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Thompson, Janna. Art, Property Rights, and the Interests of Humanity
2004, Journal of Value Inquiry 38(4): 545-560.
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Added by: Erich Hatala Matthes
Summary: In this paper, Thompson sets up a potential tension between two kinds of cases. On the one hand, we might think it is wrong for a wealthy collector to destroy great works of Western art that have value for all of humanity. On the other hand, we might think it is acceptable for indigenous peoples to rebury or ritually destroy artifacts from their culture, even though these works might also have value for all of humanity. How do we reconcile these intuitions? After discussing and dismissing attempts to resolve the problem by appeal to the value of the property for its possessors or the desires of non-owners, Thompsons suggests that by looking at the value of art in the context of different cultural traditions we can see why a certain universalism about the value of art will tell against allowing the destruction of artwork by the wealthy collector, but allow for the reburial or destruction of artifacts by certain indigenous communities.

Comment: This paper pairs well with Kwame Anthony Appiah's 'Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?' or Peter Lindsay's "Can We Own the Past? Cultural Artifacts as Public Goods." It is particularly good at engaging questions about the universal value of art and its implications for ownership introduced in those texts.

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