John Locke defined property right as right acquired through fixing of property by means of mixing personal labour with natural resources. Locke asserts that what constitutes primary title for property is labour. In the state of nature, a man’s labour is his own and what he mixes with his labour becomes his own. He focuses attention on propounding natural right to property. As man has the right and duty to self-preservation, so has he the right to the means required for this purpose. He argues that God, who gave the world to men in common, gave them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience. However, he sets limit to what a man can mix with his labour and convert to his property. For him, the same law of nature that gave man property also sets acquisition limit such that as much as one can use for the advantage of life before it spoils can he with his labour fix as property. The implications of Locke’s position on property right is that if mixing of labour with resources lying in nature is the only criterion for property right then those who acquire theirs through other means such as inheritance, gift, transfer and trade cannot claim any property right in them because they did not mix any personal labour with resources lying in nature to fix them as property. Though, Locke is correct by proposing mixing of labour with resource lying in nature as the condition for property right, it is not the only means of property acquisition. Property can also be acquired through inheritance, transfer, gift and transaction on already acquired piece of property. However, its strength is that it addresses the prevalent social ill of demanding and receiving emoluments without proportional work output.
- Background to the Study
I had an experience about villages in Umualor community that declare lands which had been apportioned as personal lands communal and began afresh to reapportion those lands to individuals who were ready to build houses thereby depriving the owners who had no fund to start building houses on their own portions where they already have other economic trees their rights to those lands and economic trees. Very often the Government acquires someone’s personal land for construction purpose without compensation in the name of overriding public interest. People, especially widows and orphans sometimes came to my office to complain about having their personal belongings claimed from them by usurpers. These experiences have inspired me to undertake a research on how legitimate property right can be acquired.
One of the problems facing philosophy today is the issue of property right. The problem focuses on property as a general term for rules governing access and control of land and material resources. These rules are disputed with regard to their general shape and their particular application. In the words of Heinrich Rommen, ‘“thou shall not steal” presupposes the institution of private property as pertaining to the natural law’[i]. Consequently, there are interesting philosophical issues about justification of private property ownership despite the opinion of some philosophers. For instance, John Rawls argues that questions about the system of ownership are secondary or derivative questions, to be dealt with pragmatically rather than as issues in ethical philosophy.[ii] Many more philosophers have developed theories aimed at analyzing the problem of property ownership. John Locke is one of such philosophers. He argues that God gave the world to men in common, and gave them `reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience. There must necessarily be a means of appropriating those resources owned in common some way or another.[iii] In line with this, Frederick Copleston states that Locke is of the view that, though God has not divided the earth and things on it, reason shows that it is in accord with divine will that there should be private property.[iv] John Locke undertook an intellectual excursus on justification of private property ownership. His theory of property right is built on the nature of property and the nature of the labour. Private property ownership arises from naturally existing resources through application of labour.[v] Labour is both the justification and the means to have legitimate private property. Locke’s theory also seems to place limits on the property acquisition and sets precedence to the ultimate need to protect property by means of governance. [vi] Previous studies on Locke’s concept of property right focused attention on analysis, clarification and evaluation of the concept of property. Little or no attention was paid to articulating its implications in daily life and applying it to specific situations, hence, the need for this study. This project is concerned with issues that relate to this.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
The problem of this study is whether labour can be the only criterion upon which property right can be based. If labour is the only criterion for claiming property right, it implies that inheritance, transfer, mortgage and gift-giving cannot yield property right. On the contrary if inheritance, transfer, mortgage and gift-giving are sources of property right, then John Locke’s assertion that what constitutes title for property right is labour[vii] is not absolute. If this is true, then Locke’s theory can only specify necessary but not sufficient conditions for an individual to become the legitimate owner of an object which has not previously been owned by any individual. This is the problem which this work sets out to analyze.
1.3. Thesis of the Study
In this work the author sets out to defend the fact that though labour gives right to private property as Locke claims, labour is not the only means of acquiring right to private property. Property right can also be acquired through inheritance, transfer, mortgage and gift.
1.4. Purpose of the study
The main objective of this study was to investigate the implications of labour as the only criterion for property right in John Locke. Specific objectives were to: (i) expose Locke’s notion of property right, (ii) investigate the implications of Locke’s position on property right and (iii) highlight the strengths and weaknesses of Locke’s concept of property right.
1.5. Scope of the Study
This research is limited to an examination of implications of John Locke’s theory of property right. It is also limited to an intellectual understanding of right to private property ownership and will not in any way lay claim to being exhaustive because learning is an ongoing activity.
[i] Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law, Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy, (Indiana: Liberty Fund Inc., 1998), 57
[ii] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 274
[iii] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, (New York: Everyman’s Liberary, 1978), 129
[iv] Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 5, (London: Continuum, 2003), 129
[v] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, 132
[vi] Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 5 130
[vii] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, 132