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John Locke

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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 as property and labor are concerned.

One limit is that of non destruction. God did not create anything for man to

destroy. The amount produced by any man should be kept in check by his level of

destruction. For example, there is a big difference between the cutting of one

or a few trees and the harvesting of an entire forest. Yolton explicates this

by stating that, "... specific rights comes in conjunction with this

restriction. Since Ð''Nothing was made by God for Man to spoil or destroy,' the

property making function of man's activities ought to be curbed at the point of




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