tiistai 21. syyskuuta 2010

Immanuel Kant on Ownership

Immanuel Kant (1742-1804)

An Act of Private Will

Following the tradition of Locke, Immanuel Kant views first appropriation as occurring in a state of nature before civil government. Kant also explicitly says that first appropriation establishes a natural right with which no government may interfere. While Locke permits civil government to regulate the form of ownership to promote the common good, for Kant the only change that civil government may make in private ownership is to impose a law prohibiting bequests of land to succeeding generations for all time. Even so, Kant requires compensation to be paid to owners from whom this right is taken.

The novel aspect of Kant's characterization of first appropriation is that it is based upon "an act of private will" rather than upon labor or some other act. Kant's "acts of private will" require neither laboring upon nor adding value. Kant does say that each appropriator makes "an acknowledgment of being reciprocally bound to everyone else to exercise a similar and equal restraint with respect to what is theirs". There does not appear to be anything in Kant's formula to preclude someone from declaring the planet Uranus to be his own.

Kant argues for private ownership from first appropriation:

"In relation to all others, this possession is (as far as one knows) a first possession and as such is consistent with the law of external freedom and is, at the same time, implied in the original community of possession, which in turn, implies the a priori ground of the possibility of private possession."

Kant describes first appropriation in the following passage:

"In this way, taking possession of a secluded piece of land is an act of private will without being an arbitrary usurpation. The possessor bases his act on the concept of innate common possession of the earth's surface and on the a priori general will corresponding to it, which permits private possession of land (since otherwise unoccupied things, e.g. land, would in themselves and in accordance with a law become ownerless things). Thus the possessor originally acquires a piece of land through first appropriation and withstands by right anyone else who might interfere with his private use of it."

The Juridical Postulate of Practical Reason

The essence of ownership for Immanuel Kant is the right to something one owns even though the object is not, at the moment, in physical possession of the owner. Owners have rights over what they own which they may exercise even if what is owned is not within their immediate physical control, e.g., rights one has over a book which is lent to and thus in the possession of a friend. First appropriation grounds private ownership because of the presupposition which Kant calls "The Juridical Postulate of Practical Reason".

Kant's Juridical Postulate of Practical Reason asserts, "... it is possible to have any and every object of my will as my property. In other words, a maxim according to which, if it were made into a law, an object of the will would have to be itself (objectively) ownerless ... conficts with Law and Justice"

Source: James O. Grunebaum. 1987. Private Ownership. p. 69-75

Further reading:

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