Marshall Bierson Tucker Sigourney


Thomas Aquinas famously held that (A) theft is always wrong, and also that (B) it is permissible for a starving man to take the bread he needs, openly or secretly, from another. He reconciled these two positions by claiming that (C) in cases of great need, it is not theft to take someone else’s property when she does not need it herself. On its face, (C) looks like a theoretically costly concession that Aquinas is forced into in order to reconcile (A) and (B). Our first aim is to show that this is not so. We argue that (C) is in fact the only way to accommodate a set of intuitive norms of keeping and taking. Our second aim is to show that (C) has important implications for theories of property more generally: a plausible theory of property must acknowledge a foundational sense of "belong" on which things belong to those who need them.