David Schmidtz

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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Working within a Lockean tradition, William Blackstone characterized property as the “sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.” In practice, though, property rights in the Anglo-American tradition have always been hedged with restrictions. Today, the term “property rights” generally is understood to refer to a bundle of rights that could include rights to sell, lend, bequeath, use as collateral, or even destroy. However, the fact remains that at the heart of any property right is a right to say no: a right to exclude non-owners. Claims about natural rights and natural law concern what legal rights ought to be, not what legal rights happen to be. This article discusses several legal cases illustrating the sorts of principles that drive the evolution of the common law of property. It also considers externalities, possession, positive-sum games, transaction costs, justice, zoning, and equality before the law.

Keywords: property rights; exclusion; common law; externalities; possession; positive-sum games; transaction costs; non-owners; zoning; justice

Article.  5608 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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