Dominium (The Fundamental Right To A Thing)

“Another problem about property concerned the Golden Age, the state of Nature, Eden, the era of the Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” or whatever one called that period in remote antiquity when humanity had not yet parceled out the goods of this world as private property. Opinions differed about whether or not a right to private property existed in this deep past. Perhaps in the original explained, natural law was the first way people acquired things. But then their own law regulated what rights people had over these acquired things, and them how they transferred these things among themselves or to future generations. A great insight of Roman lawyers was that possession of something did not necessarily imply ownership, in their words “dominium,” the fundamental right to a thing. A general principle guided students through this difficult matter, and we would be wise to follow the example. The principle is: “Where something has no owner, it is reasonable that the person who takes it should have it”. The context for understanding this principle was the human right to wild animals, who were ownerless and there for the taking. This example confirms our suspicion that the common law we share with animals embodies a clear hierarchy and subordination, given that animals or swarms of bees do not take us.”


S.A. Epstein, The Medieval Discovery of Nature


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