Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

In the nineteenth century, many continued to discuss property in the context of moral 
theory. Nietzsche (1885/1973) equated appropriation and dominance, and considered them to 
be the basis of morality: 
..life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, 
suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and, at the least and 
mildest, exploitation.... (Nietzsche, 1885/1973, p. 175) 
From this position, Nietzsche (1885/1973) saw altruism to be a form of possession and, thus, a 
form of dominance: 
Among helpful and charitable people one almost always finds the clumsy deceitfulness 
which first adjusts and adapts him who is to be helped: as if, for example, he ‘deserved’ 
help, desired precisely their help, and would prove profoundly grateful, faithful and 
submissive to them in return for all the help he had received -with these imaginings they 
dispose of those in need as if they were possessions, and are charitable and helpful at all 
only from a desire for possessions. (Nietzsche, 1885/1973, p. 99) 
However, social psychologists of the late nineteenth century generally tried to 
accommodate motives of self-interest with motives of altruism, usually with the former taking 
precedence over the latter. For example, Spencer (1879) argued that self-preservation and thus 
self-interest necessarily preceded altruism, which he considered to be a function of leisure and 
surplus. Bosanquet (1895) similarly argued the Aristotelian case, that moral development Is 
self-managed self-development, which requires a private realm of resources, in other words, 
private property. As with Aristotle, benevolence is central to Bosanquet's psychology of 
A man who could do nothing for his friends or for his family would have the heart cut out 
of his dealings with the material conditions of his life as a whole. (Bosanquet, 1895, p. 318) 
Similar to both Spencer and Bosanquet, Wundt (1901) argued that self-preservation and social 
power were necessary antecedents for moral development: 
The moral basis of the possession of material goods consists in the double purpose that 
such possession may serve. First, it ensures the security of existence; and, secondly, it 
affords the means for the external exercise of power. Without the preservation of life there 
can be no moral effort; but in order that moral effort may not succumb in the struggle for 
material needs, one’s material possessions must represent a certain surplus over and 
above the necessities of life. (Wundt, 1901, p. 197) 
Wundt goes on to emphasize the moral value of voluntary liberality and of the self-discipline 
necessary to acquire property, both of which arise from the institution of private property. 
Dewey (1898/1976) criticized these notions of moral development because they presume 
that the self is fixed and that moral development is thus a selfish process of acquiring and 
possessing good qualities, good attitudes, good experiences, and so forth. Rather, he argued 
that the self has no existence other than through action and that selfishness and aitruism are

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