John Locke is trying to justify original acquisition of private property rights. Locke argues that property in a thing should be allocated to the first person to labour on that thing. He was not talking about things that are already owned, but about things that are unowned or used in common by people in general.
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John Locke argues that “the first taker of a thing from the common legitimately acquires rights not because he was first but because and if and only if, he mixed his labour with the thing he takes”. To support his theory Locke gives the following argument.He states that we all have property in our own person. Since we have property in our own person, our bodies and the work of our hands is also our own. When we remove something from its natural state by mixing our labour with it, we are giving somehting of our own to it, so we make it our own property. However, two problems derive from this argument. First, it is not certain that we do own our bodies and second, even if we do own our bodies and consequently our labour, why should the mixing of our labour with a thing make this thing our property.
To justify his theory, Locke uses the example of the apple. He says that if we pick an apple and eat it, everyone agrees that the apple becomes our exclusive property at some point in the process whether it was when we picked it up, eat it or digested it. This cant be because everyone has consented to the appropriation, because if everyone’s consent was required for every appropriation we would all starve. The only thing that provides the justification that the apple somewhere in the process became our exclusive property is the labour expended on the picking of the apple.
According to Locke, there are two restrictions/provisos that need to be met for his justification of private property. The sufficiency and the spoilation provisos.
According to the sufficiency proviso, appropriations of a natural resource are justifiable provided that there is enough and as good left in commons for others to use. This proviso can be interpreted in many ways. The first meaning the sufficiency provision can have is that it is”justifiable to confer ownership of a thing on the person who first mixes his labour with , but only if this leaves enough like things remaining in the common for others to appropriate. According to Nozick, this interpretation of the proviso “if applied literally would rule out all acquisition of finite resources, however plentiful the supply. Another interpretation of the proviso is that “the appropriation by the person who mixes labour with a thing is justifiable if it leaves enough like things in the common for others to continue to make use of it. Here Nozick helds that if the appropriator compensated the others for their losss after an appropriation that violated the terms of the proviso, then this appropriation would be justifiable and legitimate. Another meaning of the proviso is that “appropriations are justifiable provided that they do not leave anyone worse of in general terms”. However, an interpretation like this could make the proviso useless and unecessary. Locke stated that the appropriation from the common not only makes as a whole better but also provides a positive benefit to non owners. To justify this locke compares the life of the American Indians and the comforts of the British. Even a king of a large and fruitful territory in America lives in worse conditions than a labourer in England. However by interpretating the proviso in this way, it would be satisfied in all cases and all appropriations would be justifiable since they leave everyone in the common in better terms and conditions. Another interpreation of the proviso is that an appropriation of a thing by a person who mixes his labour wiht it is justifiable as long as it leaves others with sufficient opportunities to provide for their own survival by labour- even if this involves labouring for money to acquire property by exchange.
The second requirement that needs to be met for Lockes theory of acquisition is the spoilation proviso.According to the spoilation proviso any appropriation which leads to a waste of resources is illegitimate, regardless of whether it diminishes the supply or the prospects available for others. Exploitation of natural resources is unjustifiable if it involves taking more than can be used and wasting the surplus. However this doesnt mean that the proviso isnt met with the invention of money because it is legitimate to take more than you need if you intend to sell it and not let it waste.
To conclude, John Lockes theory is very important. Natural resources can be exploited to their fullest extend only by people working on them. The people will choose to take the necessary work if they are rewarded by the allocation of private property in whatever is produced by their work. So a clear simple rule that labouring on a thing always and automatically allows you to take the thing laboured is a simple and effective reward for the expenditure of the necessary labour.
To examine the importance of Lockes theory we must examine its present relecance. As Locke himself helds, original acquisition of the land in this country was not possible in Lockes time and is not today. However new categories of no property constantly come into existence and when a new resource comes into being or a pre-existing resource becomes scarce, through Lockes theory we can provide a sufficient answer on whether and how it should be reduced to ownership. Moreover, Lockes theory provides justification for giving ownership of newly created things to the creator but also justification to consider those newly created things as property at all.