One of the greatest mysteries of Locke’s labor/self-ownership theory is the idea that acquisition is the result of mixing one’s labor with something.  (quick breakdown:  in the state of nature according to Locke, “God gave the world to mankind in common” therefore his question is how a person can legitimately take something from the commons as his own, or assert ownership.  He therefore makes the claim that (1) we are self-owners and, (2) my labor is a part of me.  Thus, when I mix my labor with something of the commons, it legitimately becomes my property)  The problem with this theory comes through Locke’s use of the word ‘mix.’  How exactly, does Locke intend for us to ‘mix’ our labor with a physical object?  Because labor is an intangible, metaphysical concept, it clearly cannot literally be mixed into something physical.  To attempt to decipher Locke’s intended metaphor then, we must attempt to view the problem from the same metaphysical plane as Locke.

Thus, its crucial to understand the mindset and value preferences of the time.  In Locke’s time, religion was the center of life.  From this, we see that a primary value held during the enlightenment was industriousness (i.e. Calvinism & the Protestant Ethic).  Enlightenment thinkers saw a person’s industry as a means of determining his/her worth.  Therefore, one can logically infer that by “mixing one’s labour” Locke was implying one’s industry, and more specifically leaving evidence of one’s industry upon the object.  [Example:  Blacksmith takes metal from commons—> mixes his industry (metal forging)—> metal is now his (horseshoe, ect.) and any value he can trade/sell for it, also legitimately becomes his.


A person is represented through his/her industry—>
A person’s industry determine’s his/her value/esteem—>
the value of labor = the ability/skill/rarity that it represents/demonstrates—>
legitimate ownership b/c its value is representative of that person—>
a person’s acquired wealth is representative of their industriousness  

Leads to the assumption:  a person with great assets is of high moral value

In today’s society, this assumption is erroneous, however we can see evidence of it in the current American psyche

Missing link?  Industrial revolution and mass production

Mass production/assembly lines create need for UNskilled labor—>
given the above, this labor is worthless—>
workers’ labor is alienated from its worth—>
a.  workers vulnerable to exploitation
b.  individual bargaining rights diminished
c.  A person’s industry no longer representative of the person 

  1. serajg posted this