Things III: The Ethics of Property: A semiotic Inquiry Into Ownership

  • Denis J. BrionEmail author


This chapter presents an essay on the implicit ethical dimensions of property, approached from a semiotic viewpoint. Inspired by the work of Roberta Kevelson, the author considers the question “what is property” from a legal, a semiotic, an ethical, as well as a psychological/philosophical angle.

His legal references are focusing the US common law. In that legal system, the judiciary makes up a branch of government that is not only independent of the legislative and executive branches, but also functions as a “first among equals”-drive among those three branches.

Judicial doctrine is therefore described as the central field that helps our understanding of property in modern law. That doctrine is in itself the substantive consequence of the ongoing stream of decisions that resolve disputes brought before the judiciary. Abductive choices the courts made in the several cases, which are analyzed here, seem to be based on different conceptualizations of ownership. The question is, on what basis US courts take the abductive step of choosing values that determine the result and implicate a rule. The answer is, that in the particular dispute, courts imply a cosmology, which embodies particular result-determining values.

The decision making process of US courts is an ethical practice, proceeding in the pragmatic mode: an instrumental way of using values as tools for fashioning a heterogeneous conceptualization of ownership.


Judicial Decision Judicial Doctrine Penn Central Judicial Process Actual Possession 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Washington and Lee University School of LawLexingtonUSA

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