Stealing is wrong is a semantic truth. If a person took something that is no-one's property or someone else's property with 'er permission, or if this person took an object while its ownership was simultaneously transferred to 'im, one would not speak of "stealing", but of "using", "taking", "borrowing", "buying" and so on. Describing the action in this way, it would not be suggested that there was anything wrong about it. Stealing, on the other hand, has a condemnatory evaluative meaning, or a negative connotation, and its descriptive or conceptual meaning is not much more than that it is a form of taking. Stealing is by definition (something like) to take another person's property without right or permission and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully. Thus the deontologists' idea that stealing is something that is 'intrinsically' wrong, regardless of the consequences, is merely expressive of a convention of language. Like murdering , stealing is a concept already normatively impregnated itself. As pointed out before in Truth among others (4.1) the problem is and remains what the normative conception rests upon, because there are ways of killing which are wrong and ways of killing which are not wrong, and there are ways of taking which are wrong and ways of taking which are not wrong.

It might be said that what stealing actually is wholly depends on the meaning of property and rightful appropriation or transference . Yet, this does not carry us any further than deontological intuitionism, because the terms property and ownership are as much value-laden as the terms stealing and theft. If property is indeed a normative notion (like theft ), the act of assigning certain things to certain other things (people, social groups or nature), labeling them "owners of property", may reveal more about the person or group doing the assigning than about anything or anyone else. It was correctly stated long ago that it is the subject of property which is the very 'keystone which completes the fabric of political justice'.

Every political, denominational or philosophical theory dealing in some way with money and other objects of property, presupposes a theory of property, if it has not developed one itself. The idea that one ought not to steal is merely one example of a conception which requires a justificatory theory of property. Other examples of such conceptions or theories vary from the proposition that everyone should pay for 'er own protection and insurance (in the absence of a state to protect and insure people) to the proposition that everything belongs or should belong to the or a state. Questions which immediately arise then, are What is this money, or other medium of exchange, which i may call "my own", and which i may use to pay my own protection- or insurance-premium? and Who is this state, and how are 'er property claims to be justified, not only with respect to 'er (other) citizens, but also with respect to other states and to noncitizens?. Only a theory of property is able to indicate what belongs to an individual, to a group of people, to a state, or to a larger community or institution. Not until this has been established is it possible to steal from someone else, and not until this has been established is it of any practical significance to say that stealing is wrong, or that one should not steal. Even someone who simply believes that property is not more than a legal notion must admit that such a belief itself is based on a choice which needs justification.

It is obvious that erroneous conceptions concerning property tend to distort people's individual and social judgments but, conversely, the traditional conception of what people may rightfully call 'their own' may have been equally distorted by their individual and social biases. In either case it is clear, however, that the complexion of every political, religious or other normative doctrine is dominated by the coloring of the accompanying notion of property. Looking at what is called "property" in such a doctrine will always give us a much better impression of the system of norms and values the ideologue or normative philosopher wants to burden society or 'the ideal society' with. Altho money and other objects of property play a fundamental role in many political, religious and other normative doctrines, the role of the underlying theory of property is often neglected. Conscientious people, however, will find no solace in existing conventions, (sub)cultural norms or laws with regard to property, for if they blindly copied them, justice would not derive from them, but simply be presupposed. Even the favorable connotation of property itself has not always been taken for granted. (But in that case it was thought of as some sacrosanct and inviolable right of exclusion in a whole object, irrespective of the relevance of its description, of its scarcity value and of its use.)

Property is a certain kind of right (like in the right of property) or an object or set of objects one has a right to (like in the right to property). As such theories of property belong to the theories of rights. And just as the ultimate foundation of theories of rights is often not metadoctrinal, so the ultimate foundation of traditional theories of property may also be purely consequentialistic (especially utilitarian) and/or deontological. In that case property is not even partially an extrinsic right but is entirely explained and justified in terms of goals and doctrinal duties.

Theories of property do not only belong to the theories of rights, every individual theory of property usually also forms an integral part of the total system of ideas, beliefs and theories of a particular ideologue or philosopher. Understanding 'er conceptions concerning property may not be possible very well without reference to 'er general idea of people, society and the world. But, conversely, those conceptions concerning property may also shed a new light on the general (not seldom exclusivist) attitude of the ideologue or philosopher in question, or on the (often exclusivist) doctrine 'e espouses. It is necessary, then, to make sure that we understand the special jargon used by theorists on property. Therefore, we will first deal with some conceptual and terminological matters on our tour of property-land. This will make it more difficult for ideologues and philosophers on property to confuse us --like thieves do-- when we listen to them or overhear.

©MVVM, 41-57 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Instruments
Conceptual Analysis