sunnuntai 22. elokuuta 2010

Plato on Ownership

Plato's overarching concern was that wealth may come to be honored rather than virtue. Ownership rules in the Republic are designed to avoid two evils. The first evil is the desire for wealth which Plato fears will overtake the desire for virtue as the primary human motive or goal. The second evil is social conflict or discord which inevitably results from unequal privately owned shares. Plato believes it is possible to fetter human desires by means of communal ownership in order to avoid the two evils.

In Laws, Plato continues to believe communal form of ownership is ideal:

"The first best society, then, that with the best constitution and code of law, is the one where the old saying is most universally true of the whole society. I mean the saying the 'friends' property is indeed common 'property'. If there is now on earth, or even should be, such a society - a community in womenfolk, in children, in all possessions whatsoever - if all means have been taken to eliminate everything we mean by the word ownership from life; if all possible means have been taken to make even what nature has made our own in some sense common property, I mean, if our eye, ears, and hands seem to see, hear, act in the common service; if moreover, we all approve and condemn in perfect unison and derive pleasure and pain from the same sources - in a word, when the institutions of society make it most utterly one, that is a criterion of their excellence than which no truer or better will ever be found."

Plato's form of land ownership differs from private ownership in that there are no rights to buy and sell land, no rights to bequeath land to other than male heirs, and no right to sub-divide the land. To this extent land ownership more closely resembles the feudal rather than the private form. Plato's form of land ownership also differs from private ownership because only inheritance is a legitimate criterion of title.
Plato states that a city which permits private ownership will inevitably be an unstable city of rich and poor.

One of the most confusing aspects of Plato's thinking is his approach to women and children. According to Plato the guardian's children ought to be considered communal property, i.e. all of the guardians considering all of the children their own.

"The passion for wealth which leaves a man not a moment of leisure to attend to anything beyond his personal fortunes. So long as a citizen's whole soul is wrapped up in these, he cannot give a thought to anything but the day's takings. Any study or pursuit which tends to that result everyone sets himself to learn and practice: all others are laughed at to scorn. Here, then, we may say, is one reason in particular why society declines to take this or any other wholly admirable pursuit seriously, though everyone in it is ready enough, in his furious thirst for gold and silver, to stoop to any trade and any shift, honorable or dishonorable, which holds out a prospect of wealth, to scruple at no act whatsoever - innocent, sinful, or utterly shameful - so long as it promises to sate him, like some brute beast, with a perfect glut of eating, drinking, and sexual sport."


James O. Grunebaum, Private Ownership, p. 25-35

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