PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Wednesday March 12, 2003

[2.4.] The State of War. Hobbes held that the state of nature (life outside political society, i.e. anarchy) is a state of war of all against all; thus he did not distinguish between the state of nature and the state of war. Locke, on the other hand, thinks there is an important distinction between the two. Locke defines the state of war as follows:


the state of war: initiated when one individual moves to violate another's natural rights, either by attempting to kill him, enslave him, or steal his property.


In the state of war:

·         an individual has the natural right to defend himself against those who would violate his natural rights

·         when A initiates a state of war between himself and B by trying to steal B's property, B then has the right to kill A when A is attempting to rob B  -- even if A was only attempting to steal B's "horse or coat" (III:19, p.466)


A state of war can be initiated in the state of nature AND in political society:


in the state of nature:


the state of war continues even after the robbery has taken place, and the victim has the right to kill the thief "until the aggressor offers peace…" (III:20, p.466)

in political society:


when "the actual force is over, the state of war ceases" (III:20, p.466); at that point, the laws become relevant, and the victim has the right to pursue redress under those laws.


BUT… if there is a "manifest perverting of justice" (the aggressor is allowed to go free because of some corruption of the legal system), this initiates another state of war upon the victim, who then has the same rights as described above.


"One great reason" men take themselves out of the state of nature and into society (i.e. a reason that governments are established) is to avoid the state of war (although, as Locke himself illustrates in III:20, the state of war can come about even in civil society, if the judicial system is unjust).

[2.5.] Property.[i]


Locke wants to explain how one individual can have rights to property to which another individual does not have rights, given that God has given the earth and its contents to mankind. (V:25, p.468)


Based on these two assumptions…

·         God gave the earth and its contents to us for our subsistence

·         each has a right to take what he needs in order to live (V:26)

·         each individual begins with "property" of his own, viz. himself and his own labor (V:27)


…Locke describes the following constraints on individual property rights:

C1.  You have a right to appropriate that with which you have "mixed" your own labor [V27-30] {It's worth noting that Locke thinks that the vast majority of value men derive from the materials they've been given by God comes from their own labor -- he goes on about this at great length, V:37-44}

C2.  You have a right to appropriate only as much as you can use before it spoils (letting something spoil undermines God's purposes for giving us property in the first place) [V:31]

C3.  You have a right to appropriate only so much that you leave enough for others to take care of themselves [V:33]


Any resource that doesn't meet at least one of these three criteria for private ownership is owned in common by everyone.


With these constraints, individuals would be far more limited in their property rights than they are in modern society… and in Locke's own society.


But Locke made a further assumption: while in the state of nature, man introduced money. This has the effect of extending man's natural rights to property by changing the first constraint and loosening the other two.


changing constraint 1: with currency, X can pay Y for Y's labor -- and that labor then becomes X's. If it's then mixed with common property, that property becomes X's. E.g. I hire three laborers to fell trees and build a house for me in the forest. Since I'm paying for their labor, the product of the labor (the house and cleared land) is now mine. (Cf. Locke's reference to "the turfs my servant has cut", V:28, p.468)


loosening constraint 2: perishables can be converted to non-perishable cash ("some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling" V:47, p.473; "gold and silver, which may be hoarded up without injury to any one; these metals not spoiling or decaying in the hands of the possessor." V:50, p.474)


loosening constraint 3: money leads to widespread commerce; as a result, it becomes profitable for an individual to own land that produces more than he himself can use; this will lead to some individuals owning lots of land and others owning no land. But this is acceptable, since cultivated land is worth ten times as much to mankind as uncultivated land, i.e. it will produce ten times as much. It's OK for some to own lots of land and others to own none, since the landowners will use that land to produce enough goods to enable everyone to live. Another way of looking at this: an individual doesn't necessarily need land to live; he needs what the land produces. So C3 doesn't imply that it's wrong for a landowner to own so much land that others are left without land; as long as those who don't own land have enough of what the land produces to live, then C3 is not violated. [V:37]


The introduction of currency undermines the constraints that natural law places on property appropriation and ownership and results in a virtually unlimited natural right to own property.


It is important that this happens in the state of nature, before the introduction of government. This is because one reason for the introduction of government is to defend the right of individuals to own property.



[i] This section is informed by C. B. Macpherson's introduction to his edition of Second Treatise (Hackett, 1980).

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