We Hold These Truth's to Be Self-Evident … That No Man's Property Shall Be Considered Equal …

Topics: Property, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke Pages: 7 (2690 words) Published: April 13, 2013
John Locke's political beliefs have stood the test of time. Most American's may know realize that when Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he used Locke's Second Treatise of Government as inspiration. In fact, the most famous line from this historic document is nearly entirely Locke. And if one were to scratch at the surface of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” 1, one would find the thin veneer of Jeffersonian philosophy disappear leaving nothing but John Locke's libertarian ideals.

Today, the differences between Jefferson's interpretation and Locke's original quote may seem vast. Yet, this contrast is merely superficial. Jefferson may have opted to change the word 'property' in Locke's original draft to 'happiness' for the Declaration, but the original underlying meaning was basically left in tact. After all, in his Second Treatise Locke did write that it should be lawful for one to use his personal property to find happiness in his own life: the state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions … they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another's pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another's uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our's. 2

The very idea that a person would or even should be allowed to find pleasure in an inanimate object seems completely absurd to most. Still, the irrationality most would see in this concept is nothing more than hypocritical. One may not openly admit that they find happiness in their personal possessions, but the simple truth is that every single person enjoys nothing more than having a place to call home, different articles of clothing to wear, and eating a meal. These forms of property don't even include the countless unnecessary objects that people spend thousands on every year.

Although the word 'property' is understood in a far more literal sense today, this supposedly commonsense definition is very far from the philosophical context in which it was meant. The truth that Locke had attempted to portray in his work was based on his idea that man should be able to do and use anything for his own benefit. Basically, that anything one puts a part of himself in has essentially become his own personal property: The law man was under, was rather for appropriating. God commanded, and his wants forced him to labour. That was his property which could not be taken from him where-ever he had fixed it. And hence subduing or cultivating the earth, and having dominion, we see are joined together. The one gave title to the other. So that God, by commanding to subdue, gave authority so far to appropriate: and the condition of human life, which requires labour and materials to work on, necessarily introduces private possessions … The measure of property nature has well set by the extent of men's labour and the conveniencies of life: no man's labour could subdue, or appropriate all; nor could his enjoyment consume more than a small part; so that it was impossible for any man, this way, to intrench upon the right of another, or acquire to himself a property, to the prejudice of his neighbour, who would still have room for as good, and as large a possession (after the other had taken out his) as before it was appropriated. This measure did confine every man's possession to a very moderate proportion, and such as he might appropriate to himself, without injury to any body, …3

While Locke believed that man should not take more than is immediately needed, because wastefulness is essentially creating scarcity...
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