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John Locke

The starting point of Locke's thinking is what he calls the state of nature. This is how he believes that people lived in the earliest times. In the state of nature, according to Locke, people lived in "perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions as they think fit ... without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man" (p. 9). Locke talks about "America," meaning the Native American Indians, as an example of how people lived in the state of nature. Today we would say that the Indians had much more complex societies than Locke realized, and that ancient people had more complex societies also. What Locke is really talking about, however, is not just how people lived in the distant past, or in remote places in his own time. He is talking about how people would live if they did not have a society.

Even in the state of nature, however, people must be able to feed themselves somehow, and Locke accepts the biblical idea that the world was created for humans. "The earth and all that is therein is given to men for the support and comfort of their beings" (p. 19). It does not belong to any particular people, however, but to everyone. This is what Locke calls a "common." But food cannot be eaten in common. We can share it before we eat, but if I eat some food, you can't also eat it. Locke has an answer for this. He says that "yet, being given for the use of men, there must of necessity be a means to appropriate them some way or other before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial, to any particular men" (p. 19).

This brings Locke to another idea. The world might be a common, but even in the state of nature, "though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a 'property' in his own 'person.' This nobody has any right to but himself" (p. 20). In a way, then, Locke starts by saying that we always own one thing to begin with. We own ourselves. ...

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John Locke. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 11:00, December 01, 2023, from