Private Property Rights: An Indispensable Moral Foundation of Society
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The philosophic justifications of private property reach back to the ancient world. Aristotle regarded secure possessions as necessary for successful social functioning, and Cicero understood government’s function to be the protection of private property. Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers Hugo Grotius, Samuel Pufendorf, and John Locke argued vigorously for the importance of private property rights in human life. The work of late twentieth-century analytical philosophers John Rawls and Robert Nozick brought property rights to the fore of philosophical discussion. In the field of global development, private property rights have come under critical re-examination in recent decades. It is increasingly understood that institutions guaranteeing the security of private property are a necessary ingredient for economic growth and social well-being in underdeveloped nations. Institutions are being established in accordance with consequentialist justifications of private property. In this thesis, after defining general moral rights and briefly discussing this current trend in favour of consequentialist understandings of private property, I will examine the two dominant schools of private property justification in philosophy: the consequentialist and the deontological, with an especial focus on consequentialist John Stuart Mill and deontologist John Locke. I end the thesis by examining, and simultaneously arguing for the power and enduring relevance of, the oldest philosophical justification of private property: the eudaimonist school led by Aristotle.