What Gives You the Right?

As an A-level philosophy student and general over-thinker I constantly find myself contemplating current affairs. Recently I was advised to watch a programme airing on BBC called ‘The Super Rich and Us’ and quite frankly it was eye opening. I’d always been aware of the 1% and the class divide but watching this raised some unexpected issues…

What featured mostly in the programme was the justification of this extreme wealth. Women in pristine all cream suits with disproportionately large hats at the polo claiming “well we worked for our money”. Now this statement seems to be thrown around pretty often, I’ve even heard it said by a few of my peers regarding their parents when asked to justify why they’re opting to vote conservative. The issue I find with it is that it seems to imply that the working class and even the middle class somehow don’t work for their money. Of course in some cases young entrepreneurial types have worked their way up from the very bottom, take Lord Sugar for example. However it does seem in many cases it’s just down to pure chance or perhaps even inherited wealth offers some an advantage. When some big-shot CEO of a bank claims that they’ve worked hard, are they negating the exertion public service workers have endured?

Naturally they may respond that they’re not saying those people work any less hard but unfortunately this still raises some issues. If it’s the case that men and women in the public sector work just as hard as this 1%, why is it that the wealth is so unfairly distributed? This isn’t exactly a straight forward question and it’s not one that I plan to offer an explicit answer to, as many wiser than me have tried and failed.

But something I would like to (hopefully) offer some insight to and invite you to think about is the idea of property; what we own. I’m sure most of us seem to have a pretty solid concept of private property but evidently I’ve certainly overlooked something. It’s easy to claim we own things because we’ve earned our money and played the game and paid for them, but where did it all begin? Surely if we go back far enough this idea of property merely started from one neanderthal claiming a rock was theirs over any one else’s because they found it first. Yes, this concept of owning things which we seem to treasure so dearly started with something as basic and petty as ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’. I for one found it highly entertaining that a predominantly capitalist society such as ours could be founded on something so childish.

Jokes aside now, what I’d like to investigate is our conception of rights. We believe we have certain rights to things, in fact we’re taught from a young age we have inherent rights and responsibilities. But what are human rights other than a belief that we deserve to have or be able to do something? Well some philosophers claim there’s such a thing as ‘natural rights’, and I believed in these too until I did a little thinking of my own.

Natural rights are things that humans are entitled to such as food/water, but philosophers claim they’re the same universally and would exist even without people or a state to create and enforce them. What’s interesting is firstly exploring whether these even exist and if so would the right to own property be a natural one? Personally I believe natural rights are non-existent and any rights we have are man made in order to aid our survival. Despite this, if natural rights were to exist then it could be argued that private property falls into this category. Many would say that the right to shelter is necessary for survival, but to what extent? What if we were posed with the dilemma of building a railway such as the HS2, which would please thousands of people and increase economic growth but mean relocating a family. Is our right to private property so vital that we would prevent such utility just to allow one family to keep their house? Through this particular example it seems obvious that that would be wholly impractical.

What I’ve attempted, albeit rather poorly, is to challenge our current views on wealth and private property. Do we really have a right to anything, whether that be the property we own or the money we worked hard for to buy it with?


8 thoughts on “What Gives You the Right?

  1. my dear friend,

    i congratulate you from the bottom of my heart, only becuse you choose philosophy as a career.The human race is the most beautiful race of all time but yet we are enslaved more than animals.but this is because we wanted too, here is some things i see:

    everything that relates to culture, public media, and the goverment works in a system basis.let me take an example education and money which relates to your topic of discussion, you see, our goverment provided us with a weapon called education from the moment we were born, we were told that good marks equal good gifts, good marks equal power, and all the media and culture proved so to us, so we start working to get these marks , if we think of power in a political way we will keep on this path untill the end. we will keep working to impress , working to get something from others , maybe respect,but in reality what are we doing is causing anger, jelousy and other violent factors to spread as fast as possible. for me it is better, to make parents conciouss about the way they are treating their sons from the start to avoid jelousy and instead of supporting them to get a job that kes a lot of money , they should support them on what they love. at least, like that our societies will feel more alive, art spread everywhere, theories, and a lot of more things, and i bet that this is better for educating someone annd then enslaving his skills into something useless that requires no experience.

    whereas to the things you stated yes , i agree with you people of power think they worked more than others because they have higher degrees , they dont realize others because they are too egocentric that is what we made them so please have patience and keep the good work.


    1. I totally agree that the education system as it stands can encourage some negative values such as high grades = money and people should be encouraged to opt for jobs because they like them not because of the wealth they’d gain from it.
      Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad to hear your thoughts on the matter!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Questions:

    If you own property in the form of a house, do you own everything in it (which is not borrowed)? Do you own everything outside the house, on your land?


    1. I suppose if you hold the belief that you own the house, on the same principle you must own everything in it if you’ve gained them through the same means. The issue of land is pretty tricky, two houses next to each other where does each person’s land begin and end? I’m not entirely sure of all these things myself but it’d definitely something worth thinking about.


  3. I was thinking about a spider and a mouse. I can own a house and everything in it, but then along comes a spider… I claim the spider and pronounce that I own it. It lives happily ever after, as I do not disturb it, grows old and eventually dies. I then own a dead spider.

    Would you agree?


    1. I would agree although what could you do if at one point the spider chose to leave? Also the same idea applied to a human would be quite absurd (i.e. you own whoever walks into your home), so why does it work for other creatures? Is it because they can’t contest it?


      1. Going exactly in that direction!

        So, if the spider leaves, it ceases to be mine, but I can try to stop it. Or I can kill it to keep possession. The same would be true for other creatures, and I am pretty certain that UK law would protect me from you coming to remove the spider – it would be theft, therefore the law must define the spider as my property.

        Why would it be absurd to think that a person in my home would not be owned by me? Surely if I can own one living entity I can own any, under the rule of possession on my property. This would mean, as a man, owing a house, my wife would be my property until she chose to leave. It may sound rather old fashioned, but logically correct?

        If the creature involved was my dog, I would be known as the owner and expected to control the beast, including preventing it from leaving. But, I suspect I would end up in trouble if I killed it to do so. However, I would still own the corpse.

        If I killed my wife to stop her leaving, I most certainly would not be allowed to keep her; I would not own her cadaver.

        Given that, as we would expect, a human is given a status different to other creatures, this leaves us with a problem: Things are not allowed to be owned or not owned according to their ability to contest their ownership, nor by their ability to stay or leave. Wild creatures passing across my land are owned by me (except swans and deer, as far as I know) but I am not permitted to allow them in and prevent them leaving. Things other people own, encroaching on my land, do not become mine. Nor can I see the relative intelligence, as defined by humans, has anything to do with it. A highly intelligent dog has the same standing as a less smart breed.

        I see a pattern emerge. Property ownership has nothing to do with the item being owned, but rather our human perception of it. I do not really believe I own the spider, the dog or the human, indeed I know that my existence has very little impact on the former two unless I choose to interact. Debatable with the latter! From here, I have to assume that I cannot truly own anything living, including the plants in the garden. How foolish it would be to think a tree that could live a thousand years belonged to me. More credible perhaps that the tree should think it owned me, as it sees my life come and go.

        What we have to accept then is that ownership is a human delusion, one that only has credence because other humans reinforce it. And, we only allow this because of another illusion: that of the perception that one piece of paper with a number on it is worth more than another, similar piece without that number. In reality, neither piece is worth anything at all if we cease to believe in it, which has been the cause of massive economic problems over the years. At present, our society believes in it a great deal, more so than any time in our civilisation perhaps, and therefore those who can get a lot of it are doing so.

        There are people who have a problem with this, mainly some of those who do not have illusionary piles in the bank. However, unless they are without their basic, natural rights, I cannot see there is anything to complain about. Not that this stops me complaining about overpaid footballers, but even there I say good luck to them – get away with it while you can – but please stop moaning about how tired it makes you. You kick a ball a few hours a week, not mine coal by hand!

        We will never change the system that allows some to be richer than others and therefore own more – the billions changing hands for pixel powered fads shows that if nothing else – and therefore we should not be foolish enough to waste our energies on it. Get what you can, enjoy what you get! The law was created neither logically nor philosophically, but pragmatically and piecemeal to create a patchwork of confusion defined within the limited mental capabilities of a tiny number of (mostly) self-serving men in suits. Do not therefore expect it to be any indicator of either moral or ethical truth, but rather the way-point of a practical solution for protecting the values of those who create the framework. It has both nothing and everything to do with wealth, but as a philosopher, you will never be able to see the threads of anything more than ‘finders, keepers’ running through.

        Perhaps what we can do is hope for those with more to do better with it. After getting the houses, the companies, cars and holidays, what then? Perhaps more should follow where some philanthropic magnates are leading and spend the surplus billions creating opportunity and improvement for those less fortunate. Perhaps what should happen is that the super rich appreciate their good fortune, whether gained through luck or hard work, and enrich life for themselves and those around them. Perhaps the ‘us’ should stop being bitter and envious of the rich and do exactly the same, albeit with our more limited resources

        What I am saying is, what we need is not a change in the balance of wealth, but one in the balance of attitude to move to place where there can be a shared desire to live in a much more positive way . In our society that is sadly lacking. We have become too selfish and self-centred, which is creating ever rising rates of depression, abuses and dissatisfaction. We should all be sharing enjoyment in a golden age. That we are not is a damning indictment on both The Super Rich and Us.


  4. Perhaps under this logic it’s not absurd but I’m fairly sure if you claimed to own someone who was in your house and prevented them from leaving the law would intervene. In regards to the dog, it’s considered to be yours because (I assume) you gained it in the same means as the house etc, through buying rather than a wild dog roaming into your house and staying.
    I definitely agree with where your conclusion is leading, the idea of ownership is based on what will please us the most not what is truly the most logical thing to do.
    Although I don’t entirely agree that we don’t need a change in wealthy, I do think that a change in attitudes is certainly more important and hopefully permanent.
    Unfortunately I think these class divides won’t subside any time soon. I don’t blame people for being angry when they’re working zero hour contracts and striving for the bare minimum when others have so much. As much as I agree with a lot of your points I do feel that this ‘grateful’ attitude could err a little on the side of not challenging an unfair system.


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