Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

literature of the ownership of dreams, names, songs, and other immaterial property. In their 
discussions of owning, several psychologists have enumerated cognitive objects as possible 
..this extends from material objects to lay hold, in the same spirit, of the attentions and 
affections of other people, of all sorts of plans and ambitions, including the noblest special 
purposes the mind can entertain, and indeed of any conceivable idea which may come to 
seem a part of one’s life and in need of assertion against someone else. (Cooley, 1902, pp. 
Possessions, friends, one’s own children, other children, cultural interests, abstract ideas, 
politics, hobbies, recreation, and most conspicuously of all, one’s work, all lead to the 
incorporation of interests once remote from the self into selfhood proper. (Allport, 1937, 
p. 217) 
..although as a rule we confine ourselves above all to material possessions, it is evident 
that both ideas and objects can be equally well acquired and conserved, can be worked 
upon, transferred and abandoned. (Litwinski, 1947, p. 241) 
To this list may be added James (1890), Sartre (1943/1956), Marcel (1949), Altman (1970), Fromm 
(1976) and Nuttin (1987). However, Prelinger’s (1959) data show ideas not to be possessed as 
a part of the Self. Henry James (1852) and Dewey (1898/1976) have argued that moral qualities 
can be treated as possessions, though they believe it a moral mistake to do so. 
Abelson (1986) has recently reviewed the social psychological literature on beliefs. 
Independent of the psychological discussions of property and possession, he has made the 
argument that beliefs are like possessions. He concluded that the possession of a belief may 
be induced by various methods of cognitively elaborating the belief or of establishing social 
recognition of its possession. This is not unlike McClelland’s (1965) description of the 
acquisition of a motive, though that discussion was couched more in behavioral and personality 
terminology than in cognitive terminology. Prentice (1987) is the first to provide empirical 
evidence that there is a psychological correspondence between the possession of material 
objects and such mental objects as attitudes and values. 
It is important to realize in these discussions of ideas and beliefs as possessions that they 
may be either private and exclusive or common and shared. Unexpressed ideas certainly are 
private and expressed ideas are public but may be treated as private by social conventions or 
jaw. But there is not the inherent basis for exclusive possession of ideas and beliefs as there 
is with material possessions. Owning as knowing thus does not so much involve dominance 
and control through exclusion, but, if at all, through the mastery and possession of people 
discussed by Nietzsche, Sartre and Eigen.

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