Property and Disagreement, in Philosophical Foundations of Property Law

Oxford: Oxford University Press (2013)
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Legal philosophers and property scholars sometimes disagree over one or more of the following: the meaning of the word 'property,' the concept of property, and the nature of property. For much of the twentieth century, the work of W.N. Hohfeld and Tony Honoré represented a consensus around property. The consensus often went under the heading of property as bundle of rights, or more accurately as a set of normative relations between persons with respect to things. But by the mid-l 990s, the consensus was under attack. Key figures in the attack were James Penner, a legal philosopher, and Thomas W. Merrill and Henry E. Smith, two highly regarded professors of property law. This article aims to repel the attack and argues for property as a set of normative relations between persons with respect to things. The positive case for this view of property pays special attention to the philosophy of language and the analysis of concepts. The positive case also maintains that the right to use and the power to transfer are as central to property as the right to exclude. It is possible that the virtues of Smith's modular theory of property differ from the virtues of a well-crafted bundle theory. Indeed, it may be the case that these two theories throw light on different features of property law and are not, save at the margin, competitors with each other. The label 'new essentialism' sometimes applied to the work of Penner, Merrill, and Smith seems inapt if property does not have an essence. Of course, they might refuse the label.

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Stephen Munzer
University of California, Los Angeles


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