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8 Scopus citations


Working within a Lockean tradition, William Blackstone characterized property as the "sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe." In practice, though, property rights in the Anglo-American tradition have always been hedged with restrictions. Today, the term "property rights" generally is understood to refer to a bundle of rights that could include rights to sell, lend, bequeath, use as collateral, or even destroy. However, the fact remains that at the heart of any property right is a right to say no: a right to exclude non-owners. Claims about natural rights and natural law concern what legal rights ought to be, not what legal rights happen to be. This article discusses several legal cases illustrating the sorts of principles that drive the evolution of the common law of property. It also considers externalities, possession, positive-sum games, transaction costs, justice, zoning, and equality before the law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191728365
ISBN (Print)9780199238804
StatePublished - Sep 2 2011


  • Common law
  • Exclusion
  • Externalities
  • Justice
  • Non-owners
  • Positive-sum games
  • Possession
  • Property rights
  • Transaction costs
  • Zoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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