Locke on Property

At least half-a-dozen at least semi-regular readers of the Stoa are interested in this kind of thing, so here’s a chunk of something I’ve been reading in the Bodleian just now. It’s Thomas Rutherforth of St John’s College, Cambridge, lecturing on Locke’s account of property acquisition, and published as his Institutes of Natural Law, 1754, vol.1, chapter 3, §X, pp.50-2, and with the obvious typo silently corrected:

[p.50] “Mr. Lock agrees with Grotius, that occupancy is the foundation of private property. But then he does not consider occupancy in the same light, that Grotius considers it, as a tacit agreement between the joynt owners of the common stock and the future proprietor. In his opinion things, which originally belonged to all mankind in common, became the property of the first occupant; because, as he has a property in his own person, and consequently in the labour of his body, or in the work of his hands, by removing any thing out of the state, in which nature placed it, he has mixed his own labour or a personal act of his own with it; and by thus joyning to it something, which is his own, he makes it his property. For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer; no man, but he, can have a right to what that is once joyned to; at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others. Thus, whilst he agrees with Grotius, in words, they differ widely from one another, when the sense of their words is explaned.”I design to examine at large his application of what is here advanced. But before we do that, let us stop a while, and enquire, whether his first principles are true. – As every man has a property in his own person; the labour of his body and the work of his hands [p.51] are properly his. – Now the labour of a mans body, or the work of his hands, may mean either the personal act of working, or the effect which is produced by that act. In the first sense it must be allowed, that a mans labour is properly his own; he has a right to exert his strength in what manner he pleases, where he is under no restraint of law. But it does not follow from hence, that the effect of his labouring, or that the work of his hands, in the other sense of these words, must likewise be properly his own. He has, you may say, mixed his own labour with what he removes out of that state, in which nature had left it: but will you conclude, that by thus joyning to it his act of working, he has made it his own? In order to strengthen such a conclusion it would be necessary to shew, that the labour of one man can overrule or set aside the right of others. If I knowingly employ myself, in working upon the materials of my neighbour; however I may have mixed a personal act, which is my own, with his property; this will never give me a reasonable claim to his materials. You may urge, that the cases are not parallel; because the materials, now in question, are not the property of any one; and consequently, that, by working in such materials, we may gain property in them; though we could not gain it, by the like act, where the materials were appropriated before. But the cases are parallel, as far as the point before us requires. It is allowed, that the materials do not belong to any person by an exclusive right of property; but then they belong to all mankind of common right. And if mixing my labour with the materials of an individual will not make these materials mine, in opposition to his exclusive right, I know not [p.52] how any act of the same kind, or the mixing my labour with materials, which belong to all mankind, should make them mine, in opposition to their common right. As setting aside the right of an individual, without his consent, is an injury to him; so setting aside the common claim of mankind, without their consent, is an injury to them: and if an injury cannot be the foundation of a right in one case; it will not be very easy to prove, that a like injury may be the foundation of a right in the other case.”

There’s more of this kind of thing if people want it, but I doubt you do.

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