Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

possessed and perpetually new, on which possession leaves no trace...Knowledge is at 
one and the same time a penetration and a superficial caress, a digestion and the 
contemplation from afar of an object which will never lose its form. (Sartre, 1943/1956, pp. 
Nietzsche (1885/1973) earlier used the same metaphor, but in an inverted fashion. He argued 
that full possession requires that the object of possession have knowledge of the possessor. 
He described the modes of a man’s possession of a woman, with the least possessive mode 
being utilitarian use, the next most possessive being an exclusive relationship with the woman, 
but the most complete mode being based on the woman’s complete knowledge of the 
The essence of Nietzsche's concern, it would seem, is to avoid the alienation of the 
subject, the possessor, in the face of the possession. When the discussion of owning is set in 
terms of knowing, then possessing and being possessed become difficult to distinguish. In the 
metaphor of computer intelligence, does the software possess the hardware or vice-versa? 
Which is using and controlling the other? Marcel (1949) shares this concern, particularly when 
it comes to the possession of ideas and opinions: 
I am thinking in particular of such pseudo-possessions as my ideas and opinions. In this 
case, the word ‘have’ takes on a meaning which is at once positive and threatening. The 
more | treat my own ideas, or even my convictions, as something belonging to me -and so 
as something | am proud of (unconsciously perhaps) as | might be proud of my greenhouse 
or my stables- the more surely will these ideas and opinions tend, by their very inertia (or 
my inertia towards them, which comes to the same thing) to exercise a tyrannical power 
over me; that is the principle of fanaticism in all its shapes. What happens in the case of 
the fanatic, and in other cases too, it seems, is a sort of unjustified alienation of the subject 
.and the use of the term is unavoidable here- in face of the thing, whatever it may be. 
(Marcel, 1949, p. 166) 
The possessor must be the active power, and for Marcel, possession always entails the exercise 
of power to contain, to oppose, and to keep the possession within known bounds, not 
vice-versa. Fromm (1976) similarly argues that a ‘having’ orientation towards ideas and opinions 
carries the risk that they will rebound on the possessor and fix him in a defensive position 
devoid of spontaneity and creativity. 
James (1890), too, is concerned that the individual's will must dominate the cognitive 
appropriative processes. Similar to the existentialists, James (1890) argues that the self is ever 
in creation, and that the essential defining process of the self is appropriation. The self is the 
present moment in the stream-of-consciousness. The thoughts of the previous moment are 
selected and rejected, owned and disowned by the self: 
Each pulse of cognitive consciousness, each Thought, dies away and is replaced by 
another. The other, among the things it knows, knows its own predecessor, and finding it

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