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Life And Your Property

November 30, 2010

In political science lecture, we learned about how John Locke feels about property.  When people think of property as personal property, they think of things such as land, a car, or a house.  Locke asks, do you really own these things?  Do you really own the land your house sits on?

Locke has 3 restrictions that he says people can have property. 1. one may only appropriate as much as one can use before it spoils,  2. one must leave “enough and as good” for others, which many consider the primary restriction and 3. one may (supposedly) only appropriate property through one’s own labor.

So do you really own everything?  As we discussed in my class, land is pretty straight forward.  People pay for the land, therefore they own it.  On the other hand, things like air, water, and intellect are not as easy to define as personal property.  Professor LaVaque-Manty used the example of owning water.  If you buy a can of coke, take it to Lake Michigan and dump it in, what happens?  The coke spreads out throughout the water, just as oil spreads out over the water when there is an oil spill.  So, do you then own the water that the coke has spread over?

Another thing that is hard to put a property right on is a person’s personal intellect.  People cannot buy others thought and people’s thoughts cannot spoil.  Sometimes, people thoughts are used for inventions or updating a current object, but also include things such as names images, and writings.  Today, the government is trying to put a definition of ownership of intellect by creating restrictions such as copyrightstrademarks, and patents.  However, you cannot put a patent on the idea when it’s inside someone’s head.

Do we own everything that society claims we own?  If that answer was up to me, I would say no.  Look at all everything in your house, do you use everything use all of it?  Do you eat all your food before it spoils?  I know I don’t.  For example, when I look around my apartment, I see movies that have not been watched in years, food that has been in my cupboard since I moved in, and work shoes that have never been worn with the tags still on them.   Easily you can see that food spoils and that wastes it.  The shoes were on backorder when they were given to me so there was not enough to be given out when I received them.  And I have wasted them with not wearing them, basically spoiling them.

The idea of ownership has always been a question people have asked themselves. However, everyone has a different definition of property ownership.  For example, when Thomas Hobbes asks “How can anyone call anything their own?” he responded “My own can only truly be mine if there is one unambiguously strongest power in the realm, and that power treats it as mine, protecting its status as such.”  He means that if he has power over it, it is his.

So as you can see, everyone has a different definition of property and property ownership.  What is yours?


  1. jacobjam permalink
    November 30, 2010 10:28 PM

    I agree with Hobbes in response to your question. I think that having ownership over something is very difficult. That being said, I truly believe that in order for someone to own something, that person must have power over it. From my personal experience, I feel as though at this point in my life I truly don’t have ownership over anything except for my own body. It is extremely difficult for anyone at this stage in their life to truly have ownership because we are still at a point in our lives in which power is extremely difficult to attain. Once, this power is attained I believe that I will begin to understand what it truly means to own something.

  2. Jorge Rodriguez-Larrain permalink
    December 1, 2010 11:19 AM

    Good post, Locke’s idea of property is somewhat confusing, as already mentioned. It is not clear when someone’s “labor” makes the property his own. But, it is important to compare the consumerism of the 21st century, in which things are many times spoiled, and many unnecessary things are bought, and Locke’s time frame, in which consumerism and waste wasn’t a possibility in the common man’s life.

  3. Lorna Malja permalink
    December 1, 2010 6:12 PM

    This post is very interesting as it raises many questions about what we really do have ownership of. Im going to have to agree with Locke on this one that our property becomes our own when you put your labor into it, use everything as much as needed before it spoils, and leave resources for other people. All of this is very interesting because we as individuals do not do much of this. We waste things all the time and our food spoils and we throw it away; without even thinking about it. We are careless because we say we can just buy more. We clearly need to think about other people and how much they do no have; others who are starving out there; and we are throwing away food, etc. Also, we sometimes tend to be selfish and want more and more for ourselves; that we forget that there are other people in this world too. And they matter also. We need to make sure that there are enough resources left for others after we have used them. Lockes argument is legit, but im not so sure about Hobbes. I don’t think that to own something you need to have power over it. I mean you could buy a house, and it is your house; you own that house and no one can take it away from you. So i don’t know how you can have power over a house? Im definitely going to have to agree with Locke on this one!

  4. yequan permalink
    December 1, 2010 11:12 PM

    Locke says that once we mix our labor into something, and then we can say IT IS MY PROPERTY. But the question is how can he define “mix labor”, I think the writer of this article has already given a good example, that if I pour a coke into Lake Michigan, can I say the water in this lake is mine? I somehow mix my labor into Lake Michigan, but obviously I cannot say that Lake Michigan is mine. I think this argument happens because Lock did not perfect his theory of ownership and he could not at that time.

  5. emta1016 permalink
    December 2, 2010 12:13 AM

    I think that this is an interesting argument but one point that I would like to bring up is that if you bought something then it belongs to you because you bought it with money, money that you earned by putting work into something to buy the things that you want and need. Therefore, everything that you buy you put some effort into, which means that it belongs to you. As to the point of us not using the things that we buy just means that we have poor judgment as to what we need, or want. Nowadays we don’t have to decide between one or two things we can have them both; either by working more and earning the cash to buy the two desired objects, or we can buy it on credit and pay it off later.

  6. saralustberg permalink
    December 5, 2010 4:29 PM

    I think this post is unclear, i’m not sure what the main point is, and when the author of the post discussed his view on the definition of property and ownership, I think his argument is very weak. I do like that he tied in both Hobbes’ as well as Locke’s views on property, however I don’t agree with this author’s view on property ownership. I don’t think that wastefulness and letting things spoil has anything to do with the continuation of ownership over those items. Even when things spoil or you don’t use them, they’re still in your possession and you paid for them in the first place, making them belong to you.

  7. alessner permalink
    December 5, 2010 11:33 PM

    I would have to say that I agree more with the Hobbesian definition of property ownership than that of Locke. Locke’s definitions of how property should be held are relatively unenforceable, because as long as people have the power to take what they want and hold it, they will do whatever they want with it, including let it spoil and take it away from those who need it. Hobbes recognizes this and the issue of the enforcement of ownership of property. I agree with him on the idea that the ideas of property will be enforced only under a strong power.

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