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John Locke on Property Rights

John Locke on Property Rights



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Published by Erik F. Meinhardt
Critical Analysis of John Locke’s Theory of Property Rights in Chapter Five of the Second Treatise of Government
Critical Analysis of John Locke’s Theory of Property Rights in Chapter Five of the Second Treatise of Government

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Published by: Erik F. Meinhardt on Jun 03, 2007
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Critical Analysis of John Locke’sTheory of Property Rightsin Chapter Five of the
Second Treatise of Government 
Erik F. MeinhardtPhilosophy 230Social & Political PhilosophyMacpherson22 May 2007
This paper aims to critically analyze John Locke’s theory of property rights asintroduced in chapter five of his
Second Treatise of Government
. It will present the theoryin general, move to explain the theory’s function in relation to the
Second Treatise of Government
as a whole, discuss the problems of the theory, and finally evaluate thefairness of this kind of property distribution.Locke argues for property rights by starting from assumptions about humankind’snature, then moving to explain how these assumptions allow for private ownership ofproperty. Locke starts in Section 25 by saying that it is a natural right of mankind topreserve himself by eating, drinking and doing like things by taking from nature. Lockeinterprets this actually as an obligation than people have to God. Of course, he takes agreat leap in the following sections describing deductively how this assumption oftaking from nature for self-preservation leads to man having a property over anything.Section 26 states that God has “given the world to men in common” and the abilityto make use of that world’s resources. Section 27 goes on to state what people
owneven in the state of nature, namely their person and the labor which their bodyproduces. Thus, any object of the state of nature that a man manipulates with his workand labor transfers into his possession. It is this labor which separates that which isowned “in common” and that which is privately owned [section 28].In section 31 we find Locke providing a limitation to his property rights. This hascommonly been called the spoilage proviso and limits people to take only that whichthey can use before it spoils (to limit waste). But all land that a man can take andimprove with his labor belongs to him alone. That is to say that no one else has equaltitle to the products or land as they did before someone’s labor was involved.Section 33 contains the second proviso, called the sufficiency proviso. This limits theamount of property anyone can take to only the point where “there [is] still enough,and as good left.” Locke requires enough land to go around for everyone. At the pointwhere there is no longer enough land, Locke points out in section 34 that non-ownersmust labor on owned land to sustain their lives.Section 37 defends capitalism in general by claiming that with land being ownedand cultivated, human happiness overall is increased. He actually says later that a
nation where everything is already owned is better and more productive. He points tothe fact that at the time large pieces of land in America were unowned, but those livingin those areas were not of the same quality of life as those in Britain, for example, whereeverything was owned.Labor makes land ten times better than “land of an equal richness lying waste incommon.” When people own land, they care about it more and thus make it moreproductive than it was before, Locke argues. He emphasizes without question that it isnot the land that is valuable itself, but the labor applied to it. It is this labor thatfounded property rights, after all.Section 46 rids Locke of the spoilage proviso, making private property attainable bymeans of money. The ability to sell a good before it spoils allows anyone to producemore than he can use for himself because money is a lasting object unlike perishablefood. Money, Locke argues in section 50, is by a “tacit and voluntary consent” of men away to barter and exchange possessions.One can see that Locke has basically made it so that his provisos are no longer validin his theory of property rights. Money eliminates spoilage and waste as well as theneed for enough land to go around.When one connects the dots, one will see that property to Locke is a natural right ofman. Sustaining oneself is one’s duty to God and a natural right itself, and it is clear thatthe only way to do this is to exploit the land which God gave humanity in common.When one does this and adds one’s labor to the land owned in common, the productand land is transferred as property to the person doing the work.People enter into civil society, Locke argues, to protect this natural right and securetheir duty to sustain themselves to God. Life, liberty, and “estate” are essential for manand need to be protected by some kind of enforcement authority. Civil government isLocke’s way of guaranteeing the right to property, as it is for the other rights.Many problems are associated with Locke’s theory on property. Several of theseproblems lead to problems of unfairness, which will be addressed later. The first andmost major problem deals with contextual reasons behind Locke’s theory. According toIntroduction to Political Theory by John Hoffman and Paul Graham, John Locke formed

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