The Proviso

Nozick grapples with Locke’s famous proviso (the one purporting to limit the right of private ownership) in the last few pages of Section I of Chapter 7 of ASU. In brief, according to Locke, the initial acquisition of private property in the state of nature is morally justified only when ‘enough and as good [is] left in common for others.’ (See p. 175). In other words, everyone has a right to acquire land so long as no one else is made worse off by such acquisition, but as Nozick notes on p. 176, there are two ways in which you may be made worse off (contra Locke’s proviso) when someone else (a neighbor, say) acquires a plot of land: (1) even if many other plots of land are still available to you, you have lost the opportunity to acquire a particular plot of land, since you now won’t be able to acquire the specific plot of land acquired by your neighbor, and (2) your freedom of action will also be restricted, since now you won’t be allowed to intrude upon or use in any way your neighbor’s plot of land. Does Locke’s proviso make private property untenable?

Not so fast, argues Nozick. There are two reasons why private ownership may not run afoul of Locke’s proviso. First, according to Nozick (p. 177), private ownership makes everyone better off “by putting [assets] in the hands of those who can use them most efficiently.” (This proposition, however, is true only if the right of acquisition of property rights also entails a right to transfer such rights and not just a right of possession, something which is not obvious.) Secondly, and far more importantly, however, is that we need to establish a base line for comparison to determine whether the institution of private property makes people (most?; all?) better off. Is the base line a world without any private property?

For our part, what about essential natural resources like air and bodies of water? Are there some assets that should always be owned in common? If so, how should we draw the private-public ownership line? This concludes our review of Section I of Chapter 7 of ASU. Due to other commitments, we will call a time out for the next few days and jump into Section II next week …

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Credit: Dion Loker

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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2 Responses to The Proviso

  1. Pingback: Overview of Section 2 of Chapter 7 of ASU | prior probability

  2. Pingback: The dangerous idea of equality | prior probability

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