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Towards a hybrid theory of Property Entitlement, from a combination of Lockean and Humean elements.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

John Locke’s approach to property rights is often seen as inherently unsatisfactory in today’s world, because of problems in a number of areas, significant amongst which are difficulties in tracing a historical chain from just initial acquisition to current title and a certain imprecision which seems unavoidable within the theory. As a result, a more conventional approach has tended to predominate. This might be thought to be exemplified by the writings of David Hume. In this essay, I argue that liberal rights assumptions can give rise to genuine Lockean-style property claims, because these seem to do justice to a number of our ethical intuitions, and that these need to be incorporated in our ideas of how property title is justly acquired. I suggest that these
intuitions relate to the genesis of property rights, whilst Humean thoughts are often more relevant when we are unable to properly trace such genesis. I also suggest that conventionalists should not dismiss Locke, nor vice versa. Instead we need a hybrid theory that incorporates both elements. I do not reach a final conclusion on how the two might be brought together, but suggest a way forward for this endeavour.

Locke’s theory is one about how property gets going – so indeed is Hume’s. But
thoughts about property rights today are not so much about how they get going, but about how they are properly instantiated in today’s world. These thoughts seem to demand a conventionalist approach. But no such approach can avoid thoughts about the genesis of such rights. My thesis departs from the current day emphasis, because it focuses on the genesis of property rights and suggests that considerations around such matters are not to be avoided.

I do not claim to have the final solution to this problem: my purpose is to bring this intellectual conflict to people’s attention. I seek to point the way to a complex theory of property rights and give some support to it.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2015

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