Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

The biologists presume and would like to revive the concept of an innate possessiveness 
in children. Weisfeld and Linkey (1985) state this explicitly in their argument that 
possessiveness is a manifestation of interpersonal dominance, which is a manifestation, they 
claim, of success striving: 
Another test of whether or not a particular behavior has an evolved basis is to see if it 
follows a typical developmental pattern, which implies the existence of a maturational, that 
is, genetic, program. Success striving does seem to exhibit a typical time of onset. No 
matter what it is called by researchers, this behavior first appears at about 3 or 4 years of 
age, suggesting that all these researchers are describing the same phenomenon. 
“Dominance” behavior has been described in children of this age by Bridges (1931), Gellert 
(1961; 1962), McGrew (1972), Sluckin and Smith (1977), Strayer and Strayer (1976), Hold 
(1976), and Omark, Omark and Edelman (1975). (Ethologists usually define dominance as 
success in fights or in securing valued resources or prerogatives). (Weisfeld & Linkey, 
1985, pp. 110-111) 
Child studies by psychologists and biologists also play an important part in the study of the 
relationships of property and dominance to altruism. 
Benevolence, altruism and sharing have always been central concerns in the history of the 
psychology of property. For Pythagoras, Plato, and the Christian theorists, private property was 
contrary to social solidarity. However, for Aristotle and the early empiricists, self-interest and 
private property were the necessary foundations for moral development. In the eighteenth 
century, Hume's discussion of property had been developed in the context of an attempt to 
create a moral philosophy from a radically psychological understanding of human nature (Hill, 
1963). Virtue was based on pleasurable or painful moral sentiments. Private property was 
considered virtuous because reliable associationistic expectations of the immediate 
environment are agreeable and useful. Adam Smith (1759/1971) modified Hume's moral theory 
and foreshadowed Cooley (1902) by emphasizing interpersonal compassion based on 
sympathetic imagination (Cropsey, 1963). Acts are judged by the passions that caused them, 
as perceived by the sympathetic compassions of others: hence, men agree to private property 
because of sympathetic approbation of the pleasures of possessions, wealth and power 
(Cropsey; 1963). “The invisible hand of nature” by means of these commonly appreciated 
passions, leads the property owner to produce more than can be consumed and to thus assure 
the prosperity of the species (Cropsey, 1963). For Adam Smith, altruism is a natural but 
inadvertent consequence of the passion for possessions and power.

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