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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 12, Issue 2, Fall 1998

Peter Dalton
Pages 187-201
DOI: 10.5840/ijap199812216

Possessiveness and Embodiment
What Thoreau Didn’t Know

In “Economy,” Henry Thoreau argues against the common view that it is highly worthwhile for a human being to work hard in order to obtain material possessions. Thoreau’s objections are forceful, wide-ranging, and extraordinarily well written. Yet his readers, like almost everyone else, continue to desire, pursue, or acquire more and more material things as well as more and more money, the primary means to such things. Thoreau knew that this was true of the people of his own time, but he didn’t know why. I think I know what Thoreau didn’t know. What Thoreau didn’t know is why material possessions are effective and alluring embodiments of a human being’s worth as a person. This is a particular kind of worth, which I call reputed worth. In the paper I show why reputed worth is so important to people, how material goods embody it, and, unfortunately, why reputed worth is deeply flawed.

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