This week, a very short story by Marley which has been opening up the concept of ownership to philosophical scrutiny. 

Mabel is famous in her family for eating extremely slowly, while her dad is famous for stealing food from her plate. He always finishes his meal at breakneck speed and watches over her plate with eagle eyes for the rest of the dinner. He asks, “Are you gonna finish that?” to which Mabel responds with an irritated “Yes!” or a withering glare. It’s a little bit of a joke between them – although Mabel’s dad finds it rather funnier than Mabel does.One dinner, Mabel gets up to get a glass of water and, true to form, Mabel’s dad cuts off the end of her sausage and stabs it with his fork. Normally he chews it before she returns but this time, Mabel catches him in the act with a bit of sausage stuck on the end of his fork, hovering in front of his mouth. Mabel exclaims, “Hey that’s mine!” to which he responds, with a devilish grin, “But it’s on my fork.”…he hastily shoves it in his mouth, “…and it’s in my mouth,” …he chews and gulps it down, “…and now it’s in my belly!”


1.    Who owns the bit of sausage?
2.    Does it change ownership? If so, when?
3.    Does Mabel have a right to the sausage in her dad’s stomach? Does she still own anything after the sausage has been digested?
4.    If something is in your possession, do you own it?
5.    Do we own our bellies?
 6.    Do we own everything inside us? 
7.  Does that mean we can sell our kidney if we want to? 

Some participants will want to trace ownership of the sausage back to the pig it came from, and to question whether the sausage was stolen from the pig. Can animals own anything, or is ownership something humans have invented? Does a pig own itself? 

It’s interesting to look at ownership as a chain of legitimate transfers – discovery, creation, gift, purchase, finding that is sometimes broken by “illegal moves” such as theft, broken promises and so on. You can reject the whole idea of ownership as a human fiction, or see it as something that emerges from nature. 

This stimulus is an example of a good general principle – start in the world of the child, and only then move to more adult or outlandish scenarios. It establishes a point of connection and helps to map out the territory for deeper thinking. 

The Man who Sold his Back for Art 

You can follow up with the intriguing and rather macabre story of the man who sold his back to an art dealer.

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  1. Should he have been allowed to sell his back?
    (It’s best to ask this before the final reveal that his skin is going to be posthumously framed, and then ask again afterwards and see if people feel differently) 
  2. Do you own yourself?
  3. How is selling your back for art different to donating your body to science/medicine/organ donation? 

    There’s also an interesting session on Property in Thinking Beans which is a very, very good £11.99 of anybody’s money for personal entertainment, or get a pack of five for £50 for your school.

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