Origins of Private Property -Reply

jwalker jwalker at
Wed Jul 12 21:07:38 MDT 1995


To tell the truth I'm not completely sure why I'm interested in the
"origins of PP" question.  My intuition is that it might have some of
what I called "political significance" in another post -- by which I mean
that asking the question might be illuminating for political purposes,
either in helping us to figure out what's right when it comes to
property, or in aiding us to bring about what's right.

So when I asked earlier about what you took the political signif. of your
question to be, I was wondering whether the interest of the question was
purely anthropological.

I'm just shooting from the hip here, but here's one guess as to how
discovering something about the origins of PP might help us to answer
questions about the justice of property systems.  Suppose it turned out
that our distant ancestors arrived at a stage of technological
development at which they actually had some useful stuff -- tools, things
to make life a bit more comfortable, etc.  It might be that with respect
to certain material goods, they'd find it useful to make PP claims
themselves, and to honor them when others made them.

This might come about for such purely pragmatic reasons as the fact that
it's sometimes important to have settled expectations in one's life.  If
you're planning to chop trees tomorrow, or hunt deer, or whatever, it's
good to be able to count on having the tools to do so available.  If they
were communal property, say, then you'd never know exactly what was going
to be around when.

If this sort of story were true, it might form part of a *justification*
for granting people PP rights in certain sorts of stuff, to a certain

Contrast this with a different causal history of PP: some people are evil
greedy bastards and wanted to grab as much junk as they could for
themselves, to gratify desires for dominance, power, and

I take it this sort of history isn't going to help justify any sort of
PP, eh?

I need to go over your recent posts, though, as well as one I see Howie
has just written, to address this stuff in more detail.  I'll get to this
in my copious free time...


John D. Walker
Department of Philosophy
UNC - Chapel Hill
jwalker at

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