Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

‘warm’, in the way we have described, greets it, saying: “Thou art mine, and part of the same 
self with me”. Each Thought is thus born an owner, and dies owned, transmitting whatever 
it realized as its Self to its own later proprietor. (James, 1890, vol. 1, p. 339) 
The Self is a cognitive process, and its existence and unity are based on acts of cognitive 
appropriation. Thus, the possession of an object and of an idea are essentially the same. Both 
become cognitive representations, and are appropriated to the present self as part of its history. 
It is most important to James (1890) that this not be misconstrued as a mechanistically 
determined habitual association of ideas. Such might be what the existentialists would call 
“being possessed”. James several times explicitly repudiates the empiricists’ explanation that 
possession is based on a utilitarian association of ideas. He illustrates this with the example 
of the miser: 
For him, better the actual evil than the fear of it; and so it is with the common lot of misers. 
Better to live poor now, with the power of living rich, than to live rich at the risk of losing the 
power. These men value their gold, not for its own sake, but for its powers. Demonetize it, 
and see how quickly they get rid of it! The associationist theory Is, as regards them, entirely 
at fault: they care nothing for the gold in se. (James, 1890, vol. 2, p. 424) 
For James (1890) the linkage between ideas at the core of the self is based on agency and 
freewill, not habit: 
A thing cannot appropriate itself; it is itself; and still less can it disown itself. There must 
be an agent of the appropriating and disowning; but that agent we have already named. It 
is the Thought to whom the various ‘constituents’ are known. That Thought [Self] is a 
vehicle of choice as well as of cognition; and among the choices it makes are these 
appropriations, or repudiations, of its ‘own’. But the Thought never is an object in its own 
hands, it never appropriates or disowns itself. It appropriates to itself, it is the actual focus 
of accretion, the hook from which the chain of the past selves dangles, planted firmly in the 
Present, which alone passes for real, and thus keeping the chain from being a purely ideal 
thing. Anon the hook itself will drop into the past with all it carries, and then be treated as 
an object and appropriated by a new Thought in the new present which will serve as a living 
hook in turn. (James, 1890, vol. 1, pp. 340-341) 
James (1890) also quotes Horwicz (1878) at length on familiarity and habitual knowledge 
as the roots of feelings of possession: 
We may with confidence affirm that our own possessions in most cases please us better 
[not because they are ours], but simply because we know them better, ‘realize’ them more 
intimately, feel them more deeply. We learn to appreciate what is ours in all of its details 
and shadings, whiist the goods of others appear to us in coarse outlines and rude averages. 
(Horwicz, 1878, in James, 1890, vol.1, p. 326) 
This is not unlike the more contemporary claim that familiarity and preference are causally 
linked and- reinforce one another in cognitive processes (e.g. Bonanno & Stillings, 1986; Nuttin, 
1987; Zajonc, 1968). However, James (1890) follows his quotations from Horwicz with the 
argument that the sense of self which we feel in our possessions and our memories of our 
possessions are distinct from the central existential Self:

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