Ipse Dixit


Jeremy Sheff on Jefferson's Taper and the Classical Tradition

Season 1, Ep. 185

In this episode, Jeremy Sheff, Professor of Law and Director of the Intellectual Property Law Center at St. John's University School of Law, discusses his article "Jefferson's Taper." Sheff begins by describing Thomas Jefferson's "Parable of the Taper," found in a letter to Isaac McPherson, in which Jefferson argues that there is no natural right of property in inventions, which are a fire than can be spread from one person to another, without dimming the source. This parable has figured prominently in contemporary debates between utilitarian and Lockean theories of the justification for patents, with utilitarians seeking endorsement in the parable, and Lockeans rejecting it. Sheff argues that Jefferson was actually paraphrasing Cicero's iconic work "De Officiis," and drawing on a very different Classical tradition of natural law. Not only does this perspective help us better understand what Jefferson actually meant, but also it may a provide helpful new perspective on the contemporary debate. Sheff is on Twitter at @jnsheff.

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