tiistai 7. syyskuuta 2010

Thomas Aquinas on Ownership

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

In the case of necessity, everything is common

Like Plato and Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas's justification of ownership is grounded upon the idea of human perfection. Aquinas' idea is that a form of ownership is morally justified to the extent that it provides for everyone's good. Aquinas borrows heavily from Aristotle, but there are also significant differences between them. First of all, Aquinas places greater emphasis upon the idea that the products of labor upon the land as well as other produced necessities should be made available to anyone who needs them. Aquinas argues that anyone ought to receive what he needs from the common pool of material goods. In cases of necessity, Aquinas says, "everything is common".

Aquinas theory of ownership is based upon his belief that man has a two-fold competence with respect to material things. The first is what he calls the "title to care for and distribute the earth's resources" and the second is the "use and management" of the same.

"First because each person takes more trouble to care for something that is his sole responsibility than what is held in common or by many - for in such a case each individual shirks work and leaves the responsibility to someone else, which is what happens when too many officials are involved. Second, because human affairs are more efficiently organized if each person has his own responsibility to discharge; there would be chaos if everyone cared for everything. Third, because men live together in greater peace where everyone is content with his task."

The use of earth's resources must promote common good

While individual owners exclusively have the rights of title to decide how what they own is to be used and managed, individual owners do not have unlimited rights of title to use what they own as they please or to accumulate wealth without regards to others. The use and management of the earth's resources must promote common good. Individual owners are obligated to make decisions governing what they own so that everyone, non-owners included, may benefit. Aquinas even permits a person, who himself is not in need, to take what is owned by another in order to give it to a third person who is in need.

However, the right to take what is owned by another will, if frequently exercised, result in productive inefficiency because producers may be unwilling to work hard if they cannot be assured of a secure outcome. Further, non-producers may find it easier to take from producers rather than trying to produce themselves.

Land ownership

Land ownership criterion of title, for Aquinas, vests only by inheritance. Land may not be alienated by gift, bequest, or sale. The criteria of title for goods, by contrast, include gift, bequest, and exchange; further unowned found goods such as gemstones or treasure troves become owned by the finder. In this way, Aquinas criteria of title for goods resemble the criteria of title for private ownership. The difference between the two sets of criteria lies in Aquinas' principle that those in need may legitimately appropriate what they need but do not own, which creates a criterion of title that each may own what he needs.

Source: James O. Grunebaum. 1987. Private Ownership, p. 46-51

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