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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Aquinas on Property

Private property is a useful invention that serves human needs:

"Two things are competent to man in respect of exterior things. One is the power to procure and dispense them, and in this regard it is lawful for man to possess property. Moreover this is necessary to human life for three reasons. First because every man is more careful to procure what is for himself alone than that which is common to many or to all: since each one would shirk the labor and leave to another that which concerns the community, as happens where there is a great number of servants. Secondly, because human affairs are conducted in more orderly fashion if each man is charged with taking care of some particular thing himself, whereas there would be confusion if everyone had to look after any one thing indeterminately. Thirdly, because a more peaceful state is ensured to man if each one is contented with his own. Hence it is to be observed that quarrels arise more frequently where there is no division of the things possessed."

But it is some cosmically ordained, inviolable "right"; when it does not suit human needs, its rules need to be set aside:

"[I]f the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’s property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery."

Note well: Aquinas is NOT saying "Sometimes it is OK to steal." He is saying, "In cases of great need, using what would normally be the private property of another is NOT stealing."

13 comments:

  1. I forgot about St. Thomas' great arguments in favor of private property. His erroneous views on money and interest have unfairly colored my perception on some of his economic thinking.

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  2. Hey traumerei, what are all these secret blogs to which I am not invited?!

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  3. You invoked St. Thomas's views on property in the discussion on discrimination law, and I (haphazardly but correctly) believed this distinction was what you were referring to. So how does it apply to anti-discrimination law and the (nebulous) distinction between private and public establishments?

    Are you saying that e.g. opening food sellers to judicial scrutiny for who they sell to "served a great need" after 1964, but not before?

    (And why couldn't back then you give the summary you just gave now, so I didn't have to correctly guess what you meant?)

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  4. 'Are you saying that e.g. opening food sellers to judicial scrutiny for who they sell to "served a great need" after 1964, but not before?'

    Huh? Did I somewhere claim that the 1964 Civil Rights Act should not have been passed in 1963, or 62?

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  5. "And why couldn't back then you give the summary you just gave now, so I didn't have to correctly guess what you meant?"

    OK, Silas, I just went and looked this up, and:
    1) It was Blackadder who brought up Aquinas at Free Advice, not me. I just said, "Yep, he got it."
    2) Blackadder linked to a passage from the Summa that explicitly stated what was being talked about; no one gave you any reason to guess at what was being referenced.
    3) And when you did guess "I" (Blackadder) meant, you got it wrong.

    Living with an imaginary past is not serving you well.

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  6. Sorry for the sloppiness on the last comment (if it's accepted): scruity -> scrutiny, "never should been" --> "never should have been".

    Also, does anyone have a theory as to why merchants haven't been leaving unsupervised food around in high-poverty communities where Thomism holds significant influence?

    Re your comments about the previous discussion: None of 1-2) justify not providing the two sentences it would have taken to explain the (immensely-clarifying) basis for your position. Whether or not it was Blackadder who initially invoked St. Thomas, you were drawing from an ideol... philosophy of property, which would have bene helpful to say explicitly, as it would have ensured a more fruitful exchange.

    3) I did not get your position wrong (where do you think I did?), only (perhaps) applications of it, in which case I was *asking* if you accept that application.

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  7. So, Silas, every time I merely agree with someone else's remark ("yep, that's right!") I have to provide a full philosophical justification for the position the other person put forward, even though he ALREADY PROVIDED A LINK TO A PHILOSOPHICAL JUSTIFICATION.

    So you don't have to bother clicking on his link? Which apparently you still haven't, which is why you don't yet see your guess was wrong?

    Do you realize how stupid you are sounding? (I know you are NOT stupid, which is why I say "sounding." Merely petulant, which makes you appear stupid.)

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  8. So, Silas, every time I merely agree with someone else's remark ("yep, that's right!") I have to provide a full philosophical justification for the position the other person put forward, even though he ALREADY PROVIDED A LINK TO A PHILOSOPHICAL JUSTIFICATION.

    No, every time you are deeply involved in an unproductive discussion, in which you are ultimately drawing from philosopher X's views on subject Y in that context, and you are capable of summarizing its key points in two sentences (like you just did in this blog post), you should provide that summarized basis.

    Not so crushing a burden, I don't think.

    And again, how was I wrong to guess that, when you mentioned agreement with Thomas Aquinas on property, you were indicating agreement that property, "is [not] some cosmically ordained, inviolable 'right'; when it does not suit human needs, its rules need to be set aside... In cases of great need, using what would normally be the private property of another is NOT stealing." ?

    Seems to me that my guess (at the time) was right on! So now I'm waiting for you to reveal the secret justification for how that bolsters your position on discirmination law, or else admit your confusion or misapplication of your favored philosophy.

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  9. We were not mentioning Aquinas on property in that thread, Silas. You STILL have not gone and read the link Blackadder provided, have you, or you would know it's not about property rights.

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  10. Fair point -- in that discussion, the (explicit) reference to Thomas was on the matter of the state forcing people to act morally. Nevertheless, this Thomian position on property *is* your basis for rejecting propertarian criticisms of discrimination law, and *was* the view you were arguing from in that thread.

    So how do you reconcile the two? Are you claiming that the right to drink in whitey's bar is one of those "great needs"? (Or is this one of those things that requires an apprenticeship until someone proves otherwise?)

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  11. The oppression of blacks in the US was a serious social problem, and a serious injustice towards blacks. Legislation was able to address and improve this problem, and therefore was justified, IMHO. There is nothing wrong with the law forcing people to act morally; the issue is, will the attempt make things better or worse? In this case, it clearly (IMHO) made things better.

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  12. In many countries poverty stricken people will pickpocket you if you do not know how to handle this. For example you should always carry your wallet and documents in special pouches under your clothes, these pouches are purchaseable at the post office.

    There are many cases of toursits losing large sums of cash, passports, credit cards, identification, cameras, phones and other electronic devices - just for wanting to travel the streets.

    It is also the case that many of the people taking these things might die the next day if they don't resort to this action.

    However I think Aquinas and now Gene Callahan is crazy for telling me these dudes don't actually steal anything from me when they take my credit card.

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  13. Avram, context, please, context. Aquinas didn't say it's always OK to take anything if you are hungry. I believe he's thinking of a situation where, say, a farmer has a big field of corn, and a hungry man eats just enough to live, leaving the farmer plenty. You didn't have plenty of wallets left after you were robbed, did you?

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