Rutherforth on Locke, #3

A bit more, carrying on from where we left off. I’ve indented the quotes from Locke, to break up the long paragraphs somewhat.

That it is this common right which a man exercises, when he separates a thing for his own use, and claims to use it, because he has so separated it, will appear [p.54] from the limitation, which Mr. Lock himself puts upon what he calls property, when it is thus acquired.

“God has given us all things richly, is the voice of reason, confirmed by inspiration. But how far has he given it us? To enjoy. As much as any one can make use of, to any advantage of life, before it spoils, so much he may, by his labour, fix a property in: whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy.”

But certainly, to take no more than we want, or no more than we can make use of, before it will be spoiled, is a limitation unknown to property: it belongs only to the exercise of a common right in a joynt stock; where no one of the commoners has an exclusive right to keep, but all and each of them have a joint right to use.But Mr. Lock endeavours to take off this limitation, and to shew us by what means, upon the same principles, property might be accumulated.

“The greatest part of things really useful to the life of man, and such as the necessity of subsisting made the first commoners of the world look after, as it doth the Americans now, are generally things of short duration; such, as if they are not consumed by use, will decay and perish of themselves: gold, silver, and diamonds, are things, that fancy or agreement hath put the value on, more than real use, and the necessary support of life. Now of those good things, which nature hath provided in common, every one had a right to as much as he could use, and property in all he could effect with his labour; all, that his [p.55] industry could extend to, to alter from the state nature had put it in. He that gathered a hundred bushels of acorns, or apples, had thereby a property in them, they were his goods, as soon as gathered. He was only to look, that he used them before they spoiled, else he took more than his share, and robbed others. And indeed it was a foolish thing, as well as dishonest, to hoard up more than he could make use of. If he gave away a part to any body else, so that it perished not uselessly in his possession, then he made use of it. And if he also bartered away plums, that would have rotted in a week, for nuts, that would last good for his eating a while year, he did no injury; he wasted not the common stock; he destroyed no part of the portion of goods, that belonged to others, so long as nothing perished uselessly in his hands. Again, if he would give his nuts for a piece of metal, pleased with its colour, or exchange his sheep for shells or wool, for a sparkling pebble or diamond, and keep them by him all his life, he invaded not the rights of others; he might heap up as much of these durable things, as he pleased; the exceeding the bounds of his just property not lying in the largeness of his possessions, but the perishing of any thing uselessly in it.”

But this writer seems here to take for granted the point in question. We contend, and he allows, that the right of him, who gathered acorns or plums, extends no farther than to such a quantity of them, as he can use before they are spoiled: and in shewing how this limitation may be removed, he reasons as if there was no such limitation. How else should he, who had collected more plums, than he could use before they were [p.56] spoiled, or more sheep than he wanted to cloath or to feed himself, barter away the plums for nuts, which would keep the year round, or for metal, that would keep as long as he lived? The very notion of bartering implys property. Our author therefore must suppose the man to have property in what would spoil before he can use it; or else he could not suppose him to barter it away: that is, since this contrivance of bartering was introduced, to shew how property might be accumulated, or to take off the limitation of appropriating no more than can be used, whilst it is good; in order to apply this contrivance, he must suppose the limitation to be taken off already, and the man to have property in plums, or sheep, which he does not want, and which he could not use, before they would perish in his hands. Indeed in mankind would consent and submit thus to barter one with another; this consent would be sufficient to take off the limitation, and to introduce a true right of property. For if I knowingly and willingly bargain with another about my own goods, which are in his possession, as if they were his; this act of mine may well be construed as a tacit consent to make them his. And if in like manner mankind would bargain with one another about goods, which belonged to all in common, as if they were the property of the possessor, they tacitly give up their claim to those goods, and so they become his property. But property, when introduced after this manner, is introduced by consent of parties, and not by the labour, which the possessor, or occupant, has employed in separating the things, which he possesses, from the common stock.

More to come…

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