‘Property’, ‘Ownership’ and Political Theory
One initial difficulty in any attempt to impose some order on disputes about property in political theory arises from the delimitation of political theory itself. Broadly, theoretical considerations can be explanatory or justificatory. For example, a theory of property which held that the distribution of power in society was a product of the distribution of property in it would usually be attempting to explain how property has this effect, as well as claiming that it was present. Of course, such a theory would face conceptual difficulties: for example, it would have to elucidate the notion of power with which it was operating. On the other hand, a normative theory of property sets out to justify a particular set of arrangements governing property, or to show that an existing structure is defective with respect to some normative commitment. Such a theory discusses the legitimacy of property or tries to show how the identified deficiencies could be avoided. Obviously, this sort of theory also faces conceptual problems: the values it discusses need exploration, elucidation and defence. Explanatory and normative theories about property both need to consider what property is, and normative theories have to discuss what it should be or why the existing arrangements are defective.
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