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What Is That We Truly Own

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

Writer: Pir Servan Tutşi

Situating ourselves in relation to a thing, whether solid or abstract, is a big part of our lives. We are the students at schools, writers of books, and followers of ideologies. Nevertheless, structures of most of, maybe all of, these relations are such that they are not definite and can easily be adjusted: they are not secure. Throughout this essay, I will try to find a thing with which we are in a secure relation.

To begin with, what is the secure relation we are seeking? If there is a secure relation between a person and a thing, that relation should be robust against any external usurper; the person should be able to exert control and limitation to this thing but also be the only agent to do so; existence/absence of the person should also be the existence/absence of the thing—or vice versa. To make these conditions clearer, we can think of a baker who made a loaf of bread and got robbed. Many would think that this baker's labor is a sufficient reason to call the bread baker's property, but it is apparent that this is not the case at all: robbers will be the ones that will benefit from the bread (contradicts the first condition). Furthermore, although the bread still belongs to the baker legally, any legal ownership is conditional in its nature. The state can take away the baker's rights over the bread, for instance, if the baker is prosecuted for not paying debts, or if the production process by which the bread was produced is found illegal (contradicts the second condition, since another agent, the state, has a say in the fate of this relation). Finally, the existence or absence of the bread does not coincide with those of the baker (contradicts the third condition).

Although many material objects can escape the onslaught of the first two conditions, the third condition waits with Damocles' sword over the material world. There are no objects without which we would not exist except our bodies, which may also be controlled by others, ultimate villainy of our kind, and violation of one's right over their bodies. What about products and proponents of our mind? Nature of such abstract relations is way harder to examine, and transgressions of the conditions for a secure relation occur in distinct ways: pieces of art can be copied by pirates easily (first condition); any expressed idea is different from the internal thought that gave birth to it and can be perceived by others in a variety of ways (second condition); we still exist without our childhood fantasies (third condition). It is, therefore, evident that products of our minds belong to contexts beyond us whenever and however they are expressed, and while we are, they may cease to be. Moreover, we do not even control most of our thoughts since we cannot limit them entirely: dreams, pop-up ideas such as those when we feel disgusted by a scent, and more.

Hence it must be a cognitive system that is not susceptible to time (like memory) and is not autonomous (like sensory systems) that we have a secure relation with if such a relation exists. There we have free will, the most humane concept of all. Will encapsulates deliberation—which is different from an urge or a wish due to it being reached upon rational thinking—and action. Like any other expression of our mind, action can be limited by other forces, and it is momentary. At last, then, we are left with deliberations behind an action as our answer. Even if a gun on our head makes us act in contrast to our previous intentions, our deliberation is there: we decide that our life is more important to us and act deliberately to protect it. No other soul can claim control over our deliberation, and none can usurp it without destroying us, in which case the deliberation itself is destroyed too. So, why was this inquiry essential? I will eventually die. I do not have any control over nature and its laws. I might lose my properties against my wish, even my body parts. I cannot guarantee that I will not. However, never in a million years will I act against my will. Deliberation behind my actions and the very process that forms this deliberation is the one secure relation I have. That is what I hold on to, however much it costs.

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