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.

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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 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
spoilage. If my acquisition spoils,


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