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Property and non-ideal theory

Lovett, Adam ORCID: 0000-0001-8728-5624 (2023) Property and non-ideal theory. Inquiry. ISSN 0020-174X

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Identification Number: 10.1080/0020174X.2023.2206846


According to the standard story, there are two defensible theories of property rights: historical and institutional theories. The former says that you own something when you’ve received it via an unbroken chain of just transfers from its original appropriation. The latter says that you own something when you’ve been assigned it by just institutions. This standard story says that the historical theory throws up a barrier to redistributive economic policies while the institutional theory does not. In this paper, I argue that the standard story is wrong in almost every detail. For a start, neither of these theories are defensible. Both generate absurd consequences when combined with our non-ideal circumstances. In actuality, no unbroken chains of just transfers stretch from original appropriations to what we now possess. And our actual institutions are very seriously unjust. So both theories imply that we actually own almost nothing. I revise these theories so that they avoid this absurd consequence. Yet, when we do this, their distributive implications flip. The institutional theory throws up serious barriers to redistribution while the historical theory tears them down. In our non-ideal circumstances, the distributive implications of these theories are the opposite of what is standardly presumed.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author.
Divisions: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Date Deposited: 25 Apr 2023 14:03
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2024 23:21

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