The property rules for the acquisition and transference (including alienation) of rights have been called "criteria of title". Consistence, determinacy and completeness have been mentioned as such criterions. 'Determinacy' is, then, the theoretical possibility to unequivocally determine who owns what; 'completeness' is the requirement that all ownables can be allocated on the basis of one or more criterions given. Thus it has been argued that a rule like To each according to 'er need is incomplete and must be supplemented by a rule allocating unneeded ownables. These conditions concern the scheme of justification, independently of its content or conclusiveness.

When considering the justification of property rights, it is necessary to distinguish three levels of justification. They have been called "general", "specific" and "particular". A general justification deals with the question whether there are or ought to be property rights; a specific justification with the question whether there are or ought to be specific sorts of such rights (for example, individual rights in other people, in sentient beings or in land); and a particular justification with the question whether a particular person or group of persons has or ought to have a specific right in a particular thing. If we can justify or explain that there ought to be property rights (in a cultural or legal sense) this is tantamount to proving that there are property rights in the normative sense. (Explanation and justification cannot be separated within the normative sphere.) Given that there are property rights in the normative sense, there ought to be property rights in the cultural and legal sense coinciding with them. This does not only concern individual property but also communal property; not only private but also collective property. It has been correctly pointed out that those believing in the collective property of a community or state with its own territory and natural resources are in the same need of providing a justification for such property rights.

The subject of distributive justice is closely related to that of the justification of property rights. As its major topics have been mentioned: the original acquisition of property (the appropriation of unowned things); the transfer of property (exchange, gift, alienation); and the rectification of injustice because of the existence of past injustice in holdings. The factors governing these topics have been labeled "the principle of justice in acquisition", "of justice in transfer" and "of rectification", respectively. A just transfer of a justly acquired holding would thus justify the new ownership of such a holding. And formally this is correct, but, as we will see, this proposition will not have the practical implications some think (and hope) it has. It stands or falls with the relevance of the description of the thing owned and the proviso that enough must be left over for others.

To determine whether a society, a community, or rather a situation, is just with respect to the distribution of goods, a theory of distributive justice, or of property, may use principles which are (also) past-regarding or not past-regarding at all. Past-regarding-principles (which are, confusingly, called "historical" too) hold that past circumstances or actions of people can justify different entitlements at a later time, whereas present-and-future-regarding (or 'unhistorical') principles are structural, 'end-result' or 'end-state' principles of justice which only look at the situation, and the people in this situation, at one particular moment without taking into consideration what preceded. Suppose, for example, that a certain good is scarce, and that everyone has first to work a number of years to make and get it. Suppose also that everyone is equally healthy and able to do the work required to eventually get the good in question. Then, the justice of the situation could not be assessed from a strictly nontemporal or non-past-regarding perspective, because looking at the situation at one particular moment it could, then, only be concluded that the situation is unjust, because some of the people have the good and some don't, while there are 'no' other differences between these people, let alone relevant ones. The relevant difference can only be discovered when looking at the situation from a past-regarding, temporal vantage point.

Past-regarding or temporal principles of distributive justice have been described as 'patterned' and 'nonpatterned'. A patterned distribution is, then, a distribution which varies along with some dimension, weighted sum or lexicographic ordering of a number of dimensions. As examples of such patterned principles have been mentioned: To each according to 'er moral merit or according to the weighted sum of moral merit, usefulness to society and need. It has been argued that a principle of entitlement would not be patterned, at least if 'obligatory transfers' are ruled out, but such reasoning proves to be fallacious if, and insofar as, people are only entitled to the share in something and the conditions of ownership are themselves of a temporal nature. What may not be scarce today, may be scarce tomorrow; and what may be scarce today, may be scarcer tomorrow. It is amazing to see how the temporal concerns of those who plead for a 'historical' principle of justice in holdings may suddenly be spirited away to closed, unchanging slices of space when it comes to the change of the empirical conditions of ownership thru time.

©MVVM, 41-57 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Instruments
Traditional Proper and Improper Arguments