Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

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us as our bodies are, and arouse the same feelings and the same acts of reprisal if 
attacked. And our bodies themselves, are they simply ours, or are they us? Certainly men 
have been ready to disown their very bodies and to regard them as mere vestures, or even 
as prisons of clay from which they should some day be glad to escape. 
Ne see then that we are dealing with a fluctuating material. The same object being 
sometimes treated as a part of me, at other times as simply mine, and then again as if | had 
nothing to do with it at all. In its widest possible sense, however, a man’s Self is the sum 
total of all the he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and 
his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his 
lands and horses, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same 
emotions. If they wax and prosper, he feels triumphant; if they dwindle and die away, he 
feels cast down. (James, 1890, p. 291) 
It is important to note several characteristics of James’ description of the self and its 
possessions. First, the primary criterion for distinguishing possession is emotion. The visceral 
feelings of ownership come first, the justifications later. Second, the feelings of ownership 
admit of individual differences, both across individuals and within the same individual over time. 
Third, the feelings described are those of interpersonal dominance. James uses the metaphors 
of conflict (“reprisal” and “attack”) and of ascendency (“triumphant” and “cast down”). Similar 
metaphors are used when he describes the loss of valued possessions: 
We are all at once assimilated to the tramps and poor devils whom we so despise, and at 
the same time removed farther than ever away from the happy sons of the earth who lord 
it over land and sea and men in the full-blown lustihood that wealth and power can give. 
(James, 1890, p. 293) 
Still later he again links property with dominance when he describes how “A man with a broadly 
extended empirical Ego, with powers that have uniformly brought him success, with place and 
wealth and friends and fame” will have emotions of self-satisfaction rather than of abasement 
(James, 1890, p. 306). Finally, James closes his section on the empirical self with a discussion 
of self-estimation, which is a process of determining superiority or inferiority of possessions in 
comparison to reference persons. 
Historically, it is important to note, as well, that James’ conception of the self as defined 
by possessions was a development from earlier German philosophical psychology. Kant, in 
response to the radical empiricism of Locke and Hume, had argued that the objective 
phenomena perceived and known by Man are in part a product of Man's own cognitive 
processes; the underlying noumena remain unknown and unknowable in the objective scientific 
sense. As summarized by Copleston (1963), nineteenth century German philosophy consisted 
of SOLEUIBHONS about the noumenal thing-in-itseif. 
Fichte argued that noumenal reality was moral will and that private property was the 
exclusive right to perform certain actions as agreed upon in a social contract among a union

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