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Free Example of Locke's Theory of Property Essay

In the Second Treatise, Locke argues that every person owns some property, which cannot be encroached upon under certain circumstances. In §27, he mentions that although all people are inferior to Mother Nature and the earth is at their common disposal, everybody has a right to his or her own property. The first prerequisite for this implies that a person should labor at something, and it is exactly labor that makes something somebody’s property. Further, Locke specifies the condition, under which “the common right of other men” is denied: “[…]for this labor being the unquestionable property of the laborer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others”.

To understand this qualification better, firstly, it is essential to examine the position of the phrase “at least” in the sentence. On one hand, this Locke’s statement can be regarded as a proviso; on other hand, the given placement of the mentioned words excludes such possibility since the philosopher seems to imply that there exist also other conditions, under which one has a right to appropriate even if he or she does not leave enough and as good for others. Therefore, Thomson (1976) and Waldron argue that the enough-and-as-good proviso is not a proviso at all. They stick to the point that it might serve as a reasonable (but not essential) ground for appropriation “without concluding that it is downright inconsistent with what Locke claimed to be the fundamental duty of the law of nature”.

Thomas and Waldron’s standpoint, however, is rather ambiguous. In the first place, Kramer proves that the enough-and-as-good proviso fails to be employed as a reasonable prerequisite. He gives the following example. If somebody shoots a rhino and leaves enough animals of this kind for others to shoot as well, this does not mean that other people will necessarily shoot a rhino since they may believe the animal to be sacred and not want to kill it. Therefore, it follows from this that if there is enough as good things left for others to appropriate, it does not imply that others should approve of one’s possessions or even that a person should be allowed to appropriate. This condition may become sufficient only if it is combined with the postulate that it is useless to leave the natural resource for common usage. This statement, however, cannot be applied to all resources. In the second place, Locke does not seem to mention the proviso merely to the point but just to justify appropriation. He constantly repeats the words like “complaint,” “injury,” “intrench”, and “prejudice,” which apparently highlight that the enough-and-good qualification justifies ownership since it guarantees the appropriator “does as good as take nothing at all”.   

Thus, the proviso in question is highly significant to Locke’s theory of property since the former justifies the latter. The philosopher explains his proviso in §33, claiming that a person, who appropriates a “parcel of land” and leaves enough as good for others to improve it, takes nothing at all: “[…] for he that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all.” Another Locke’s illustration of the proviso runs as follows. If a person has appropriated a river and somebody takes a “good draught” of water from this river, an owner should not feel offended since he or she has enough as good water to slake his or her thirst.

Another argument, which Locke uses to back up the enough-and-as-good proviso and, consequently, to justify the theory of property, is concerned with the God’s will. Although God gave the earth and nature to all people so that they could use it to their benefit, one cannot assume that He believed the earth to remain uncultivated and common. That is why, if an owner has appropriated something but left enough as good for somebody to improve it, the latter should not feel offended or encroach upon the fruits of others’ labor:

He that had as good left for his improvement, as was already taken up, needed not complain, ought not to meddle with what was already improved by another’s labor: if he did, it is plain he desired the benefit of another’s pain, which he had no right to, and not the ground which God had given him in common with others to labor on, and whereof there was as good left, as that already possessed.

The enough-and-as-good proviso seems sufficient for one more reason. Locke points out that “there is land enough in the world to suffice double the inhabitants”; that is why a person who appropriates as much as he or she can make use of will never deprive others of their possessions. The philosopher attaches great importance to this issue since, in his opinion, the ground itself is useless because only human labor makes it a valuable possession. Therefore, an owner who manages to increase the stock of corn on the initially waste and neglected land enjoys the inhabitants’ gratitude.

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that the condition in question turns out to be invalid with the appearance of large possessions and the establishment of a government. In this case, people cannot inclose any part of the land without the fellow-commoners’ consent since the law does not permit it. Moreover, “the remainder, after such an enclosure, would not be as good to the rest of the commoners, as the whole was when they could all make use of the whole” . 

The explanation of the enough-and-as-good proviso would be incomplete without mentioning the moment, when “the property begins.” According to Locke, “the property begins” at the moment, when a person “takes any part of what is common and removes it out of the state nature leaves it in”. For instance, the acorns that somebody has picked become his or her property at the very moment of the “first gathering.” Otherwise, nothing could make those acorns his or her property. That is, if somebody does nothing to appropriate something but merely claims the possession, it should be regarded as an unjust encroachment on somebody’s property.   

Taking into consideration the abovementioned issues, it can be reasonably claimed that the strongest version of the Lockean theory of property is based on the interpretation, according to which the enough-and-as-good proviso holds exceptionally at the moment of acquisition. This interpretation is very convincing because it seems evident that if a person works on something successfully, it becomes his or her possession. Humans’ survival on the earth would be impossible if they had not learned to subdue it and reap the fruits of their labor. This is a condition imposed by God; and since exactly God commanded humans to cultivate, i.e. to appropriate the ground or the world in general for their benefit and survival, the idea of private property is inherent. The Lockean theory of property justifies the latter if owners either do not waste their property or take more than they can cultivate but leave enough as good for others to work on.

Code: Sample20

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