“We Are Not Born for Ourselves”: Cicero on Private Property

Cicero De officiis 1.21-22

“There is, moreover, no private property naturally, but it develops either through ancient possession—as when people came into empty territory long ago—or through conquest—as when people possess it in war—or through law, contract, purchase, or lot. This is why the land of Arpinas are said to be of the Arpinates and the Tusculan lands of the Tusculans. The assignment of private property is much the same. For this reason, because what had been communal property by nature because the possession of an individual, each person should take hold of what has come to him—but, if he desire anything else beyond this, he will transgress the law of human society.

But since, as Plato has famously written, we are not born only for ourselves, but our country takes a part and our friends take a part, and since, as the Stoics maintain, everything which develops from the earth has been created for human use, and we human beings are born to be of use to other human beings, that we may in some way be able to help one another, we ought to make nature our leader in this, to produce common good by an exchange of favors, by giving and receiving….”

Sunt autem privata nulla natura, sed aut vetere occupatione, ut qui quondam in vacua venerunt, aut victoria, ut qui bello potiti sunt, aut lege, pactione, condicione, sorte; ex quo fit, ut ager Arpinas Arpinatium dicatur, Tusculanus Tusculanorum; similisque est privatarum possessionum discriptio. Ex quo, quia suum cuiusque fit eorum, quae natura fuerant communia, quod cuique obtigit, id quisque teneat; e quo si quis sibi appetet, violabit ius humanae societatis.

Sed quoniam, ut praeclare scriptum est a Platone, non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici, atque, ut placet Stoicis, quae in terris gignantur, ad usum hominum omnia creari, homines autem hominum causa esse generatos, ut ipsi inter se aliis alii prodesse possent, in hoc naturam debemus ducem sequi, communes utilitates in medium afferre mutatione officiorum, dando accipiendo,

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From the Fitzwilliam Museum

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