Archive for the ‘Locke’ Category

Locke on Downloading Music

After his recent trial, Joel Tenenbaum was ordered to pay a fine of $675,000 for downloading and sharing 30 copyrighted songs. With more cases like this every day it can be interesting to consider how famous political thinkers might view the issue of copyright infringement, especially involving the internet. In this post I’ll explore how John Locke might view the issue of downloading and sharing music.

In chapter 5 of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government he discusses his view on property. In his discussion of property he says that God gave the world to “all men in common,” but that “every man has a property in his own person.” From this Locke says that one’s labour is one’s property. This means that by removing something from the state of nature one mixes one’s labour with it and therefore makes it one’s property. Furthermore he says, “For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others.” This is important because it means that one can’t take something if it means there isn’t enough left for everyone else. In addition Locke stresses that one should only acquire “as much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils.”

While Locke mostly addresses physical property, his ideas on labour and property can still be applied to music. For example Locke might say that if someone writes a song then he or she has taken the sounds from nature and applied their labour to them, making that combination of sounds his or her property. This fulfills both of the restrictions on property Locke discusses; the music will never spoil and there are plenty of other perfectly good combinations of sounds for other musicians to use. Therefore Locke would probably agree that the songs Joel Tenenbaum downloaded were the property of the artists who made them.

However Locke agreeing that the music is the property of the musicians does not necessarily mean that he would agree that people like Tenenbaum should have to pay fines for downloading and sharing that music. What Locke seems most concerned with is that property doesn’t get taken away from the owner. However with the internet and digital copies, property such as music isn’t really ever taken away from the owner, copies are just given to others. Furthermore, going back to Locke’s Second Treatise of government Locke says, “For he that leaves as much as another can make use of does as good as take nothing at all.” If we apply this statement literally to music sharing, Locke would definitely say that it is wrong for Joel Tenenbaum to be fined for downloading music.

Therefore if one applies Locke’s ideas on property to downloading music, one can see that he would almost definitely consider the music the property of the artist, but at the same time would think it wrong to punish those who download music. Ultimately we’ll never know what John Locke would really think about Tenenbaum’s case and others like it, but speculating certainly is interesting.

Read Full Post »

            Throughout the readings on Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes, discussion centered around one ruler- a prince or sovereign.  John Locke introduced a new form of political thought based on the idea of separation of powers.  Hence, no one individual has absolute power.  In Second Treatise of Government, Locke talks about the idea of being free and equal, as well as other important topics that distinguish his ideas from his predecessors.  I will discuss why, according to Locke’s principles, democracy is a more successful form of government as opposed to tyranny or monarchy.

            Locke addresses ideas inherent or explicitly defined in prior methods of thought.  Specifically, he recognizes the popular belief that God gives kings authority, so kings have a divine right and justified claim to power.  Locke, however, challenges this because he proposes that people are free and equal.  Equality involves given rights of humanity because God make people equal such that one cannot dominate another.  This is a notion of justice that Locke then links to freedom.  An individual is free until his or her exercise of freedom harms another individual.  Justice also appears when Locke discusses the right to judge.  If anyone has executive power, then personal biases will eventually cause a problem.  Therefore, Lock suggests a common judge.  With a common judge, similar benefits from Hobbes’ sovereign allow for unbiased judgments and time efficient resolutions.  However, for Locke, the common judge does not make the laws as with Hobbes’ sovereign.  This allows for checks and balances on power to preserve personal freedoms.  In this case, one does have an obligation to the laws because an individual may be tried before the common judge, but there is also the right to revolt and appeal.  This highlights a key difference between Locke’s common judge and Hobbes’ sovereign.  We can also see this difference in the Unites States’ method of government today in that it is much more similar to Locke’s checks and balances and separation of powers.

            Benefits of allocating power appear when analyzing Locke’s explanations about the negative characteristics of usurpation and tyranny.  In the case of usurpation, the government has the power to overrule laws which adds an uncertainty to the government’s capabilities. Are there then no limits to the government’s rule?  With usurpation, the answer is no, so people may have constant fear toward the government.  In a tyrannical state, the ruler can take property, life, and freedom, again leaving the people with uncertainty and fear.  In these cases, as well as in a monarchy, denial of representation prevents the people from being able to speak out for themselves.  This oppression is a general harm for Locke and can lead to a long chain of abuses in the government.

            The benefits that a democracy brings include representation, separation of powers, and, perhaps most importantly, a guarantee of freedom and equality.  The constant state of feeling powerless and unable to elicit change is addressed through Locke’s ideas.  Recognizing the need for a government for protection, Locke gives us the preliminary ideas of a government run for the people and by the people, making Locke very influential toward the foundation of the United States’ government and its democracy today.

Rebecca Beagan Section 11

Read Full Post »

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to assert America’s independence from Britain. European philosophers, including John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, heavily influenced this document, demonstrating the significance of political theory because of its ability to inspire political action and affect the formation of new societies.

Jefferson’s justification for independence rested heavily on John Locke’s theory of natural rights because he believed that the British government was depriving the colonists of natural equality and liberty. He claimed, “All men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence); this idea is based on Locke’s belief that the state of nature is “a state also of equality” (Locke 287). Furthermore, Jefferson claims that people are “endowed… with certain unalienable rights” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence). In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, he claims that people have a “right of self-preservation” (Locke 292)(i.e. the right to life), which extends to the right to things that “affords for their subsistence” (Locke 293) therefore creating the right to property. The colonists believed that the British government was violating the right to property because it was taxing American colonists without allowing them representation in British Parliament. Additionally, people living in Britain were allowed to vote for members of Parliament, but American colonists were not. This violated Locke’s theory of natural equality and liberty, which influenced the colonists to rebel against the British government.

Thomas Jefferson also used Rousseau’s social contract theory to justify his assertion of independence. Jefferson stated, “Governments are instituted… deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence). The idea of consent stems from Rousseau’s On the Social Contract. He stated that this contract was a “reciprocal commitment” (Rousseau 433) between people in a society and the government they create. He believed a “social compact” (Rousseau 432) was needed to form a government in which people gave consent to the government being formed. During the American Revolution, American colonists believed that they were being subject to a government without their consent because of the “virtual representation” that did not allow them to vote for Parliament. They subsequently believed the government was not formed by a social contract as advocated by Rousseau so they rejected it. Furthermore, when they formed their new government, they used a social contract. They required at least nine out of the thirteen colonies to ratify the Constitution before it was adopted, and they instituted a government that allowed landowning males to vote for their representatives.

When the Americans decided to rebel against Britain, Jefferson justified the call for independence using the ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This shows that these political theories are significant and help shape societies. In America, John Locke’s theory of natural liberty and equality influenced the colonists to rebel against a government that denied them liberty by taxing them (taking away their property) and did not grant them the equal right to vote for Parliament that it provided to British citizens. Furthermore, they believed that they did not form a social contract with the British government, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated, so they formed a new government based on the consent of the people.

Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government.” Modern Political Thought. Ed.

David Wootton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. 287-297. Print

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “On the Social Contract.” Modern Political Thought. Ed.

David Wootton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. 432-433. Print

Read Full Post »

Locke on New Health Care

While reading a news article regarding President Obama’s healthcare plan, I began to think about what Locke would say in regards to this proposal.  Essentially, the article was a critique of the new plan and the basis on which it would work.  It simply stated how the plan would require all adults to have healthcare coverage.  A person that cannot afford coverage would be given it for free.  But, if a person that could afford healthcare but chose not to, they would be assessed a fine by the government.  One thing the government doesn’t tell us, however, is that the only way the new healthcare plan will be successful is for people not to comply so that the government may collect fine money.

Clearly, Locke theorizes his government to be run on specific sanctions, including a system where people get to indirectly judge themselves through representation while looking out for the best interest of its people.  In addition, Locke states that society will be one of inequalities.  In reference to the introduction of trading money for goods, Locke says “This partage of things in an inequality of private possessions, men have made practicable out of the bounds of society, and without compact, only by putting a value on gold and silver, and tacitly agreeing in the use of money” (Locke, Ch. 5).  Essentially, what Locke is saying is that the introduction of money and trade has made society more efficient by allowing specialization.  With this comes the accumulation of property but at a very low cost to human existence.

Based on Locke’s theory of inequality alone, I would argue that Locke would oppose the healthcare plan.  As a society that thrives on a multi-class system, we are granted the freedoms and liberties to make our own life decisions.  A bill that would force all citizens to purchase some sort of healthcare package clearly violates the liberties and principles on which civil society is founded and makes it run smoothly.  “The only way, whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community, amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it,” states Locke in Ch. 5.  Clearly, the reason we enter civil society is to protect our property and our liberties to “enjoy” them.  But with this new healthcare plan, the government rids us of our opportunity to enjoy some of our property.  Is having your own opinion and option of purchasing healthcare not a protection of our property?  Certainly, Locke would say it is, indicating his disapproval of the bill.

As a counterargument, many people may ask; what about taxes?  Taxes, however, are not very similar.  Taxes have come about as a result of our agreement to enter into civil society.  In order for government to function as we intended, these taxes are needed to fund the programs essential to having a successful government.

On another level it would violate our personal rights to accumulate money, a key aspect in Locke’s theory.  Locke indicates that since money cannot spoil, it can be collected to an infinite degree.  This money, as part of our own personal property, would be subject to protection under the government.  Thus, if a person were not to purchase healthcare, a personal liberty, their money (property) would be taken from them by the same institution meant to protect it.  And, as the article states, the whole healthcare plan’s success relies on the fact that it will have money to pay off the debts incurred by the plan through fining individuals who do not comply.  On the other hand, if all of the people were to comply with the new plan, no fines would be assessed.  Resulting from this would be a huge amount of debt on behalf of the whole country.

To this, Locke would say the government has gone too far.  He would argue that the government has overstepped its boundaries.  Instead of acting in the best interests of the people, they are disregarding what is in the people’s best interest.  Thus, the government is acting in tyranny.  With this being the case, we could begin to make an argument for revolt against the government.  However, at this point in time, a long train of abuses against the general will have not accumulated.

In addition, many may argue that since the purpose of the government is to protect our property, providing uniform healthcare for everyone accomplishes this goal.  With our body considered our own property, it can be said that the government should protect it.  But as Locke says, “every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself” (Locke, Ch. 5).

Locke, John.  “Second Treatises of Civil Government”.  Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, Second Edition. Edited by David Wooton. Hackett Publishing, Inc. 2008

Read Full Post »

On Consent

John Locke and Socrates talked about consent; how people tacitly consent by doing nothing, and expressed consent, when people state their consent.  I do not think that tacit and expressed are the only kinds of consent that we should consider.

Take homework for example- I do not expressly say that I am not going to do my homework, however I did technically make the decision not to do homework.   It is not necessarily express consent, but there is something between the two, express and tacit, I will call it conscious consent.  I may not say I am not going to write my blog post tonight, but I also did not just sit idly by and the blog post not get done.  I made a decision to watch Bones instead of do homework.  I consciously decided what was going to happen, maybe without considering the consequences.

I read a book by Dean Koontz called Velocity that reminded me of this tacit consent concept.  In the book the main character finds a note on his windshield- “If you don’t take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher somewhere in Napa County.  If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work.  You have six hours to decide.  The choice is yours.”  Thinking it was a joke the man does not do anything, and a schoolteacher is killed.  This was not tacit consent- the person chose not to report to the police because he thought that the note was a prank, not because he has something against blond teachers. 

This begs the question how do we decide when someone has consented to something.  When can we say that they consented because they allowed it to happen?  Is it fair to say that someone made a decision when they did not expressly make that decision?  Would that make this guy as guilty as the murderer himself?

Locke and Socrates would say that by not doing anything the man did decide.  Whether he meant to or not, he gave his consent for the schoolteacher to be killed.  Socrates said that by staying in Athens he had agreed to live by their laws and accept their punishment when they decided that he broke them.  Locke talked about people giving their consent by simply living somewhere.  While Locke and Socrates talk of consent in strictly a political sense- obeying the laws of where you live because you consented to them by living there- I wonder what they would have thought about Koontz’s main character and the murderers concept of consent.  Part of me wants to say that both would say that you cannot use tacit consent to justify murder.  However, the other part says that if they truly believe that people tacitly consent to things just by not doing something that they would agree with the murderer, the main character gave consent for the schoolteacher to be killed by not bringing the note to the police. 


Koontz, D. (2005). Velocity. Bantam Books.

Wootton, D. (2008). Modern Political Thought Second Edition. Hackett Publishing Company.

Read Full Post »

For anyone who might be interested, for our group project Jake and I created a website that is similar to a “choose your own adventure” novel that ventures through the various states of nature we have encountered in this course.  There is a full introduction on the home page of that website (available at http://sites.google.com/site/statesofnatureexperience/), so I won’t bore anyone with all of the details here on the blog.  The one thing that I want to request, for those of you willing to try the website, is that you put which state of nature (Locke, Rousseau, or Hobbes) you wind up in under the comments below this post.  So far, I’m aware of one Locke and one Rousseau from the people who have already experienced the website.  Thanks for your time!

Read Full Post »

Hobbes, Game Theory, and the BBC

One of my friends has recently been trying to get me to watch the BBC series “The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom”. So far, I’ve only watched the first episode (of three total), which discusses the implications of the notion of inherent self-interest and game theory during the Cold War. For those of you interested, The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, Episode 1

The episode seems to relate very well to our previous discussions of human nature in the course with further elaboration upon game theory. I would highly recommend watching it!

Olivia Lopez

Section 002

Read Full Post »

Locke 'N Load

The political philosophy of John Locke greatly influenced our Founding Fathers. This is evident by the long passages of Second Treatise of Government which were reproduced word for word in the Declaration of Independence. Locke’s ideas go on to influence the drafting of The Constitution of the United States of America, the oldest constitution that is still in use today. Amended into that document in 1791 was the Bill of Rights, which ensures us basic liberties. Most of us are familiar with these rights which include, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to due process, and others (The Constitution). However, some citizens question the logic of the 2nd Amendment, who’s text is reproduced below. The goal of this post is to make the logic of John Locke and our Founding Fathers clear regarding the inclusion of the 2nd Amendment into our Bill of Rights.

Text from The Constitution:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Text in Simple English:
“People have the right to have weapons, for example guns.”

The arguments in opposition of our 2nd Amendment Rights are based on the false notion that by living in a politic society with a common judge we have no need for weapons. In order for us to warrant nullifying the 2nd Amendment, we would have to show that there exist no cases in which a firearm or weapon could be used in a civil society. I will attempt to counter this reasoning by demonstrating that the philosophy of John Locke—one of the political and philosophical cornerstones that our nation was founded upon—has provisions in which the use of force, and thus, the use of weapons, would be permitted even in a modern civil society such as America.

First let us make clear Locke’s philosophies, beginning with the state of nature. In short, humans existed in “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature” (Locke §4). This state is governed by one law, “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke §6), this is the law of nature. Locke provides yet another state, called the state of war which is “a state of enmity and destruction…[arising from] designs upon another man’s life” (Locke §16). When we are put into a state of war, we have the right to take the life of that individual who has initiated this state of war and whom “has exposed his life to the other’s power to be taken away from him, or any one that joins with him in his defense” (Locke §16). As Americans, we have left this state of nature, for “want of a common judge with authority” (Locke §19).

This is where some Americans become confused with regards to the philosophy of Locke. ust because we have left this state of nature and relinquished our executive rights to a common judge does not mean that we need to relinquish our weapons as well. There are many cases in which there is neither the time, nor the option to seek remedy from a common judge.

A mugging for example. By using force, a mugger attempting to acquire your property is not only threatening to take that property, but, we can deduce, also threatening your life. For, if he is so willing to use unlawful force to acquire material goods, if he were to have you fully under his power, what would stop him from taking your life? The mugger merely poses the question, “your money or your life”. The mugger has not given you a choice, you “could not have time to appeal to the law to secure [your life], and when it was gone it was too late to appeal. The law could not restore life to [your] dead carcass. The loss was irreparable; which to prevent the law of Nature gave [you] a right to destroy him who had put himself into a state of war with [you] and threatened [your] destruction” (Locke §207). Locke’s philosophy holds true and we are given the right to defend ourselves, even if that means taking the life of the mugger. The mugger’s use of “force without right upon a [your] person makes a state of war both where there is, and is not, a common judge” (Locke §19).

“Where there is, and is not, a common judge”, this shows that Locke’s philosophy holds even after we have chosen to leave the state of nature by seeking a common judge with authority. Thus, Locke’s philosophies do allow for the use of force by the citizenry to defend themselves in situations in which there is no option of an appeal to a common judge. Next time you are posed with the question, “your money or your life”, choose both. Our 2nd amendment rights allow us to deal with those noxious animals—with fisticuff or firearm—who seek to impose their will upon us using unlawful force.

Works Cited:

The Constitution of the United States (1787).
Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. 1680. Print.

Read Full Post »

Locke on Palestine and Israel

There are multiple possible claims that give one title to property but two of the most persuasive are; who is in control of the land currently and who has historic claims to the land. I believe that this framework allows for a Lockeian analysis of land rights regarding the Israeli-Palestine debate. Locke specifically states his views on property inheritance and political obligations towards a conquering state in Chapter 16: Of Conquest, of his The Second Treatise on Government and how they relate to an individual and a state. These arguments can be used to further the debate over which political or social group holds a right to the land currently called Israel. A Lockeian perspective allows us to consider the efficacy of each side’s argument.

Approaching this debate from a Lockeian point of view starts with the idea of the right to paternal inheritance. Locke states that every man is born with the “right, before any other man, to inherit with his brethren his father’s goods” (Second Treatise of Government, Locke, pg. 338 Section 190), which seems like a fairly straightforward argument for the side of the Israelis; they controlled the land prior to their exile by foreign invaders. This argument though can only be upheld if one forgets the time prior to Israeli occupation. In fact this argument can only work between single generations. A man can only hold the right to his father’s land, not his grandfather’s nor his great-grandfather’s unless it has been passed to his father. And so we can see that this idea does not support Israeli control of the land. It is similar to the saying “possession is nine tenths of the law”; since the Palestinians have held the land for such an extended period of time, one could argue that in Locke’s view they now hold the rights to it.

The next argument one might make after reading Locke is the idea concerning the obligation of a controlled people towards occupying foreign governments. He states that “A government of a conqueror, imposed by force, on the subdued…has no obligation upon them” (Locke, pg. 338 section 187) which means that those under control of a foreign power are not obligated to obey the government. In the Israeli-Palestine debate one could argue that since the original citizens were invaded and exiled, that they have no obligation to the government and thus can take back the land that was taken from them. From this point of view the Israelis have every right to return to their ancestral homes and remove the Palestinians. This argument falls through though if one considers the fact that they were exiled. Since the government removed the people from the country they no longer were part of the government, and thus cannot revolt against it. The gradual return of the Israeli people to the land over time has reversed their exile, but since they returned the government is no longer a foreign power and thus they must oblige by its rule.

This is not to say that Locke would not want the Jewish people to have a specific homeland. Locke believes that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possession” (Locke, pg. 287 section 6) and from this one can deduce the idea that he would have wanted retribution for the Jewish people after what happened to them in World War 2. This does not give them the right to the land, unless both parties agree to the terms. Though a solution cannot be found, we can begin to understand the ideas behind claims to the land, and see the different aspects of the argument.

Read Full Post »

On Tuesday, November 3, voters of Washtenaw County rejected a proposal to raise their property taxes.  The revenue generated by the millage was supposed to go to the Washtenaw County public school system, comprised of 10 districts with the money being distributed to these districts on a per-pupil basis. (Michigan Daily)  The debate over this millage sparked my interest as I began to consider the perspectives of Locke and Rousseau on this issue.  I’ve concluded that although both are democratic, Rousseau would likely have been opposed to the outcome of the vote, whereas Locke would have supported the voters’ decision.

Rousseau asserts that the answer to the disaster that society has become is to form an association “which defends and protects with all common forces the person and goods of each associate” (Wootten, pg. 432). His ideal form of government acts in a manner that is consistent with the general will.  He states, “the general will is always right and always tends toward the public utility” (Wootton, pg. 437).  He also warns that the populace is not corrupted, but it is often tricked (Wootton, pg. 437).  With the foundation for Rousseau’s thought in place, I hope to illustrate why Rousseau would oppose the outcome of the millage vote.  In a recent survey of Washtenaw County, 54% of adult voters favored a countywide enhancement millage for schools (mlive.com).  According to this statistic (which I am assuming to be a direct reflection of all Washtenaw County residents) a majority of residents favored education, so the proposed millage should have passed.  Yet the millage was not passed, and therefore Rousseau may have argued that the rejection of this millage is inconsistent with the general will.   Rousseau could also argue that the personal advantages of lower taxes may have “tricked” individuals into voting against the millage.  In this instance, it would be appropriate for the government (of Washtenaw County) to intervene and enact the millage, thereby “forcing” the voters to be free, since it is in the interest of the general will.  The fact that Rousseau would support government intervention to tax personal property is at odds with the purpose of government according to Locke.

Locke’s chief end of government was to protect the people’s property.  Locke states, “the power of society…can never be supposed to extend farther, than the common good; but is obliged to secure everyone’s property” (Wootton, pg. 321).  With this statement, I will extrapolate to say that Locke would have supported the voters of Washtenaw County, who he sees as the supreme power in civil society.  Contrary to Rousseau, Locke would not support the government overriding the vote in favor of the “general will” as it infringes on the citizen’s personal property.  Therefore, the government would need the consent of the people before it could impose the tax suggested in the millage.

Ultimately, Locke and Rousseau would have agreed on the democratic principles involved in deciding on a public issue like the Washtenaw County millage proposal.  Yet, because a survey was released indicating a majority of Washtenaw county residents would have favored increased funding for local school districts, Locke and Rousseau would have disagreed on the outcome of the vote, with Locke supporting the millage rejection if residents felt it would infringe on their property rights.   Moreover, Rousseau would have argued the government could have acted in opposition to the vote and implemented the property tax because it was the general will to have increased funding for education.  Although we will never know exactly what each philosopher would argue, especially with the structure of Washtenaw County’s society being vastly different than any society they may have imagined, I still find it interesting to try and deduce what their reaction to an issue like this might be.



Modern Political Thought: readings from machiavelli to Nietzsche/ edited, with introductions, by David Wootton.-2nd ed.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »