Locke Interpretations.

by Kirill Sakharov

About interpretation of social contract given by Locke

The only obligation that society has to each other as a result of the social contract is the obligation to justly protect each others´ negative right to property. All other obligations that members of a society have to follow are simply a means to that end. While no further obligations need to exist in society if the goal was to simply protect existing property, the ultimate goal of securing the ability to pursue property for every member requires additional social obligations. However, these obligations are nothing more than the positive half of the rights that come with the social contract. The negative half of the rights is the more obvious half of the set of rights and the half more often associated with Locke´s social contract. The right to not have anyone take your property away from you is a negative right that most would think is the fundamental right necessary to support the social contract. Yet these negative rights have to be supported by positive rights. If someone does violate your negative right to your own property you would have the positive right to have that property retrieved and the offender properly punished by the government.

The positive rights Locke outlines, in the form of social obligations, are a necessary part of the social contract. Locke sees an obligation for others to take only so much property so that it does not perish in his or her possession "...he who gathered as much of the wild fruit, killed, caught, or tamed, as many of the beasts, as he could; he that so implied his pains about any of the spontaneous products of nature, as any way to alter them from the state which nature put them in, by placing any of his labor on them, did thereby acquire a propriety in them: but if they perished, in his possession, without their due use; if the fruits rotted, or the venison purified, before he could spend it, he offended against the common law of nature, and was liable to be punished..." (Sec 37) The implication is that everyone has an obligation to not let property go to waste. This obligation therefore leads to the existence of money, a property that does not spoil but still as value to be exchanged for other property. The part of that section that seems to violate Locke´s strict definition of property follows the quotation immediately, "he invaded his neighbor's share..." The implication of that phrase points toward a different definition of property. Even though the aforementioned neighbor has not put in labor into some fruits, those fruits that others have put labor into that have gone rotten are somehow his "share" of property. It seems that it is possible to gain property without putting labor into it. That "share" rule seems to only apply to life sustaining property such as food and shelter. But other social obligations do not stop there.

There seems to be a social obligation to maintain the social contract. There are explicit and implicit examples of such an obligation. The explicit example is the paternal obligations that Locke mentions. He says that parents are obliged "to preserve, nourish, and educate the children they had begotten." (Sec 56) Not only are parents obliged to ensure their children's well being by preserving and nourishing them, but also they obliged to educate them so that they fit society and know the limitations of their social contract. The implicit example is the creating of a government to mediate property disputes and protect property. "And thus every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation, to every one of that society, to submit to the determination of the majority..." (Sec 97) The majority is society, represented by the government. If we do not put ourselves and our disputes at the determination of government then it can exercise its powers towards preserving its members´ property. These obligations may look like Locke has something else in mind other than strictly the preservation of property, in that we might have obligations, such as obeying the government, that seem to work towards an end that is something different than the strict preservation of one´s property, but that is not the case.

Every single one of Locke´s obligations is a positive right that serves as support for the negative rights that serve to make up his social contract. "The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property;" (Sec 222) The fundamental negative right that the social contract is based on is the right to not have others take your property. Locke defines property as almost an extension of one's self, as one´s property is anything that the person put labor into. It could be said that one's life is one's property (a statement that is hard to argue). Thus, if someone attempts to deny that person access to life sustaining property, such as fruit, and on top of it take so much of the fruit such that it spoils instead of reaching that person, then it could be said that the person is being denied his negative right of not having others deny him his property. Thus there need be a positive right that ensures that everyone gets all the life sustaining property, as defined by the majority (government i.e. legislature), so that the greed of others does not infringe to deny people their property of life.

"The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it." (Sec 22) Even though there is a positive right, an obligation, to obey government and its determination, this obligation is not absolute and is legitimized by consent. This consent to be under legislative power is made only to enforce the negative right to protection of property. "There is therefore, secondly, another way whereby governments are dissolved, and that is, when the legislative, or the prince, either of them, act contrary to their trust." (Sec 221) Anytime a government fails its function and its trust the people have a right to dissolve it instead of obeying it. "Their power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power, that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never* have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects. The obligations of the law of nature cease not in society... fundamental law of nature being the preservation of mankind" (Sec 135) Property can only add to the common stock of mankind as outlined in Section 37, for 1 acre of claimed and labored on land yields as much as 100 acres of wild land. In order to preserve mankind, the fundamental law of nature all must follow, we must have the social contract to preserve the right to property in order to add to the common stock of mankind and provide life sustaining property to everyone. The only obligation that we have that does not act to support the negative right to property and noninterference is the obligation to follow the fundamental law of nature and preserve mankind.

Initially submitted at Mar. 20, 2008; 17:33

Dec. 6, 2017; 14:40 EST


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