Aaron Samson Pol.

4 Section Professor Scott 6 March 2007

Private Property vs. Social Utility
In John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, he makes two arguments concerning the ownership of private property. The first argument is simply an argument for the right to own private property, while the second (called Social Utility) argues the idea that an unequal dispersion of private property can benefit a society as a whole. Though these arguments both coincide with each other, the right to private ownership is much more important than the idea of social utility, for without the first the second cannot exist. Locke’s argument for private property consists of several parts: the idea that all things originally start as community property, the idea that one’s labor takes that property out of the communal realm and makes it ones own, and the idea that one cannot does not harm a society by making something his private property. Lock’s first argument in his Second Treatise is that we are all in a state of nature; that is to say that no man innately has more than anyone else or has the right to more than anyone else (8); the only way a person can have more than another person is through his own labor. This state of nature establishes Locke’s first idea for individual property ownership which is that all property begins communally, devoid of any ownership, and every man has as much right to it as the next, or in Locke’s words: “God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath

also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life, and convenience” (18). Locke states his second argument for private property in chapter five: “yet every man has a property in his own person…The Labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property” (19). Locke’s argument is that labor is the sole difference between private and public property. He argues that everything is public in the state of nature until someone puts their own labor into it, at which time it is taken out of the state of nature and is the property of an individual. This is shown through apples being picked off trees, of wood being picked up off the ground, or soil being tilled; before someone put their own labor into them, these things were useless, but once the apple had been picked, the soil tilled, and the acorn picked up, they have not only left the state of nature, but they are now of use and benefit to the individual. Locke’s final premise comes in his chapter on property also. He argues that a person who takes as much from the state of nature as he can improve, cultivate, and use the product of does not harm the rest of society in any way, and is in fact doing as much harm to them as he would if he had not taken anything at all (21). Locke believes that there is plenty of property for everyone, so long as people don’t take in excess of what they can use and make beneficial, and because of this abundance, no one does wrong to labor over private property and take something out of the state of nature.

Locke’s second argument is for social utility, or the unequal distribution of private property. He does not necessarily argue that social utility is necessary, but he does argue for its usefulness. Locke argues that: “Every man should have as much as he could make use of, would hold still in the world, without straitening any body; since there is land enough in the world to suffice double the inhabitants…” (23). Here Locke does not argue for the unequal distribution of useless private property, i.e. more than a man needs or can make good use of; he argues for the idea that all men should have as much private property as they can use. This means that some can use more than others for benefit, and therefore private property should not be limited to an equal distribution. Locke’s argument is that if everyone had an equal distribution of property, and some had more than they could use while some have less, those who are not using all of their property (such as land, cattle, clothing, etc.) are not benefiting from it at all. With an unequal distribution of property, nothing is going to waste, for property is much more useful and beneficial to society when it has some utility. Locke uses the argument for land in this case. If a man has more land than he can use, the land sits uncultivated, and though the distribution of property is equal, it does society no good. Likewise, if the equal distribution of property requires that some land be left in no one’s possession, the land again, is of no use to society. If a different person is able to make use of that land and feed many people from it, at the expense of an equal distribution, he should be able to do so, rather than let the land sit idle and useless. When analyzing Locke’s two arguments for private property, one must realize that without the first, the second cannot be. That is to say, without the initial right to private

property, there would be no reason for a person to even make an argument for the unequal distribution of said private property. In Locke’s argument for the state of nature, he begins with the idea that no person is inherently better than another. This leads to the idea that if no one is inherently better then no person is entitled to property that they don’t deserve or have not earned. The one measure Locke gives for the appropriation of property is the labor that a person puts into the property to make it theirs. Without this labor, they are not entitled to the property because labor is the only thing that differentiates property from being in the state of nature to being in one’s possession. Social utility is Locke’s argument for the distribution of private property, which means that without private property, there is no reason to make an argument for its distribution. Furthermore, private ownership of property is essential for survival in the state of nature. Locke argues that humans have been given land and nature to use to their benefit, and without private property, no one would be motivated to labor for the benefit of themselves or society. Because there can be no distribution of private property without the right to property ownership, this right is much more important than the argument for social utility. Social utility is an idea to make society more productive, but in order for social utility to work the private property must be taken from the state of nature through labor. It is also Locke’s belief that the right to property is one of the basest rights and believes that it is inalienable from any human. Though social utility makes more sense than an equal distribution, it is not an inalienable right and is therefore not as important than the right to property. Word Count: 1,240