HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


That humanity collectively owns the earth was the guiding idea of 17th century political philosophy, which was partly a reflection of the increasing concern with questions of global reach at that time. The basis for that standpoint was mostly religious. However, the view that the earth originally belongs to humankind collectively is plausible without religious input. Since political philosophy is once again preoccupied with questions of global reach, we have much to gain from revitalizing the standpoint of original collective ownership. This essay explores the view that the earth belongs to humankind collectively from a contemporary, secular standpoint. My goal is twofold: First of all, to offer a particular view on the ownership status of the earth; and second, to defend this inquiry into original ownership against objections. I hope to stimulate more research into these matters that are of such striking importance to contemporary political philosophy with its focus on global justice. The standpoint of collective ownership could generate a fruitful research agenda, one that, among other things, allows us to discuss questions pertaining to immigration, human rights, obligations to future generations, and global climate change.


Risse, Mathias. "Original Ownership of the Earth: A Contemporary Approach." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper series RWP08-073, December 2008.