1st Edition

The Concept of Property in Kant, Fichte, and Hegel Freedom, Right, and Recognition

By Jacob Blumenfeld Copyright 2024

    This book provides a detailed account of the role of property in German Idealism. It puts the concept of property in the center of the philosophical systems of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel and shows how property remains tied to their conceptions of freedom, right, and recognition.

    The book begins with a critical genealogy of the concept of property in modern legal philosophy, followed by a reconstruction of the theory of property in Kant’s Doctrine of Right, Fichte’s Foundations of Natural Right, and Hegel’s Jena Realphilosophie. By turning to the tradition of German Rechtsphilosophie as opposed to the more standard libertarian and utilitarian frameworks of property, it explores the metaphysical, normative, political, and material questions that make property intelligible as a social relation. The book formulates a normative theory of property rooted in practical reason, mutual recognition, and social freedom. This relational theory of property, inspired by German Idealism, brings a fresh angle to contemporary property theory. Additionally, it provides crucial philosophical background to 19th-century debates on private property, inequality, labor, socialism, capitalism, and the state.

    The Concept of Property in Kant, Fichte, and Hegel will appeal to scholars and advanced students interested in 19th-century German philosophy, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law, political theory, and political economy.

    Introduction: Property in Legal Philosophy

    1. Kant’s Metaphysics of Property

    2. Fichte’s Recognition of Property

    3. Hegel’s Struggle for Property

    Conclusion: The Social Pathologies of Property


    Jacob Blumenfeld is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oldenburg, Germany, and member of the DFG collaborative research centre, “Structural Change of Property”. He is the author of All Things are Nothing to Me: The Unique Philosophy of Max Stirner (2018).

    "How is it possible that anything can be understood as mine or yours at all? Challenging the dominant frameworks of legalism and economism in our attempts to understand and justify property, Jacob Blumenfeld persuasively argues that turning to the underappreciated tradition of classical German Rechtsphilosophie provides invaluable resources for understanding the metaphysical, normative, social, and material conditions of property relations. What results from Blumenfeld’s expert and clear reconstructions of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel is the following: property relations mediate the complicated, conflictual, and ethically charged relation between practical freedom and social necessity. The question of what makes something mine is ultimately the question of how needy, dependent beings can live together as a free community of equals, a possibility that is fundamentally connected with how we understand the property relation. An important and timely contribution, Blumenfeld shows that turning to classical German philosophy may well prove to be indispensable for resolving some of the most pressing problems of the twenty-first century."

    Karen Ng, Vanderbilt University



    "Jacob Blumenfeld’s new work makes a vital contribution to contemporary political philosophy and not just its history. Blumenfeld’s stringently argued, nuanced, and irreplaceable book is a critique of narrow economistic and legalist conceptions of property, and an emergent broad concept of property as the switching station through which Kant, Fichte, and Hegel each develop increasingly elaborate accounts of self-conscious freedom and agency as normatively constituted through the property relation as one necessarily involving mutual recognition within a self-determining civil condition. On this account, property relations spell out the conditions for need satisfaction and freedom generally, with the failure to secure the goods property rights protect leading to homelessness, unemployment, overwork, and poverty."

    J.M. Bernstein, The New School for Social Research 



    "Jacob Blumenfeld’s original, insightful, and thoroughly researched study of the concept of property in Kant, Fichte and Hegel challenges standard legal and economic justifications of property. Blumenfeld not only offers a penetrating historical reconstruction of the theories of property developed by Kant, Fichte and the early Hegel, he also creatively draws on key insights from each to defend a social-normative framework for addressing property rights, one that attends to the moral injuries of the propertyless: homelessness, unemployment, overwork, and poverty. In sum, Blumenfeld’s timely and important study calls for us to radically re-consider the normative function of property in our lives along more social, if not socialist lines."

    Gabe Gottlieb, Xavier University