Lockean Theory and The Transformation of Resources To Property

In sect. [28] (pp. 16) of his Second Treatise of Government, Locke poses an engaging question, that is ; when exactly a common resource becomes someone’s private possession. He uses the example of apples on a tree in unclaimed property. If a man is strolling through some woods and chances upon an apple tree, what reason justifies his decision to pluck off one of its fruits and make it a palatable snack? Precisely, when (if at all) does it become his?

            He argues that man has a natural right to “appropriate” the apple to himself. Removing a given resource from its common state (i.e one characterized by general availability) is accomplished when an individual mixes his labour with it. This effectively alters the status of the resource, converting it to a private possession. It is evident that this notion is mostly predicated on the assumption that man has property in himself.

Furthermore, In sect. [29] Locke addresses a foreseen objection to his foundational premise, specifically ; why individuals should be have a right to generate property without first obtaining authorization from other equivalents? He refutes this manifestly laughable objection by highlighting how preposterous it would be if man were expected to acquire the consent of innumerable others in order to have ownership in something.

2 Comments

  1. This is Locke’s mixing theory or “sweat equity” approach to property rights: when we mix our labour with Nature by, say, planting and watering and carimg for an apple tree, then the apples are ours! But what about the land on which the tree is planted? Also, what about the so-called “Lockean proviso,” though: we have to allow others enough land to plant their own apple trees?

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  2. Yes! “Sweat equity” is definitely one interesting way of looking at property rights. One thing I noticed that Locke doesn’t appear to address in his proviso is : what happens when the claims to ownership of resources exceeds the amount of resources available? In other words, what happens when making property through sweat equity becomes impossible. Now this depletion is certainly unlikely to happen with some resources (like apples in the woods and such), but other things like land seem to have become largely unobtainable.

    Great food for thought!

    Liked by 1 person

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