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A thought inspired by Thursday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nedarim 44

A thought inspired by Thursday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nedarim 44

Ownership comes with obligations.

This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

In ancient times the main problem was scarcity. Today we face uneven mixtures of having too much in some places and scarcity in others.

When we think of owning something, we think only of the rights that this ownership gives us. We don’t think that owning something gives us obligations.

When all around you are hungry and you own stores of food, that creates an obligation. When you own a business, you have an obligation towards those who work for you and even towards those who need jobs. When you own a factory, you have an obligation not to pollute. When you own an object, you have a obligation to use it so as to avoid having to buy another one too quickly and to dispose of it when you’re finished in a responsible way.

You don’t own your children, but the relationship to them gives you ownership-like rights but also tremendous responsibilities.

This world belongs to all that live on it. Think of ownership as having a little piece of that world allocated to you. It has been allocated to you by all who live here for a reason. All life has an obligation to look after the world and an obligation to all other life. We cannot just squeeze the juice out of this world and throw it away. We have allocated you this chunk of the world on the understanding that you need it. However, with this gift, you take on all the responsibilities that we had regarding this property. If we gave you more than others, it is because we must think that giving you more is in the interest of everybody for some reason.

I suggest that this is a somewhat different way of looking at ownership to the way we normally see it. In the disposable throw-away world we live in today, once I pay my money, it’s mine. I do as I please. End of story.

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