The word for the day is “reification”
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Reification, also called hypostatisation, is treating an abstract concept as if it were a real, concrete thing. The term is often used pejoratively by epistemological realists as a criticism of epistemological idealists. Epistemological realists often regard reification as a logical fallacy.
Wikipedia rocks. As a word and as a concept worth knowing, so does “reification”; see for example Stephen Jay Gould‘s discussion of the reification of “intelligence” in The Mismeasure of Man.
What’s the relevance of the word? Well, I’ve been in some arguments on rec.arts.sf.fandom on “intellectual property” and why I think subsuming copyright, patents, and other related rights into a single reified concept of “intellectual property” is a bad thing, and the concept of reification is key to my sense of the argument – although they’re critical to the functioning of modern society and a modern economy, these rights are specific and of limited duration – and granted by society for the mutual benefits of creators and of society as a matter of social contract.
Property rights, on the other hand, are a legal recognition of an existing natural state of material objects (and in some ways, places) insofar as most material objects that we care about can only be in one place at a time, and thus usually only in one person’s physical possession. Or, in the case of space, only one person can occupy a given precise location, although clearly this is not enough to justify the complex legalities of land ownership.
This is not an area I know enough about to really get through the argument fully, but this is kind of a hot button for me and figure it’s better to try to think through it here – on my own soapbox – than to end up in public and all-too-likely vituperative arguments about it on rassf.
A final thought, from the U.S. Constitution:
Article I, Section 8 (enumarating the powers of Congress), clause 8: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”