Ray C. Anderson, ed., The Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, Vol. 10: The Future of Sustainability (Berkshire Publishing, 2012)
10 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2013
Date Written: October 31, 2012
Private property is an evolving, socially constructed institution that can take and has taken many forms over time. This essay considers the institution from the perspective of ecological sustainability, paying attention to private rights in land and other parts of nature. Private property is a morally complex institution, one that can promote human flourishing and land health but can also empower owners to dominate and exploit people and degrade nature. The essay considers the origins and elements of ownership, noting the great variety among legal systems and thus the institution's considerable flexibility. It surveys the main moral justifications of ownership, concluding that, in the case of land and nature generally, private ownership is justified only when and to the extent its recognition promotes widespread human welfare. Typically, ownership arrangements blend private and public rights, creating not a dichotomy between private property and public property but instead a continuum of legal arrangements. The essay ends by identifying particular ways that further changes in the elements of ownership can promote land health and thus the institution's moral soundness.
Keywords: Property rights, private ownership, natural resources, property theory, moral justification of property, sustainability, land health
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