For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Locke's labor lost"

by Mossoff, Adam (2002)


Few philosophers are as ubiquitous within American politics and law as John Locke. A mere listing of the primary and secondary sources-from the Founding Fathers to today-that explicitly refer to Locke or implicitly invoke his ideas would rival the Encyclopaedia Britannica in length. His labor argument for property, in particular, has been especially influential. The Second Treatise bears the distinction of being the only philosophy text cited on this subject as authoritative precedent by the contemporary Supreme Court.' As exemplified by the repeated references to and quotations from the Second Treatise in the first chapter of the most popular property casebook,2 the imprint of Lockean ideas upon American conceptions of property is striking

Key Passage

Locke makes the moral connection between life and production even more explicit about midway through his chapter on property: "God and his Reason commanded him to subdue the Earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of Life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour.' Labor is the means by which each individual fulfills his fundamental moral obligation because it is "labor"-production-that creates the products necessary for him to live. (p.160)


Locke, Early Modern Thought, Theory Of Labor, Property, History, Seventeenth Century


On Locke

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