John Locke on Property

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What Role Does Property Play In Locke's Political Theory?

In Locke's political theory there is a large amount of emphasis put on property. Locke is using the word property to mean all that we can own: land, food, water, animals and so on. Therefore, it is mainly economics which Locke's work on property is concerned with, and specifically the “labour theory of value” which provides the role of economic regulation in his political theory.

Locke believes the Earth was given to all men equally by God. God created us to “subdue” and use nature for our own needs. He begins in chapter five, “Of Property” in his “Second Treatise of Government”, by qualifying this claim, that God has given the world to man, by using references from the Bible. For instance he quotes king David saying that God “has given the earth to the children of men”*. Locke interprets this to mean that we should use all that is in the world to use, ourselves, as mankind, as support and comfort.

Although Locke says that all men have a common right to all that God has given us in the world, individual persons are also able to have property of their own, that no body has a right to but him. This which the individual owns is his labour and the “work of his hands”*. Therefore, by combining this labour with the land that is commonly his makes whatever he does so solely his in his own person. Locke believes, because no body can question that a man's labour is something that he owns or has a right to, that something that contains his labour, such as a land that he works on or an animal that he has looked after, must therefore also belong to him. By combining his labour with the earth, this earth is removed from the common pool of nature and therefore excludes the right that other men had previously had to own it.

Locke gives several examples of how this can happen. The one example that in reading his work on property that seems most intuitive to me is that of a water fountain. Locke says how all...
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