Ethics of Property, Ethics of Poverty

Saint Anselm Journal 12 (1):38-62 (2016)
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It is surprisingly difficult to justify private property. Two questions are at stake: (a) a metaphysical and juridical one concerning the nature of property and (b) an ethical one concerning our attitude toward wealth. This issue reached an unprecedented importance during the 12th and 13th centuries as a new moral ideal emerged. This essays analyses the controversy (with emphasis on Bonaventure’s Defense of the Mendicants) by first locating it in relation to the philosophical and theological authorities as well as the Roman law. It argues that the dispute between the defenders of paupertas altissima and their opponents concerns the limit of the law. Gerard of Abbeville and John XXII saw a contradiction in a right to use that would exclude ownership. Yet, what the Franciscans were seeking was use without right. To relate to the world as something that is essentially inappropriable is to seek a form of life (a rule) prior to the law. Centuries after, such a possibility remains to be discovered.
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