Thursday, February 10, 2005

Aristotle/Thomas & the Ownership Society from Cato

An excellent article from the Cato Institute on the Ownership Society:

Great Thinkers on How an Ownership Society Fosters Responsibility, Liberty, Prosperity
By Dr. Tom Palmer
January 2004

As the American Founders knew and as generations of serious students of society have long known, an ownership society is a society of responsibility, liberty, and prosperity. A number of policy initiatives - including creation of personal retirement accounts, expansion of medical savings accounts, and school choice - have been proposed recently that seek to strengthen an "ownership society." Such initiatives build on a long and deep tradition.


Ownership induces people to act responsibly. In The Politics, Aristotle noted that "What belongs in common to the most people is accorded the least care: they take thought for their own things above all, and less about things common, or only so much as falls to each individually." (Book 2, chapter 3, 1262b32, Carnes Lord, trans.) Thomas Aquinas observed in the Summa Theologica that property "is necessary to human life," "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 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." (Iia, IIae, Q. 66, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, trans.) In short, people take care of what is their own.

Indeed, the concept of ownership is at the very core of the idea of personal responsibility; we insist that people "own up" to their acts, that is, that they take responsibility for what they do. The philosopher John Locke, whose ideas had a strong influence on the American Founders, rested personal identity itself on the idea of ownership, for a personality "extends it self beyond present Existence to what is past, only by consciousness, whereby it becomes concerned and accountable, owns and imputes to it self past Actions, just upon the same ground, and for the same reason, that it does the present." (John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, chap. XXVII, §26)


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