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 »

Older Posts »