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A question about property rights

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One Shot Wonder
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I should probably start off by saying that I haven't got any strong feelings about Capitalism; I'm not sold on the idea of a 100% laissez-faire system, but I'm not a socialist or anything, and I'm certainly not here to troll your forums.

A few days ago, someone on another forum said to me that Capitalism was the morally correct economic system, because it was the only system that fully protected individual rights -- especially property rights. This got me thinking about property rights in general, and the concept of ownership specifically.

According to my understanding of morality, in order for the right to own and control property to be a basic human right, ownership has to be a real thing, because rights can't be about social constructs. (For instance, if one assumes that an institution like marriage is a human invention, then there can be no right to marry. It would be wrong to single out a subgroup and tell them that they couldn't marry, but it would not be wrong for a government to forbid all of its citizens from marrying.) So in order for property rights to exist, ownership must exist as well -- in a real way, not just as a social thing?

I asked this person why he believed that ownership was real. We went back and forth for a while before we even worked out a vocabulary, and since I don't know how standard it is, I'll reproduce it here. A concept is valid if it is about something in the world (like life or mathematics), and arbitrary if it isn't (like Hercules or unicorns). That accomplished, I rephrased my original question. How do we know that ownership is something that exists in the world?

His first answer was, "because it's a valid concept." Circular. No good.

His second answer was, "it's obvious." Lots of things throughout history have seemed obvious but turned out false. No good.

His third answer was, "people value it." Well, that's a better answer, I suppose, but I still don't really find it satisfying. After all, there are lots of people who value God, and he (an atheist) doesn't count this as evidence of God's existence. Why, then, should I count it as definitive evidence of the existence of ownership? (Though I didn't say it, it's also the case that there are lots of valid concepts which aren't valued. Since not all valued concepts are valid, and not all valid concepts are valued, value isn't a good indicator of a concept's validity.)

I think our conversation is over, but my curiousity is piqued, and I'm still looking for a good answer: how do we know that ownership is a real thing in the world -- a valid concept -- and not a human invention?

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According to my understanding of morality, in order for the right to own and control property to be a basic human right, ownership has to be a real thing, because rights can't be about social constructs.

Permit me to rephrase the statement about which you are curious, and correct me if I'm wrong: In order for the right to own property to be a basic human right, that principle must be grounded in reality, because arbitrary social constructs cannot establish rights. That way, the end of your post would fit with the start. The statement is true and the concept is valid.

But right now at the beginning of this thread, you need to drop everything and immediately go here:

http://www.aynrandbookstore2.com/store/pro...14&pagenumber=2

Halfway down the page you will find the paperback Capitalism The Unknown Ideal for $6.95 which is a little less than Amazon. Order it and read it. You will get a lot more out of the posts with which I am sure you are about to be deluged!

MichaelM

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Permit me to rephrase the statement about which you are curious, and correct me if I'm wrong: In order for the right to own property to be a basic human right, that principle must be grounded in reality, because arbitrary social constructs cannot establish rights. That way, the end of your post would fit with the start. The statement is true and the concept is valid.

That looks right.

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Since you're here, permit me to give you Ayn Rand's simple answer and my perhaps Objectivist observations (me having read not terribly much as yet of the available literature):

AR - Rights (life, liberty, property) are a necessary condition of human existence - of the existence of man qua man.

Premise - An animals mode of existence is instinctual; constrasted with man's mode of existence, which is fully dependent on his mind and on objective reason. Premise - A person's mind and process of reason are his own. Then - The result being the person's own means man can survive as man, ie, fully dependent on mind and reason; The result being nobody's, being nothing, being non, means man can survive only as an animal, ie, instinctually, and the concept man ceases to exist. Property is a celebration of man; non-property is a negation of man.

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Wonder,

AR does indeed define property, but I forget her definition and someone else will please quote it. But for the purpose here, you will note that I did slip in a definition - the solution to the equation mind x reason = ?

Ownership is simply the relationship between a person and his property. How we know it exists is the same way we know that mind and reason and their product exist.

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Ownership is simply the relationship between a person and his property.  How we know it exists is the same way we know that mind and reason and their product exist.

You're assuming here that I the things that I create when I apply my mind and effort to them are my property (i.e. I own them). If you assume that, then obviously it's trivial to conclude that ownership exists.

By the same token, when I question the existence of ownership, I'm automatically questioning the existence of property, which means that you can't really use either in your proof.

EDIT FOR CLARIFICATION: I believe that Rand defined property as, "Any material element or resource to which mental and physical effort have been applied." It looks like it ought to be easy to jump from there straight to "ownership exists", because (given that definition) property exists all over the place. Unfortunately, I think that her definition is terribly loaded, and so I don't find this to be a satisfying line of reasoning.

For instance, it seems as though a Catholic could define a person going to heaven is, "Any human being who has been baptized, who has taken communion, and who has not committed any mortal sins for which he has not paid penance," and then declare the Catholic faith proved. I mean, obviously these sorts of people are walking around everywhere, so they must be going to heaven! Heaven exists and the sacraments work! This is very obviously flawed, but it's of the same form as the above argument.

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I did say precisely what you're questioning in my second-previous post. I will repeat and elaborate. Most of what I say is rehashed straight from AR.

There is a distinction in the mode of survival between all other kinds of animals (and certainly all life) and man. Bacteria and plants are aware of their environment and are cued to adapt, in order to survive, by virtue of individual, disconnected sensations. Animals are of a higher order, in that their awareness, ability to adapt, and survival hinge on perceptions, integrations of multiple sensations. Still a higher order of animal consciousness involves cognition - the abstraction of perceptions. Yet, they all survive based on their natural instincts: hunt or be hunted, eat or be eaten.

People can choose to be different, they have that capability. People have minds capable of reason, an order of consciousness above abstractions - and they can choose to use reason as their mode of survival, or resort to the instinctual survival of the lesser species. The rational person is man qua man; the person who rejects reason is a brute animal.

Man qua does not exist without such a thing as "property rights". In a person's mode of survival as man, mind is the beginning, reason is the middle, and property is the end; mind the input, reason the process, property the result. Note that as of here, property is simply the end result.

Only where a person has exclusive use of his property, ie the result of mind and reason, does survival as man exist - because if others had a claim on anything a person produces equal or greater than is own claim, ie public property, the value of the thing is instantly negated; the end being nothing means the middle and the beginning are nothing.

Air is virtually non-property and its (economically, marginal) value is virtually zero; this is because anybody has a claim on anybody else's airspace. Mind and reason regarding air are nothing. Mind and reason regarding anything which anybody else could take at will come to nothing. On the other hand, people here have exclusive use to their cars and such property, and so mind and reason are paramount here.

The "right to property", according to Objectivism and this chain of reasoning, is man's nature; the concept of exclusive use is the necessary condition that elevates man from among the animals to the level of mind and reason. Without the concept, man would cease to be man and would be more like apes. People could perfectly well survive without property rights - as plants or perhaps mice do; but they cannot survive as men without property rights, because property rights is the difference between them and the rest of the animal kingdom.

The argument here is: observe distinction; identify distinction.

EDITED by RadCap for name-calling/smears

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People can choose to be different, they have that capability. People have minds capable of reason, an order of consciousness above abstractions - and they can choose to use reason as their mode of survival, or resort to the instinctual survival of the lesser species. The rational person is man qua man; the person who rejects reason is a brute animal.

Man qua does not exist without such a thing as "property rights". In a person's mode of survival as man, mind is the beginning, reason is the middle, and property is the end; mind the input, reason the process, property the result. Note that as of here, property is simply the end result.

Maybe I'm just being dense here, but I still don't get it. I really can't see how it is that you're making the jump from "people have reason" to "people have property". I can understand "mind the input, reason the process, property the result," but only if you're using AR's definition of property, which I find extremely deceptive for the reasons I mentioned above*. Using a more appropriate word, the result of our reason isn't property, but rather goods or wealth or something. If you make this change, your entire line of reasoning falls apart (which is to be expected, since this is how you're building the answer you want to get into your premises).

You're either going to have to convince me that your definition of property is correct, or find another line of reasoning that doesn't involve it.

*shortened version: because it assumes that we own the things we create, and ownership is what's being contested here

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I think that argument was, nonexclusive claim negates property-rights and man-qua-man.

I don't assume we automatically "own" the things we create, because we can simply not and start living like squirrels or something. To be a person as distinguished from all other kinds of things out there, however, demands the recognition of exclusive claim to mind + reason = . You have exclusive claim to mind + reason; it is yourself, your mode of existence (assuming for the moment that being human is a good thing). Thus, you have exclusive claim to mind + reason = .

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Mind + reason and property are logically connected. They are two sides of an equation, separated only by time. There is no one without the other. No property means no mind and reason; no mind and reason means no distinguishing characteristics from animals, aside from walking erect.

There is no claim that is not exclusive claim - or, exclusive claim is the only kind of claim there is, by definition; otherwise claim would be a stealing-from-each-other race.

BTW, Wonder, when you ask a one-word question on statements with more than one part, you're going to have to rephrase your question or everybody else is going to be confused.

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Guest Vitamin Tom

Perhaps we can look at it this way. Humans are self-aware, and perceive an identity for themsleves separate from others. You can think of your identity as property; after all, you own yourself, correct?

Material property is merely an extention of your identity. Your clothes, your jewelry, the car you drive, the home you live in, etc., all define you, not only to others, but to yourself.

Therefore, a self-aware species will, by its nature, define itself with property, and if we "own" our identity, we subsequently must "own" the property which defines our identity.

I hope this makes sense.

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Mind + reason and property are logically connected.  They are two sides of an equation, separated only by time.

There is no one without the other.  No property means no mind and reason; no mind and reason means no distinguishing characteristics from animals, aside from walking erect.

BTW, Wonder, when you ask a one-word question on statements with more than one part, you're going to have to rephrase your question or everybody else is going to be confused.

As far as I can tell, they're only logically connected if you use AR's crappy definition of property. I'll accept mind + reason = product if you like, but not mind + reason = property. Like I said before, you need to either address my objection to her definition (and the Catholicism counterexample) or take another tack.

More than that, it seems foolish to say that no property means no mind and reason. I assume that you're referring to the logic in your previous post, "If others had a claim on anything a person produces equal or greater than is own claim, ie public property, the value of the thing is instantly negated; the end being nothing means the middle and the beginning are nothing." Why do you say that the value is negated? It seems to me that the utility of a product I create wouldn't change if I didn't have a claim on it.

Sorry for being unclear. I'll be more precise in the future.

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Perhaps we can look at it this way.  Humans are self-aware, and perceive an identity for themsleves separate from others.  You can think of your identity as property; after all, you own yourself, correct? 

Material property is merely an extention of your identity.  Your clothes, your jewelry, the car you drive, the home you live in, etc., all define you, not only to others, but to yourself.

Therefore, a self-aware species will, by its nature, define itself with property, and if we "own" our identity, we subsequently must "own" the property which defines our identity.

I can think of my identity as property if I want to assume that ownership exists, but this won't be part of any convincing proof that ownership exists.

I think that a member of a self-aware, communicative species will define itself by its personality, and the relationships it forms with other living things. "I'm the guy that's related to that woman and that child." It will also try to define itself by the products of its mind and reason, and the relationships that it stands in to those products. "I'm the guy that uses this clock and wears this hat."

Now, I'm not disputing that we'll come to feel that we own the things we use over time -- ownership is certainly a concept we use every day. Recall that what I'm disputing is the claim that ownership is necessarily a valid concept. Since I'm not convinced that ownership necessarily has to be real for us to form the sense of self that we have, I don't think that our sense of self counts as good evidence that ownership is anything other than an invention.

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As far as I can tell, they're only logically connected if you use AR's crappy definition of property. I'll accept mind + reason = product if you like, but not mind + reason = property. Like I said before, you need to either address my objection to her definition (and the Catholicism counterexample) or take another tack.

I did say above explicitly Man qua does not exist without such a thing as "property rights". In a person's mode of survival as man, mind is the beginning, reason is the middle, and property is the end; mind the input, reason the process, property the result. Note that as of here, property is simply the end result.

Ie, when I use the pseudomath to express the relationship, and when I use the word property there, exclusive claim does not necessarily apply just because. It applies because nonexclusive claim is a contradiction, but that is another story.

Either way, we can express the relationship as mind + reason = product = precursor property. All three - mind, reason, and property - are either exclusive claim or no-claim (rightful claimer makes no claim; sanction of the victim). That has no effect on the logic of the pseudomath relationship, but both arguments stand by themselves and together define exclusive-use property.

More than that, it seems foolish to say that no property means no mind and reason.

What is the value of your mind or your labor? What is the value of your mind or your labor when its product is taxed at 100% ? When one person has a claim to something, he is able to use the thing with no interference; when a thing has no-claim = non-exclusive claim, he is able to use it until somebody else comes along and takes it = he is unable to use it, as is everybody else. Non-exclusive claim, which is another way of saying no-claim, means that value disappears ... and reason and mind are negated.

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Ie, when I use the pseudomath to express the relationship, and when I use the word property there, exclusive claim does not necessarily apply just because.  It applies because nonexclusive claim is a contradiction, but that is another story.

Either way, we can express the relationship as mind + reason = product = precursor property.  All three - mind, reason, and property - are either exclusive claim or no-claim (rightful claimer makes no claim; sanction of the victim).  That has no effect on the logic of the pseudomath relationship, but both arguments stand by themselves and together define exclusive-use property.

I couldn't follow that at all. You're talking a lot about claiming, though, and that seems fishy to me. As I said to someone else above, it's incredibly easy (and incredibly worthless) to prove the existence of ownership when you assume that ownership exists; that seems to be what you're doing when you use the idea of claims to support the validity of the concept of ownership. Since ownership and claim really comes to the same thing, it's a pointless excersise. I could be completely wrong, though, because as I said, I can't discern the meaning of anything you just wrote.

What is the value of your mind or your labor?  What is the value of your mind or your labor when its product is taxed at 100%?  When one person has a claim to something, he is able to use the thing with no interference; when a thing has no-claim = non-exclusive claim, he is able to use it until somebody else comes along and takes it = he is unable to use it, as is everybody else.  Non-exclusive claim, which is another way of saying no-claim, means that value disappears ... and reason and mind are negated.

What something is worth to me has absolutely no bearing on what something is worth. Worth comes from utility.

If someone started burning twenty dollar bills on the street, you wouldn't just shrug it off. Despite the fact that it's not your money, you'd still feel like something of value was being destroyed.

When Toyota builds a car, it's worth $18,000. Someone drives it around for three years and sells it to me for $12,000. I drive it around for a while and sell it for $5000. Was the car worthless before I bought it? After? Absolutely not, despite the fact that I'm not getting any use out of it.

Similarly, if we assume that taxes are 100%, the product of my labor is worth whatever it's worth to the government (which depends on the use they put it to), not zero. I certainly wouldn't say that what I'd made was suddenly worthless.

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mind + reason = property

I must say that to write it as an equation is a really beautiful way of expressing the logic and the different parts connection to eachother. Earlier I have mostly seen it expressed in text and even though Ive understood it, this way triggerd a sort of aha-experience.

There is a short animated movie that also demonstrates this quite well:

http://www.isil.org/resources/introduction.html

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What something is worth to me has absolutely no bearing on what something is worth. Worth comes from utility.

We need a definition for worth, because I have never seen an economic (or philosophic) one yet. Let us define the worth of an item as the marginal value of that item, or the amount of money you would pay to have one more unit of it. Then yes, worth comes from utility.

Now let us discuss the definition of economic value: it is whatever the prospective buyer and seller agree upon. It is the intersection of the supply and demand curves. It is the point at which marginal cost equals marginal value, or where the minimum amount you would have to pay equals the maximum amount you would be willing to pay. As you can see, value comes partly from "worth", and partly not.

If someone started burning twenty dollar bills on the street, you wouldn't just shrug it off. Despite the fact that it's not your money, you'd still feel like something of value was being destroyed.

No, I would not shrug it off, because the person is causing a miniscule amount of deflation on a government-regulated currency. Other than that, I would shrug it off, because a person is entitled to do whatever he wills with his property by definition. I am assuming, for the moment, that the bills don't belong to no-one.

When Toyota builds a car, it's worth $18,000. Someone drives it around for three years and sells it to me for $12,000. I drive it around for a while and sell it for $5000. Was the car worthless before I bought it? After? Absolutely not, despite the fact that I'm not getting any use out of it.

There is exclusive claim on the car; it is not worthless. The owner can sell it for whatever the market price (objective value) is. Value does not depend on who is taking utility, but on the fact that utility can be taken at all.

Similarly, if we assume that taxes are 100%, the product of my labor is worth whatever it's worth to the government (which depends on the use they put it to), not zero. I certainly wouldn't say that what I'd made was suddenly worthless.

You create something and somebody else steals it: the object still has value because it still has exclusive claim. You create something and everybody and nobody steals it: the object has no value because it has non-exclusive claim and non claim.

You're talking a lot about claiming, though, and that seems fishy to me. As I said to someone else above, it's incredibly easy (and incredibly worthless) to prove the existence of ownership when you assume that ownership exists; that seems to be what you're doing when you talk about claims.

Value exists because people value; people only value because they have exclusive claim (ie, exclusive ability to arbitrary use and disposal). Value is wholly dependent on the existence of exclusive claim. If product has no value because there is no exclusive claim to it, then neither does what product is equal to, the sum of mind and reason. If exclusive claim does not exist, mind/reason has no value, and therefore is of no value. Mind/reason of no value is no different in functionality than no mind/reason to begin with. No mind/reason is how animals are different from people metaphysically speaking. People being on a higher order than animals requires objectively defined exclusive claim, ie the "right to property".

I am not starting with the concept ownership and then proving it exists. First, I define what the concept ownership; and then I show why it is necessary in our conception of nature. On the other hand, you could have a different conception of nature in which ownership is unnecessary - in which case you would have to renounce mind/reason and reject the distinction between Homo sapiens (wise man) and the oak trees.

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1) Value exists because people value; people only value because they have exclusive claim (ie, exclusive ability to arbitrary use and disposal).  Value is wholly dependent on the existence of exclusive claim.

2) If product has no value because there is no exclusive claim to it, then neither does what product is equal to, the sum of mind and reason.  If exclusive claim does not exist, mind/reason has no value, and therefore is of no value. 

3) Mind/reason of no value is no different in functionality than no mind/reason to begin with.  No mind/reason is how animals are different from people metaphysically speaking.  People being on a higher order than animals requires objectively defined exclusive claim, ie the "right to property".

4) I am not starting with the concept ownership and then proving it exists.  First, I define what the concept ownership; and then I show why it is necessary in our conception of nature.  On the other hand, you could  have a different conception of nature in which ownership is unnecessary - in which case you would have to renounce mind/reason and reject the distinction between Homo sapiens (wise man) and the oak trees.

1) Nonsense. People value their children and their relationships and the organizations they belong to and, in some cases, the deities they believe in. These people don't have an exclusive claim to any of those things.

2) More than that, worth is a measure of percieved value. For the products of our mind and reason to have worth, all that is necessary is for us to believe that ownership/exclusive-claim exists, even if it doesn't.

Even if you don't buy that, I'm sure you're prepared to concede that there are forms of value beyond economic value. For instance, imagine that ownership is a farce, and I live in a society which doesn't believe in it -- in fact, that hasn't heard of it. I spend some time building a relationship with a horse, and I eventually train it so that it can be ridden. Even though I don't have exclusive claim on the horse, and even though it hasn't even occured to me that I might own it, I'll still value it, because I've put time into it, because I'm (sort of) friends with it, because I'm used to having it come around, and perhaps even because it's useful for getting from place to place (when it's nearby).

3) Having established that there are kinds of value beyond economic value, let's consider your final statement in this vein. Even if the products of our mind and reason have no economic value (i.e. we can't sell them and we don't own them) does not mean that they are not valued in other ways, so I maintain that ownership does not have to be a valid concept in order for us to stand apart from the other animals. (If pressed, I'd further maintain that ownership doesn't even have to exist as a social invention for this distinction to exist.)

Side point: metaphysics has nothing to do with functional differences; you're thinking of epistemology.

4) With regards to the ownership/claim issue: all I was saying was that if you're going to contend that ownership is a valid concept describing a real phenomenon, you're not going to be able to use the notion of claims as evidence for its existence. It's completely circular.

As for the rest of your paragraph, I think my comments above show that it's not impossible for us to have grounds to believe ourselves fundamentally different from everything else on the planet even if ownership isn't in place as a real thing.

I think we might be miscommunicating a little, so I'd lke to take the opportunity to try to set things aright so that we don't drift further off topic. Recall that the point of the thread is to show me that ownership is something other than a human invention.

Telling me about all the wonderful things that would be true if ownership existed is a start, but it's really not going to get you anywhere. A theist, for example, would tell you that if God existed, he'd bring to the world a wonderful basis for logic and morality and order and consciousness and free will and a thousand other marvelously convenient things. You don't buy it, though, because 1) you don't find the idea of God plausible, and 2) you feel that you can have access to these things even without God.

Showing me the work that ownership is doing is a good start, but in order to convince me that ownership must be a valid concept (and thus that it's possible that we have property rights), you're going to have to do more. You're going to have to 1) assume that I don't find the idea of ownership plausible (which means no cheating and talking about property and claims), and 2) show me that nothing else could possibly be doing the work that you're ascribing to ownership. Show me that a universe in which ownership didn't exist as anything other than a social fiction would necessarily be unlike ours in some obvious way.

Right now you're showing me that ownership can give us an account of things like value and our (fairly obvious) distinction from the other creatures on the planet. What you need to do is show me something that only ownership can give us an account of, and then only if ownership is real. I can see you sort of moving in this direction, but you need to address some of my counterexamples.

(I'm sorry that got kind of long.)

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One Shot Wonder,

Apparently you suppose that any human invention cannot be a valid concept. If that is your premise then you have already started off on the wrong chain of reasoning, because ALL CONCEPTS are human inventions.

But if that is not the case, and all you demand is proof of the existence of ownership, first define what you mean by "ownership". For the following argument I will assume that you mean the general definition.

Ownership presupposes something that is owned--i.e., property. Property likewise presupposes an owner of property. Neither property nor its owner can exist exclusively; neither can be without the other because "ownership" is a relative concept.

Now, you demand that we prove to you the existence of ownership and its validity as a concept; ask yourself first, how is the concept of "ownership" derived? That is, what observable facts of reality do we differentiate and then integrate to form the concept of "ownership"? And if it's not a first-level concept, which lower level concepts are considered as its concrete units, its deferentia, its genus?

The answer to those question require that we have an exact definition of the concept of "ownership";

The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines "ownership" as "the state, relation, or fact of being an owner."

So the concept depends upon the concepts of "owner" (its differentia) and "state, relation or fact" (its genus).

An "owner" is one who "owns", and "to own" means "to have as property". Thus, as I stated in the beginning, "ownership" depends on the concepts of "owner" and that which is owned: "property". Thus your question really comes down to:

Does property exists?

Once that is proven, there can be no doubt about the existence of an "owner" since there can be no property without an owner of property; and if both property and its owner exist, there can be no doubt about the existence of "ownership" and its validity as a concept.

So now let us proceed to prove the existence of "property"...

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