John Locke


John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873, Inspired by the happenings in America, wrote one of the MOST ELOQUENT AND PERSUASIVE ESSAYS EVER about social and political freedoms. ON LIBERTY

John Locke: Second Treatise

Four main elements in the Second Treatise:

1. There is Right of resistance to unjust authority

2. Theory of Consent

3. Theory of Property

4. Theory of Trust

Second Treatise

How Does Locke begin his discussion of a Political System? Just as with Hobbes he begins with an account of the state of nature. He treats this account of humans in the state of nature as a natural stepping off place to discuss human beings in civil society, IE. in a political system. Just as with Hobbes, Locke's account of human nature in the state of nature will shape his picture of the political system. What are human being like trustworthy, deceitful, greed or generous, honest or liars, cooperative of self-interested?

How does Locke portray the State of Nature?

State of nature is a state of perfect freedom

Laws of Nature are used to regulate and guide our behavior in the state of nature

Condition of Equality "No one being more than another"

Duties--We wish to be loved.

Liberty not Licence. Liberty is not the right to do whatever you wish free of all self-constraints [Militias out West often seem to collapse any distinction between liberty and license.] Crucial component of the classic liberal view is that along with rights there are duties and obligations.

On Locke's reading of human nature and the state of nature people don't live in constant fear of violent death. Life is not "solitary, mean, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Perfect freedom in the state of nature works fairly well. Men don't abuse their liberty and go about threatening the well being of their neighbors.

What Happens when disputes arise? Who adjudicates Them?

No matter how idyllic the state of nature or no matter how pacific one's picture of human nature disputes will arise. There will be argument about property lines, about infidelity of the wife or husband, of children traumatizing the neighbor's cat, etc. Life goes on in paradise. How are disputes handled when are actions clash with claims of others? Locke's answer might seem quite surprising even naive, but he feels that:

* ---- Humans will willingly regulate their own behavior.

* -- He rather pointedly insists that the state of nature is not a state of war. Quoting from the Second Treatise: And here we have the plain difference between the state of nature and state of war, which however some men have confounded, area as far distant as a state of peace, goodwill, mutual assistance, and preservation, and a state of enmity, malice, violence and mutual destruction are one from another." [Locke, Second Treatise, Wooton, ed. p. 317b]

---- Humans in the state of nature are rational and responsible. Rationality is intrinsic to human beings. While we can train and develop our reasoning abilities we all possess certain capacities simply because we are human. [Another important step in the defense of equality, even while Locke is not and egalitarian democrat.

-------------------- Hobbes and Locke on the State of Nature. Perhaps the basic difference between Locke and Hobbes is that Locke believes that the state of nature need not be warlike because he has faith in man's in men's willingness to forbear from resorting to force. Despite the lack of a common judge in the state of nature to resolve the inevitable disputes humans will normally settle their differences amicably. It will not be a state of anarchy.

[Possible discussion topics: How would we try and settle on which picture is more accurate? Who has it right Locke, Hobbes, or later Rousseau? Where would we look for evidence? Is this question so lost in the shrouds of the state of nature that there is no real answer that is possible? This is a good question for the social sciences, how should we go about trying to answer it? There is no one single or knock down answer that we can offer: Locke and Hobbes offer several possible clues. Let's begin with them.

1. They both suggest that we look into ourselves. How would we describe our own feelings, fears, violent tendencies, etc.? Perform a thought experiment, suppose that we had Gyges Ring that made us invisible, how would we act? Would we steel, rob, become a peeping Tom or Alice? If we would not, why not? What would keep our behavior in check? Is it because of our religious values, moral values, conscience, have a reasoning capacity, sense of dignity and integrity? That just pushes the question up or down another level. There would probably be considerable variation in how people would respond. Some would lie and cheat others would "violently" resist it. Why the differences? Obviously it has to do with our upbringing, the values are parents tried to instill, the effect on us of a friend, our girl friend or boy friend and their expectations.

To push this question to a higher, or different level would there be varying responses dependent on different cultures? Why for example are the frequency of certain crimes -- rape, murder, robbery, child molestation, serial killers -- different from culture to culture? Why have there been periods of history in which the level of violence has been extremely high and other times in which it drops significantly? Are there biological differences between cultures which explain these variations? (It might be quite useful to have some slides of comparative figures on murder, robbery, etc. amongst other Western developed countries and conversely with developing countries.) It is also relevant to possible raise questions about differences between races on such measures. For example, the recent book the Bell Curve has argued for a variation amongst Asians, Whites and Blacks on IQ. These have a genetic basis and that this has real implications for social policy. (Use your notes). Most Americans probably disagree with the argument in the Bell Curve about IQ, but suppose we shift the argument to violence or the tendency to violence. Don't many Americans hold rather definite views about the differences between various races and the likelihood that they will commit crime. (It might be relevant to bring in figures here about the differential penalties for Blacks and Whites for similar crimes. Are there similar figures for Hispanics?) Isn't this another way of saying how crucial are implicit assumptions about human nature is?

---- Psychological Studies -- We might add further evidence here from studies in psychology which suggest variations between boys and girls on how they resolve differences. Girls play more of a role of getting the group to work together of helping people to feel comfortable.

---- Anthropological Studies -- Again returning to both Hobbes and Locke they point to the Indians of American. They are assuming that they are somehow more primitive and therefore closer to nature. We can read from their behavior what is more natural before civilization and culture so reshaped their behavior. There are some famous studies by Turnball about tribes in Africa that seem incredibly violent. There are also studies that suggest much more pacific types of people. Why the differences? Is one tribe more primitive, and what does primitive and civilized mean in this context?

Perhaps the basic difference between Locke and Hobbes is that Locke believes that the state of nature need not be warlike because he has faith in men's willingness to forbear from resorting to violence. Despite the lack of a common judge the result need not be a violent anarchy. How does Locke Try to Prove that his Discussion of the State of Nature and Human Nature is Correct?

1. Bible -- He cites the bible in particular sections from King David

2. Judicious Hooker -- He refers to the "Judicious Hooker" Poor Hooker, an English political theorist, is known for a little more than this citation from Locke. [Wooton, p. 742]

3. Introspection -- He tells us just as did Hobbes look inward. Man's Inward Sense tells us what we are really like. Unfortunately the inward picture of Hobbes and Locke is very different.

4. Indians in America -- Just as with Hobbes he refers to accounts that are just appearing in Europe about the Wild Indians of American. Since they are more primitive and therefore closer to nature they can tell us something of what we were once like before society and civilization. Again Hobbes has also referred to similar reports, but seems to find quite a different picture of the violent or non-violent nature of these Indians.

Human Nature as an Empirical Question

There is great controversy about how to conceive of human nature. How violent or pacific are we? Do we seek live alone or in groups? Are we self-interested or capable of co-operative behavior? Can we be educated or modified if the conditions are right? And then most fundamentally, just what follows from these accounts of human nature? what in the impact on social policy? For example in the Bell Curve they argue that the efforts to aid minorities is doomed to failure, throwing good money after bad. ---------------------------------------------------------------

Property in Locke

There are two central questions that Locke raises about Property:

1. Why have property rights at all?

2. How can those who have attained to the status of property ownership justify their privileged position?

Locke begins his discussion of property in a quite interesting fashion: God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience. The earth and all that is therein is given to men for the support and comfort of their being. And though all the fruits it naturally produces, and beasts it feeds, belong to mankind in common, as they produced by the spontaneous bond of nature, and no body has originally a private dominion exclusive of the rest of mankind in them, as they are thus in their natural state, yet being given for the use of men, there must of necessity be a means to appropriate them some way on other before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial, to any particular men. [Wooton, ed. p. 319]

Private ownership is the most appropriate way to turn God's resources into human benefits. It is better that men act involuntarily, to carry out a task then it be left to collective ownership and operation. What things do we have the right to possess? How do we declare the rights of ownership?

Mixing our Labor

Whatever we have mixed our labor with then becomes our possession. We earn the right to property by mixing our labor with inert materials, and thereby giving those materials a higher value and greater usefulness. We take a tree from nature and change ti into a chair. We add value by mixing our labor with agriculture products, mining, manufacturing. World was given to us in common, but it is not supposed that it was meant to stay that way.

What are the limits to What we Can Possess?

We can take only so much as we can make use of. We can take any more than will rot. This is not to say that everyone would have the exact same amount. People vary in size, weight, metabolism, but still for everyone they are limited to appropriating only so much as they can use. Locke is setting out what is often called and Entitlement Theory of Property. Ownership is justified by its productive character. By mixing our labor with these goods the overall value is increased to the society and the individual retains the right to ownership.

Labor Theory of Value

How do we determine the value of a good? The Laws of Supply and Demand. The value of a good is dependent upon the price that the consumer is willing to pay for it. Look at what follows from that. No matter what amount of labor we have put into the good that will not determine whether we will sell it or what price it will get. The Labor Theory of Value has a certain appeal. The value is dependent upon our labor. We are being rewarded for our contribution. Supply and demand often seems to reward us for rather arbitrary reasons that we have no control over.

The Inequitable Distribution of Property

In the early arguments of Locke in defense of property ownership there are clear limits to what we can possess. The earth is held in common and we can only acquire as much property as we can use. Clearly Locke is well aware that in contemporary society -- England in mid-Seventeenth Century -- there is no equality in the distribution and ownership of property. There are great differences between rich and poor and Locke is not arguing against that.

Gold, Silver and Money: Use and Rot

The limits on the ownership of property were altered with the appearance of money and Gold. Gold does not rot. We can acquire as much as we like and like Midas hoard it in our cellar. But the crux of Locke's argument is not over rotting or not it turns rather on how money acquires value. The value of gold depends on the value that we give it. Money has an arbitrary value dependent on its role a medium of exchange. By agreeing to establish a monetary system we are also agreeing to the unequal distribution of money. Inequality in the distribution is a natural result of a money system. Some people are going to be cleverer, brighter, luckier and they will acquire more. Locke defends the unequal distribution of property under his theory of consent. We are consenting to the unequal distribution of property. Why is it legitimate, or is it, for some people to be millionaires and others paupers? Is Locke's argument for the unequal distribution of property a defensible one?

Discussion: Link to the Present Context: How Do We Justify the Ownership of Property?

1. Property is Unequally Distribute because it has always been that Way Many people simply take it as a given. What really lies behind that for some people is an argument about how they acquired that wealth.

2. Skill and Hard Work Hard work, schooling, intelligence entitle people to the money that they work for. The doctor of lawyer who spends long years in school and incurs large debts. They deserve some recompense for all the hard work

3. Equality of Opportunity Underpinning many of these arguments is a theory of justice -- Equality of Opportunity -- that says that we all start the race at the same point. Even while we all begin the race at the same point we are not equally successful. Some are brighter, sharper and they should be acknowledged.

Problems with our Conception of Justice and Distribution Inheritance and Passing It On

One of the classic problems for any theory of justice is how to handle the ability of the wealthy to make it much easier for their children to succeed. Where does the argument about skill, ability and hard work fit in here? Some people do begin the proverbial race of life with considerable advantage. How would we justify this in a theory of justice. 1) We have the right to retain what we have made with our own hard work and to pass that on to our children. 2) While some might begin the race with a real advantage it would require a too intrusive state to try and make right this inequality. 3) The state can try to partially level the field by providing an equal education for all. It can also try and assure that everyone has an equal chance to get a job. Decisions about who is qualified rest solely on their merit and skills rather than race, gender, sex, or class.

Background: Even while we pay considerable lip service to equality of opportunity there are many ways in which such equality is made very problematic.

1. Schools are not equal. In the state of Illinois there are sharp differences between Collar County schools and down state schools.

2. It can matter significantly in terms of our home life. What sort of milieu or atmosphere is set in the home? What sort of expectations? Parents can pass on very different values.

3. The neighborhood can shape our chances greatly. If there is considerable violence, drugs, etc. the chances for children are reduced significantly.

4. Intelligence and Good Looks John Rawls has raised the disturbing argument that there is a basic sense in which we are not responsible for our intelligence and cleverness. Some people are simply smarter and clever that others. Just like good looks it is not something we accomplished. It is something that we were born with and we just happened to be luckier than many other people.

Why is the question of the justification of ownership of property an important one for a just society?

1. Political Theorists, at least since Aristotle, have argued that classes differentiated by income are at the root of violence in society. The Oligarchy tries to solidify its wealth and the masses in a Democratic society seek to redistribute wealth.

2. If we take seriously questions of justice and fairness then we must provide some rationale in defense of our position.

3. Economic inequality bears on political inequality, particularly so in a Democratic society. To take one small example Campaign Finance Abuses are tied to the millions that some individuals can pour into a campaign.

Property in Locke: What are the Questions that he is Addressing? Authority, Power, Property Ownership, the State are the result of human action. They are not to be explained in terms of direct origin from God. God oversees the process, Christianity is the backdrop, but human choice is central. This picture of human volition as the origin of authority, power, property, the state poses a similar conundrum for a seventeenth thinker. There are at least related problems that Locke must answer in his political theory:

1. How can you derive a secure, stable noting of a right to property from something as fickle as human choice?

2. The second problem his theory of property must confront is how do you move from a theory which says property is held in common to a theory in which property is distributed very unequally?

3. Thirdly, how do You pass on contract signed in one generation to generations in the future? Whether Locke's answers here are in the end convincing and adequate that is arguable. They are subtle and shrewd. As we have argued the earth just as its inhabitants all belong to God. God has given property to humans to hold in common and given it to them to enjoy. We acquire a private right to property even while we have acquired it in common because of the mixing of our labor with the goods of the earth. Labor as a form of Property Locke sees our labor as part of the right to property that all human creatures have from birth. Our labor is like a personal possession, a piece of land, and it can not be taken from us.

Money and Gold

The device which enables humans to escape from a Communist utopia of common ownership is Gold. Locke's theory of money is an extension of his theory of consent. Money acquires its value arbitrarily. We set certain limits on what a dollar or piece of gold is worth. By consenting to money we are also consenting to the unequal ownership of property. It is important to remember that property like all rights exist in the state of nature. They are not something that we acquire from government and as a consequence can not be taken away from government.

Discussion: Property as a Right in the State of Nature Conservatives have taken Locks's discussion of property as a right acquired from the state of nature and therefore not subject to government as the basis for an argument about limited government and more particularly as a limitation to limit the taxing and regulatory power of the government. While Locke is clearly setting limits on the regulatory power of government he does allow for the state to regulate property. There is no absolute right to property. Property rights are limited by the law. The state can not arbitrarily or unjustly take or deny the property rights of its citizens, but it can still regulate that right.

Property as an Entitlement

Locke has provided a theory of entitlement about the ownership of property. Without entitlements there is no theory of justice. Injustice is to take away something to which a person has a right or is entitled. For example, the right to life, liberty, or material possessions are things to which we are entitled. Any theory of entitlement to a right must set certain bounds and limits. It is not an absolute right. We live and interact amongst others and must adjust our demands and claims to rights. For example is the entitlement to property of the same importance as entitlement to life and liberty? Can we make the same claim for all forms of property whether it is ten thousand dollars worth or ten million. As to the first question whether liberty is more fundamental than property, in a basic sense they are not severable for Locke. The justification for the right to property is that is protects our liberty. Property rights are a check on the power of the sovereign. It is part of the power of the purse. Property and liberty elide together.

The Right to Property and the Welfare State

While he is seldom cited Locke is a frequent backdrop to the contemporary arguments about reducing the size of the welfare state. But again how absolute is the right to property? Are all forms of property protected whether we are talking about those making less than 10,000 or those making 1,000,000.? Is the large corporation under the same protections as the smallest business? If the arbitrary use of power is central to the protection offered by the right to property does the actions of a GM or GE fill the bill of arbitrary use of power? If we are all god's creatures with a set of rights, the capacity to reason, and property held in common in the state of nature is there not a minimal entitlement to some property?

A Minimal Welfare State




Is the right to a minimal amount of material possessions which would necessitate a taking of property in the form of taxes more fundamental then the right to a beach house, a second Roles Royce, etc. I don't think that Locke offers any clear answer here about how far the protection to the right to property goes. What can we say with some certainty about Locke's theory of property?

1. He is using it to deny the right of a sovereign/monarch to do as he chose with material possessions. King Charles I had precipitated a Civil War by arbitrarily taking his subjects property in the name of national expansion.

2. God h as entitled us to the fruits of our labor. The state in contrast is a contract a human invention and convention. God's will in the form of property rights has priority over man's will.

3. Still it is not clear that Locke is saying that the state can not try and insure a basic minimum for all citizens. Profit derived from the fruits of out labor is clearly protected, but what about profits made from speculation, royal favoritism, or a large inheritance? Locke is a Christian like St. Thomas Aquinas who felt that the right to physical subsistence overrode the property rights of others. The refusal of a merchant to sell a good below market price or someone starving Locke would have said is immoral. In old age people deserve not only subsistence but a decent standard of living. God gave the world to humans in common distributed and they all have some claim on its benefit.