Ideation and Appropriation: Wittgenstein on Intellectual Property

Law and Critique 12 (2):185-199 (2001)
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This paper provides a critique of the contemporary notion of intellectual property based on the consequences of Wittgenstein's “private language argument”. The reticence commonly felt toward recent applications of patent law, e.g., sports moves, is held to expose erroneous metaphysical assumptions inherent in the spirit of current IP legislation. It is argued that the modern conception of intellectual property as a kind of natural right, stems from the mistaken internalist or Augustinian picture of language that Wittgenstein attempted to diffuse. This view becomes persuasive once it is shown that a complete understanding of the argument against private language must include Wittgenstein's investigation of the role of the will in the creative process. It is argued that original thought is not born by decree of the will, but engendered by a public context of meaning and value. What marks a person as a genius is, therefore, according to Wittgenstein, not some sovereign capacity of conceptual world-making, but merely a propitious dose of intellectual courage.
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