Critical Reflections on Ownership

Critical Reflections on Ownership

Critical Reflections on Human Rights and the Environment series

Mary Warnock

In this thought provoking work, Mary Warnock explores what it is to own things, and the differences in our attitude to what we own and what we do not. Starting from the philosophical standpoints of Locke and Hume, the ownership of gardens is presented as a prime example, exploring both private and common ownership, historically and autobiographically. The author concludes that, besides pleasure and pride, ownership brings a sense of responsibility for what is owned and a fundamental question is brought to light: can we feel the same responsibility for what we do not, and never can, own? Applying this question to the natural world and the planet as a whole, a realistic and gradualist perspective is offered on confronting global environmental degradation. Critical Reflections on Ownership examines the effect of the Romantic Movement on our attitudes to nature and is a salient commentary on the history of ideas.

Chapter 3: Property, intimacy and privacy: gardening as ownership in action

Mary Warnock

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, legal philosophy


In his book Thoughtful Gardening Robin Lane Fox remarks that most people begin their serious gardening in middle age, when that other preoccupation and object of love, their children, have become less demanding of attention. This was not true of him: he fell in love with alpine plants when he was still at school, and he spent a gap year between school and university working in the Black Forest, apprenticed to an alpine expert. In consequence he is now not only a highly distinguished Greek historian, but the most enlightening and sympathetic, and certainly the most thoughtful, writer on gardening, who has responsibility not only for his own garden but for that of New College, Oxford, of which he is a Fellow. His suggestion that a preoccupation with gardening is in some way akin to, or a replacement for, a preoccupation with children would not seem in the least inapt to Hume. Both are matters of pride and shame, of often unrealistic hopes and plans, and therefore often consequent disappointment. But with one’s children, uniquely, the relationship changes; they may still be a source of pride or shame, but they become one’s equals as they grow up and detach themselves from one’s plans and responsibilities (unless of course they are sadly unable to achieve such independence). This is why, though ours, they are not counted at any time among our possessions.

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