Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

The fundamental terms that lie, frequently unexamined, behind the consideration of 
property and determine its definition, are terms descriptive of the nature of man and the 
nature of his social group organizations. There is scarcely a political treatise from the time 
of the Greeks to the eighteenth century that does not explicitly raise the question whether 
man’s political powers and acts are determined by man’s nature or wait for determination 
upon the conventions which he institutes. (McKeon, 1938, p. 302) 
Nevertheless, the nineteenth century saw major developments in the social sciences 
which maintained, even accelerated, scholarship on ownership and property. Darwinism, and 
its elaboration by Romanes (1883), led to the search for the origins of human social institutions 
in the psychology of animals, children and primitive peoples. Marxism and its challenge to the 
existing property regimes made property an unavoidable issue. The nineteenth century saw the 
social sciences emerge as separate disciplines, with relatively new and strong contributions 
from Germany in the nineteenth century and the United States in the twentieth. Indeed, the 
literature on property becomes so prolific, that it is difficult to encompass. Therefore, the 
remainder of this historical survey will focus successively on each of the five traditional 
psychological explanations of private property, with particular emphasis on the place of 
interpersonai dominance in each. 
Property as Self 
For much of the early history of the psychology of ownership, private property was 
considered to be a manifestation of selfishness. Only Aristotle and the Scholastics made a 
strong case that possessiveness was natural and proper. The empiricist tradition generally 
maintained the negative view of the self as selfish, but tried to work various moral alchemies to 
make It the basis of a reasonable justification of private property. In the nineteenth and 
twentieth centuries, the psychology of the self, including possessiveness, became the subject 
of more explicit and detailed psychological examination within the areas of phenomenological 
psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, and existential psychology. 
William James’ (1890) phenomenology probably makes the clearest and the most 
complete argument that property is an extension of the self. His opening statement in the 
chapter on “The Consciousness of Self” is this: 
_ Let us begin with the Self in its widest acceptation, and follow it up to its most delicate 
and subtle forms, advancing from the study of the empirical, as the Germans call it, to that 
of the pure, Ego. 
The Empirical Self of each of us is all that he is tempted to call by the name of me. 
But it is clear that between what a man calls me and what he simply calls mine the line is 
difficult to draw. We feel and act about certain things that are ours very much as we feel 
and act about ourselves. Our fame, our children, the work of our hands. may be as dear to

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