The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter V


§3. To whatever extent the surface of the earth is rightly appropriated to the exclusive occupation of individuals, its vegetable products will, of course, belong primarily to the occupier; as---generally speaking---no one else can enjoy them without his consent: and so far as their growth is altogether due to human exertion and care, or admits of being materially aided thereby, the encouragement of such labour and care is, as we have seen, a main ground justifying the appropriation of the soil. So again, where the labour and care of the occupier is directly applied to tame animals that feed on the natural produce of the soil, the appropriation to him of the progeny of the animals is similarly justified. By ``tame'' animals we mean such as are normally within the control of some man, so that they can at any time be physically taken into possession by him: if they stray beyond his control, it is through accident or the enticement of other men, and their ownership is normally ascertainable by some natural or artificial mark. It is obvious that the exclusive use of such animals may be appropriated to individuals without much more difficulty than that of inanimate things. The case is different with animals which we call ``wild'', i.e. which require some process of capture, uncertain in its results, before a man can take possession of them. Still, if their existence is entirely or largely due to the labour applied by the holder of the land, our general principle will justify us in prohibiting other men from taking possession of them, so far as their ownership is clearly ascertainable---as (e.g.) if they belong to a particular rare species. Where this ascertainment is practically impossible, the prohibition would be futile: but even then, so far as they can be prevented from straying, their exclusive use is indirectly secured by appropriating the land. It is, however, obvious that in the case of land whose only useful produce consists in wild animals and vegetables, capable of living and thriving without human labour or protection, one main argument for allowing appropriation is absent. Still, the appropriation of such land---assuming a fair compensation for the utilities thus withdrawn from the community---seems to be a legitimate application of the individualistic principle, provided that its appropriation tends materially to increase the utility obtainable from such land: in considering which we have to take into account the enjoyment derived from hunting wild animals, as well as the utility of the animals when captured. The theoretical question is simply whether the whole amount of utility obtainable when the land is allotted to the exclusive use of individuals, is clearly greater or less than the whole amount of utility that may be expected to result from leaving it common: but, of course, in any concrete case the balance of utilities may be difficult to ascertain.

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