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The purpose of this article is to discuss three ideas under the topic of “property.” First I would like to demonstrate that the meaning and scope of the concept of property are socially and historically constructed and that certain philosophical and ethical concepts that are dominant in a given society perform an important role in that construction. What I wish to suggest is that the definition (i) of what anyone can and cannot appropriate privately (that is: the objects to which ownership of property may apply); and (ii) the rights that owning property may give the owner (that is: what the owner can do with his/her property and what he/she can prevent others from doing with it) has varied in time and space. That variation is derived from a series of factors, specially philosophical and ethical.


Paper delivered at SELA 2008, Property Rights, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as part of the panel on “The Body as Property.”