Contemplating the relationship between ownership and sense of self, prominent thinker Plato asserted that, “owning objects is detrimental to a person’s character,” while Aristotle contended that, “ownership of tangible goods helps to develop moral character.”

However, Jean-Paul Sartre, twentieth-century philosopher presented the viewpoint that, “ownership extends beyond objects to include intangible things as well.”

 Sartre’s position on ownership and self identity is proven true through the constant desire of humankind for knowledge through the acquisition of a university or college education, the descending of family traditions and values throughout a family tree, and the frequent pursuit of copyrights by companies and enterprises.

Sartre supported his previously articulated observation by claiming that, “becoming proficient in some skill and knowing something thoroughly means that we ‘own’ it.” Such a proficiency or mastery in a particular field of discipline is often demonstrated through the acquisition of a university degree.

The lasting trend in contemporary society indicates an increased level of encouragement and success rate of obtaining college degrees. While the act of graduating from college was once proven to be questionable or doubtful, it is becoming to constitute part of a societal norm.

By obtaining a college degree, you become proficient in a skill or a discipline and thus can be seen as owning that knowledge. This evidence suggests that once a quality education is obtained, it cannot be depreciated or revoked. Although represented by a tangible diploma, the mastery of skill still boldly remains in its intangibility, thus developing and defining character.

The inheritance of familial values, customs, and traditions further reinforces Sartre’s main contention. As time passes and new generations emerge in the form of descendants, familial traditions are often transferred from adult to child in order to preserve the intangible memories.

Such examples include recipes, oral stories, dances, and cultural or religious ceremonies. Due to the indestructibility of abstract concepts, it becomes necessary to pass down family traditions and “[know it] thoroughly” in order to claim its ownership and incorporate it into an aspect of one’s personal identity. This evidence suggests that, while tangible objects derived from past generations, such as jewelry, photographs, and other mementos, may decay and wither over time, the stories and meaning emulated by these sentimental objects survive the test of time.

Copyrights, or the legal statements of businesses and corporations dictating the exertion of ownership of a particular idea or concept, further justify Sartre’s claim that, “becoming proficient in some skill and knowing something thoroughly” defines ownership. Following the discovery of a revolutionary idea or concept, such as an iconic business logo, slogan, or photograph or image, companies tend to pursue the acquisition of a copyright in order to protect their rightful belongings from possible theft.

This evidence implies that the prevention of copyright infringement is significant to businesses and corporations due to these intangible discoveries defining the identity and nature of a company in a way that allows consumers to properly recognize the corporation.

Clearly, ownership surpasses material objects “to include intangible things as well,” as recognized and asserted by Jean-Paul Sartre. The mastery of a particular skill and understanding the specific tenets of that concept constitutes true ownership and defies materialistic tendencies. While tangible, palpable objects decay over time intangible concepts and ideas remain. True sense of character and personal identity remain separate from material worth or ownership.

Although character may influence the array of tangible materials possessed, they are not entirely indicative of one’s character or identity. On the other hand, intangible experiences or skills constitute the elements of one’s disposition and character.

While materialistic possessions may not define an individuals’ genuine identity and instead represent and idealized or superficial form of an individual, abstract traits may be manifested by an individual in a more implicit, sincere manner, such as the obtaining of a degree in a particular field.

The proficiency and complete understanding of a skill, as recognized by Sartre and overlooked by Plato and Aristotle, serves as the true definition of ownership. It is through these means of ownership that a sense of self is developed and derived.

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