The (Virtue) Ethics of Private Property: A Framework & Implications
NEW PERSPECTIVES ON PROPERTY LAW, OBLIGATIONS AND RESTITUTION, A. Hudson, ed., London, Cavendish Press, pp. 39-67, 2003
15 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2011 Last revised: 12 Jun 2012
Date Written: 2003
This paper is part of a larger attempt to retrieve elements of the justification for private property that too frequently have been played down in legal and political discourse. These elements of justificatory argument are crucial to an adequate understanding of the institution of private property, its various practical manifestations, as well as its evolution and role in contemporary Western society. The argument here defended is that the concept of private property has an ethical dimension that is inherent in its very essence: in lay terms, private property is as much about duties, obligations and ends as it is about rights. This paper will sketch some of the theoretical underpinnings of such a re-constructive project, as well as set out some of the implications of the analysis at both conceptual and justificatory level. Related texts outline some of these elements and demonstrate how they are essential to the theoretical underpinnings and practical modalities of property rights and obligations, and set out definitional amendments consistent with the larger argument.
As a group, these studies will attempt to restore this group of non-rights-based aspects to their proper position alongside the rights-based elements of this institution, arguing that the former contributes to a larger functional moralism in the institution of private property, as these elements are directly related to societal goals and values. The project is in part a study of the theory of and justifications for private property, and in part an analysis of how the justifications and explanations for private property should inform, and be informed by, legal discourse. It is a self-consciously revisionist argument that seeks to re-tell the theoretical and practical "story" of private property. As the story is retold, it will be clear that there are elements of private property that are clustered around certain standards of conduct inhering in the concept and oriented by the general goals or virtues governing the way property ought to be used. These include not only the requirements that a community can place on specific property owners for the good of the community and the justifications for doing so, but also those requirements that emanate from the nature of the property relationship and the nature and characteristics of the particular resource. In addition, these normative claims bear not only on the use of resources but, even more directly, on their allocation.
Keywords: private property, virtue ethics, rights-based ethics, duty-based ethics, social obligations
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