Critical Reflections on Ownership
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Critical Reflections on Ownership

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.
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Chapter 2: Origins of society and property

Mary Warnock


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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