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Property Debate Between Locke & Rousseau Essay

Introduction John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, two philosophers with differing opinions concerning the concept of private property. Rousseau believes that from the state of nature, private property came about, naturally transcending the human situation into a civil society and at the same time acting as the starting point of inequality amongst individuals. Locke on the other hand argues that private property acts as one of the fundamental, inalienable moral rights that all humans are entitled to. Their arguments clearly differ on this basic issue.

This essay will discuss how the further differences between Locke and Rousseau lead from this basic fundamental difference focusing on the acquisition of property and human rights. Locke argues that God provided all humans with land in common and thus initially in its natural state land is ownerless. Humans, following basic instincts of survival, are faced with an abundance of resources of which they are able to use in order to satisfy their needs. Similarly, Rousseau argues that basic desires drive men to serve for only their own needs and to compete for all else they need.

For Locke, the only ownership that is present from the beginning, and which all humans possess is the ownership of their body All humans own themselves as well as the labour that their two hands are able to supply. Rousseau disagrees in the fact that men are not born with the right to property but in fact it only comes about through the development of man. Locke believes in the moral law, and consequently in the state of nature, all men are born morally equal, with the natural and moral right to life, liberty and property.

Rousseau disagreeing on this basic point argues that property is morally wrong as it causes inequality and harm. He agrees that humans are able to treat property as a right but not a natural right as only power in a forming society leads humans to do this. Rousseau however believes that in the state of nature, all humans have liberty and thus the acquisition of property violates one’s liberty. Rousseau believes it to be unjust in merely taking of land. In the state of nature property does not exist.

Only once man has developed tools and has a basic formation of living together as a community, does the concept of property arise with men building huts. As soon as this idea of property comes about, so do arguments and conflict. Rousseau draws on the idea that the act of agriculture and cultivating of land brings with it civilized men but at the same time ruining humanity. Eventually all land is occupied by humans and the only way one is able to obtain land is to steal it.

Those who have land already, the rich, namely those who have attempted to obtain more land and those who do not have any land, the poor, in desperation of survival also try to obtain by stealing from the rich. This state of war is a situation occurring in an established civil society. Locke disagrees with this greedy situation as according to his theory, there would be no competition amongst men. Men, by the law of nature are only be allowed to appropriate and own as much as he could use because those resources would end up rotting and being wasted, leading to a liable punishment.

Consequently there is never any excessive ownership of land or resources. Therefore other people still have plenty resources to appropriate and thus there is no need for quarrelling. Locke’s argument for appropriating labour is based on the principle that each person is free to appropriate land in the same way as the previous person. Property is acquired by mixing one’s labour (owned by the individual naturally) with the object extracted form nature The first gathering or extraction, namely the first use of labour thus initially awards that person ownership of it.

In this way they also provide for others as cultivated land produced more produce than a smaller share of uncultivated land Although Rousseau agrees with Locke initially about mixing labour with land and thus acquiring ownership he argues that this right can not be claimed. Those who own property are only able to keep it as long ass they have the power to do so. By a cunning plan, and false character, the land owners realize that in order to protect themselves from the non-land owners, they employ the poor as slaves and make them believe they were benefitting equally.

This double slave relationship is established, the rich being enslaved by the poor in terms of their need for safety and the poor enslaved by the rich for the need of survival. Rousseau believes that equality may have prevailed had men’s talents all been the same but this not being the case. The property owners having the most power in this new society thus wrote laws and a justice system was established in favour of the property owners. This new society is a state of despotism, the slaves having no say over the laws that are governing them.

Locke’s account for the development of society comes from the fencing off of the land that one has cultivated and mixed their labour with, settling upon agreed boundaries between neighbours. Laws are established by agreement between one other to settle the property rights within the society. Locke does not agree on the master-slave relationship. Instead, cities are built and the boundaries of territories of men become obvious. Laws become established to settle the property rights in a society.

By agreement, men consent to commonly give up their natural right to appropriate common land, thus establishing who owns what legally. Conclusion Rousseau and Locke had differing theories concerning the acquisition of property and how civil society was born. The fundamental difference lies in the fact that Rousseau believes that property brought along with it inequality and cruelty amongst men, stripping them of their right of liberty and transforming their calm being as seen in the state of nature into cunning beings.

Locke however disagreed and believed that men rather were morally equal and thus had the moral right to property. By mixing ones labour with the common nature that was given in abundance by God, one could live happily whilst not hindering the rights of other men as long as one did not exceed what one needed. This essay has thus explored the various differenced between these two philosophers thoroughly. Bibliography Locke, J. 1690. The Second Treatise of Civil Government. Rousseau, J. J. 1754. What is the Origin of Inequality Among Men and is it Authorized by Natural Law?


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