All About Property
Property is a general term for legal and ethical entitlements to certain assets, whether those are real, tangible or intangible. It encompasses a range of rights that a person can hold over a resource, including the right to possess it, consume it, alter it, share it, redefine it, rent or mortgage it, pawn it, sell it or transfer it, as well as the ability to exclude others from using or claiming it. While the concept of property may seem quite simple in its essence, philosophical controversy has often surrounded it.
The property debates of the mid 19th century saw the rise of ideas such as Honore’s incidents and Hohfeld’s jural relations, which were designed to demonstrate that a concept of property could be more complex than it seemed at first glance. These concepts were designed to undermine Bundle Theory, which argued that there was no strict essence of property, and instead emphasized the idea that the concept was a consolidated entitlement comprised of more basic constituents.
While this new approach to property was controversial, it also appeared to be a practical one, with the fact that ordinary people seemed able to employ their rough-and-ready ideas of property in the day-to-day world around them. Indeed, forms of private ownership in land date back ten millennia, while possessions like toothbrushes and umbrellas can be claimed as property with very little effort.
It is important to note that while the notion of property is a common one, different societies have created very different property systems for different reasons. Some systems have not even been based on property at all, but rather on other notions of control and rights. In addition, some property rights have been viewed as more valuable than others, such as the human body.
Some theorists have suggested that a standard case of property, which they call Integrated Theory, can be developed. While it departs from the original Full Liberal Ownership, by allowing for the possibility that property can be regulated or taxed, this new concept of property displays the signature properties of exclusion, use and alienability. It also allows for the possibility that there will be some types of property that are not considered to be in this category, such as intellectual property.
In the end, though, most property theorists agree that a consolidated entitlement of property’s features, as outlined in Honore’s list, is more effective and useful than Bundle Theory. Most, for example, reject the restriction on harmful use of property, seeing this as a reflection of the already existing duty all people have not to harm others and not something that can be confined to the scope of property per se.