Pomo Periscope XXIV: Sartre on Ownership

26 November 2012 at 2:37 am 2 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

Proto-pomo Jean-Paul Sartre was a certified commie. I was therefore baffled to read about Sarte’s views on ownership (here). In Being and Nothingness Sarte argues that “to have” is one of the three fundamental categories of human existence (along with “to do” and “to be”), and notes that the “totality of my possesions reflects the totality of my being … I am what I have … what is mine is myself.” More broadly, there is a highly interesting literature on “psychological ownership,” informed mainly by philosophy and psychology, but with interesting linkages to evolutionary anthropology. The “endowment effect” in behavioral economics may be seen as part of this. Although the main applications of psychological ownership theory so far seems to have been to organizational behavior (e.g., this paper), there seem to me to be potentially interesting applications to the political philosophy, particularly for those who find the Lockean theory of ownership a bit lacking in the psychological dimension.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Thomas  |  26 November 2012 at 5:29 am

    Disturbing stuff in the scope, Nicolai! You say that “the main applications of psychological ownership theory so far seem to have been to organizational behavior”, but my quick look at the references and their institutional affiliations suggests that the theory has, rather, been outright developed by organization theorists, i.e., people who received their training in business schools not psychology departments. Like most applied psychology, moreover, this project appears to be policy-driven, here routed through the Brookings/Olin Executive Education initiative.

    Sartre was indeed a commie, but the basic idea here seems to stem from the communitarian Amitai Eztioni. Clearly modern society requires the formation of a sense of ownership (and therefore entitlement and, of course, guilt, i.e., psychological debt) that vastly exceeds real human needs. I.e., the individual must feel s/he owns much more than she needs (and to manage the associated guilt) s/he must come to feel entitled to all this “property”, even to feel that she needs it after all. This theory seems to be made to order.

    A quick caveat: I don’t really know anything about this beyond what I just googled after reading your post. But it seems to intersect with my ongoing interest in the social (and moral) psychology of organizing. I’ll be looking into it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • 2. Nicki Brøchner  |  26 November 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Sure Sartre associated himself with the French Communist Party, but to some degree as a protest against the Roman Catholic Church. Looking at his version of existentialist it reads more like a radical idea of individual liberty. However, not systematized in any theory of political philosophy.

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