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According to our current societal beliefs, you may own just about any tangible good that is not strictly prohibited by a higher power. This sense of ownership is what gives items and money their value, and also a measure of our own self worth. In accordance to your self worth, your moral character is also affected by ownership. Also according to our government, you may own “intangible goods”, like intellectual property and copyrights. For better or worse, ownership both changes your moral character and extends to intellectual property.
The relationship between ownership and identity is ideally seen in money, specifically the fiat money of many countries today. You may rightly say that you own this money, and your way-of-life will reflect how much of this money that you own, but it extends much larger than that. Even though your net worth is measured by pieces of paper valued only because the people believe it is valuable, or based on a number you may read on a screen, these measurements tie directly with your self identity and self worth. Money is what allows you to wear the clothes you like, drive the best car on the market, and live in your dream home. In this way, it affects your outlook on life, your personal character, and your lifestyle, all aspects of your self identity. If you consider money a tangible good, then it is right to say that it can develop your moral character.
Morally speaking, however, you may bring up an example from history that will raise questions on ownership, slavery. For nearly a century since the inception of the country, the United States allowed slavery in the South. The reason you may “own” another person is that the government of the time allowed such actions. This raises another question; From where is ownership derived? In a place with a functioning government, ownership usually is instituted by the government. You may keep something on your person, in your home, etc, and the government will attempt to protect you if someone tries to take that item. In this definition, the meaning of “owning” something is that a higher power says you do, or have the right to.
So if objects can develop your character, and ownership is derived from the government, how does intellectual property fall into the spectrum? Sartre says that you can own your knowledge, and other intangible things. This is also correct, as anything you learn in school, college, and training is yours to keep. As long as you can remember it, you can use your knowledge to apply to new jobs, fix your own items, etc. The exception to this rule is intellectual property, an idea or item that you create. The government of most countries have allowed “copyright”, the right to prohibit other people from copying your work. This inflicts into Sartre’s view, someone else who creates the same product as you do, even without actually looking at what you have created, is now prohibited from selling the product they have created, even though they also created it as “fair” as you did. Therefore, some intangible objects you may not own, ones that others have thought of before you did.
Intangible or not, almost anything can be owned in our society. From money that is only valued by the people who use it, to intellectual property only protected by the government that recognizes it, our current lifestyle requires ownership. As seen in the social classes, your moral character is rightly developed by the quantity or quality of the items you own. In addition, anything you learn or create can be considered your own, such as ideas and intellectual property. In this way, both Sartre and Aristotle were correct in their assumptions.
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