Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

[There is] no such thing as private ownership established by nature, but property becomes 
private either through long occupancy....or through conquest....or by law, bargain, purchase, 
or allotment...While everything assigned as private property by the states and the civil law 
shall be held as prescribed by those laws, everything else shall be regarded in the light of 
the Greek proverb, “Among friends all things are common”. (Cicero’s De Officiis, 1, 7, 16, in 
Schlatter, 1951, p. 25) 
The Stoics approved private property for natural necessities and for natural pleasures because 
these could be satisfied, but held the expressive functions of property for show and splendor 
to be unnatural, unnecessary and beyond satisfaction (Schopenhauer, 1818/1955). 
Originally, the Stoic idea of property seemed to suggest two contemporary regimes of 
property. Private property enters the regime of conventional law by being appropriated from 
nature on the basis of equal access or by being forcefully seized from those outside the civil 
domain. However, the regime of natural law was gradually removed to a romanticized, primitive, 
pre-history in which human behavior was not confounded by civilized law and culture. Virgil and 
Seneca, in particular, made much of an ideal Golden Age when men were not divided and bound 
by private property, when all was naturally abundant and owned in common (Schlatter, 1951). 
As a mythical history, the natural state of man was inaccessible to examination for universal 
first-principles based on human nature. Thus, Stoic philosophy and the socio-political realities 
of managing the Roman Empire tended to emphasize legal rather than psychological 
explanations of property. 
This hiatus in psychological considerations of ownership was to last a millennium, until 
the revival of Aristotle by Aquinas. However, the seed of psychology was still present in the 
notion of natural law. For example, the Stoic focus on Logos leads to the argument that knowing 
is the ultimate claim to property: 
Dnly such a man can really claim all things as his own, by virtue of the decision, not of the 
Roman people, but of the wise, not by any obligation of the civil law, but by the common law 
of nature, which forbids that anything shall belong to any man save to him that knows how 
to employ and use it. (Cicero’s Republic, |, in Schlatter, 1951, p. 24) 
Furthermore, the acknowledgement of a pre-civilized, pre-socialized, natural human condition 
where ownership was not confounded by customs and conventional law would eventually lead 
to the search for psychological first-principles of ownership in animal behavior, child 
development, and primitive culture. 
The early Christians easily assimilated the property theories of the Romans. The Stoic 
distinction between natural and conventional law was justified by the need for social order 
following the Fall of Man into the sinful state of avarice and greed (Carlyle, 1922; Schlatter, 1951).

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