Aquinas gives three reasons why private property is necessary, drawing heavily from Aristotle’s Politics.

This is a continuation of my commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s  views of private property in Article 2, Question 66 of Summa Theologiæ.  ST II-II, 66, 2 [ST 2a2æ 66, 2]. The posts in sequence are: 1)  Article 1 Text and Commentary 2) Article 2 Text and Prologue 3) Objection 1 to Private Property 4) On relationship of Natural Law and Human Law 5) Objection 2 to Private Property 6) Objection 3 to Private Property 7) Aquinas’s Views of Private Property 8) The First Human Competence: Care and Commerce 9) The Three Reasons Private Property is Necessary  (this post) 10) The Second Human Competence 11) Reply to Objection 1: All Things in Common  12) Reply to Objection 2: Analogy of the Theater 12) Reply to Objection 3: Over consumption is robbery


Previously we were considering what Aquinas called the first human competence for justifying private property. We now turn to the three points that he makes in support of that view.

The First Reason Private Property is Necessary

For convenience, here is the first reason private property is necessary for human life in Aquinas’s words.

First because every man is more careful to procure what is for himself alone than that which is common to many or to all: since each one would shirk the labor and leave to another that which concerns the community, as happens where there is a great number of servants.

Aquinas follows Aristotle in suggesting that it is more likely for a person to care for that which is his own, whereas when things are in common everyone will shirk the labor and leave it to another. Aristotle’s comments on the validity of private property come in his classic critique of Socrates’s ideal of communism, as developed in Plato’s Republic. Aristotle begins his comments on property by criticizing Socrates’s view that the sharing of wives and children is a good idea in an ideal situation.1)Plato seems to be limiting the communism of wives, children and property to the Guardian class only but Aristotle ignores that and writes as if he is recommending it for the ideal society In the course of criticizing that sort of sharing, Aristotle makes a number of comments about the sharing of property and then turns to a consideration of property in itself. Here is the comment of Aristotle that Aquinas seems to be drawing on:

What belongs in common to the most people is accorded the least care: they take thought for their own things above all, and less about things common, or only so much as falls to each individually. For, apart from other things, they slight them on the grounds that someone else is taking thought for them — just as in household service many attendants sometimes do a worse job than fewer. II 3.4 [1261b]. 2)This comes in Aristotle’s discussion of sharing wives and children but is arguably genererlizable to his view of property, he mentions property in 3.3 though he focuses his comments in Chapter 5 noting that property can be investigated even independently of the investigation of women and children.

The Second Reason Private Property is Necessary

Aquinas now offers a second reason for private property:

Secondly, because human affairs are conducted in more orderly fashion if each man is charged with taking care of some particular thing himself, whereas there would be confusion if everyone had to look after any one thing indeterminately.

The second point is similar to the first but the focus has shifted from the individual’s actions to the orderliness of the social community. A similar point is made in Aristotle’s Politics in the section considering why the sharing of wives and children would not be a good idea. In that situation, there would be confusion about who is one’s offspring or even if one has any. (II 3.2-4, 1261a-1262b). Aristotle also notes that communism of wives would produce unclear kinship relationships, and the lack of such clear relationships of “my father” and “my mother” “my brother” will mean that kinship does not have the constraining force against violence that it otherwise would. In appealing to a similar reason here, Aquinas makes a reasonable assumption that Aristotle’s critique of the communism of women and children is intended to apply to the communism of property as well.

The Third Reason Private Property is Necessary

Thirdly, because a more peaceful state is ensured to man if each one is contented with his own. Hence it is to be observed that quarrels arise more frequently where there is no division of the things possessed.

Like Aristotle, Aquinas appeals to the fact that private property reduces quarrels and social strife. Aristotle made a very similar point specifically about property:

In general, to live together and share in any human matter is difficult, and particularly things of this sort. This is clear in communities of fellow travelers, most of whom are always quarreling as a result of friction with one another over everyday and small matters. Again, friction particularly arises with the servants we use most frequently for regular tasks II.5.4 [1263a] p. 30

To summarize, then Aquinas has given us three reasons for why private property is necessity. Private property reduces conflict, social confusion and creates more care of things. For these reasons, private property is presented as a reasonable extension of nature.

We shall come back to consider the relationship of Aquinas’s and Aristotle’s views of property later, once we finish considering Aquinas’s argument, for there are many questions to ask about how much Aquinas is true to the views of the philosopher. ((He here ignores Aristotle’s distinction between natural and unnatural commerce.)

 

References   [ + ]

1.Plato seems to be limiting the communism of wives, children and property to the Guardian class only but Aristotle ignores that and writes as if he is recommending it for the ideal society
2.This comes in Aristotle’s discussion of sharing wives and children but is arguably genererlizable to his view of property, he mentions property in 3.3 though he focuses his comments in Chapter 5 noting that property can be investigated even independently of the investigation of women and children.

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