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 9: Why do we want to preserve the natural world?

Mary Warnock


I now come to the final, and more properly philosophical question in my reflections on ownership. It is easy to see why we want to conserve or protect that which we own; but why do we want to do the same for anything that is not ours, including the planet on which, through no choice of our own, we happen to live? Of course we may hope that it will last our time. But why would it seem wrong to say ‘Après moi, le déluge’, and give the matter no further thought? Is it out of sympathy with those comparatively few people who we know will survive us, such as younger friends and members of our own close family? But then everyone’s motive would be different, their interest in the matter differently limited; and some would have no motive at all. Is it, then, out of a sense of moral obligation? And if so, to whom? I have, I think, implicitly given, or at least suggested, my answer to this question in the course of my arguments above; but it deserves a somewhat more thorough account before the investigation is closed. First, it will doubtless have been observed that in considering things that I do not own, I have sometimes been concerned with landscape and habitat, both wild and cultivated, which, as it were domestically, we wish to preserve through such organisations as the National Trust.

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