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When my neighborhood was converted from farmland to a development, the owner of the land designated certain parts of his land (which wound up becoming the roads) as a "right of way". A "right of way" is a type of easement, in that it is "the right to use the real property of another without possessing it" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easement), but it is granted to everybody in the world, both currently living and ever to be living. Easements carry with the property - so even when the original owner dies the easement is still in place. (I'm going to assume for the purpose of this question that the concept of an easement is legitimate so long as the property owner consents, though if you disagree on that I'd certainly like to hear your explanation.)

Now, while I believe it is true that the owner of this farmland was somewhat coerced into relinquishing this portion of land as right-of-way (I believe it is illegal to sell parcels of land which are landlocked), there are legitimate reasons someone might want to grant a right-of-way even without coercion from the government. So let's assume an owner who wants to grant a right-of-way on his property (because he believes that the value of the property would be increased by the ability of visitors to travel to the individual parcels). Should the government allow him to do so? Is the right-of-way a legitimate concept?

asked Oct 20 '10 at 19:13

anthony's gravatar image


edited Oct 20 '10 at 19:17

What made me think about this question was that Greg Perkins said that "most roads are government roads, 'owned by' nobody and everybody, leaving decisions on their use not an exercise of individual rights, but of majority vote."

(Oct 21 '10 at 11:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"Right of way" certainly seems to have an objective meaning and definition. The genus is easement, and the differentia is that "it is granted to everybody in the world, both currently living and ever to be living." Isn't that enough to qualify as a valid (compound) concept, epistemologically speaking?

If the question of legitimacy is directed more toward the ethical and/or political aspects, why shouldn't a land owner be able to do that with his own land if he so chooses? Even if he is coerced into doing it, the illegitimacy would apply to the coercion, not to the basic concept of a "right of way."

The question also asks (theoretically) about government prohibiting a land owner from granting a right of way. I do not see what rational justification there could be for government to do that, nor how government would "enforce" it (i.e., somehow stop visitors from passing through, against the wishes of the land owner that they be allowed to do so).

There is probably a great deal more that the philosophy of law could say about an issue such as this in the range of ways in which it actually arises in practice, but that goes beyond Objectivist philosophy, as do all the special sciences. There are issues of maintenance to consider, such as how much maintenance should be performed, by whom, at what cost, paid by whom, etc. Another interesting corollary question is whether, in principle, it ought to be possible for a right of way ever to revert back to private ownership at some point in the future after the original grantor has long since died, perhaps by some kind of petition from all the surrounding land owners, if they can all agree on what they want.

answered Oct 21 '10 at 00:04

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

I suppose the government couldn't prohibit a land owner from granting a right of way, but they certainly could refuse to recognize it.

The problem with a right of way is that it grants a type of ownership to "everybody in the world, both currently living and ever to be living". Epistemologically, I'm not sure if "ownership" and "everybody" can be reconciled. Politically, it's unclear how to reconcile conflicts. It's also unclear how a right can be granted to someone who does not yet exist (is not yet born).

(Oct 21 '10 at 11:09) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If a land owner abandons property, that property is then up for grabs, for someone else to take ownership. A right of way is an irrevocable abandonment of property along with a stipulation that no one else is ever allowed to own that property.

I'm not convinced that this is legitimate.

(Oct 21 '10 at 11:12) anthony anthony's gravatar image

For the problem of how to reconcile conflicts, I guess I should look into how conflicts are reconciled among undivided co-owners of property.

(Oct 21 '10 at 11:16) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Oct 20 '10 at 19:13

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Last updated: Oct 21 '10 at 11:26