Critical Reflections on Human Rights and the Environment series
Chapter 2: Origins of society and property
In the discussion of the ownership of detached body parts, we encountered the idea that the work and skill that a skilled worker (or microbiologist) puts into an object to transform it, or to make it into something else, entitle him to claim ownership of that newly changed object. Such an idea is far from new. The institution of patenting was established to regulate and protect such claims, but we can go further back than that. In the psalms of David, over and over again, we find the assumption that what you have made is your own: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is: the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein. For He hath founded it upon the seas, and prepared it upon the floods’. ‘It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture’, ‘In His hand are all the corners of the earth; and the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His and He made it; and His hand prepared the dry land’. The creator of the universe who made it with his own hand is, in virtue of that very fact, the rightful owner of that universe. It is, after all, a naturally intelligible idea.
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