John Locke: Property Rights
Perhaps one of, if not the, most historically influential political thinkers of the western world was John Locke. John Locke, the man who initiated what is now known as British Empiricism, is also considered highly influential in establishing grounds, theoretically at least, for the constitution of the United States of America. The basis for understanding Locke is that he sees all people as having natural God given rights. As God's creations, this denotes a certain equality, at least in an abstract sense. This religious back drop acts as a the foundation for all of Locke's theories, including his theories of individuality, private property, and the state. The reader will be shown how and why people have a natural right to property and the impact this has on the sovereign, as well as the extent of this impact.
Locke was a micro based ideologist. He believed that humans were autonomous individuals who, although lived in a social setting, could not be articulated as a herd or social animal. Locke believed person to stand for, "... a thinking, intelligent being, that has
reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places, which it only does by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking." This ability to reflect, think, and reason intelligibly is one of the many gifts from God and is that gift which separates us from the realm of the beast. The ability to reason and reflect, although universal, acts as an explanation for individuality. All reason and reflection is based on personal experience and reference. Personal experience must be completely individual as no one can experience anything quite the same as another.
This leads to determining why Locke theorized that all humans, speaking patriarchially with respect to the time "why all men," have a natural right to property. Every man is a creation of God's, and as such is endowed with certain individual abilities and characteristics as gifts from God. Not being able to know God's exact wishes for man, Locke believed that all men have an obligation to develop and caress these gifts. In essence, each man was in charge of his own body and what was done with his body. Of course, for Locke, each man would do the reasonable thing and develop his natural skills and potentials to the best of his abilities, in the service of God.
The belief in God given abilities and the obligations that follow are not totally deterministic. Man, endowed with reason, could choose not to develop these abilities. Having the ability to choose the development of his potential, each man is responsible for that potential and consequently is responsible for his own body. The development, or lack therein, is a consequence of individual motivation and is manifested through labor.
In keeping with the theory of one's body is one's own, a man's property can be explained in terms of the quantifying forces of his labors. Physical labor or exercisation of his mind, to produce fruits for this person's labor, is then his own property. Locke believed that one did not need the consent of a sovereign, as far as property was concerned, because it is the melding of labor and nature that makes anything owned. Yolton articulates this when he states, "(b)y mixing my work, my energy with some object, (nature), I particulise that object, it's commonness becomes particular"
Locke believed that as long as there was plenty for others, consent was pointless, irrelevant and would merely be an overzealous exercision of power. Pointless because as long as there was more for others in the common store, one was not infringing on another's natural rights. Irrelevant because property production or the use of labor was completely individualistic and one should not be able to control another's labor as it is an infringement on their natural rights.
There are however limits, as far...
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Locke, John, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Oxford University Press,
Magill, Frank, Masterpieces of World Philosophy, Harper and Row, New York, 1961.
O 'Connor, D.J., John Locke, Pelican Books, London, 1952.
Squadrito, Kathleen, Locke 's Theory of Sensitive Knowledge, University Press of
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Yolton, J.W., Locke and the Compass of Human Understanding, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1970.
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