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The Proper Meaning of Private Property: A Social View

William J. Gildea, Department of Philosophy, University of Warwick


Relevant to the justice of private property arrangements today is the moral status of the initial creation of these rights. Intuitively, equality should have a role to play in thinking about how one justifies the initial creation of private property rights in unowned parts of the world. I argue that once we assume this egalitarian approach, we should hold that people should enjoy equality in initial appropriations: that it is arbitrary to allow some to appropriate more unowned resources than others. This view has implications for the very meaning of private property. Honoré held a liberal view of property rights. He thought private property should offer owners a comprehensive package of rights over their resources, including the rights of bequest and profit. But, as Otsuka argues, to protect the right to equal appropriation of later generations, we must limit the rights of present owners. But the imaginary assumptions Otsuka makes in defending the view masks an important challenge for egalitarians, in reconciling the conflict between the rights of owners and the rights of all to share in the world's natural resources. To strike the right balance, we must develop an alternative social theory of the constituent rights of ownership.


Justice in acquisition, private property rights, property ownership, egalitarian proviso, Michael Otsuka, A. M. Honoré.


At some point in history, worldly resources that lay in common were made into private property. How can we justify this initial creation of private property rights? It seems that an answer to this question, that of 'justice in acquisition', has implications concerning what property rights should consist of. In this article I focus on teasing out the connection between these two questions. I therefore take it for granted that equality has some substantive role to play in justice in the initial acquisition of resources. For no one is responsible for the world's fruits, from which all else springs. This article speaks to those who share this intuition, but who think that property rights should offer their holders a comprehensive package of rights over their resources, including the rights of bequest and profit. In the article, I argue that, from this assumption that equality plays a substantive role in justice in acquisition, we should conclude that the 'Egalitarian Proviso' of Michael Otsuka best captures how private property may be acquired. This is the idea that we should enjoy equality in initial acquisition of unowned resources. But the 'Egalitarian Proviso' makes no sense if it is interpreted with standard liberal assumptions about what ownership should amount to. As such, I argue that ownership should be streamlined into a more social relation that takes account of the rights of others.

A contextual paragraph will serve to situate my theses within the scholarship, to motivate my research. Locke saw justifying the transformation of the commons into private property as a challenge (Locke, 1967: sections 25–26). He placed 'provisos', or conditions, on private appropriation, to justify it (Locke, 1967: sections 25–27, 31 and 33). Locke thought that various considerations served to render these provisos redundant (Locke, 1967: sections 36–38). But contemporary left-libertarians, including Michael Otsuka, think these provisos cannot be done away with, that respecting equality is a condition of justly appropriating resources. I find Otsuka's account compelling. Otsuka sees the implication this view has for the nature of ownership. But his line of thought involves an imaginary assumption. That assumption masks an important tension that those proposing egalitarian theories of justice in acquisition must face. Inspired by the scope for differing conceptions of property – something Di Robilant and Piketty help us see – I develop a different view of what justice in acquisition should teach us about ownership.

In section one, I explain the assumptions made in the article, so that our point of departure is clear. I argue that, given this standpoint, we should endorse Otsuka's Egalitarian Proviso. In section two, I demonstrate that the Egalitarian Proviso is incompatible with the standard liberal picture of ownership expounded by A. M. Honoré. I argue instead for a social conception of ownership.

Section one: equality's role in just appropriation

The assumptions and approach of the article

This article is aimed at those who accept the two premises, as there is no space to defend these here. I now explain and do something to motivate these assumptions. The first is that thinking about what it is to justly acquire property has some relevance for thinking about property rights today (note that there is a sub-assumption here, namely that some form of private property is justified, at least sometimes).

Accepting this assumption does not make you a libertarian. Libertarians, left and right, believe that free transfers of property are justice-preserving (e.g. Nozick, 1974: ch. 7). If any force or fraud occurs – if a domino falls short – injustice exists, until it is corrected. Thus justice in acquisition is relevant to justice today because if acquisition is unjust, today's domino is still standing, unless the flow of justice was set in motion again. I am not a libertarian, but I still may, and indeed do, hold that justice in acquisition is at least relevant to the justice of today's property rights. This is not because every transfer must play out justly, but because justice in acquisition has implications for what property rights themselves ought to consist of. When you pass on a possession, you generally pass on whatever specific rights you had to the resource. If I do not have the right to bequeath something, then if I transfer it to you, you do not have the right to bequeath it. There are two obvious ways to reject the claim that justice in acquisition is relevant to property distributions today. Firstly, within a purely consequentialist framework, it would not make sense. But as this is an article concerning property rights, I am supposing that talk of rights is legitimate. Secondly, one could hold that time heals injustice. On that view, the normative qualities of distant historical events cannot affect what we ought to do today. But this view faces uncomfortable questions, such as: at what rate do wounds caused by injustice heal (Spencer, 1999)? If it depends, why?

The second assumption is that equality is relevant in an important way to justice in acquisition. Motivating this assumption will require an exploration of competing views. Right-libertarian Jan Narveson rejects the commons view of the world, the view that we each have a claim to it (1999). First-comers who use resources acquire a property right in them. There is no limit on the amount of resources a first-comer can appropriate. However, Narveson stipulates that appropriators must actually use the resources to generate claims over them (1999: 215). The appropriator uses a resource if she requires ongoing access to it (1999: 214). Furthermore, there must be at least some publically ascertainable evidence of the user's presence and activities (1999: 215). Narveson says that first-comers should be privileged as all those who come later interfere with the liberty of first-comers (ibid.). Robert Nozick's apparently more moderate view is this: appropriations are justified if they do not make others worse off (Nozick, 1974: 178). Of course, when someone appropriates, others lose the opportunity to appropriate that resource. But within his theory, he does not count these happenings as such as instances of being made worse off (ibid.).

The problem with these views is that they cannot rule out in advance someone's justly coming to own the whole world. Narveson's view involves no egalitarian restrictions on appropriation. Hence we would expect that at least one person will amass quite a fortune. This person could employ explorers, navigators and farmers to go out and appropriate more and more land for them. This control could lead to an ever-expanding operation. Given his commitment to allow free individuals the liberty to enter into voluntary contracts, Narveson cannot deny that the resources the employees use and appropriate may be appropriated in the name of the employer.[1] Nozick's view has a similar implication (Otsuka, 2003: 23). All an appropriator must do is compensate others so that they are materially as well off as they would have been in the state of nature.

There is a better view: namely, that our licence to make claims on the world's unowned resources is no greater than anyone else's. This is an expression of an idea that has great intuitive force: that no one is responsible for, or deserves, the world's resources any more than anyone else at least initially. This idea is articulated by left-libertarians (Vallentyne et al., 2000a; 2000b). I call it the 'equality approach' to justice in acquisition. It will be helpful to give it a determinate definition. It is: given that no one is responsible for the existence or creation of the world's resources, our claims to use, possess and appropriate them are equal. One can hold this view even if one has a strong view about desert, or creator's entitlements, as it does not concern a person's talents or the resources she creates and herself uses. The view is that it is arbitrary to favour anything but equality in the initial appropriation of resources. Unlike the right-libertarians' views, the approach does not condone one person coming to own the whole world. Their views involve a formal notion of equality: whether or not an appropriation is just does not turn on the appropriator's identity. We are equal, supposedly, in that any of us can appropriate, in theory. But the equality approach deems this insufficient. A girl born after we have used all natural resources has no proper, substantive rights to them, even if it is things other than her intrinsic features that rule out her coming to own resources.[2]

Different egalitarian views

It is not immediately obvious what the equality approach – vague as it is – implies for justice in acquisition. Clearly, the egalitarian proviso is not entailed by the equality approach. I therefore explore a competing theory that could claim to be supported by the equality approach. Other theories we could consider include various interpretation of Locke's proviso. But I delegate exploration of these to an endnote given their fatal flaws.[3] In contemporary political philosophy, a popular move is to question whether egalitarian thoughts really support equality itself, or merely reducing inequality so that priority may be given to the worst off. John Rawls' principle of maximin gives powerful expression to this thought (1999: section 11). When applied here, maximin says that just appropriations maximise the position of the worst-off group. I explore whether this influential alternative to stricter egalitarianism should gain our support, instead of Otsuka's proviso (2003: 24), which is as follows.

The Egalitarian Proviso: Appropriations of unowned worldly resources are justified if and only if their appropriation respects every other individual's right to appropriate an equally advantageous share.[4]

Justifying the egalitarian proviso

I cannot refute maximin to defend the egalitarian proviso. However, three points show that on balance we will prefer the proviso. Firstly, if, as seems to be the case, the egalitarian approach is the right one, then large inequalities in appropriation are guilty until proven innocent.

Second, suppose that Jeremy wants to build a computer. For this he needs metal. But the bundle of goods that Jeremy would be entitled to under the egalitarian proviso does not contains enough for necessities plus sufficient metal. Should we not give Jeremy more metal, thereby violating the equality demanded by the egalitarian proviso, but also making the worst off better off?[5] I would not be against such a proposal. But for that extra bit of metal, let us ask: what should Jeremy's ownership rights consist of? The answer, it seems, is that they should be limited. In particular, they should be limited to his using them to maximally benefit the worst off. For now, let us simply observe that he would not have the right to manage, use, alienate, transfer or bequeath these resources. In fact, he would only have the rights he does insofar as they maximally benefitted the worst off. Therefore, he would not even be the primary arbiter of the goods, let alone the possessor of full ownership rights. It seems that the distribution of ownership rights, or at least meaningful ones, remains equal, exactly according to the egalitarian proviso. As such, even if there is a pull towards maximin-style thinking, it is unclear that we should regard this as a modification of ownership rights rather than a loan from the community to the productive with strings attached.

Thirdly, our argument for the proviso remains intact because maximin is largely inappropriate when it comes to initial acquisition. John Rawls defends inequalities that maximally benefit the worst off (Rawls, 1999: sections 10, 25, 26 and 29). His thought is that the additional income for the talented would also benefit the poorest by strengthening the incentive to engage in socially desirable work. Rawls's principle is a distributive one, and focuses on transfer. This type of reasoning does not really apply in the case of acquisition, where incentives are not all that relevant.

Section two: conceptions of private property

Having outlined the equality approach and argued that it supports the egalitarian proviso, our task now is to draw out the implications the proviso has for our conception of ownership.

Reassessing ownership

To do this, we need to know what the standard view of property rights is. The full, liberal concept of ownership was analysed by Honoré (1961: 107–47). The view is 'standard' both in the sense that it articulates a common view within a dominant strand of political philosophy, and in that Honoré took himself to be describing how all 'mature' property systems conceived of property. He also considered his theory to detail what property rights must consist of, if they are to count as genuine property rights (1961: 107–08). He analysed property rights into eleven key 'incidents'. They are: the right to exclusive possession, the right to exclusive use, the right to manage, the right to the income of the thing, the right to the capital, including rights of destruction and consumption, the right to security, including immunity from non-general expropriation by the state, the incident of transmissibility (bequeathing), the permanence of these rights, the duty to prevent harm, liability to execution, and the incident of residuarity.[6] The view is liberal in that it offers the individual property-owner extensive rights which override considerations such as equality or the positive rights of others. The specifically liberal incidents include the right to bequeath, gift and gain income from wealth.

I now show that the egalitarian proviso cannot be interpreted with these standard liberal assumptions. There are three immediately obvious ways of trying to fulfil the egalitarian proviso along standard liberal lines. First, allow everyone who will ever live an equal share of the world. Second, allow everyone in 'generation one' their equal share. Third, assign so few property rights that constant redistribution is possible and thus allow for equality of condition. Why do these routes fail? As Otsuka points out, route one will allow individuals only an infinitely small bundle of resources, perhaps meaning that 'justice' requires the mass death of innocents. This bundle would be infinitely small in that the human population across time cannot be bounded.[7] Route two implies that it will be just for the first generation to appropriate everything. On the standard, liberal interpretation of private property, this confers the rights to consume and destroy. This route is unacceptable as it licenses 'generation one' to bleed dry and destroy the world. It introduces an unfair bias towards 'generation one' that is at odds with the equality across generations demanded by the proviso. Route three still understands property rights in the full, liberal sense. The reality or possibility of an expanding population requires that very few of these liberal property rights be assigned, so that the problem of being unable to redistribute and fulfil the proviso's demands does not occur. This would create a world in which few holdings would deserve the name 'property'. Therefore, route three will likely fail to grant everyone a right of theirs as required by the proviso, namely, that to ownership. As I mentioned, that there is such a right, in some perhaps qualified form, is an assumption of this article. Given that the routes fail, we must reassess our assumption that property rights must be interpreted along standard liberal lines.

Before turning to an alternative conception of ownership, it is worth exploring how legal scholars have conceptualised ownership. Di Robilant (2013) traces the history of the conceptual legal debate over what ownership is. She shows that historically, ownership has been seen variously as the total dominion over an object, as essentially the right to exclude plus other subsidiary rights, and as a collection of rights and duties, or a 'bundle of sticks'. In legal thought today, ownership is seen as a malleable and indeed varied bundle of sticks. I must sidestep this conceptual debate. But following the bundle of sticks approach will help refine our normative question, namely, what sticks should be included in the ownership bundle? This model of ownership allows us to think of our project as that of simply deciding which sticks to add or remove from the pile. After explaining an important contribution to this question, I state my proposed conception of ownership.

A social conception of ownership

John Christman (1994) takes a stance on the right-bundle question. His view is based on a conceptual distinction. He distinguishes two bundles that together make up the liberal conception, 'control rights' and 'income rights' (1994: 127–31). Control rights make the owner the final arbiter of the physical state of the good, and include all of Honoré's incidents bar the rights to income (including from exchange). Income rights grant the owner the ability to gain income from her possessions. Christman thinks we must treat these bundles separately (1994: 9–11). My conception of ownership does not mirror Christman's, but borrows from this thought.

I now propose my alternative conception of ownership. This 'social conception of ownership' excludes income rights. It includes the control rights except the rights to gift/bequeath and destroy.[8] This differs from Otsuka's conception of ownership as it goes further, running contrary to his libertarianism in removing the (unconditional) right to gain income form one's property. Nonetheless, Otsuka's phrase 'lifetime leasehold' helps describe this idea of ownership (2003: 38). We have a lifetime leasehold on our property as we might on a house. We can use it and control it for life, but cannot knock down the house, sub-let it or change the named owner on the contract. So, according to this social conception of ownership, owning something standardly means that the owner is the primary arbiter of the physical state of the good, but cannot destroy, bequeath or gift it, or gain income from it. I say 'standardly' because this is a rough, default conception of ownership that outlines the rights of owners, not an exact specification of what rights owners would have once all things are considered. For example, if one owns a diary, it would probably make sense to allow the owner to destroy this.

Justifying our conception of ownership

This conception of ownership falls out of the tension generated by the egalitarian proviso. I begin my justification of the conception by stating precisely what the proviso requires. The proviso allows resources to be appropriated, thus issuing the negative rights of exclusion associated with property. There is a sense in which each generation cannot look beyond its own needs. That is to say, each generation must be able to use the whole of the world's resources (sustainably). However, the proviso also issues positive rights to property, in demanding that all benefit equally from appropriation. The proviso must therefore concern more than one generation. In sum, generation one's rights to exclude conflict with generation two's right to access property. The resolution is to assign generation one property rights, but to build in conditions, so that the interests of future generations may be protected.

Until this point, I am in agreement with Otsuka. In response to the above tension, Otsuka removes from his conception the rights to gift, bequeath and entirely destroy one's property. Let us put to one side my further attempt to streamline ownership, and focus on methodology. He arrives at his conception of ownership by framing the inter-generational tension in the following way. Otsuka imagines a single generation on an island and asks what principle should guide their acquiring resources. Then, admitting that this thought-experiment is 'highly schematized', he introduces other generations (2003: 35). But still, he does so under simplifying assumptions. He assumes that generations are discrete collections of individuals so that as one generation dies, another is born. This means that each generation faces a fresh, unappropriated world and can divide up resources without worrying about the rights of older, or future, generations. I think that this assumption masks an important problem for egalitarian theories of justice in acquisition, namely, resolving the real-world clash between ensuring equality in acquisition and protecting existing property rights. There can be conflicts here, as respecting positive rights requires resources, which sometimes can only be found in the hands of owners. If a new baby is born and she will not benefit from her parents' appropriations, she will be entitled to resources. But if all resources have been appropriated, we have a problem. Otsuka assumes away the conflict. Otsuka could say that 'justice is justice, and is sometimes impossible to achieve. The demands of the proviso simply conflict, and they are only reconcilable in my imaginary scenario.' This line of thought is not always problematic. When it comes to social structures; if someone said 'this suffering is unjust', it would probably be inadequate to reply that 'the suffering is unavoidable owing to social constraints, and so not unjust'. For many social constraints are not moral data. Rather, they can be changed. But surely what is justice must be responsive to nomological constraints, including biological facts about the overlap between generations. If hard facts get in the way of what seems to be the just outcome, then some second-best outcome must be what is actually just.[9] This is why I find the idealising assumption unacceptable.

My argument tries to own up to these difficulties. I therefore end up with a different social conception to Otsuka, and also a messier picture. The intergenerational tension explored above points towards my positive argument for streamlining property rights. The argument is this: my social conception of ownership is the only way to fulfil the demands of justice in acquisition (in other words, the demands of the egalitarian proviso). If each new generation faced a fresh world to divide up, it would have a stock of resources with which to fulfil the proviso's demands. As it does not, we require alternative means of creating such a stock, or as I call it, a flow, of resources. This public flow of resources will, as far as possible, enable equality in appropriation, or compensation where this is not possible. A liberal ownership system cannot generate such a flow, as liberal property rights sign away all the relevant powers to the owner herself, leaving the community with no control over the resources. This motivates three changes to the full liberal idea of property: (1) replacing private inheritance and bequest with 'public inheritance'; (2) the removal of the right to gain income from property; and (3) prevention of very large gratuitous transfers. I now explain the argument for these modifications. We therefore end up with a slightly different theory of ownership to Otsuka, but it is distinct in that our differing methodology in reaching the conclusions means it is in principle applicable to the world.

Our first modification thus concerns inheritance and bequest. We live in a world where legal entitlements have been attached to almost all the world's resources. The resources to which no legal claim is attached can help create a flow of resources available to those who have not enjoyed equality in appropriation. But this will not be enough. We must look to already-owned resources. But we cannot just take these resources from people at will. We want to preserve property rights and the security they bring (to owners). However, there is another way of doing this, namely, taking resources that were once owned but whose owners have died. When people die, their possessions should float back into non-ownership, just as their tissues dissipate into nature. We can draw from this public limbo zone for resources, to ensure that everyone benefits equally from appropriation.

But it may not do. Before I explain two further measures, it is worth recalling why we endorsed the egalitarian proviso. It is a derivative principle; it is motivated by the equality approach, the thought that everyone has an equal claim to worldly resources. Thus, if the measures mentioned above are not enough to fulfil the intent behind the proviso, we must further modify property rights in ways not related to appropriation, in order to achieve a flow of resources large enough to recompense those whose rights have not been met. Thus, secondly, the right to gain income from one's property through transfer or leasing must be removed. This does not mean that these rights are automatically stripped; the arrangements need to be guided by practical considerations. But it does mean that the right to all the income from one's property is not automatically granted. This facilitates the possibility of public flows of capital income. To illustrate, one practical arrangement would be Piketty's capital tax, which redirects part of the private capital flow to the public purse (2014).[10]

Thirdly, we must remove the unconditional right to gratuitously transfer significant quantities of resources. This protects the inheritance fund and helps avoid the retention of wealth within the private streams that stand against the public flow required. Without this modification, replacing private inheritance and bequest with public becomes almost futile. So we can see that the measures necessary to fulfil the proviso leave us with a more social understanding of property rights, which see the interests and rights of the property holder balanced against the interests and rights of others.

It may be objected that there is a right to make bequests which may challenge these conclusions. Although I cannot delve into these arguments deeply here, it seems that in moral theory, rights are usually thought to be based either on the capacity to choose or on interests. Basing a dead person's right to bequeath on the ability to make a choice seems odd, and has been effectively rebutted (Fabre, 2001). Basing it on an interest is also difficult, given that bequests happen after death. Robert Lamb (2014) has tried to base the right on the interests living people have in being assured that they will be able to bequeath. But it is unclear how strong this interest is. Even if it is strong enough to ground a right, it is far from obvious it can trump what we have taken to be the demands of justice.

As for my negative argument: I have not come across an argument that shows that appropriation, even if it is just, grounds all the incidents of liberal property rights. Before a resource has a property right created in it, everyone has a liberty-right to use it. Therefore, if one is to gain exclusive control over resources, one needs to justify every right in the ownership bundle. Gaus calls this the problem of restricted justification (2012: 97). Looking to Locke illustrates the difficulty of justifying the specifically liberal incidents of income, destruction, gift and bequest. Locke thought that the rights we have by virtue of being human can only secure the right to exclusive use and management of our resources. In his attempt to justify the right of income, he had to appeal to social agreement. This is a weaker source of rights which, for him, was subject to change (Christman, 1994: 52). So, the only promising justificatory route for securing exactly these rights seems to be that the liberal conception yields the best consequences. Two observations undermine this possibility: first, it is hard to justify a universal moral right (to all income from property) on the basis of consequences, which change from case to case. Second, even if there are adverse consequences in weakening economic incentives, it is unclear that they are greater than the benefits of a property system that caters to the economically disenfranchised. Anyhow, this debate hangs on empirical data which we cannot explore here. Even if the data recommend the liberal view, we must weigh against this recommendation the rights of others, for which I have been arguing.

An objector may accept these arguments but wonder whether the proposed conception of ownership cannot be called 'liberal'. In response, it seems to me that this would be stretching the term. If proved wrong, I am happy to back down to a weaker claim that preserves my main point: that the standard liberal theory, as expounded by Honoré, is incompatible with the demands of the egalitarian proviso, and that therefore a more social alternative, which focusses on the individual property-owner and the wider community, seems to be required.


To conclude overall: our attraction to the equality approach to appropriation led us to support the egalitarian proviso. This was defended against maximin. But this seems to require a conception of ownership different from the liberal one with which we are familiar. Our discussion lends strong support for the claim that property rights should be streamlined into a more social function. Our version of the social property right enables us to avoid Otsuka's idealised argument, and generate answers in principle applicable to the world. I have not been able to explore many objections at length. There is more to be done to shore up the alternative conception presented here. Further issues to explore also include how non-human animals fit into the picture and the bearing justice in acquisition should have on judgements concerning property rights today, once all things are considered.


Many thanks indeed to the four peer-reviewers whose comments much improved the article. Many thanks to Adam Swift and Irina Schumski for comments on a draft of this article. Many thanks to the organisers, volunteers and participants of the International Conference of Undergraduate Research 2015, where parts of this article were presented. I benefitted from the criticism received.


[1] Narveson's principles (1999: 206) include self-ownership and the right to liberty. These guarantee the right to enter into contracts. Furthermore, Narveson argues that no one has a right to any resources, and no one has a claim on others to provide for even basic needs (p. 217), so he would deny that such agreements as the agreement to appropriate large portions of the world in the name of one person infringe the rights of others.
[2] Clearly, the equality approach could imply that everyone should have nothing. Then there would be no property rights whose content we could discuss. But we are assuming that some appropriation is justified. So as soon as one justified appropriation takes place, equality will require that people appropriate something, not nothing.
[3] Nozick offers two readings of Locke's proviso (1974: 175–78). The stronger requires that no one be made worse off by appropriations, given a certain definition of 'worse off'. The reading counts the lost opportunity for appropriation as being made worse off, thereby making this version of the Lockean proviso quite stringent. By Macpherson's lights, the strong Lockean proviso is that no appropriation may render one unable to gain subsistence by one's own labour (2011: 213).I first show that neither interpretation of the strong Lockean proviso is defensible. The strong Lockean proviso, as characterised by Nozick, should not be endorsed. For as Cohen argues, it cannot be satisfied (1986: 133). All appropriations, under any arrangement, will remove from others the opportunity to appropriate. As this proviso counts lost opportunity for appropriation as an instance of being made worse off, and as making others worse off voids an appropriation, no appropriations will be justified. It is therefore not useful as a test of an appropriation's legitimacy, as it provides no means by which we can categorise appropriations as just and unjust. Locke's proviso, interpreted as Macpherson sees it, relies on unacceptable premises. Locke starts his chapter 'On Property' with the following problem: God gave humankind the world in common for our subsistence, so how can anyone privately appropriate part of it (Locke, 1967: sect. 26)? According to Macpherson, this grounds the strong proviso, namely, that appropriations must not preclude anyone's ability to gain subsistence through their labour. The proviso thus falls out of a set of teleological and theological assumptions about the function and origins of the world. These are not assumptions I am prepared to endorse, as I think I can build my argument for the egalitarian proviso on less controversial premises.
[4] I put to one side egalitarian debates over resources/welfare. There is a question over whether 'equally advantageous' should be spelled out in terms of resources or welfare (See Dworkin, 1981a: part 1, and Dworkin, 1981b: part 2).
[5] It may be wondered how anyone is worse off at this point. In the example, I suppose that people have appropriated equally and most worldly resources have been acquired. Trading has taken place, so some inequalities have emerged. More resources are discovered, and the question of how to distribute them arises. So maximin can apply.
[6] I have no space to explain each of these, but Honoré (1961: 112–24) explains them.
[7] An objection may run as follows: 'If it was expected that everyone would die because of lack of resources, the total human population across all time would fall and become non-infinite. This means the amount of resources permissibly appropriated would rise, and mass death would be averted even if everyone stuck to the proviso.' This objection fails, because if the amount of resources permissible rose again, then the population across time would become unbounded again, leading us back to the infinitely small resource bundle. So, in fact, if this reply is pressed, the objection against route one is now that it does not deliver any advice, for the amount of resources we may appropriate constantly oscillates.
[8] Interestingly, if the control rights are too strong, they may preclude government regulation. I do not have the space to enter into this debate. But I do not intend my statements to rule out government regulation.
[9] A supporting example: suppose, in a discussion of distributive justice, someone started off by saying 'assuming everyone alive today is shifted to 2500 where average wealth per capita is…'. Then, having violated a law about identity and time-travel, suppose she proceeds to draw real-world implications for justice from that line of thought. It seems right to object. For justice is a problem rooted in worldly conditions – in particular, in conditions of scarcity. If we assume away a root cause of a problem of justice, we cannot then learn much about that issue.
[10] The practical ramifications of this move could look like Piketty's capital tax, which in effect express the owner's lack of moral right over the (full) income of her property. See Piketty, 2014: part four.


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To cite this paper please use the following details: Gildea, W. J. (2016), 'The Proper Meaning of Private Property: A Social View', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 9, Issue 2, Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at