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The Expressive Transparency of Property

29 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2002  

Jane B. Baron

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


This Essay examines expressive theories of law. In two new books, property theorist Joseph Singer condemns the dominant, absolutist, conception of property for failing to express the full range of our values; he suggests its replacement with a model, epitomized by the generous commitment of Malden Mills owner Aaron Feuerstein to rebuild his plant after a catastrophic fire, that expresses not just the powers but the obligations that flow from ownership. After questioning how we interpret what law says or expresses, the Essay asks how we should understand expressivist projects such as Singer's. Should we characterize expressivists as idealists, throwing one concept (ownership obligates) against another (ownership is freedom) in the naive hope that long-entrenched beliefs and understandings will be displaced by the simple demonstration that other beliefs and understandings are plausible? Or should we see them instead as meaning entrepreneurs, who cleverly trade on intuitively appealing images such as that of Aaron Feuerstein to disrupt conventional associations between, for example, property and selfishness?

Keywords: property, expressive theory of law, ownership, obligation, entitlement, meaning entrepreneur, transparency

Suggested Citation

Baron, Jane B., The Expressive Transparency of Property. Columbia Law Review, Vol. 102, p. 208, 2002. Available at SSRN:

Jane B. Baron (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-8975 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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