in question and the local social customs.  So whatever amount of time you think is reasonable is probably close to the mark.

So, I think then that the question of whether someone has successfully homesteaded a territory and whether someone has abandoned it is ultimately one that courts should decide.

The issue would be raised as to whether someone's been attempting in good faith to homestead a particular claim within a reasonable amount of time by someone else who comes along and desires that same property.

And the question of whether previously homesteaded territory has been abandoned... that's a stickier issue I think. People may allow a plot of land to lay fallow for a period--that would still be in his interest as a producer. And a mine does not try to mine all of the copper out of it immediately--that would be foolish and kill the price of copper, etc. Yet, that copper just waiting to be mined has not been abandoned, despite no immediate plans to mine it. A copper mine may last hundreds of years even.

I still have one concern with homseteading: how do we allow the homesteading of a tract of land that the owner primarily wants to keep in its natural state?

If we take the labor theory of homesteading, that taking something out of a state of nature turns it into property, it should be obvious then that it would be impossible to own somethat that we primarily value in its natural state!

This is a problem I've been thinking about for some time. The owner of a plot can certainly keep it in its natural state, but that's for owned land, and is possible primarily because governments took control of entire territories and then parceled them out from there. So there was no need to homestead in that way.

But, in a free society, how could we handle this?

I think, as a start on the answer, that a free society would connect land ownership and title service. The title company might have rules about how something becomes homesteaded, subject to court review, etc.

Among these, people would be allowed to claim a plot of any size reasonable for their declared purpose in homesteading it. So, beyond merely the homestead, there could arise something like the business-stead, and the farm-stead :P Whatever purpose you desire in terms of purpose of ownership. You then could have a beauty-stead as well, allowing large plots to be owned but kept in its natural state. And the requirement to homestead these things and what's considered reasonable amounts of territory would change depending on purpose.

A business-stead would allow for much larger plots than a homestead as reasonable. You wanna put in a thousand acre solar farm, that's fine. And that claim would allow a longer length of time to complete the improvements before it's considered partially or wholly abandoned and reopened for a new owner-claimant.

No one needs a thousand acres to simply build a house, certainly, would not be reasonable. A homestead might be an acre or so. And you could apply for a beauty-stead surrounding the area should you so desire, whose requirements would only be active management.

So, by this concept and extensions thereof, we can create a rational homesteading theory, expended from what people usually think of when they think of homesteading generally.

These rules would be applied and created in ad-hoc fashion by title companies and enforced by free-market courts in any disputes that arise therein.

 
Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,258
Points 34,610
Anenome replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 7:59 PM

If you separate control from ownership, one result is economic fascism, where control ends up partially or completely invested in the central political party without ostensible loss of "ownership."

But ownership is a farce if divorced from control. To the extent you and you alone control a thing, you are its owner.

When the government steps in to regulate anything, they by that diminish your control over that thing and therefore abrogate your ownership by that same degree.

Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,439
Points 44,650
Neodoxy replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 9:21 PM

"But ownership is a farce if divorced from control. To the extent you and you alone control a thing, you are its owner."

If you go by this definition then you necessarily arrive at the anarcho-syndicalist definition of property rights. The workers control the property, they're the one's who use it, not the capitalist.

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,258
Points 34,610
Anenome replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 9:41 PM

Neodoxy:

"But ownership is a farce if divorced from control. To the extent you and you alone control a thing, you are its owner."

If you go by this definition then you necessarily arrive at the anarcho-syndicalist definition of property rights. The workers control the property, they're the one's who use it, not the capitalist.

Only if you used that idea in isolation as a theory of how property comes to be property. In the case of a capitalist, he gains title by either taking property out of nature or by voluntary trade.

Now that he has that title, it cannot be taken away just by lending it to another in the scope of a business transaction.

Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,439
Points 44,650
Neodoxy replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 9:51 PM

Ah, I see. So you define property as being attained through initial use, and from this point on it is forever the property of that individual unless exchanged or seized as just recompense?

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
  • | Post Points: 35
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,258
Points 34,610
Anenome replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 10:30 PM
 
 

Neodoxy:

Ah, I see. So you define property as being attained through initial use, and from this point on it is forever the property of that individual unless exchanged or seized as just recompense?

Correct. From Rothbard's Ethics of Liberty:

"We thus have a theory of the rights of property: that every man has an absolute right to the control and ownership of his own body, and to unused land resources that he finds and transforms. He also has the right to give away such tangible property (though he cannot alienate control over his own person and will) and to exchange it for the similarly derived properties of others. Hence, all legitimate property-right derives from every man’s property in his own person, as well as the “homesteading” principle of unowned property rightly belonging to the first possessor."

- Murray N. Rothbard (1998-08-16 00:00:00-07:00). The Ethics of Liberty (Kindle Locations 2152-2156). New York University Press. Kindle Edition.

It would not be legitimate to "homestead" property that is no longer in a state of nature, even by one's effort. Thus, the worker cannot homestead the tools the capitalist provides for him to do his job. That's actually known as theft.

It's rather amazing to me that the syndicalists can fail to see this. However, the left has never been able to think clearly about property ever since Godwin came on the scene and blamed private ownership for all the evils in the world. When in fact, all the evils of the world are actually caused by a lack of private property, for if all needs, wants and desires were fulfilled we should find ourselves in a state equivalent to paradise.

 
Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,258
Points 34,610
Anenome replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 10:37 PM

Neodoxy:

Ah, I see. So you define property as being attained through initial use, and from this point on it is forever the property of that individual unless exchanged or seized as just recompense?

And by the way, if we do not define property in that way, then we open the door for all sorts of statist interventions and coercions. If you do not own property sovereignly, if it's legitimate for other people to tell you what to do with your own property, then they are in actuality claiming to be a part-owner of that property, to the extent they force their decisions on you.

You cannot mix slavery and freedom. Either each person is a sovereign over themselves and their property, or people are slaves entirely. A mix of the two is self-contradictory and will eventually fail, leading either to total freedom or total slavery. However, total slavery is contrary to the nature of man, and thus is doomed to failure as well, as the USSR, among others, has so recently shown.

No, the true means of progress, of moving humanity forward, will never again be the discovery of a new continent or planet, nor a new scientific discovery--those things have already changed the world.

The true way forward will be the discovery that humankind is free. Always has been, always will be, and that we have been fooling and hurting ourselves by trying to live elsewise.

Freedom must eventually win because humankind is free by nature.

I'm convinced that the next big breakthrough for freedom will be via libertarians creating a libertarian haven somewhere in the world and showing what libertarian ideals mean in practice and in actuality, and that's exactly what I intend to do.

Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
  • | Post Points: 5
Page 1 of 1 (23 items) | RSS