John Locke on Property

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 27 October 2016

John Locke on Property

Natural reason suggests that human beings have the right to preserve themselves the moment they are born. An individual can utilize everything that he sees around him to preserve himself. He can drink if he is thirsty; he can eat if he is hungry. Nature, which God gave to the world, is the individual’s source of materials for his preservation. Locke emphasized that the world was given to the whole humanity by God. This, for Locke, is nothing but common knowledge (Locke 11). Locke questions how an individual can actually own a thing.

He finds it difficult to understand why, when God has given the Earth to His children, men would search for things on earth and label it as their own. Since it is difficult to find a part of the Earth which an individual can own and call it his “property”, then the only easy way to solve this dilemma is to have the world owned by a universal monarch. This, then, would only be possible upon the belief that Adam owns the world because god gave it to him. As Adam has the world, it also means that his heirs own the world, too (Locke 11).

Since this clearly is not the case in today’s world and in today’s society, Locke promises that he will explain how an individual claim a part of what God has given mankind, and that, with no single express compact of all people (Locke 11). As God has given mankind a whole world, it also means that along with this, He has given mankind a reason to use this world to their convenience and best advantage. The world are has everything that a man needs to survive. It has air, water, food and shelter.

It contains that things that an individual needs to live a comfortable life. Whatever is found in this world all help in supporting the life of an individual (Locke 13). Although the food found on earth, including the animals or the predators that feed on them, are all qualified as properties of mankind (since nature produces all them), the fact alone that they are included as part of the earth means that even the predators are necessary for the survival of mankind – even when these beasts harm the quality of living of an individual.

There will always be a way for a man to know how a harmful beast may help him. Whatever way this is, he has yet to figure out, but the fact remains that a harmful beast is indeed beneficial since it is a part of the world that God gave him (Locke 14). For Locke, the meat and the fruit which an individual feeds on are both considered occupants of the earth. No other individual will have the right to own that particular meat or particular fruit before it can support his life. No one has a right to something if the benefits are yet undiscovered (Ishay 116).

The earth is indeed common to all the people living in it – to all its occupants. Then again, each individual has a property of his own. He is the only person who can practice his rights on that certain thing since he is the only person owning it. His hands do the working. His body does the laboring. Because of all these, whatever he produces rightfully becomes his property. Whatever thing nature has provided, which he, in turn, takes away from the state, becomes his property, as soon as he mixes his labor with it.

Whatever it is that he takes away from the state which was placed there because of nature eliminates the right of other men, as long as he was able to own it through his hardships and labor (Ishay 116). Labor is indeed an important factor in this case, since labor is something that mankind cannot question. Labor is the unquestionable property of the man who is laboring. The man laboring is the only man who has the right to his products (Ishay 116). Whoever is being supported and benefited by the fruits of his labor has definitely appropriated these fruits for him.

The question of Locke now, is when exactly did this fruit became his own? If, for example, an individual harvests the apple that came from the tree he himself planted, when exactly did he own the apple? Was it from the time when he digested the apple, since it is believed that as he is nourished by the fruit of his labor, he can start calling this his own? Or was it from the time when he picked the apples from the tree (Ishay 117)? What marks the difference between the common man and himself is labor. Labor defines what nature cannot.

If an individual makes use of what nature has given him, and he, in turn, starts to benefit from it, then he owns the fruit. The man is able to own things as he extends what a nature can do to support his life. Here is where the concept of private right comes in (Ishay 118). Another dilemma is realized from this perspective, since will one not have a right to that apple which he appropriated for himself if mankind did not allow him to? Does he need the consent of other men to make the apple his property?

Would this be considered robbery, since whatever is found on this earth is a property of all men (Boaz 123)? Then again, John Locke argued that consent from other men is not even necessary in the first place. If an individual always waits for a go-signal from other men so that he can start owning and eating an apple, then he will end up being starved. What is common in mankind, or common in “commoners”, is the act of taking something away from this world to make it his property. Nature leaves something in the state, and commoners remove it out from there.

As an individual removes it from the state, it starts to be his property. Without such property, then the individual will be of no use to the world. Taking something which an individual may consider his property is not dependent on whether or not commoners will allow him to (Boaz 123). The grass is in the lands to be eaten by a horse. A servant sees a turf which he may cut. All people can see ores, and all of them have right to the meat. An individual can do everything that he can, and thus exhibit acts of labor, to produce something that can benefit him.

As a product of his labor, his prize is to own it as its property. He does not need to consult other men; more so, need their consent. The moment an individual removes something from the state is already a manifestation of a labor being enacted. There is a struggle, a difficulty, and an action taking place as an individual takes something away from the state. From this point exactly, an individual owns a thing (Boaz 123). John Locke’s main argument when he said that property is prior to the political state; he was referring to the law of reason.

This law is what makes the deer a proper of an Indian, only if this Indian went his way into killing the deer. Once he exerted effort and enacted labor into killing the deer, then he has every right to eat the deer. The deer used to be a property of the world, and of everyone. Killing it is also a right of every person. Then again, whoever has the reason to go first and bestow his energy, labor and power to kill the deer, is the same person who owns the meat. Reason is what defines a person’s property, according to John Locke.

Whatever it is that is found in this earth is a property of everyone, and everyone has the right to owning it. Then, again, labor, when fueled with reason, is what makes and what allows a person to own something and start calling it his property (Boaz 124). For John Locke, it is effortless to imagine and think how labor can start and prescribe a person’s property, considering the fact and the supposed challenge that may be faced since this property used to be a property of all mankind, and this property of mankind is coming from nature – the nature itself being an entity that belongs to everyone.

The limits of a property are defined by how we spend it. For John Locke, arguments and conflicts regarding property and owndership may be eliminated if we see things his way (Boaz 125). Through John Locke’s view in property, he suggests that convenience and right go along together. He has his right which is his reason enough to employ his labor on a property common to mankind. Once he goes through challenges to own it to his convenience, then there should be no room left for conflict and quarrel.

Whoever went his way to experience challenges just to reap what he saw, has every right to own the fruits of his labor (Boaz 126). Works Cited Boaz, David. The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Readings from Lao-tzu to Milton Friedman. Free Press, 1998. Ishay, Micheline. The Human Rights Reader: Major Political Essays, Speeches, and Documents from Ancient Times to the Present. CRC Press, 2007. Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 27 October 2016

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