Why Private property?

Brussels - 20-21 June 2017

Why Private Property?

Politics of property and its alternatives

Private property and normative approaches

Private property is intrinsically political. Contributions to this section will clarify the relationship between the structure of ownership rights and the political expectations of modern democratic societies (fundamental rights, democracy, liberty, inequality, …)

Private property and social issues

Does private property support the emergence of an individualistic way of life and fosters domination? In this section, we want to particularly examine how property rights impact social relations and encourage different types of behaviours.

Private property vs new types of ownership

Is there an alternative? This section aims at exploring other types of ownership rights and their comparative (dis)advantages. Contributions can touch on a wide range of alternatives such as cooperativism, the social economy, the dematerialisation of property, the commons, basic income, etc.

About the conference

Why private property, rather than any other system of entitlements?

Private property is one of the few axioms on which contemporary liberal democracies rely, and seems so self-evident that it is rarely questioned. Yet the political history of modernity shows that the "obviousness" of this "natural" right has given rise to numerous debates and conflicts. In a social context characterized by a highly unequal distribution of capital ownership, many 19th century thinkers, from Mill to Marx and Proudhon, notoriously denunciated the abuses caused by the “absolute” right the owners have on their property.

Besides this old strand of criticisms and debates (which are becoming relevant again), contemporary developments in social institutions and practices as well as in the theory of justice raise new problems and challenges for critical thought on property. Should the distribution of resources be based on individual merit? And in that case, what is “merit”? Is inheritance (i.e. appropriation without labour) a legitimate institution? How to combine private property and public interest in the case of education, heritage protection, or access to medication protected by patents in health emergencies? Does the private property right include the right to destroy or abuse a good in order to raise prices for instance? Or the right to relocate some capital with no other reason than to raise profits? Can we grant inventors and creators intellectual property rights on what they have created without granting them harmful rents? And above all, considering the recent technological developments that facilitate the ability to access a service or a resource on the ownership of that resource, is the old paradigm of private property still adapted to the “age of access”?

In this conference, we want to address the many questions that shape current debates concerning the right to private property.

Keynote speakers

Jean-Fabien Spitz

Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Jean-Fabien Spitz is Professor at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. His work focuses on the idea of individual liberty and contemporary republican theory. He is the author of La liberté politique, Essai de généalogie conceptuelle.

Hillel Steiner

University of Manchester
Hillel Steiner is Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Manchester. His prominent book, an Essay on rights, introduces what has come to be known as a left-libertarian theory of justice.

Karl Widerquist

Georgetown University in Qatar
Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, specializing in political philosophy. He is the author of Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No.

Practical info

Get in touch