John Locke Theory of Private Property

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Locke makes clear in the Second Treatise that the ownership of property has been problematic in prior political philosophy. This is because of the common idea that the earth and everything in it belongs to all men mutually, as they were bestowed by God the creator. Thus it can become uncertain how one man can lay claim to own part of what was not originally his, and thereby, exclude that part from the rest of humanity. Locke suggests two different arguments in which private ownership can exist justly even if derived from a public good: one based on natural right and another based in utility. The first of which explains that men have a natural right to acquire and possess property; this argument is the most important to the overarching theme of his work. Locke’s overall political theory tells that men have inherent, natural rights in the state of nature, rights which are independent of larger society: they are life, liberty and property (¶124). Locke argues that despite the fact that God gave earth to mankind in common, men own their own bodies, including what we put into our bodies such as food and that which we make from our bodies, so “excludes the common right of other men” (¶27). The example of food actually becomes a cornerstone in Locke’s logic of natural property rights. Locke insists everyone is bound to preserve himself by reason, (¶6) such preservation requires the intake of food; therefore man is inclined to possess private property to preserve himself. Reason cannot deny that the food a man eats is his because in eating it he has excluded the rest of man from nourishment from it, but private property goes beyond what we can acquire simply to survive. Locke argues it is not the digestion of a food that makes it one’s private property, he states: “If the first gathering made them not his, nothing else could” (¶28). By obeying man’s natural right to
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