Rutherforth on Locke, #2

OK, let’s fill up some empty space with a bit more of this, continuing from where we left off last time. For convenient reading, I’ve broken this up into three chunks, although it’s one continuous paragraph in the original 1754 edition of the Institutes of Natural Law:

“Mr. Lock has applied these principles to explane the introduction of property both in moveable and immoveable goods. And if we go on to examine what he says upon the subject, we shall find, that he has mistaken the exercise of a common right for the exclusive right of property.

“He that is nourished, says this writer, by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself, no body can deny but the nourishment is his. I ask then, When did they begin to be his? when he digested? or when he eat? or when he boiled? or when he brought them home? or when he picked them up? And ’tis plain, if the first gathering made them not his, nothing else could. That labour put a distinction between them and common: that added something to them, more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so they became his private right. And will any one say, he had no right to those acorns or apples, he thus appropriated, because he had not the consent of all mankind to make them his? Was it robbery, thus to assume to him- [p.53] self what belonged to all in common?”

The answer here is obvious. When those acorns or apples are become a part of his body, we may, if we please, say, that they are his: but the right, which he then has in them, is the same, which he has in his whole person; and is no more to be called a right of property, in the sense that we use this word, when we apply it either to moveable or immoveable goods, than the right, which a man has in his leg or his arm, cam be called by this name. When he gathered them, or when he boyled them, he had likewise a right in them; but it was just such a right as any one else might have had: a right, as one of the joint commoners, to use as much out of the general stock, as he had occasion for. It is by no means necessary either to allow on the one hand, that he had an exclusive right of property in them, or on the other hand to contend, that it was robbery, thus to assume to himself what belonged to all in common. There is a middle opinion between these two, which is the opinion already mentioned; that when he gathered them, and was eating them, he exercised his common right of using and enjoying, out of the joynt stock, what his occasions called for. Though therefore we contend, that he could not acquire an exclusive right of property in them, or in any thing else, without the consent of mankind, either express or tacit; yet there is no fear of his being starved, whilst he is waiting for this consent; because in the mean time the exercise of his common right will sufficiently provide for his subsistence.

More soon, maybe.

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