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Property is anything that has an owner. Its two identifying characteristics are exclusivity and transferability.

If you're not a lawyer or looking for a home, you're probably interested in one of these eternal controversies:

  • How do we define property?
  • How is property distributed?
  • How do we determine ownership?

Legal aspects[edit]

As previously mentioned, property is defined primarily by an exclusionary right that can be transferred to other people. The owner of property possesses legal title. One analogy for explaining property rights is that of a bundle of sticks. In this analogy, a "property right" is really a collection of several different rights: possession, use, sale, protection, etc. Each one of these is a right associated with a particular thing as opposed to rights like freedom of religion or the right to a fair trial which are not.



Tangible property falls into one of two categories: real property and chattel. Real property consists of land and structures on it (i.e., buildings, homes, etc.) whereas chattel (derived from the word "cattle") is anything you have a right to possess (i.e., pencils, books, clothing, etc.).


Intangible property is the kind of property you can't touch. The most obvious example of intangible property is copyright. Other instances include domain names, patents, trademarks, trade names, debts, and stocks.

To a business entity, the all important customer goodwillWikipedia's W.svg intangible; indeed some businesses may reflect on their financial statements more value in this intangible than in any buildings, equipment or inventory.

Ideas, secrets, and knowhow also can be considered intangible property; for example an employee of a business is not free to steal an idea a business may be developing in secret to keep from competitors, and with the technical knowhow learned from his employer, to quit and start his own business using the idea before the original owner could fully complete development.

The Coca-Cola formula or Colonel Sanders secret recipe are examples of business secrets which are intangible property.

Forms of property in political philosophy[edit]

Private property[edit]

Private property is the form of property considered as legitimate all around the world. It is the basis of capitalism, and is respected in social democracies and some forms of socialism.

Property by use[edit]

Property by use is when something becomes the property of someone else when used regularly. The means of productions would be the property of workers if this form of property was recognized by laws. This type of property is a basis for some forms of anarchism, some forms of socialism and has been implemented in Rojava.

Communal property[edit]

Communal property is the basis of communism. In this, property is owned by everyone, not individuals.


"As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights." ― James Madison

"Property is theft." ― Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

See also[edit]