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Locke Arguments In Support Of Private Property Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2218 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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What are Natural Rights? A Natural Right is a universal right that everyone has all around the world. In particular, Natural Rights is a political theory that maintains that an individual enters into society with certain basic rights and that no government can deny these rights. Us as humans were born with these natural rights. Natural rights grew out of the ancient and medieval doctrines of natural law, which is the belief that people, as creatures of nature and God, should live their lives and organize their society on the basis of rules and precepts laid down by nature or God. The concept of a natural right can be contrasted with the concept of a legal right. A legal right is specifically created by the government, while a natural right is claimed even when it

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Is Private Property a Natural Right? Yes! I consider Private Property a Natural Right. Private Property plays a big role within Natural Rights. Many philosophers including Locke, Marx, and Rawls each had their position on private property. This leads to the question: What is Private Property? You can not just give one definition because as I said before, many philosophers had different positions about private property on natural rights. If I had to define Private Property, I would say it is any property that is not public property, and may be under the control of a group or a single individual. It is like a claim to something that excludes others from having that same privilege. The one philosopher that I will talk about is John Locke.

John Locke (29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher. Locke is considered the first of the British empiricist, but is equally important to social contract theory. His ideas had enormous influence on the development of epistemology and political philosophy, and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential enlightenment thinkers, classical republicans, and contributors to liberal theory. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American Revolutionaries.

Locke’s theory of mind is often cited as the origin for modern conceptions of identity and “the self”, figuring prominently in the later works of philosophers such as David Hume, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Locke was the first philosopher to define the self through a continuity of “consciousness”. He also postulated that the mind was a “blank slate” or “tabula rasa”; that is, contrary to Cartesian or Christian Philosophy, Locke maintained that people are born without innate ideas. John Locke’s position on private property being a natural right is really different from that of other philosophers. Locke was a major social contract thinker who argued that all people know what to do and why they do it therefore making sense. He said that man’s natural rights are life, liberty, and property.

In the Second Treatise of Government by John Locke, he writes about the right to private property. In the chapter which is titled “Of Property” he tells how the right to private property originated, the role it plays in the state of nature, the limitations that are set on the rights of private property, the role the invention of money played in property rights and the role property rights play after the establishment of government.. In this chapter Locke makes significant points about private property. In this paper I will summarize his analysis of the right to private property, and I will give my opinion on some of the points Locke makes in his book. According to Locke, the right to private property originated when God gave the world to men. Locke makes the argument that when God created the world for man, he gave man reason to make use of the world to the best advantage of life, and convenience. What he means by that is, that God made this world for man, and when he made it he gave man the right to use what is in this world to his benefit. Locke explains that every man has property in his own person, and that nobody has any right to that property but that person. The author states that “whatsoever then he removes out of the state of 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 (Locke pg. 19)”. What Locke means by that statement is that once a person removes something out of its original state of nature that something becomes that person’s property. After someone gains this property are there any limitations on that property? Locke believes that there are limitations on that property. Locke believes that God has given us all things richly, and that man may use those things as long as he takes what he needs.

Locke believes that the purpose of government is to protect property and that society was set up to avoid civil or foreign wars that may occur over the dispute of property. Locke attempts to rationalize the right of men having “unequal possessions of the earth”, but fails because he does not recognize that unequal ownership of property does not allow for the basis of his argument that ownership of property is only justified if there is good and enough for others.

The right to private property is the cornerstone of Locke’s political theory, encapsulating how each man relates to God and to other men. Locke explains that man originally exists in a state of nature in which he needs answer only to the laws of nature. In this state of nature, men are free to do as they please, so long as they preserve peace and preserve mankind in general. Because they have a right to self-preservation, it follows that they have the right to those things that will help them to survive and be happy. God has provided us with all the materials we need to pursue those ends, but these natural resources are useless until men apply their efforts to them. For example, a field is useless until it produces food, and no field will produce food until someone farms it.

 Locke proposes that because all men own their bodies completely, any product of their physical labour also belongs to them. Thus, when a man works on some goods or material, he becomes the owner of that goods or material. The man who farms the land and has produced food owns the land and the food that his labour created. However the restriction to private property is that, because God wants all his children to be happy, no man can take possession of something if he harms another in doing so. He cannot take possession of more than he can use, for example, because he would then be wasting materials that might otherwise be used by another person. Unfortunately, the world is afflicted by immoral men who violate these natural laws. By coming together in the social-political compact of a community that can create and enforce laws, men are guaranteed better protection of their property and other freedoms.

Locke’s treatment of property is generally thought to be among his most important contributions in political thought, but it is also one of the aspects of his thought that has been most heavily criticized. There are important debates over what exactly Locke was trying to accomplish with his theory. One interpretation, advanced by C.B. Macpherson, sees Locke as a defender of unrestricted capitalist accumulation.

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Locke used the idea of a state of nature to present his political views, Locke argued that men have rights, including those to life and property, and the Two Treatises justifies revolution in some circumstances. C.B. Macpherson marshalled various facts so as to argue that Locke defended the rationality of unlimited desire, and so capital accumulation, in a way that provided a moral basis for capitalism. What is more, he did so in the context of a broadly Marxist historiography, according to which British theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth century adopted ideas which reflected the emergence of a capitalist economy. When historians criticise and compare theories in terms of accepted facts, they can use criteria of accuracy, comprehensiveness, consistency, fruitfulness, openness, and progressiveness. Alan Ryan has criticised Macpherson for inaccuracy. He argued that Macpherson was wrong to say Locke thought rationality was restricted to one class who went in for the acquisition of capital goods. Rather, Locke explicitly said that all adults apart from lunatics were rational enough to understand what the law of nature required of them. Ryan also has criticised Macpherson, at least implicitly, for failing to be comprehensive: Macpherson’s theory could not account for the many passages in the Two Treatises that Ryan used to show that Locke said things clearly contrary to Macpherson’s interpretation. More generally, Ryan has suggested that Macpherson’s errors stem from an unfruitful method. John Dunn too has criticised Macpherson for not being comprehensive: Macpherson’s theory took no account of Locke’s religious faith, a faith which provided the unifying theme of Locke’s thought. In particular, Dunn has argued that Locke could not have intended to demonstrate the overriding rationality of capital accumulation precisely because his view of rationality depended on his religious beliefs, and so for him the rationality of any action in this world necessarily would depend on the effect of the action on one’s after-life. More recently, James Tully has developed Dunn’s broad critique of Macpherson by interpreting the Two Treatises, within the context of Locke’s religious beliefs, as an attempt to defend a self-governing community of small proprietors enjoying the security to harvest the fruits of their labours, an ideal which Tully sees as contrary to capitalism. More generally, Dunn too related Macpherson’s erroneous view of Locke to a faulty method. Instead, Dunn advocated, against Ryan as well as Macpherson, a method which would focus on the intentions that it makes sense to ascribe to authors in the light of what we know of the characteristic beliefs of their time. Because people can respond to criticism in a way that strengthens their theory, comparison must be a more or less continuous activity. However, our criteria of comparison suggest we should scrutinise the way in which people deflect criticisms to see if they do so in a progressive manner maintaining the openness of their theory. Thus, if Macpherson responded to the criticisms of Ryan or Dunn, or if Ryan responded to the criticisms of Dunn, we would want to know whether their revised views represented either a progressive development of their theories or a purely defensive hypothesis. For example, Neal Wood has defended an interpretation of Locke that we might regard as a revised version of Macpherson’s view in so far as it apparently rests on a fairly similar, broadly Marxist historiography. Wood criticises Tully’s interpretation of Locke for being incomplete, and possibly inconsistent.

Robert Nozick also questions the idea of mixing and in doing so, offers an alternative explanation to Levine’s objection. In “Anarchy, State and Utopia” he asks, “Why isn’t mixing what I own with what I don’t own a way of losing what I own rather than a way of gaining what I don’t? If I own a can of tomato juice and spill it in the sea so that its molecules mingle evenly throughout the sea, do I thereby come to own the sea, or have I foolishly dissipated my tomato juice?” Nozick reformulates Locke’s idea by saying that one does not appropriate something by mixing labour with it, but rather by labouring on it and improving it to make it more valuable. By extensions, anyone is entitled to own a thing whose value he has created. Nozick himself asks why one’s entitlement should extend to the whole object rather than just to the added value one’s labour has produced. However, he gives no real argument against this and instead notes that no value-added property scheme has ever been devised.

Nozick suggests

“Someone may be made worse off by another’s appropriation in two ways: first, by losing the opportunity to improve his situation by a particular appropriation or any one; and second, by no longer being able to use freely (without appropriation) what he

previously could.”

“However, Nozick’s revision does make the intuition that underlies the Lockean proviso, that the harmless appropriation of unowned things is morally defensible, more plausible than Locke’s own formulation does. It does so, though, at the cost of introducing a consideration foreign to Locke’s way of thinking into the very heart of his theory.” Nozick, being a libertarian at heart, agrees with the essence of Locke’s theory but prefers to reformulate certain areas that he thinks do not work. It is difficult to conclude whether Locke’s natural right of property should be accepted since we know from history that initial acquisition of property was not done on a Lockean basis.


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